Smiles and Patience-Facts About Living and Retiring in Costa Rica

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Helpful facts about Living and Retiring in Costa Rica from someone named Charlotte Ann Cabezas Creed, a farm girl from down home Alabama-United States of America. 

I first started coming to Costa Rica in 1968, a newly wed starry eyed young bride.  No, I did not speak a word of Spanish.

1967-My husband Rod had just finished his medical doctor internship at Columbus, Georgia Medical Center and I had just finished my nurses training there. Two years earlier he had made it all the way from Mexico City  traveling in a Greyhound bus and $50 in his pocket.  He charmed his way thru everything- yes, he was loaded with charm.. He sure charmed me. He asked me to marry him and it all sounded like a great wonderful adventure.  I was raised on an isolated farm, nearest town-Abbeville, Alabama  with a whopping population of 3,500 people.  And in the peace and quiet of the farm, I read novels –chosen from the Book Mobile on Wheels-  about the Caribbean Islands with their pampered plantation life- filled with glamor and romance. I so looked forward this kind of life with Rod.

1968- We packed up and moved from Columbus, Georgia to Des Moines Iowa for Rod to begin his thoracic surgery training. The Iowans were great people quite contrary to my pre conceived idea of cold introverted personalities.  My work as a nurse in a small hospital in Des Moines is among the best memories of my nursing career.  They smiled as I entered the hospital on a cold morning in early October with a fur coat, two pairs of wool socks and snow boots.  “My Charlotte, there is only 1/2 inch snow on ground- You are not at the North Pole!”   This was the second time that I had ever seen snow.  The first on a very cold January morning on the farm, we awakened  to a wonderful surprise..the ground was covered with snow.  We were mesmerized!

We took our first Christmas vacation to Costa Rica to spend with Rod’s family.  I was anxiously awaiting palm trees and sky blue waters.  As we drove into Alajuela my facial expression began to change.  A very unattractive town indeed!  I  began to feel a stranger in a strange land.  Rod’s two old maid aunts spoke to me in Spanish-on and on in Spanish and all I could do was smile and node my head.  This was my first encounter with Costa Rica.  In a few days we were out into the countryside and the world here was very different.  Beautiful! One thousand shades of green.  Mountains and valleys- looked just like pictures I had seen of Switzerland.  The longer we stayed the more the place grew on me.  And as we left- I knew I was in love with Costa Rica.

The years passed quickly. We remained in US-settled in Atlanta , Georgia.  We worked, loved, and created two beautiful children- a perfect pair-boy and girl. And I still was not able to call Costa Rica my home.

1998-The children grew up, went out to fulfill their own dreams.  Rod retired from his surgical practice, and we set sail for Costa Rica. To live forever in that world of tropical rivers, towering volcanoes, lush rainforest, and the deep blue waters of the Pacific Ocean.  Drinking Costa Rica coffee in the morning and the best Rum in the world mixed  with fresh coconut juice in the evenings.  Life is  good.

Living in Costa Rica was very pleasant.  We spent our days with friends and Rod’s family.  Everything seemed good. Cost of living was not high so we were able to spend week ends on the beach and vacation in the mountains,  and enjoy outings to gourmet restaurants with friends.  Costa Rica at that time was not an expensive country to live.  I loved the “Garden of Eden” beauty of the countryside.  Yes, I was in love with Costa Rica.

Rod missed his surgical practice-he was too young to retire. He loved his country very much. When a third party political group was formed by an organization called  Citizens For Action, he jumped on board.  Giving his best to the “anti corruption ” theme of the new party.  Two years went by….the party was successful but did not win the presidency. On December 25, 2002 Rod left the house and never returned   He was like a bird out of a cage.  He cherished his newly found occupation of politician.

I left Costa Rica for the United States and remarried a wonderful photographer and videographer named Ken. Several years later we spent several months together in Costa Rica.  Ken made a beautiful documentary of Costa Rica which sells on Amazon-“Costa Rica A Travel Adventure Spectacular” But Ken was not in love with Costa Rica -as I was.

2016- I returned to Costa Rica alone.  But I was shocked at how things had changed.  Yes so much had changed.  It was not the quiet little county I so loved.  Hundreds of vehicles crowded the roads.  Infrastructure could not keep up.  Traffic was mind boggling.  And everything was so expensive.  From products I was so used to purchasing in US- ice cream, steaks,  good cheese,  chicken, and even hamburger meat.  Only inexpensive place I could find to shop was the weekend Alajuela Farmers Market known as the Ferria.  Here the farmers bring their fresh vegetables and fruits into town.   I wanted to purchase a small house on outskirts of Alajuela.  Prices had sky rocked.  Land  in a nice development- $300 square meter or $45,000 for a nice lot.

Cost of construction had risen about 40% since was last lived here in 2002.  A 1200 square foot house- constructed  of concrete block and average finishes … minimum $120,000.

The prices in an average Restaurant, now for lunch is $15 per person and up.  Dinner is $20 and up per person.  Gourmet restaurants are much higher .

Apartments are expensive, depending on where you live in Costa Rica.  Escazu-western suburb of San Jose, the capital city-  the choice spot for foreigners-$1000 and up for a small apartment.

Some North American are settling in Grecia- thirty minutes  from Alajuela .  SJO international airport is located  in Alajuela.  Housing is somewhat less expensive here.  Also,  Atenas-about one and one half hours  from San Jose, is popular with North  Americans for its very nice climate of around 72 degrees year round.

What advice would you give people planning to retire to Costa Rica?  

First- enroll in a Spanish class…knowing at least some of the language will open a whole new world and make your life here more fulfilled.

Smile a lot and develop Patience.  Getting very upset and irritated- just look around- you are probably the only one upset!

You do want to be near other North Americans who organize social gathering- get to know each other and share what your are learning in this new country.

Admit you are going to be in cultural shock for quite sometimes.  Nothing works here like in North America, so learn not to say, “But back home we do it etc etc.”

Learn to live with high prices. You probably thought you were coming to Costa Rica to live “cheap”.  Surprise!

Accept that vehicles are very expensive in CR.  Twice what they cost in North America, and repairs are also very expensive.  All parts are imported and added gov. tax raises the prices.  Gas is around $4 gallon.  Auto insurance- well I buy it but still I do not understand it well…don’t move the vehicle in case of police  911–  call your insurance company..for a small fender bender you could be tired up for an entire afternoon.

If you want to be on CR roads–well how do I put this–the Costa Ricans drive like —–I have several words to describe them but best not write them here.  The best of the words is “Crazy”  This is my least favorite part of Costa Rican Society.

Second least favorite is the cost of security.  You have to make your home like a fortress.  Locks- locks- and double locks.  My friend asked my what are all those bars on all the windows?  I replied, ” Well, it is not for decoration.” Best if you settle in a gated community. This is a little better. You must have a garage for your vehicle or in the dark of the night—– you may get up in the morning and never see your wheels again.


Important to know- Costa Ricans do not like confrontation.  They will not tell you the hard truth.  They don’t like to argue. In the end many times telling you what you want to hear.  So you never know –how solid is the ground I’m standing on?

What does the slogan mean- “Costa Rican are the Happiest People in the World”  Well..this country is very small and is a social democracy without a standing army.  Basic health care is available thru the Caja and is not a ton of money each month to pay the premium.  However it is what it states- basic health care.  For surgery you will have to wait, and wait, and wait..  However, People do not expect a lot–happy with what they have–take care of their elderly–keep the extended family together  Live a relaxed life.  Weather is nice-lots sunshine and lots rain (in the rainy season) ..Costa Rica has a huge amount of water flowing from the base of the volcanoes..never a shortage of water.   Tropical climate, lots colorful birds and flowers. Fresh fruits and veges are available every weekend at the town Ferria  (Farmers Market)- very affordable…  Perhaps the Costa Rican saying “Pura Vida” (Pure Life) is a reflexion of all these values.

Banks.  “I thought I would die of a heart attack trying to open a bank account” said a pretty middle age American woman.

Advice:  Have patience and smile-Open a dollar account and keep your money in dollars.  Change only the amount you need for daily living. Remember the dollar is the strong currency.  The colon is the weak currency.

You will need a lawyer for everything so get used to it.. and lawyers here are not cheap.  Power of Attorney yesterday–very simple one-cost me $150. They open a little book..”Look here,”  he said.  “All fees are regulated by the College of Law.”  “So you can see I am not overcharging you.”   Didn’t make me feel any better.

What are the things about Costa Rica you like best?  Hands down, the WEATHER- sunny mild all year round.  I love the rainy season May- November.  Smiling Costa Ricans who truly like North Americans.  Relaxed way of life- don’t get in a hurry. The green that is everywhere…flowers, rain forests, colorful birds, beautiful beaches, gorgeous mountains.

The Costa Rican people are warm, friendly, and helpful- never get in a hurry.  Smiles and Patience is best recipe for a long and happy life in Costa Rica.

I love working in tourism here.  People come -bring their families and have a great outdoor adventure experience. I love being a part of planning their itineraries. And hear them say “We were able to really relax and enjoy our vacation, thanks to Ann’s excellent help.

Above photo is Anita, owner of Soda Toby is the remote area of the Blue River in northern central Costa Rica.  She and her family live a relaxed, unhurried life- you can tell in her beautiful smile.   She is an excellent chef.  One of her prize dishes is green papaya picadillo, made from finely chopped green papaya-slightly boiled– freshly squeezed lemon juice, finely chopped boiled new  potatoes salt, pepper.  For the  yellow color she added a small amount of acjiote, a red paste made from a fruit grown here in Costa Rica  Eat it wrapped in a freshly made corn tortilla.























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