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Searching for specialty goods in Costa Rica

Estimated Reading Time: 6 Minutes

Searching for specialty goods in Costa Rica

I needed some specialty goods and really had a hard time finding them. There are other food items to cover on Costa Rica’s hard-to-find list.

But I thought men are less interested in edibles. So today, as a men’s section of blogs,  I’ll explain how I found a shortage of some specialty goods in Costa Rica.

The first item is a ½” dwelling. It had to be used in a neighbor’s birdcage and begins this week’s hard-to-find list. I’ve been to all of the usual places I know in the Central Valley. I found a dowel in dimensions from ¾” and larger diameters, but not the size I needed.

So, when I went on a trip to California, I wound up in Home Depot. There, I bought a 48” x ½” dowel, cutting it in half and sticking it in my suitcase. Now, my neighbor has a year’s supply of four 24” x ½” dowels.

You’re probably not going to need doweling all that often. But it’s an example of specialty goods that may exist at some supplier’s facility here.  For sure, it’s costly on gas, time, and effort, trying to find it.

Searching for specialty goods in Costa Rica

I’ve found that it always winds up a tradeoff between:

  1. Spending the Colones,
  2. Time and fuel to find it;
  3. Making it when possible;
  4. Finding a suitable alternative,
  5. Not finding a suitable alternative and putting it on your shopping list for the next trip to North America.

With my tongue only slightly in my cheek, I suggest going native and buying a grinder and an arc welder instead of shopping for specialty goods. There seems to be very little in this country that can’t be repaired, created, or adapted with those tools in hand.

Make your own

Another example of hard- or impossible-to-find specialty goods, is a quality, insulated power cord. If you have one before moving, bring it! I brought plenty and I’m sure they must be more expensive than the average Tico wants to pay if you can find one.  Tico handymen usually make their own. They call it a MacGyver!

A 220V extension cord, a necessity for arc welding, and you should see what the Ticos use in place of them when welding. OSHA would shudder.

Searching for specialty goods in Costa Rica

Out of stock?

I’d like to share another experience with you. When you finally locate a supplier of those hard-to-find specialty goods, there’s a 50% chance they will be out of stock. Or they only carry half of what you require for your project. That’s because they can’t afford to carry a large inventory of items that are not in high demand.

The other possibility is they have stopped carrying what you really wanted. They now replaced it with a product that is totally unacceptable for your needs. All three scenarios have already happened to me.

A Good Bet

Has the supplier discontinued the item you need? Or is that shipment of it is expected in perhaps six months? Then, before you walk out the door,  put on your most friendly gringo smile.

With a great smile, you’ll be able to enlist the supplier’s clerk to go to bat for you. If the store is part of a chain, ask if there is any stock at another of the stores. Or maybe in their warehouse. You can also ask if the ordering department at the supplier’s warehouse can order more of it for you.

Searching for specialty goods in Costa Rica

Be a Regular Customer

It won’t always work, but if you’re a regular customer or the order is big enough, that might help. I’ve had some success using this approach.

However, don’t expect most clerks to offer to find it for you. Sadly, customer service, generally, isn’t part of the retail culture in Costa Rica. Most of the time they won’t volunteer to assist you in this manner. That’s because they either don’t think of it, haven’t been trained well, or are encouraged to be proactive. Or worse, they just don’t care.

It’s a matter of proper training. Unfortunately, a good customer service experience seems to occur less and less frequently in the States as well.

Simply wait?

Sometimes your only alternative will simply be to wait. An example: I urgently needed ½” irrigation emitter hose. It was out of stock at the only good hardware store in the Central Valley.  I seem to have quite a bit of difficulty with things that are ½” in diameter. I really needed to irrigate in the dryness of early December. This irrigation emitter hose would arrive in a container from Italy in the middle of April. Just in time for the rainy season.

You’re right—when it arrived, I bought much more hose than I thought I needed. Just in case it is out of stock the next time I might have run out of it.

Upon reflection, I should have stopped on our last visa renewal trip to Nicaragua at one of the large agricultural suppliers.  I could have checked to see if they stocked the½” hose. With the price of gasoline at over $5.00 a gallon I never get in the car without trying to consider what else we might need.

So, before you pack your container when moving to Costa Rica, think about what specialty goods you might need in the future.

The Author

The author of this blog, Ticonuevo, is a US expat who moved to Costa Rica. He and his wife used the services of GoDutch Realty to purchase a property in Costa Rica. In his blogs, Ticonuevo describes his own experiences of taking the step of moving to Costa Rica and getting a new life started.


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