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The Costa Rica Plan

Steps I have taken to (possibly) relocate to Costa Rica.

Written By: Gary on November 17, 2008 No Comment

So I “needed” to go to Cobano today. They have “real” internet! It’s really fast but I had to get there and come back. It’s only about 5 miles so I needed transport. I planned to take the public bus. As I went downstairs at my hotel to check on the times I saw the owner leaving to take Roger (another guest) to the local airport. So I hopped in the car with them, I forgot my Spanish book but otherwise I was good.

So I spent the afternoon in Cobano. Used the ‘net, ate lunch, walked around used the ‘net some more, ate dinner and tried to catch the 5:30 bus. Turns out it was a 6 PM bus, I had bad info…

Img 0418 2But the bus was even later. And the locals were getting pretty annoyed about it. It finally showed up at 7:12. For a hyper guy, I’m a pretty good waiter. The problem was that I already finished my book and my laptop was dead by this point so I was pretty bored. But the ride is only 20 or so minutes so at least it was over pretty quick.

The price was amazing, I’m not sure how much change he gave me back but it was no more than 60 cents for the ride. I could have taken a cab for about 7 or 8 dollars, but that wasn’t the point. It was for the experience…

I also went to the bank to try to make a withdrawl but that’s another story…

Written By: Gary on November 12, 2008 No Comment

This is trickier than it sounds. Imagine trying to open an account in the US without a Social Security card and without a mailing address…

I got all my paperwork in order:

  • They normally two letters of reference from banks that I normally do business with (seemed very old fashioned to me). I ended up using a letter of reference from a local Costa Rican organization and one letter of reference from a bank. I didn’t think I even needed the letter from my bank (I thought the Costa Rican letter would supersede it) but I was told a few days before my trip I needed it (definitely in conflict to other info I was given); in hindsight I’m not certain I needed it but it’s in my file now.
  • A utility bill, I used one the same as what I was using for my local address.
  • Copies of my passport and entrance stamp page.

    Once I got all that in order I went to the bank, got sent to another building, waited, got walked back to the first building to the person who sent me to the second building. Then I bet I sat at his desk for 90 minutes while he keyed in all sorts of things in the computer kept leaving the office and coming back again. All the while I’m intermittently signing things for the accounts, on-line banking, an ATM card and I think a debit card (built into the ATM card).

    I have to go back for my ATM card and I can’t set up the on-line banking until I have that card. I’ll come back to the bank to pick up the card next week (I had other stuff going on so I didn’t go back for a few weeks and it was all ready). They possibly could have sent it to another branch, but they seemed hesitant, so I wouldn’t chance it (especially since my schedule is a little grey still).

    So now as I see some other branches I’ll do a few tests depositing a check and making a withdrawal to see how it works. Better to know now then when I have an emergency.

    No one could really explain to me if I should open the accounts in Dollars or Colones. Most people said both but couldn’t say why. It seems like I can deposit into either account in either currency and withdraw in either currency also. It’s never seemed to bother my US bank if I withdraw in Dollars or Colones. If I’m in CR, I’m only going to take out Colones (unless maybe I’m at the airport leaving the country…)

  • Written By: Gary on November 11, 2008 5 Comments

    So went to get my driver’s license today. What a bureaucracy! The only plus was that it wasn’t very busy.

    I knew this was going to be a hassle so I hired ARCR (the folks that did the relocation seminar) to take me there and work me through the process, it was $35 well spent. I would have spent that on cab rides alone.

    Here’s the process we took: Crlicence

  • Copied my passport, entrance stamp and US license.

  • Drove to the MOPT (their Department of Motor Vehicles).
  • Walked out of the huge complex and down the street to the Doctor’s office and got a blood type test $10 and then went to a different room for a “medical” for $20 (which consisted of an eye test, blood pressure and some questions).
  • Walked back into the far side of the complex and queued up.
  • Every time someone went in, we all moved down a seat closer to the door.
  • Got approved for a driver’s license for an automobile.
  • Did not get approved for a motorcycle. She didn’t accept the “CY” in my endorsement section was for a motorcycle. Says I’ll have to go to the U.S. Embassy to get a note from them. This was even after I showed her my “International Driver’s Permit” which very clearly identifies me as having a motorcycle endorsement and it’s in Spanish (FYI, Costa Rica does not honor this permit for driving so I can’t bitch too much); if Michigan defined “CY” on the back of the license I’d have been fine.
  • Went downstairs and waited but this time we had a number.
  • This was to get everything keyed in for the license.
  • Walked back to the front of the complex to pay for the license.
  • Walked back to the back of the complex to show the receipt that we paid.
  • Got my picture taken (was allowed to smile), signed the computer tablet and had my fingerprint taken.
  • Waited for a few minutes more and got my license! Good for two years!

    Throughout this process I showed my US license, passport and the copies a million times. At some point in the process they did let us leave to make a copy of the doctor’s medical test (all the way back to the front and down the street to the doctor’s) and then they stamped it certified so I don’t have to get another test ($10).

    The $35 for the escort well spent, especially since I speak barely speak Spanish. But if they had known a little more I could have gotten the paperwork I needed to get the motorcycle endorsement and gotten both. I’ve heard they are making license’s harder for non-residents so maybe I should get it now (I’m assuming they’ll let me renew it even if they change the rules) that was part of my motivation in the first place. I can go back myself but like I said before, if I don’t have a car it’s going to cost that much for cab fare. If I have a car at the end of my trip when I come back to San Jose to leave I’ll do it…

  • Written By: Gary on August 29, 2008 No Comment

    One of the things I’m doing this trip is attending a seminar by the Association of Residents of Costa Rica (ARCR). They offer this the last Thursday/Friday of every month (but December) for only $65. I’ve had this on my to do list for a while but it just hasn’t worked out previously, it is specifically why I chose now for this trip and not a few weeks later.

    It’s pretty much what I hoped for so far a bunch of short little presentations (about nine a day). Of course everyone who does a presentation passes out their contact info, but it really is more of a presentation on the topic, not specifically selling their business (although they’re hoping). The one topic I hoped for, but didn’t really expect, was about working in Costa Rica. We have about 25 people in our group, mostly from US and Canada; mostly retirees or soon to be about five of us weren’t near the retirement range but want to relocate.

    FYI: Really good snacks for break: OJ, coffee, some kind of pastry and little crustless sandwiches.

    I talked to one of the people, Ray, a few times beforehand via e-mail and telephone before coming and he was very helpful.

    I’d definitely recommend this seminar if you are thinking of relocating or retiring to Costa Rica.

    I also used these folks for getting my driver’s license.

    Written By: Gary on August 25, 2008 4 Comments

    So I tried to open a bank account today. Why? Because bank access in the southern Nicoya peninsula is very limited and the one bank they do have never lets me use my ATM so I thought an account might be useful. I was just thinking a few hundred dollars for emergencies and then it would be established already or if I needed money wired here a bank account would be handy (I could wire it to myself from the US while I was here, I checked with my Michigan bank on this already). I had e-mailed the Costa Rican bank (Banco Nacional) a week or two ago about this, but never got a response.

    So I waited and waited and then finally I got to to wait some more. Then I asked at a different desk, because if I don’t have what I need, I don’t need to be waiting and got a very helpful guy whose english was good enough for us to figure it out. Turns out I need

  • a passport,
  • a local address / phone,
  • a few letters of refererence from other banking institutions (these made me feel like I was living in older times); they said a hotel would do for the address/phone but some coordination would have to be done since they wanted proof (like a utility bill) but what I was asking for was not unheard of,
  • a minimum deposit was $10 (obviously for emergencies that was much less than I planned).

    So I’ll get some letters from the bank and be ready to take care of these when I need to.

  • Written By: Gary on August 23, 2008 2 Comments

    So my Mom got me an early birthday present, it’s a portable Garmin eTrex Vista HCx GPS. This has been on my Costa Rica to do list so she asked me what I wanted at just the right time. Obviously, it’s a specific model I picked out for her and it’s been great the little bit of time I’ve played with it this past week. It’s got the color display, the compass (this is an extra) and the memory chip expansion. It’s a whole lot easier to us than I expected it was almost Apple-ish in it’s use, but there are too many buttons (it’d need a touch screen to make it a little more intuitive).

    As of right now it’s telling me we’re at 7,284 feet and traveling at 527 miles per hour (we’re somewhere south of Cuba). That’s seems a little low to me (I thought they didn’t let us use electronics until 10,000 or 15,000 feet) but maybe it’s having a hard time tracking out the window of the plane (but that’s not really my area either). I’ll be sure to upload some of the tracking info later superimposed on a map. I’ve always been into maps so it’s a fun gadget for me.

    I wanted it for Costa Rica for a few reasons:

  • the signage for the roads are awful and since some of the roads are so bad you don’t want to backtrack unless you have to.
  • When I’m hiking I’d really like to know how far I’ve wandered away from civilization and have a better idea if I’m walking in circles.
  • Maps here aren’t the greatest so maybe one of the Points Of Interest (POI) will help me find something I’ve been missing.This portable unit only has basic highways and major roads (roads like Telegraph and Michigan) for the US, it’s assumed you’re using this for specifics like hiking any you’re going to buy the topographical maps for it, but it does have exit numbers for the highways and food and gas info for those spots. I think you need to purchase the local maps for turn-by-turn directions but I never got a chance to play with that.

    In anticipation for this trip did purchase the detailed maps for Costa Rica. The unit had very limited details before that upgrade, although I think it still would have helped me orient myself quite a bit. I purchased them from www.NavSatCR.com who does about 3 updates a year and then I can purchase future years for a lot less. They actually sell cheaper 10 day and 30 day versions so if it’s just a one time trip you don’t have to invest as much, but those maps actually stop working after that time frame (I purchased the non-expiring ones). From reading around, the folks at NavSatCR seem to be the place for Costa Rican GPS maps.

    I also purchased a mount for handle bars so if I rent an ATV, scooter or bicycle it’ll help with getting around that way too.

    As I’m wrapping up writing this, we just left the air above the Atlantic Ocean and passed into El Salvador…

  • Written By: Gary on August 19, 2008 2 Comments

    Normally when I travel I like to stay put for a few days (at least a few days) and not keep repacking and moving to another place. I personally don’t find that very relaxing and that’s generally the point of vacationing, IMHO.

    This past spring when we went to Costa Rica we (my friend Mark was with me) didn’t sit still. We moved hotels almost every night and probably saw an additional town or two each day while we traveled. Not exactly my preferred way to travel but that’s because we had a mission for this trip…

    I love the small town Montezuma, located at the south end of the Nicoya Peninsula (just above Cabuya on the map to the right), but the mission was to find some other towns that I might like. I wanted someday to spend a few months in Costa Rica, my concern was that I’d rent a place for a few months and then realize that I liked the next town over since I hadn’t done much exploring from that perspective.

    So we drove around like cRaZy checking out towns and staying different places and checking out different areas to see if there was anything I liked better. Montezuma was still my favorite but it’s definitely more isolated than some of the other towns. Tamarindo was a large town but a lot busier than I was hoping for but it pretty much had everything you need. Samara was a medium to small town that I didn’t get to explore enough. But comparatively Montezuma was a tiny town, but for some reason seems to fit me just right…

    Written By: Gary on August 19, 2008 No Comment

    So the school system in the State of Michigan has an option as part of it’s retirement plan. You can actually “purchase” up to five years of work (called Universal Buy-In) and then then when you have twenty-five years of work into the system it actually counts as thirty so you can retire five years early. Now it’s a convoluted formula based on your age, your maximum salary and how many years you have in the system; so the younger you are and the least you make they cheaper it is. Plus, they’ll take the money out of your check pre-tax dollars so you can get into this deal for as about $35 less every two-weeks (that’s $50 pre-tax). When I got in on the deal the plan was better, now they charge you interest on what you owe, so now you’re better off paying it off fast, before you had to spread it out. (Warning: if you’re bored now, the post really doesn’t get much more interesting. The part in bold near the bottom is the slightly/semi-interesting part that caused me to write this post.)

    Ors logoI recommend this plan* to people who are in the Michigan retirement system and I always mention it to the new teachers at school. The younger you are when you start the cheaper this will be; I don’t want to hear you say you can’t afford it, you can start this at about $17 a week, that’s not that much and it should really pay off in the long run.

    In my case, I didn’t hear about it until I had been in the system for a few years so it wasn’t cheap but since I knew I’d get five extra years of retirement payments so it seemed like a deal to me. I had it spread out evenly over the years I had left so it’s been getting paid down slowly.More details: If you leave the system (aren’t employed for a while by this system) they credit the years you’ve paid for and if you come back they’ll redo the above calculation with you being older, making more, having more years in system and factor in interest. This didn’t sound like such a good deal to me. Also, If you don’t actually work the 25 years, you have to wait until you’re sixty years old and it just increases your payment (or I think you can roll it in to some other kind of retirement).

    So late last year I decided I wanted this paid off work was way too stressful late last year and I felt as if I could quit at any time, so I increased my contribution quit a bit. It wasn’t going very fast so I stopped contributing to my other IRA/403b retirement-type things and put almost all of my check into paying this off (I lived off of savings in the meantime) and eight paychecks later I was done. Hopefully, putting that much in pre-tax doesn’t goof up my exemptions come tax time.

    This allowed me a few different things:

  • I don’t have to make those payments anymore.
  • I could move or take another job and not be concerned about this (if I left and wanted to pay it off it’d be one huge non pre-tax payment).
  • I could leave this retirement system for a few years and come back and this part is already taken care of.

    It was something I didn’t have to worry about anymore. I don’t like payments and since I paid it off it was something I didn’t even need to think about. I don’t even like thinking about payments, my house is really my only thing that I owe money on. Now I need to replenish the savings that I lived off of but that’s different feeling altogether…

    * I’m not a financial consultant nor do I portray one on TV (does anyone?), this is just my own thoughts on this.

  • Written By: Gary on August 17, 2008 No Comment

    The Tico Times is the english weekly paper from Costa Rica. For the last eight months I’ve been subscribing to the paper edition of The Tico Times. I’ve mentioned my Tico Times delivery issues before, it usually takes a while to get to Michigan but it’s much easier to read on paper than on the screen (they also offer a PDF subscription).

    I’ve wanted to see what’s going on in the country when I’m not visiting. I’ve been paying attention to opinion pages, letters to the editor, classifieds and more local ads. Of the five times I’ve been there it’s all been in April or between the end of November and beginning of January (and really only covering half-a-dozen different weeks) so I’ve really only seen a portion of the year while there. So I’ve been paying more attention to the non-tourist type articles; when I’m there traveling I’m generally looking more for what’s going on there at that time.

    Written By: Gary on August 16, 2008 One Comment

    So I’ve had thoughts for a plan for Costa Rica, I’ve had it for a while but haven’t specifically verbalized it very much. I think maybe the closest I’ve gotten to verbalizing it is in my 101 in 1001 list, the item that says “Decide if I might actually want to live in Costa Rica” the result has been blank but as the plan proceeds you’ll get the gist of which direction I’m heading…

    A few of these will be long posts and some will be short, some might just refer back to some earlier posts that fit in with “the plan”.

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