Saturday, May 25, 2013



Today, Blair-Pacific Publishing will feature a guest post. 

Cliff Strait is a political analyst who lives in San Jose, Costa Rica.  He’s been an Ex-Pat for about a decade. He keeps his thumb on the pulse on Central America happenings and is very familiar with Panama because he’s in the process of converting his residency status to move to our fair country.



Those who move to Costa Rica must have more money than brains. They are the ones who have failed to do their due-diligence, as I did.  Unfortunately we are at least 10 years too late to enjoy the best years Costa Rica had to offer.

Costa Rica is a beautiful country with an abundance of tourist attractions and activities, but a place to live and work, is all together something else.

For those mega US companies who set up shop here, this is all together another ball game.  These companies can negotiate lucrative tax incentives, which leaves the under paid employees paying the taxes, rather than them.  They are also able to get away with cut cutting measures they are not able to get away with back home.

There are a lot of misleading articles out on the internet these days,  in particular by blogers who primarily make their money off having, relocation conferences, of which they charge a pretty penny for.  Some times they are even tied in with the developers as well.  Then there are the websites put up by developers, real estate agents or scavengers as I like to refer to them as, to bilk you out of your hard earned money.

Most Gringos loose most of their principle they invested in their homes on the resale, because most over pay.  The problem is twofold, there is no multiple listing service, many homes are in corporations, so it is easy to hide the true value for tax purposes, but difficult at best for an unsuspecting buyer to figure out market values.  Then there are the unscrupulous real estate agents who take a listing and add tens of thousands of dollars, if not hundreds of thousands on to the sales price which already includes the commission.  Last but not least, is the issue of getting a clear title, because there are not any real title companies here as we know them to be in North America.

Another difference that stood out for me, since I am from the Southwestern part of the United States is, most homes are built, lot line to lot line, in a country that has a lot of cheap land in comparison to the United States and Canada. You rarely see a city home lot which is approximately 10, 000 square feet here in Costa Rica.

There may be some method to the madness or rhyme or reason to this, it could be for security reasons. It reduces the number of ways to break into a property; in most cases, just from the front, or the back.

Standard of living is an issue for most North Americans. Costa Rica is filthy place for starters. All you have to do is open your eyes to the trash in the rivers and along the sides of many of their waterfalls, in vacant lots, and along the sides of the roads. 

Dogs tear into the trash waiting to be picked up because there is no such thing as leash laws, dog catcher, or dog ponds. There is little pride of ownership of their national treasures or for their own country.

One of many stark differences for me, as well as for many Ticos who have lived and worked outside of their home country most of their lives is, all the steel bars over the doors and windows.  This alone should be an eye opening tale tale sign of how unsafe a country is.  One Tico who had retired from working and living in the United States put it best.  He and his wife had the same North American dream of retiring in Costa Rica to live like kings and queens.  While in his medical clinic, he stated, "I feel like I am a prisoner in my own country.  I have to have my home and my business barred up, I can't go home at the end of the day and put on my running clothes and go for a run without feeling unsafe."

You hear about the mosquitoes, malaria, and dengue, but yet they have a built in system to create standing water.  Next time you are in a residential neighborhood, note the 4 inch white PVC coming from the home to the street.  This can be water coming from the sinks in the home or from their showers.  This water can stand in the gutters for the mosquitoes to lay their eggs.  This is the same water that ends up in the near by rivers.  Yes, all the rivers end up dumping into the ocean.  This is happening because they do not want to have to pay to pump water from their septic tanks.

Then there are the poor roads, sidewalks, utilities that do not work consistently.

If you get into a car accident, don’t expect any resolution for at least 6 to 9 years, not months. This holds true for almost any type of court action. If you have any property, it will be in the system for that time frame as well. This means you can’t sell or rent it.

If you get private health insurance, expect INS to reject coverage based on pre-existing conditions.  Oh, you have to pay the bill out of your pockets first, then they decide what they will cover or NOT. 

If it is car insurance, expect INS the government insurance company to use claims as a profit center by rejecting claims based on the poor conditions of the roads, or because of the many speed bumps the government installs here in Costa Rica. Get ready for this, if the car accident is your fault and anyone gets hurt to the point of being  incapacitated for more than 5 days, it becomes a felony case, and you could end up in jail for several years.  This is after you have been paying premiums.  All because your insurance company refused to pay.

The cost of living is the highest in all of Central America, as well as in the United States. The reason is because the government uses import duties as a means of taxation, rather than using duties to protect domestic industries. Plus, Costa Rica is a consuming nation, not a producing nation, so virtually everything is imported.  My understanding is, most imported items pay approximately 40% import duty, then when the consumer goes to purchase the item, they pay an additional 13% more.

Yes, the locals are use to dealing with Gringos, it is called “Gringo Bingo”, this means there is a price for them and a higher price for the Gringos. This is regardless of how well you speak Spanish. If they can tell when a person is from another Spanish speaking country, they definitely know you are not from around here. They get the same treatment as the Gringos.

When my kids came here and saw the schools, it was an automatic rejection. Heck, they do not even have toilet paper, much less paper towels for the kids. The best of schools in Costa Rica look like dumps compared to any of the schools in Arizona.

Sports programs in the school system are a joke. If the schools can't afford toilet paper and paper towels, they surely can't afford sports equipment. If they can't afford these small things, what makes you think they have the money to hire good qualified teachers?  On top of that, the schools have more reasons to be closed than open. This makes it difficult at best to plan your own days, weeks or months. Plus, private schools are not cheap in Costa Rica, you may as well pay the property tax back home, at least you get something for your money.

The Ticos may be happy living under their tin roofs, barred up windows like in a prison, rat and roach infested homes, with sidewalks covered in dog feces. I don’t think the Gringos I know would consider this increasing their quality of life. This is why there is a mass exodus to Panama, Colombia, and other countries, including Europe, even as cold as it is.

Then there are issues like seafood, fish and chicken sitting out in the wide open in Walmart without a sneeze guard. This would not be allowed by any state health department.  This does not address the dumping of rejected products, seconds, slightly damaged or flawed products being sold in trusted stores like name brand stores consumers trust.  Most American brands do not honor warrantees outside the US and Canada.  All of this goes to show how far corporate greed will go if unchecked.

We North Americans take for granted, how the health departments protect us from unseen heath issues such as not allowing restaurants to cook our food in aluminum pots and pans because of the association to Alzheimer’s. Not the case in Costa Rica.

This is why those of us Gringos who have lived here for any length of time, will advise anyone considering moving to any other country, to rent for at least a year before purchasing.

There is a lot of miss-leading if not downright false information being disseminated, mostly for ulterior motives. Beware of the wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Cliff Strait

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