Saturday I went to pay my utility bills: water, electric, phone, cel phone, tv, wifi. My cel is $8/month and I recently paid three months of that. I haven’t paid my phone yet, but that will be about $5 for the month.

You don’t write checks in Costa Rica. You can, but most people don’t and most stores won’t take them.

Costa Rica doesn’t have home mail delivery as we know it. We get our water and electric bill via post to our house. But nobody has an address – we have direcciones [dee-WRECK-see-own-ace, directions] to our homes. Whenever you go to a doctor or anywhere that you have to fill out a form with your name, cedula [SAID-you-la, I.D.], contact info, etc., there isn’t a line for "address"… the line requests direcciones. You write in directions to your house from a well-known landmark.

On one hand, a pain in the butt. It can take a long time to fill out a form… On the other hand, no junk mail and no one knows where you live unless you tell them. Coming from a country where everyone can find out everything about you in a few keystrokes, I’ve come to appreciate this bit of anonymity. (She says, writing her whole life story on the world wide web.)

Plus checks take about four weeks to clear… So, if you get a bill, you don’t mail it back with a check. It’s a cash country: you pay your bills in cash. And you don’t really need a bill. You just need your utility account number.

If you have a local bank account, you can set up online bill paying. We don’t have a local account and, even if we did, we aren’t facile enough with our Spanish to manage online bill paying. What if we had a problema? We’d have to talk to someone about it in customer service… we need a little more practice for that! And I’ve heard once you set up your online bill pay, undoing it can be a nightmare.

So to pay your bills, you could go to each office. OR you can go to any number of outlets and pay all your bills at one time: your bank, many pharmacies, grocery stores… Tons o’ places have a bill-paying caja [KAH-ha, register]. I have all my utility account numbers written down, I go to one of the stores where you can pay and present the teller with my list. She looks up each account and gives me a grand total. And a receipt for each.

This is very, very, very important to know. Critical, in fact: KEEP YOUR RECEIPTS. KEEP ALL YOUR RECEIPTS FOREVER. This is a cash country and sometimes records are not kept. If they are, you can expect them to be in a jumble. This is one aspect of Costa Rica that lets you know for sure you are in a developing country. KEEP YOUR RECEIPTS.

Another critical point about paying your monthly utility bills is to PAY THEM ON TIME. You don’t get a grace period. No skipping a month and paying two months at a time. If you are late, you stand an excellent chance of having that utility turned off. OFF. And it can take a week or more, once you’ve finally paid the bill, to have that service turned back on. They want their money and they want it ON TIME.

So Saturday, I paid my water bill ($2), my electric bill ($67), my tv ($30) and my internet ($60). That’s for one month. $159. Ok, $172 with the two phone bills. In Key West, those same bills ran me $650 to $900, depending on the heat. Per month.

See why paying these bills was so much fun?

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