Pondering How Best to Serve Readers - Resource or Experience?

Signpost to various worldwide capitals
So many expat experiences, so little time.

Skim to the bottom for recommendations on Expat resources!

Not long ago, I read a review of this blog that got me to thinking. The review was positive, but the reviewer didn't think there was much here about actually becoming or living as an expatriate.

That's fair. A Dull Roar has become, organically, just a place where one might visit to see one slice of the expat experience from a single family's point of view. 

But that does not necessarily make for an in-depth resource for how to become an expat with guidance that applies everywhere for every intention. It's definitely a niche blog in that sense, since, as the home page states, it is mainly about "moving to, retiring in and living with Costa Rica.

I get the implicit point of the reviewer. 

Once the "mechanics" of moving here, obtaining residency, driver's license, paying various "consultants" and taxes are done, my blog would naturally produce posts centered on daily life, culture, wildlife, the weather (egad!), etc.

Perhaps out of guilt for not providing more pithy content, I have been adding a few more nuts-and-bolts articles with practical information (e.g., "The Cost of Owning and Driving a Car in Costa Rica Can Be Daunting"). Shouldn't that make a better mix?

Then, that got me thinking if I should improve the site in other ways too?

Top 10 List of What I Like Best About Living in Costa Rica

One day, after we'd lived here a few years, my son asked me what I missed the most from our former life in Oregon.
Aricara aka Cusinga
I guess that's a question every expat harbors in the back of their mind, the comparison to what was to what is now, although I could not at that moment think of anything in particular I yearned for. But it got me thinking.

Life here is different in so many ways and I still enjoy most of the differences I find here so I don't often feel I'm missing much. It also feels as if it's a waste of time to fret over comparisons to the "old life" that much anyway. 

Be here now, right? 

His personal longing at that moment was for Dr Pepper, by the way, which we've since found.

Anyway, as a result of our musings of missed things, I thought I'd instead focus on a quick list of those things I enjoy about living in Costa Rica. Despite the numbering, the ordering is pretty arbitrary as it's tough to say which features are qualitatively more important than others. It's really the synergy of these and other points taken together that makes me smile, relax, and want to share the positive goodness we've all found living here.

Which Lifestyle Would Cost Our Family Less - Oregon or Costa Rica? - Part 2: Non-Tax Expenses

Comparing Non-Tax Expenses

In this part, I include estimates of monthly costs for food, medical, vehicles, utilities and housing. Part 1, about tax costs, is here.

Food Prices

Comparing food prices between Costa Rica and the U.S. is a complex business. Most expats experience sticker shock in part due to the included 13% sales tax and the fact that so much food in Costa Rica is imported. Want a box of Apple Cinnamon Cheerios? That’ll be about six bucks please. Can you get by with 1-minute oatmeal? Good, because that’s only about 75 cents for a 200g bag. If you look at food here in a 1-for-1 comparison to U.S. products, Costa Rica loses.
cut block of costa rica cheese
Costa Rica Farmer's Cheese, available everywhere
Dairy products are about the same or higher than in the U.S. because producers are protected by steep tariffs on imported milk, etc. from, say, Nicaragua. About the best you can do by weight is local farmer cheese at $2.15/lb. but it’s only aged 30 days. 

We found one store with what we consider a smoking deal on run-of-the-mill sharp cheddar at $6/lb. Many other cheeses are 50-100% more, especially artisan cheese.

Judging by a flyer from our once-local Fred Meyer store in Oregon, I’d say meat prices are on a par in each country, but canned tuna here is out of sight. You have never seen more ways to can tuna than in Costa Rica. They mix it with almost anything to reduce the actual fish content and lower the price.

Costa Rica Cedula Renewal the Second Time Around - A Pleasant Surprise

 Update 2018: The first part of this post is about renewing temporary residency, which is what the vast majority of expats to Costa Rica must endure their first three years. Then, I discovered Residente Permanente status, which the post below covers. We recently went through our second PR renewal, which could not have gone smoother. Now I am in the process of seeking citizenship, which is a whole 'nother deal but has some interesting benefits.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Sometime around the end of 2013, I started to faintly hear a giant sucking sound, which I soon identified as an impending residency cedula renewal event fast approaching. 

Costa Rican Residency ID card
That giant sucking sound of cedula renewal
If you've followed this blog for long, you may recall that we had completed our first renewal the middle of last summer, which makes it appear that Dec. should have been way too early to fret about renewal again. For all the bloody details, read about that first renewal, but the takeaway was that it consumed far more time than it should have, turned out all-right in the end, but left us a short window to the next renewal.

The Very First Time Through the Maze

In hindsight, our first renewal difficulty was rooted in our out-of-the-mainstream initial residency application and the procedural swamp that characterized Costa Rica's immigration process back in 2008.

The Cost of Owning and Driving a Car in Costa Rica Can Be Daunting

Update June 2018: Yes, we still own this car, it's been very reliable since the rebuild and we have a fantastic (and inexpensive) mechanic who is actually just a stone's throw away. In fact, we are breathing new life into this vehicle by having a full body refurb. That means a full tear-down, pressure cleaning inside and out, new seals, new fog lights, repaint inside and out (with pearl-ized clear coat), etc., etc.

Cost for that? About $1700! Try that in the States. It's actually a common tactic here for Ticos to make a car last as long as possible due to the heavy costs of buying new, or to prepare a car for sale, which provides a nice segue into the original posting ...

We purchased our first car in Costa Rica, a 2006 Mitsubishi Montero Sport turbo diesel 4x4, when we arrived to stay for good back in 2008. It didn't seem a great luxury at the time even though the cost was nearly twice what you'd pay in the States, if you could find a diesel version there. That's basically the rule of thumb here for cars, new or used. Purchase prices are double that in the States.

mitsubishi montero with motor missing
The time we had the diesel motor rebuilt
That fact of life here is due to import duties, sales tax, and property transfer tax but also because the number of drivers in Costa Rica has been growing rapidly for years. Strong demand and weak supply play a big role in driving up asking prices.

If only the madness would stop there, it wouldn't be so bad.

Squeezing Colossal Returns from Your Retirement Kitty in Costa Rica

Update: We've had our CDs here for 2.5 years now. Even with the 5% devaluation of the Colon to the U.S. dollar, we are still getting an overall 9% return approximately. We've added to the mix now with a shorter-term USD CD paying 4.05% to maturity.

I just updated the chart with the most recent rates as of May 2018 in the text of the original posting.

We still have a lot of confidence in our choice of credit unions for our CDs here as they are the biggest one, have been in business 50 years and still enjoy the highest growth rate and liquidity compared to both credit unions and banks here.

===== Original article =====
I've been aware of the enormous interest rates on savings in Costa Rica since we moved here, but until recently was unable to take full advantage of them because spare cash was tied up in other things and, I must admit, the big returns made me gun shy. I mean, there has to be a catch right? Yes, there is a catch, but looking back over our 7 years residing here, with the absolute clarity that 20-20 hindsight provides, I wish we'd taken the plunge sooner.

CoopeNae CD Rates for Colones and USD
Latest Rates from CoopeNae (May 2018)
As you can see from the chart at the right, phenomenal rates can be had on Certificates of Deposit denominated in Colones. Rates for U$D deposits are dramatically less, but much higher than in the U.S., up to 4.3%.

For deposit amounts in five figures or higher, you can actually negotiate slightly higher rates as well. We were able to get 12% with a quarterly payout of interest on one CD.

The highest rates are not universal. These quoted at the right are from our favorite credit union. Regional Bank CDs yield 2 or 3 points lower and National Banks even lower. The latter provide something like the FDIC insurance coverage enjoyed in the States however.

Which brings us to why you might not want to invest in such CDs:

8 Ways to Get Your Holiday Goodies into Costa Rica Easily or Safely

My post about how to receive packages in Costa Rica while avoiding having them snagged by Customs, which requires a trip to San José and a couple hours of bureacratic SNAFU to retrieve said package, continues to be one of my more popular articles.

Still, I often get asked the question: "Just how do you get stuff shipped into Costa Rica?"

Drone chasing Cary Grant in North by Northwest still
Attack of the Drones - CC-SA-3.0

Unfortunately, Amazon drone delivery does not seem to be on the horizon anytime soon. Even though Amazon recently announced they are opening up direct shipping to CR for many more items, they never seem to ship what I need.

So, to supplement the original article, here is a list (perhaps incomplete) on the various methods that I've either used or have learned second-hand from others who have found them to be successful.

It includes the shipping of documents, small stuff and bigger packages.

Want to Buy a Lovely Costa Rica Finca? or Selling, but Not Selling Out

panoramic sunset from our costa rica balcony
View from the balcony of our house. Cerro de La Muerte just beyond the clouds
[Update: The property now includes an artistic guest cabin with outdoor kitchen and bath, but the price remains the same! Check it out via our AirBnB listing: www.airbnb.com/rooms/23323245 

Also, be sure to see the drone video of this property taken last summer on YouTube: https://youtu.be/rfaVx4HD6SM ]

The price of the entire property is $269,000. We are open to financing with 20% down with level payments over 10 years.

Here's a rough summary (more details can be found at the "Our Finca Sale" page, which you can access just under the blog header photo above):

  • Located at 4,000 ft. elevation just north of San Isidro de El General. The air is always fresh and cool and the views are outstanding
  • Walking distance to Matasanos village and the larger towns of San Ramón Sur and San Ramón Norte.
  • Fresh, cold, clean water comes from a spring flowing right out of the Las Piedras granite batholith, part of which crosses the property.

Peaceful Tranquility for Adventuresome Travelers of Costa Rica's Serene Southern Mountains in Our Artistic Cabina

About three years ago we got the bright idea (it seemed at the time anyway to be bright) of adding a small cabin to our property here in Costa Rica's La Zona Sur for would-be guests, family and friends in particular. Click here for the AirBnB listing.

We worked on it only during our summer months the first couple of years from about January to April. This year, we felt we were close enough to completion that we could make firm invites to people to visit and enjoy the seclusion of our hideaway cabin during their stay. Some friends did accept and were to arrive mid-February.

The Big Push

Thus, mid-November we made the "big push" to get it all in order figuring an early start would get us done about the middle or end of January. Who knew that we'd be putting on the finishing touches right up until dark the day before our guests arrived! These last few months were a slog at times with long hours about six days a week. Other projects were put on the back burner during this time that we're only catching up on now.

4 mosaics adorn the outside walls of the costa rica cabin
Four tropical-themed mosaics grace the outside walls

We brought in electricity (which we didn't have except from a small generator during previous seasons), wired the place, brought in water from our second spring, added windows, gutters, an outdoor kitchen, outdoor toilet and shower, tower and tank for the shower and so on. As we crossed off another task on our to-finish list, we added two more right up until the final weeks.