Which Lifestyle Would Cost Our Family Less - Oregon or Costa Rica? - Part 2: Non-Tax Expenses



Comparing Non-Tax Expenses


In this part, I include estimates of monthly costs for food, medical, vehicles, utilities and housing. Part 1, about tax costs, is here.

Food Prices

Comparing food prices between Costa Rica and the U.S. is a complex business. Most expats experience sticker shock in part due to the included 13% sales tax and the fact that so much food in Costa Rica is imported. Want a box of Honey Nut Cheerios? That’ll be about six bucks please. Can you get by with 1-minute oatmeal? Good, because that’s only about 75 cents for a 200g bag. If you look at food here in a 1-for-1 comparison to U.S. products, Costa Rica loses.
 
cut block of costa rica cheese
Costa Rica Farmer's Cheese, available everywhere
Dairy products are about the same or higher than in the U.S. because producers are protected by steep tariffs on imported milk, etc. from, say, Nicaragua. About the best you can do by weight is local farmer cheese at $2.15/lb. but it’s only aged 30 days. We found one store with what we consider a smoking deal on run-of-the-mill sharp cheddar at $6/lb. Many other cheeses are 50-100% more, especially artisan cheese.

Judging by a flyer from our once-local Fred Meyer store in Oregon, I’d say meat prices are on a par in each country, but canned tuna here is out of sight. You have never seen more ways to can tuna than in Costa Rica. They mix it with almost anything to reduce the actual fish content and lower the price.

Which Lifestyle Would Cost Our Family Less - Oregon or Costa Rica? - Part 1: Taxes

Gringo expats decide to retire in Costa Rica for a wide variety of reasons. Topping many expats' lists of desirable advantages would be maintaining their living standard at a lower cost or enjoying a higher standard of living for the same cost. That goes for adventurous, frugal younger expats as well as older expats such as myself stretching their retirement dollars.

Costa Rica can certainly offer terrific savings, especially in the areas of health care and housing. Many other daily expenses, however - automobiles being the most egregious example - are higher than what most norteamericanos are accustomed to. Depending on your financial status, lifestyle choices, goals and ability to adjust, the comparative financial equations we all go through at some point before moving here will each have their highs and lows.
calculating living expenses in Costa Rica and Oregon
Taking Stock of Expat Living Expenses


One Constant Is That Things Change

As we approach a new phase in which our own income will shift to primarily U.S. Social Security, our calculations are changing. In fact, just in terms of cost of living, we find that it may actually be cheaper for us to reside in our previous home state of Oregon. I'm not going into all the gory details of that calculation, but this two-part article does hit the high points. Hopefully, it provides additional food for thought to those considering moving to Costa Rica

Eliminating the Worry of Shipping Your Car to Costa Rica


Are ready for an extended stay or retirement to the Land of Eternal Spring and have already decided you prefer to enjoy the freedom and convenience of driving your own vehicle while living in Costa Rica?


Buy a Car Inside Costa Rica or Bring Your Own?


checking out a used car's tires
Always check the tire quality!
We'll assume you already hashed out the pros and cons of vehicle ownership in Costa Rica. The next question is whether it’s wiser to buy a vehicle in-country or ship your current vehicle from North America. From my experience, if I had to do it over again, I’d bring in my own car without hesitation.

Why? Well, if you add up all the costs including shipping and import fees, you probably come out about even, but you’ll have one overriding advantage, which is complete confidence in your vehicle. That is something not available when purchasing a used car in Costa Rica.

Thrilling Flight on Sansa and Pleasant Experience Using Uber

Ever since one of the local airlines, Sansa, announced last December that they were instituting flights between our area's biggest town, San Isidro de El General, and San Jose International, I've been itching to try it out. Not only had I not been on a plane since around ought-9 but I was anxious to get a lay of the land in our part of Costa Rica that can only be seen from an aircraft. It is a satisfying feeling to finally have air service to our part of the country, which seems considered an unwanted step-child to the rest of the country at times.
Our terminal companion
An excuse to try the new flight arose when I  glanced at my passport a few weeks ago and found that it was already expired, which requires a trip to the U.S. Embassy in San José to rectify. So, I booked tickets online for Tamara and me for yesterday, the 11th.

They fly between SIG and SJO three times a week, with two flights each of those days. Tickets are not exactly cheap, being $70 each, one-way for residents however. Turistas pay $100.

San Isidro de El General airport runway
San Isidro Runway: lengthened, repaved a few years ago thanks to a grant from Germany

Arriving at San Isidro Airport

No parking at the San Isidro airport is available unless you want to leave your car on the road outside the fence. So, we dropped Sean at school, left the car at a downtown public parking lot and hailed a taxi to take us to the airport. Judging by the driver's perplexed look, it was clear there are not many requests to be taken out there. About 15 minutes later, through what passes for rush hour in San Isidro, we pulled up to the short cyclone fence surrounding the runway.

Squeezing Colossal Returns from Your Retirement Kitty in Costa Rica

I've been aware of the enormous interest rates on savings in Costa Rica since we moved here, but until recently was unable to take full advantage of them because spare cash was tied up in other things and, I must admit, the big returns made me gun shy. I mean, there has to be a catch right? Yes, there is a catch, but looking back over our 7 years residing here, with the absolute clarity that 20-20 hindsight provides, I wish we'd taken the plunge sooner.
Typical CD Rates in Costa Rica for Colones Deposits

As you can see from the chart at the right, phenomenal rates can be had on Certificates of Deposit denominated in Colones. Rates for U$D deposits are dramatically less, but much higher than in the U.S., up to 3.5%.

For deposit amounts in five figures or higher, you can actually negotiate slightly higher rates as well. We were able to get 12% with a quarterly payout of interest on one CD.

The highest rates are not universal. These quoted at the right are from a local credit union. Bank CDs yield 2 or 3 points lower and National Banks even lower. The latter provide something like the FDIC insurance coverage enjoyed in the States however.

Which brings us to why you might not want to invest in such CDs:


The 7 Harbingers of Summer in the Southern Costa Rica Mountains

Whenever I mention that "summer" is coming to Costa Rica to non-expat friends, they often look puzzled. They are thinking that we share the same summer season with North America since we are above the equator, and technically they are right. However, the tropical Trade Winds pick up this time of year and they are what divide our seasons into wet and dry.

Our summer in this part of Costa Rica runs from mid-December until the middle of April when the trades begin to weaken again. Northern Pacific provinces have longer summers and the Caribbean's seasonal changes are less distinct, but roughly reversed from ours.

Right now, it's a densely overcast, drizzly day with intermittent showers, so you'd never guess that summer is just around the corner (we hope). But, there are plenty of other signs that say, yes, the arrival of La Zona Sur's summer is imminent.

Coffee Season

Ripening Costa Rica coffee
Coffee cherries ready to pick


Coffee up here in the mountains is harvested later than in the lowlands and right now we are in the thick of the harvest. That means that around the corner of any country road you are liable to have delays due to farmers' trucks loading or unloading their bursting sacks of red coffee cherries. The crop this year is a bumper and the price is high too, so most of them are smiling big.

truck off loading coffee blocking the road
Our neighbor unloading at the recibidora
 We love coffee season, not only because it signifies summer's arrival, but because the neighborhood comes alive with the activities of the harvest and there are new arrivals, the pickers, who add a bit more color to our already colorful world. Since the neighbors are out and about more, it's also a great time to stop and chat.



8 Ways to Get Your Holiday Goodies into Costa Rica Easily or Safely

My post about how to receive packages in Costa Rica while avoiding having them snagged by Customs, which requires a trip to San José and a couple hours of bureacratic SNAFU to retrieve said package, continues to be one of my more popular articles.

Still, I often get asked the question: "Just how do you get stuff shipped into Costa Rica?"

Drone chasing Cary Grant in North by Northwest still
Attack of the Drones - CC-SA-3.0

Unfortunately, Amazon drone delivery does not seem to be on the horizon anytime soon.

So, to supplement the original article, here is a list (probably incomplete) on the various methods that I've either used or have learned second-hand from others who have found them to be successful.

Mouthwatering Free Fruit in Costa Rica

One of the things most people savor about summertime anywhere in the world is gleaning wild fruit whether it be wild blackberries, salmonberries, apples, pears, cherries or nuts. I loved gathering tart apples, plums and cherries in Oregon from roadside trees. They were rarely hybridized, grafted, fertilizer-fattened specimens, but they were just as delicious as those in the supermarket bins if not more so.
Various citrus fruits in Costa Rica
This morning's juice fruit selection

Most of our roadside fruit here in Costa Rica is of the citrus variety, though there are varieties of vine berries and occasionally other tropical tree fruits to be had. Most of the latter, such as water apples or guanabana, come from neighbors' trees, which they readily share with us.

The past week, Tamara and I have been collecting various citrus fruits on our neighborhood walks and this morning I clambered down the steep hillside below our balcony, thick with six-foot tall coffee plants to add some sour mandarines  to the growing collection.

Despite a similar appearance, these are not the same as the Mandarin oranges one finds on store shelves in the States. These possess a bit thicker peel and are very sour (or ácido in local parlance). Locals claim these provide more health benefits than other citrus fruits such lowering cholesterol and cleaning your liver of toxins.

In the picture upper right, starting from the left side are these fruits: sweet lemons, mandarines, sweet oranges, grapefruit and a few sour lemons.

Can Going to the Dentist in Costa Rica Actually Be Fun?

I'm not sure I could ever say that going to the dentist anywhere could be fun as in large round wooden containers of primates kind of fun. Just having to go to town in the middle of my day for the appointment is annoying in itself. Compared to trips to the dentist in the States, however, I'll take the Costa Rica variety of dental care any day over that. First of all, all the equipment here is identical to that in the States and the education level and experience of the dentists is likewise.

Dentist examining teeth in Costa Rica
The requisite cleaning, painless, quick, ends with  a smile
There are several more reasons, however, why I prefer dentistry here:
  • Most Costa Rica dentists, it seems to me, are women. I can't tell you why, but I prefer female hands groping around in my mouth better than larger male digits. The women have a lighter touch. By the way, I made that assertion about the high ratio of female to male dentists to a female dentist and she thought not, but at least in La Zona Sur I see a lot more "Dra." signs than "Dr." signs.
  • There are no pesky hygienists. 80% of the time, I visit a dentist to get a cleaning and the dentist does it herself. I've been to three (and I like them all, btw) and it is always the dentist doing the cleaning. One time there was an assistant who did just about nothing but run out to answer the phone or fetch supplies. The dentists here do it all.
  • It takes far less time. Having the dentist do the cleaning means there is no downtime as in the States when the hygienist finishes and you wait for the dentist to give you another exam. Also, they are faster about it. Some use ultrasonic, some use hand tools to scrape the plaque, all have polishers, but they are not endlessly scraping and scraping the way U.S. hygienists do it.
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