It's a frame up I tell ya!

Since the work crew finished the floor and columns (see picture a couple of posts back), I’ve been working on the framing of the cottage by my lonesome. It’s been slow, not helped by the unusual frequency of rainy afternoons this summer, although when I look back at the old picture and then this one, I feel a lot better! I’m hoping to finish the framing for the lower roof and get a waterproof skin up within the next couple of weeks. This summer seems to be closing up on us fast, so there’s no time to waste.

Two new sets of laws became effective March 1st in Costa Rica. One is a long delayed reform of the traffic laws, the other is an updating of the immigration rules. The traffic law, especially, is going to have a widespread and significant impact. Some of the changes are overdue, but others seem a bit over the top.

The two main features of the new traffic law (Ley de Tránsito) are a large increase in most fines and drivers licenses that now come with “points”. Given the low incomes of most Ticos the new fines seem almost Draconian to me. I don’t recall the exact figures but here’s a rough idea of the difference. Before the new law if you were ticketed for, say, running a stop sign (and didn’t bribe your way out of the ticket) you’d have paid around 20-30 bucks, whereas now that same fine is closer to $300. Talking on a cell phone (not hands-free, that is), about $400. Pretty much the same multiplier across the board.

Some requirements of the law are completely new to drivers here. More or less, they have adopted the same child seat requirements as in the U.S. There were none before. Getting caught without the proper child seat can mean loss of your license and about a $500 fine. Personally, I support these regulations in spirit, but imagine the impact it has on the typical family here, which usually consists of 4 or more kids plus parents all jammed into one car. They don’t have the room, legally, for the whole family, can’t afford a second car, and buying child seats or booster seats at about 50-100 bucks a pop is a big expense for someone making well under a thousand a month. It will be interesting to see how they adjust. Getting caught without the proper child seat can mean loss of your license and about a $500 fine. If there’s a loophole in all this you can bet they’ll find it.

Then there’s the points system. Each license now starts off with 50 points (I don’t know if this is per year or per renewal period, which is 2 years). Even the smallest infraction is going to cost you about 10 points, most are 20 points or more. Drunk driving takes away your license as does driving more than 120 kph (about 75 mph).

Supposedly, the new law has widespread public support, which surprises me, but maybe Ticos are fed up with all the bad driving. Gee, and I was just getting used to it!

The biggest complaint I hear about the new traffic laws is that since the fines are now so much higher and you have greater risk of losing your license that that is just going to make the practice of “chorizo” (bribery) even more prevalent, and more expensive. To their credit the government has foreseen this side-effect and is trying to crack down on this by putting out a hot-line number you can call to turn in the bad cops, and putting more cops together at stops. I’m not sure how effective that is going to be given that chorizo has been around a long time and it benefits the briber as much as the bribed.

The new immigration law streamlines things for long-term tourists, at a cost, but generally raises the bar on those seeking residency. In reality, it remains to be seen how the regulations will be written to meet the law. Not even the director of immigration knows fully what’s going on. He made a number of factual statements one day only to renounce and revise them the following day. Sheesh! The basic outline, however, seems to be that tourists will be able to extend their visa every 90 days within the country (for $100 each time) up to a year (original visa plus three renewals). Then they must leave for a short period and return on a new visa. Apparently one can do that indefinitely. Those seeking residency under either Pensionado (retired) or Rentista will see the income requirements rise to $1,000/month and $2,500/month, respectively. Rentista was revised such that one can bring in spouse and dependents under that $2500, whereas before additional income was needed for each person. I’ve seen it mentioned that one will be able to get residency under the Inversionista (investor) classification by virtue of owning a house worth more than $200,000. That would be a significant easing of the Inversionista and, if true, would probably become the residency of choice in my opinion. I would have jumped at that versus Pensionado if we’d had that option.

There are going to be new ways for residents to gain work permits here, also, but those seem very much undefined at the moment. Anyone working here and anyone who has obtained residency is going to be required to join the CAJA (the government health care system), which will be checked at the time you renew your cédula (ID card). It was always our plan to join CAJA anyway, so this has no impact personally, but I think the rationale that they are trying to broaden the insured pool to help spread costs is a red herring. It is always implied that foreigners are somehow using the resources of CAJA without paying for it. This is simply BS as there is no way, without membership, that you can access CAJA medical services. There is a very healthy private medical sector here, which most foreign residents use. CAJA for us is backup against major illness. The new requirement is simply another way to tax “rich” residents to support an expansion of the healthcare system. Being a foreigner, and believing in universal health care, I can’t in good conscience complain loudly about that. But I do wish they’d not try to pull the wool over our eyes and I do think they ought to do a better job of weighing the economic benefits that most foreign residents bring versus how far they can directly or indirectly make Costa Rica a less economically viable retirement option. It’s not like Costa Rica has cornered the market on nice climates and inexpensive places to live. In fact, of the Latin American countries that fall into that category, CR is probably one of, if not the most, expensive already (Uruguay anyone?).

- Casey

1 comment:

  1. You are right about the brides. The OIJ arrested two transit cops in Jaco that tried to extore $1000 from a carload of tourists.


Thanks so much for your comment! - Casey