This is a letter from my friend Dennis to his friend John about moving to Costa Rica. Dennis leaves no stone unturned when investigating ANYTHING. He’s a geek and a dear man. I’ve met a few of his friends who are equally as interesting and dear. Lots of good information here, from a different perspective. If you are moving here, this is for you:

Hello John,

I am currently in CR and have been here for a little over 7 months.

I did quite a lot of intensive investigation concerning living and earning an income in CR and after about 6 mos I found something that fit my needs. I sent a friend to see the house up close and based on his assessment I bought a very nice home in a gated community in an area not too far from the international airport in Alejuela.

The property we purchased is located just outside of Grecia. Personally I think this is the perfect area for our needs. I wanted to be near an international airport, near a hospital, in a gated community, somewhere with few tourists and gringo residents, low crime states, shops & services, high-speed Internet, and a good labor pool for domestic services. The fact that real estate prices were rising was of course a plus. And this area has lots of water for developers.

Google Earth is a wonderful tool. Unfortunately a lot of the Google Earth imagery in CR is old or of such low resolution that it is almost worthless.  Alejuela has good resolution, but not Tecares or Gracia. There are however hi-res photos available from the government of this area, just not google earth.  Even so, I have gleaned a lot of info by studying the imagery available from google.

We use picasa to publish our CR photos. I have found a lot of great photos of CR that are published there by individuals who are not trying to sell you something.

While doing my own due diligence I found We Love Costa Rica to be an excellent resource.  Also A.M. Costa Rica is very informative. And there are a number of blogs being published by all sorts of folks about their experiences in CR.  I really like A Broad In Costa Rica by Sally. She has done a stellar job [ahem] and has many links to other sites that I am sure you will want to investigate.

Costa Ricans have a culture and tradition of not being able to say anything bad about their country. Life everyplace has its good and its bad. About 40% of the folks that come here to live don’t last too long. The language, the noise in the cities, the national epidemic of petty theft crimes, the expense of quality items, the lack of many services and products that Americans love, the high cost of cars and fuel, the really laid back attitude are all difficult for some folks.

On the other hand, you actually have more freedom here than in the US. Costa Rica is not a police state, there is no military, the people are very friendly, labor and food are cheap, it is a paradise location.

I chose to stay away from the beach areas because the prices are higher for everything wherever the gringos congregate, the temperature is hotter, there are tropical diseases, crime is higher, and there is more government attention to everything.

There is strong opposition here to CAFTA but it will probably pass because the president wants it and he is doing a pretty good job. This is going to have a big impact on things here. The opposition has staged protests with over 10,000 people attending. Now it is going to be put to the voters on Sept 23. When and if CAFTA is ratified the government monopolies on telephone service, electrical power, and etc will come to an end. The labor unions are going nuts, they don’t want competition, especially foreign competition.

There is much talk about making it easier to immigrate, and some talk about making it harder. The Catholic church has a very strong influence in government here and so do the environmentalists / no-growth folks. There are many problems with water and power in some locations. We recently had rolling blackouts across the entire country because there is not enough electricity being produced and most of it comes from hydro-electric. The government run power entity, ICE, has not been able to stay ahead of the demand. The weather is changing and the reservoirs that are used for both power and drinking water got too low. Now that the rain is here the pressure is off, but some folks think it may take three or four years to get in front of the curve. Naturally CAFTA could change that time schedule. For some unknown reason ICE has not been good at developing geo-thermal and solar power sources. They had some pretty big hydro-electric projects that got shut down because of the environmental impact. They didn’t have a plan B.

One thing I like about the AM Costa Rica on line English newspaper is that they have several years of archives on line for free, including the advertising. I read every issue for the past couple of years and it was very informative.

There are no real estate regulatory agencies and few laws. Anyone and everyone is in the real estate game or has a family member that is in the business. The legal system is very slow to respond so one must be extremely diligent about buying real estate and other real estate related matters.

At this point I am satisfied with the situation and glad to be here. It is hard to get things accomplished but we have accomplished quite a lot in only four months. I figure another four months and we should have things pretty wired.

Pretty soon now we hope to be helping folks investigate Costa Rica from our home using our staff and other resources. We may even advertise in the US. Our family dentist is awesome and the price is so much less. My engineer had been putting off a new bridge for a couple of years because he was quoted 6K to 12K dollars in the US. He paid $600 to have that work done here. My mother had a root canal for about $160 and she says the dentist is the best she ever had. One thing we keep seeing here is that the health care folks will spend as much time with you as you want. They never rush you and they just keep answering your questions until you run out of questions.

Spanish is not really that big of a problem even though none of us speaks the language. We are building our vocabularies and learning as we go. There is almost always someone that is bi-lingual to help and with a few words, some hand gestures, maybe a drawing or two and you can communicate. You won’t be able to discuss the war in Iraq, but you will be able to buy or find what you want. I have successfully used google’s language translator to carry on a conversation on more than one occasion.

FYI, there are S.A. corporations and Limited corporations. The limited ones are easier to maintain. We have four corporations. One owns the house, one owns the car, one for our business and another for a different business that rents from the first business. Having your home owned by a corporation is pretty cool. If we want to sell we just transfer the stock. The ownership of the real estate does not change and therefore it is not re-assessed and the taxes don’t go up.

We pay about $260 per year in property tax. The car is owned by a corporation so that if it becomes a liability our exposure is just the value of the car. It typically costs about $500 to setup a corporation. We have run into some problems with our electricity and banking as sometimes they want a citizen to be on the hook and the whole corporation thing shields individual responsibility.

There are a lot of Nicaraguans living in CR, maybe as many as a million. They are pretty creative and have figured out how to defraud the power and phone companies by setting up corporations. So naturally those utilities are making it harder for foreigners. We still don’t have a bank account for our corporation because we don’t have a Tico on our board of directors.

Good luck and let us know how things are progressing.


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