Retiring to Costa Rica: Some Mysteries Unraveled

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    [captionpix imgsrc=”” align=”left”]Let’s pick up where we left off in my last column on the importance of a “due diligence” tour of Costa Rica before zeroing in on a retirement target of moving here. So let’s say you have made a few trips down, found a community that suits your lifestyle and pocketbook and located a cadre of Gringo and Tico friends that you trust to offer good advice. Or perhaps you joined up with one of the packaged “retirement tours” that bused you around the countryside, introduced you to key people and services and provided experts to answer your questions, presenting both the many good things about this beautiful country as well as some of the challenges presented by living in a developing nation.

    Ideally, you have weeded out, sold or given away much of your “stuff,” and have stored your remaining household goods. In this hypothetical scenario, you and your spouse have been in Costa Rica for six months or so, having moved down in a couple of big suitcases and rented a furnished apartment or house. After all this research, complimented by your own experience living here, you have now decided that Costa Rica really is the place you want to spend your retirement years.

    Good for you! I hope it’s a decision you will always consider a wise one in the months ahead. But now what? Will you go back and dispose of the rest of your worldly possessions and continue renting furnished places as you slowly purchase new furniture and other household goods here? Or should you ship all your belongings to Costa Rica? Big questions, no easy answers.

    For one thing, everyone’s situation is different. You may own carefully collected and valuable artwork, irreplaceable family heirlooms, books or other documents needed for future work or perhaps a vintage McIntosh sound system that you bought instead of going to graduate school. Some “stuff” is just hard to part with! And indeed, some of those things are what make a house your “home.”

    [captionpix imgsrc=”” align=”right” captiontext=”Author Arden Brink”]Fortunately, there are many resources available to you in making those decisions. As most North Americans know, the Internet offers a wealth of information, from glaringly self-serving real estate sites to well-documented all-round information sites on residency, medical care, living costs and more. Try a Google search on “retire in Costa Rica” and you will have some four million offerings to choose from. In addition, there are now dozens of expat blogs, including my own Fabulista de Costa Rica (shameless plug!), sharing personal experiences of life in Costa Rica as well as books in print offering advice and guidance on retiring here, investing here, shipping services, medical tourism and more. Much of the information is excellent, well researched and full of worthwhile admonitions. But by the same token, there is a lot of garbage out there masquerading as solid fact. As my mother once said when I gave a glowing report on what I had read about Costa Rica, “They must have a great public relations firm working for them.”

    One book that is definitely worth your time is Unraveling the Mysteries of Moving to Costa Rica, part of the “Mainers in Costa Rica” series by Arden Brink. I mentioned Arden in my last column as one of the speakers who addressed our group during George Lundquist’s “Relocation and Retirement Tour,” which Layne and I took a few weeks back as research for workshops we plan to offer in the United States next summer. Arden’s half-hour talk over breakfast could only hit the high points of planning, packing, shipping and dealing with customs and, in answer to queries, transporting pets. Having finished the review copy Arden sent to me, I can highly recommend the book.

    If you have questions about shipping household goods to Costa Rica, Unraveling the Mysteries of Moving to Costa Rica has the answers. Although the subject seems boring on the face of it, Arden makes the story of her move and the painful lessons learned both entertaining and informative. Partly that’s because she made so many mistakes, which seem funny now but undoubtedly were not at the time. Still, her sense of humor in describing the seemingly crazy idea of quitting her job, talking her husband and parents into the move (all of whom had significant health issues), then the miscalculations in packing a huge household, which led to carrying nineteen suitcases on the airplane, all make for a delightfully readable book. At the very least, you’ll know what not to do when the time comes for you to make your move to Costa Rica.

    [captionpix imgsrc=”” align=”left”]But the real value in this small volume is the wealth of nitty-gritty information contained in it, based on Arden’s personal experiences and including abundant details. A confluence of unexpected coincidences led Arden and her husband David to join one of George Lundquist’s tours and it turned out to be a fortunate decision for them. Not only did they travel to the areas in which they had preliminary interest, but also it was on the tour that Arden met Barry Wilson of Ship Costa Rica, the shipping company that they eventually hired and with whom Arden eventually became a business partner. With Barry’s advice and with many missteps along the way, they loaded two 40’ containers with everything from a grand piano to a Ford minivan. The story of the actual packing of these containers would make a good comedy script for a movie but eventually, the story ended happily as the trucks drove away with their worldly possessions.

    Arden’s experience in shipping her own household has been enhanced by her years as a shipper and the knowledge acquired is evident throughout the book. Her practical advice on what to bring and what not to bring, how to evaluate what size container you need and what it may cost, how to pack your valuables, tie down a car, work with the shipper and create an all-important inventory will be helpful to anyone planning to ship a houseful of furniture. Beyond the many details of shipping that the book covers, the last section called “More Useful Stuff” offers an array of online and print resources, Arden’s sample budget of living expenses in Costa Rica, projected and actual, and some of the factors to consider in choosing where to live.  Finally, she adds some cautionary tales of expats who made the move only to return to the United States a few years later. As Arden says several times throughout the book, moving to Costa Rica is not for everyone and part of her goal is to help you evaluate your suitability for such a major transition in life.

    In large part, Arden hopes you will learn from her mistakes. Buying land on their first trip to Costa Rica when they didn’t actually have the money in hand yet, land which had no water or power to it, had no paved road into it and on which they had no title search done — all are considered big no-no’s by most commentators on relocating here. As she puts it: “We did virtually EVERYTHING ‘wrong’ according to all reasonable advice and the fact that it worked out well for us should not be taken as a recommendation to follow in our footsteps.” I would certainly reiterate that notion.

    Arden’s candid sharing of her hard-earned wisdom born of experience in Unraveling the Mysteries of Moving to Costa Rica makes the book a valuable resource for anyone considering the “big move” to the land of Pura Vida.

    by Kat Sunlove for[captionpix imgsrc=”” align=”left”]Retomemos donde quedamos en mi última columna acerca de la importancia de hacer viajes de rutina por Costa Rica antes de decidirse por un lugar para retirarse a vivir. Entonces, digamos que ya han hecho algunos viajes, encontraron una comunidad que calza con su estilo de vida y con su presupuesto y situada alrededor de amigos gringos y ticos en los que se puede confiar para consejos. O tal vez se unieron a un paquete de “turs de pensionados” que los llevó por el país, les presentó a personas clave y tenían expertos para responder a sus preguntas, presentando tanto las muchas cosas buenas de este bello país, como algunos de los obstáculos que se presentan al vivir en una nación en vías de desarrollo.

    Idealmente, ya fueron deshaciéndosse de muchas de sus cosas y han almacenado las restantes. En este escenario hipotético, ustedes ya han estado en Costa Rica por unos seis meses, ya se trajeron un par de maletas grandes y alquilaron un apartamento amueblado o una casa. Después de toda esta investigación, complementada por su experiencia persona, ahora ya decidieron que Costa Rica es realmente el lugar donde quieren pasar sus años de pensionados.

    ¡Enhorabuena! Espero que sea una decisión que consideren sabia para los próximos meses. Pero ¿ahora qué? ¿Se van a devolver y botar el resto de sus pertenencias terrenales y continuar rentando un apartamento amueblado mientras compran muebles y otras cosas aquí? ¿O más bien hay que traerlas en barco a Costa Rica? Grandes preguntas sin respuestas fáciles.

    Por un lado, la situación de cada quién es muy distinta. Puede que tengan cuadros de colección, reliquias de la familia, libros y otros documentos necesarios. Es difícil dejar atrás algunas cosas porque algunas de ellas han hecho de su casa un hogar.

    [captionpix imgsrc=”” align=”right”]Afortunadamente, hay muchos recursos disponibles para que tome esas decisiones. Como la mayoría de los norteamericanos saben, el Internet ofrece una cantidad rica de información, desde sitios de bienes raíces de autoservicio a información bien documentada de residencias, cuidados médicos, costo de la vida y más. Traten de buscar en Google “retirarse en Costa Rica” y tendrán unos cuatro millones de resultados para escoger. Además, hay docenas de blogs de estadounidenses residentes en el país, incluyendo el mío Fabulista de Costa Rica (publicidad al descaro), compartiendo experiencias personales de la vida en Costa Rica así como libros impresos que ofrecen ayuda y guía de cómo retirarse en aquí, invertir aquí, servicios de embarque, turismo médico y más. Mucha de la información es excelente, bien documentada y llena de admoniciones provechosas. Pero de la misma forma, hay mucha basura escondida tras una máscara de hechos reales. Como mi mamá dijo una vez cuando le di un reporte de lo que había leído de Costa Rica: “Deben tener una buena agencia de relaciones públicas ahí.”

    Uno de los libros que vale la pena leer es Descubriendo los Misterios de Mudarse a Costa Rica, parte de la serie “Mainers en Costa Rica” de Arden Brink. Mencioné a Arde en mi última columna como una de las charlistas que se dirigió a nuestro grupo durante el tur de George Lundquist, el cual tomén junto con Layne como parte de mi invertigación para talleres que planeamos ofrecer en Estados Unidos el próximo verano. La conversación de media hora con Arden solo pudo alcanzar a tocar los temas de planear, empacar, embarcar y lidiar con aduanas y, en respuesta a preguntas, de transportar mascotas. Habiendo terminado la copia que Arden me envió, recomiendo el libro.

    [captionpix imgsrc=”” align=”left” captiontext=”Autora: Arden Brink”]La experiencia de Arden de haber enviado por correo todas sus pertenencias, ha sido enriquecida con sus años como transportista y el conocimiento adquirido es evidente en el libro. Sus consejos prácticos acerca de qué traer y qué no traer, cómo evaluar qué tamaño de recipientes necesitan y lo que pueda costar, cómo empacar las cosas valiosas, amarrar un carrito, trabajar con el transportista y crear un inventario de las cosas más importantes es muy útil para cualquiera que quiera enviar su mueblería. Más allá de los detalles de transporte que el libro cubrem la última sección “Más cosas útiles” ofrece una gama de recursos en línea e impresos. Como Arden dice varias veces en el libro, mudarse a Costa Rica no es para todo el mundo y parte de su objetivo es ayudarles a evaluar su idoneidad para tan grande transición.

    En gran medida, Arden espera que aprendan de sus errores. Haber comprado tierra en su primer viaje a Costa Rica cuando ni siquiera tenían el dinero, tierra que no tenía agua ni electricidad, no tenía entrada pavimentada y no habían hecho la búsqueda del titular -todo lo que no se debe hacer. Como ella lo dice: “Hicimos virtualmente TODO mal de acuerdo a los consejos razonables y el hecho de que nos resultó bien a nosotros no debe ser tomado como recomendación a que sigan nuestros pasos.”

    La forma cándida en que Arden comparte su muy trabajada sabiduría nacida de la experiencia en Descubriendo los Misterios de Mudarse a Costa Rica, hace del libro un recurso valioso para cualquiera que esté considerando mudarse a la tierra del Pura Vida.

    por Kat Sunlove para

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