Miriam wrote me. Man, she’s in moving hell – I remember it like it was yesterday!!!! Now I can look back in wonder: how did we survive???? Here are her questions and how we handled each.

Looking at schools, British School sounds good, but it’s on different calendar. I think we are going with the Lincoln School.
The school year here start February 1 and go to December 15. Their big vacation time is around Christmas – very Catholic country! They have about 3 weeks off in July, then back to "finish" their school year.

There are a few private schools that operate on the U.S. calendar: starting in September, Christmas break, ending in June, off for the summer. But not all private schools operate that way – be sure to ask!

Miriam, are you moving here for good? If so, having the different school calendar really doesn’t matter a whole heck of a lot. Unless there are other considerations, like your jobs and time off, etc. Also, the British School offers the IB diploma which is a very impressive item to have! I think maybe the Lincoln School offers that, too, though.

We are really stressed trying to get everything done so we can move to CR in July, how did you ever do it?
I think the only way we survived the move is because a) we did it in 45 days and all the difficult decisions just had to be made RIGHT THEN so no fretting over anything…. and b) we had so many unpleasant things happening/just had happened to us where we were, we couldn’t wait to get away. So that made the moving part much easier to bear.

What about car, insurance? We hope to get rid of our two cars but then will have two teenagers w/o cars but with licenses here, etc.
Re car insurance, that’s a great question for ARCR. We don’t have insurance on our car. Maybe not the best idea, but we’ve heard advice on the topic from all sides, pro and con and, to be honest, it’s just one of those things we have not really dealt with. Dumb, considering 50% of all deaths here are traffic related!!! But I’ll deal with that tomorrow. At Tara.

You can ship your cars if you want, but you will pay duty that I’ve heard from many sources can be 100% of the current value (as the customs agent perceives it) of the car. If you are intent on bringing them and want more info, contact Barry at www.shipcostarica.com. He’s good on email, too.

We bought an 8 year old Rav4 with 100k miles on it for $9500, Kelly Blue Book said it was worth $5000. You pay double here basically for a car. But it’s a great car – gets us everywhere! We also checked it’s history on CarFax, so we knew where it had been up until it got to Costa Rica (bought at auction in CA, then shipped and sold here.)

The roads are TERRIBLE and narrow here. If you have a car here, you do NOT want a sedan. You will scrape bottom everywhere. I see all manner of cars, and here in Escazú where I live (in gringo land…) I even see convertible sports cars, some priceless as far as I’m concerned. The only place you can drive one of those is right there in Escazú: from your condo to the mall. Talk about disposable income!

If you want to go anywhere else, you want something a little higher off the ground. And you want something to drive in San Jose and those tiny country roads that can survive a ding without tears over a tiny scratch. After 14 months here, we still don’t have a scratch. But it’s coming…

I guess your teens’ drivers licenses are good here. The driving age here is 18. I would check with Association of Residents of Costa Rica (ARCR). Are you members of ARCR? It’s $100 for my family of four per year and they are a great source of info, can answer all questions. So far.

My question is: do you WANT your teens driving here? I couldn’t drive here for 3 months, it’s that terrifying. The bus system is excellent and taxis are cheap and plentiful. Have you been here before? If not, TRUST ME, unless your teens are excellent drivers and mature, you do not want them driving here.

And what about opening a bank account here at Popular Bank? Is it honored there at Banco Popular?
I don’t think any banks have a cooperation like that between Costa Rica and anywhere else. YET. Even Scotiabank which has its home office in Canada. You’d have to wire money between the two, even though it’s really the same bank. I believe the Scotiabank debit card works worldwide. The banks here are changing fast. You still have privacy, but I know that Citibank (or maybe it’s Chase…) just bought Cuscatlan.

Regardless, you can wire money everywhere, to and fro. We still use our U.S. accounts and U.S. credit cards. Your U.S. debit cards work here as long as you inform your bank you will be using the debit card in Costa Rica. Make sure you know how much it costs, so you aren’t surprised by the statement.

There are two online banks that people around here use: Netbank [now defunct] and Everbank. You open them online, wire money into them and their ATM debit cards are FREE and work everywhere (supposedly). We have not opened one because you have to be in the states to do that for security. But a lot of people here have them and love the free ATM. Once you are here, you should be able to open an account at a local bank (having your attorney or landlord in tow is very helpful unless you are fluent in Spanish). Then wire money into it.

What do you do about mail?
Where will you be living? If it’s in the central valley, you can get your mail via ARCR, included in your membership. Otherwise, you will have to find a mailing service in your town and/or get an apartado (local po box).

Here’s the thing about mail: make sure ALL your bills come online and you pay them from your online account at whatever bank you use. Do not leave a forwarding address at your house because you will get all manner of junk mail and it’s expensive to get. At ARCR, your mail is delivered via one of the mail services here and they charge by the piece. Not much, but it adds up. And if they deliver to your house if you want. It’s $2 a trip. Adds up if they are making one trip for every piece of mail. We told them not to do it – just make one trip a week, but something got lost in the translation, I guess. We finally stopped home delivery.

So get a mailbox at ARCR and use that for important documents and any magazine subscriptions you can’t live without. We stopped all our subscriptions, by the way. Just too expensive. When a traveler arrives with a current People Magazine, it’s like Christmas. Once you have moved here, you can open a local po box. You need your passport (or a notarized copy) and a local utility bill, your lease. They are big on paperwork here and numbers. If you can get your landlord to go with you, that is perfect.

Packages can be sent via the ARCR mail service or to your apartado, depending on what is in it and how awful you would feel if it were "lost"… Although everyone says a mailing service is more reliable, I have never lost a box, they’ve all arrived just fine at my apartado. I’ve stopped worrying about it. If you can’t get a po box locally (sometimes there isn’t one available), you’ll have to use the ARCR mailing service and pay a little more for your boxes until a local po box becomes available.

If you order stuff from Amazon or anywhere else that is shipping to you here, that box probably has to go to ARCR because most of the online shopping places won’t ship to Costa Rica. (Your ARCR package address is a Miami address, then they bring it to Costa Rica. Through customs.) You either use the ARCR package address, or if you have someone back home who will accept your goodies and repack them in a plain box (my mom does this for me), it can all go to your apartado.

Another detail: Amazon doesn’t always ship all your stuff from one fulfillment center. The first time I ordered Amazon from here, I ordered 2 books and a DVD. They came in three boxes from three different fulfillment centers, $10 each (the charge from my mailing service for handling). I never learned an inexpensive lesson…

Probably TMI. So for now, I would join ARCR and get a mailbox there. Give that address to your friends and use for any subscriptions you can’t live without, then deal with the details when you get here and get settled.

Pura vida! One day at a time and all that. Keep it simple. One day, it will be July and you will be packed and on the plane…. See you soon!

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