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I learned four lessons when we moved to Costa Rica

by guest blogger FloridaTico

A gringo was watching men dig a septic tank drain field in Costa RicaMy good friend Ivo has asked me to relate my retiring to Costa Rica.  I had commented that I found 18 pages typed single spaced of my first 3 months.  From this he asked me to relate some of it because he is constantly trying to inform clients about moving to Costa Rica.  He obviously wants to bring out the good and any negatives.  I often say to people, not to ask me about Costa Rica unless they want to hear me talk all day and into the night, because I love Costa Rica.  

I must qualify this since I now live in Florida, but wanting to return.  How I got there may be of importance since a lot of my first impressions may still be prevalent today.  I went down in 1992 to see a high school friend that had just informed me he was retiring to Costa Rica.  He married a Tica who was a teacher in Lawrence, Kansas.  My wife and I came down Spring break since she was a school principal and that was the earliest we could make it.  We immediately fell in love with virtually everything.  They had rented a home in Cariari which spoiled us from the start.  

Lesson number one! 

We immediately heard two stories about the natives.  A gringo was watching men dig a septic tank drain field.  The foreman was meticulously putting the level in the ditch to make sure it was being installed level.  The gringo said, “Shouldn’t that slope down versus being level”?  The Tico immediately said, maybe that is the way you do it in the States, but we do not do it that way here.  When in a foreign country, do not try to change things to your way of life.  The other story was the gringo found a particular item he loved and could always get at his A particular item he loved and could always get at his local pulperíalocal pulpería.  One day he went to purchase it, and it was not there.  He asked the owner where it was and the owner said that it was just so much work to keep it on the shelf so he just stopped stocking it.  This is not to say he was lazy, because they are very hard working people.  It is just their way of life and don’t try to change it. 
I have had a lot of classes in Spanish, but never used it, so I am not fluent.  The first thing you learn is that you may know how to ask the question, but you will fail to understand the answer.  Do not give up.  As I continue, you have to remember it is all in Spanish, so I had to go the extra mile to understand and to be understood.  You will need to learn the language.  In the process of learning, please learn the phrase, “con mucho gusto”.  That means with much pleasure.  It is used when meeting someone or in return for a thank you.  You will be amazed at the speech inflection of a server when you say “Gracias” and he says “Con mucho gusto, Señor!”  In Mexico they say “De Nada” which means there is nothing to it, and I for one call that rude!!   
With our new found love, I started reading everything I could about Costa Rica.  Not much available since internet was not that developed at that time.  In one publication I subscribed to, I found a coffee plantation for sale.  The description was fabulous, so I inquired about it.  To make a long story short, I purchased it in 1993.  It really was in bad shape and coffee was at an all-time low, but I persisted because I just loved the country. 

Here is lesson number two 

A peon came with the property, which is not a derogatory term.  It is just a worker who had to be told daily what to do.  That would never do with a long distance owner.  I was lucky enough to find aThe peon on the coffee farm in Costa Rica man that would work with the peon (José) and give me an evaluation of him.  I realized he would never work out because he had not been trained to make decisions.  My new found man agreed to be my administrator and we decided that he could do it all himself except certain times of the year.  Firing a man is a confrontation, and confrontations in Costa Rica are not done.  So my man (Luis) took José off into the field in privacy to inform him he was now the administrator and would call on José when needed.  This went very well since it was done in private.  Luis had to do this for me since I was not fluent and wanted to be as gentle and fair as possible.  Luis did not speak English either.  You never confront someone in public regardless of the circumstances.  
I went to Costa Rica in 1996 to tend to the farm and just enjoy.  My wife joined me and we rented a little cabin on the mountain in Escazu.  Tight but comfortable.  We were enjoying ourselves and she suddenly realized that she really felt great.  No Advil several times a day and not as many cokes.  The stress and strain of work, plus many back surgeries, almost made her an addict, unknowingly.  In Costa Rica, there was no stress and consequently no pain pills.  I had already quit work and informed her we needed to move to Costa Rica.  She was so ‘work oriented’ that it never dawned on her.  I reminded her that in a year she would have 30 years of education and could retire.  We started looking for a house and of course found one on the mountain overlooking San Jose with the most marvelous views you have ever seen.  I have always been a person of spontaneous decisions, so we purchased it.   

Lesson number three

It is really best to live in a foreign country at least 6 months before committing yourself to buying.  
There are so many stories that are of interest but no room for them here.  I also am one to talk too much about Costa Rica.  We were going to make the move, lock stock and barrel.  Sold the An Isuzu Trooper in Costa Ricahouse, TOO much of our life’s collections and two identical Isuzu Troopers.  Back in ‘97 there were not that many cars and the roads were terrible.  Every car we rented looked great but the chassis was wiped out.  Back then, THEY SAID that the import taxes would be lower for each year up to ten years old.  We realized that a four wheel drive was only necessary because of the heavy duty suspension.  There are four wheel drive roads, but only by choice.  I could buy these cars in the US cheap, but it ended up the import tax was more than what I paid for the cars.  10 years old!  

Lesson number four

Do not take a car with you to Costa Rica.  There are plenty of them in CR now and you save nothing taking a car. 

The next important thing I know to, is pick a Costa Rican moving company, IF you decide to ship household to Costa Rica.  We hired an International company that shipped to Central America.  We had to hire a local “agent” to handle the receipt.  Again, we were not told much except to number the boxes and list what was in them.  Again, long story short, shipments and arrivals were totally not in agreement.  Our Agent seemed to get schedules after the fact and it was a nightmare.  He also came to our house and wanted to review the box contents.  He started out asking how many socks, underwear and etc.  Obviously I did not count each item, just what was in the box.  We learned fast the frustrations you can have in a foreign country.  Aside from my Trooper arriving and broken into while waiting on me, we shipped the other one in the container.  Our agent and my wife went to the office to get the papers for the car to release it.  The person that had the password to the computer was home sick, so they had to go back the next week!!!  That made even our agent mad.  We hired a marvelous company in San Jose to move us back to the US, and I have never had such an enjoyable experience.  If I had hired them to move there, I am sure it would have gone like clockwork.  
With other frustrations we went through the first couple months, I was turning into a drinking man.  Most frustrations relate to our particular situation. But more about that some other time.


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Ivo Henfling

If you are looking to buy a home in Costa Rica or invest in a condo anywhere in the central Valley, or looking for any property for sale in Escazu, you need to call me. I have been selling real estate in Escazu for over 20 years and can show you hundreds of happy buyers of real estate in Escazu and other areas. To me, a deal is not a good deal unless both buyer and seller are happy.

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