Pura Vida!

Pura vida means pure life, it is the local saying it is also a way of life here.  Even when someone asks you how you are, you can answer pura vida.  It can take a little getting used to and a little while to learn how to live it.  The less stuff you have the more you start to understand it.  It has nothing to do with material objects, how nice your house looks, how much money you have.  It is a total outlook on life.  It has everything to do with not letting the little things get to you and just moving on.  Ticos do not like confrontation.  Instead of fighting with or arguing with someone they will just walk away and forget about it.  Pura vida is all about friends, family, love and nature.  My husband and I do not have a lot of material objects.  In our house we have a local style washing machine, which is only semi-automatic, a refrigerator which is only 3 and a half feet tall, one kitchen cabinet, a small dinning table with 4 chairs, a bed that someone gave us and a closet.  We have no TV and really don’t want one.  Here in a few days I should be getting an actual stove with an oven.  Right now I have been cooking off a two burner gas hot plate for the past year.  I also have a slow cooker, which did you know you can actually bake a cake in one?  It came out really good.  My husband and I do not lack anything that we don’t need.  We make the best of everything that we have and enjoy every minute of it.  We don’t have a lot of worries, we have learned to let them go.  That is Pura Vida.

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Children and health care

All children under the age of 14 are completely covered.  There is no cost for them at all.  You do not even need to pay a premium for them to have insurance.  A friend was visiting here several years ago when her son got hurt.  She took him to the hospital.  She was living in the States at the time and had insurance there, but she could not use it here.  So she was trying to explain to the hospital that she needed a receipt for the cost of the medical treatment so she could submit it to her insurance company in the States to get reimbursed for it.  They actually could not understand this concept.  Her son at the time was around the age of 9 and there was no charge at all for the medical treatment even though she was not a resident of Costa Rica. 

For me this is amazing.  To think that a country cares enough about children to completely cover all children, not just their own. 

Purchasing a home

There are real estate agencies down here, but you will only find them in the bigger cities and in your beach communities.  Most properties are for sale by owner.  And buyer beware.  Never pay cash for anything when it comes to real property.  There are certain areas that are set aside for agricultural use and that only the nationals can buy.  You always want to see the plans of the property.  Sometimes you can get a great deal and other times you can get a really bad one.  The area I live in averages around $20 per square meter.  One square meter is roughly 3 square feet.  I paid $30,000 for my house on my small property.  Our property is only 200 sq mts, and our house is only 57 sq mts (613 sq ft).  But it is only my husband and I.  Our house has 3 bedrooms and one bathroom.  We are turning one of the bedrooms into a living room for us.  It is a common feature down here to have the kitchen, dinning room and living room all one space.  I need a little more spread out room than that.  They also do not use acres here, they are hectacres, which is around 2.7 acres.  I had a friend of mine who just sold his property with a one bedroom house and a nice storage shed for $70,000, his property was around 7 acres.  The closer you go to the beaches the more it is going to be. 

Getting a loan is not an easy thing to do and it is a process just like in the States.  But if you get your loan in dollars instead of colones you will get a lower interest rate.  Why?  I have no idea.  You will have to have copies of your income, certified.  Copies of your cedula card and a lot of patient.  We also had to submit the plans of the property to the bank and they had to verify it.  They will send out a surveyor to survey the property, ours cost $150.  They don’t really inspect the house, that is really up to you.  But if they see something that is not up to code they will tell you to get it fixed.  We were in the process of putting in another electrical outlet when they showed up.  Showed the guy we had the part and he said OK.  Our closing was a lot quicker than any I have been to in the States.  Only took us about an hour.  Went over everything with the attorney and signed our life away.  House is ours and I love it.  We originally applied for the loan in May and had our closing at the end of June.  So, I really don’t think it took us that long.  Just really nervous about it, we didn’t have any credit established here yet.  But since the housing market crash they are extra careful about giving loans out.  But if we can do, anyone can. 

Shopping and taxes

When you are going shopping whether it be at the mall of a local store, remember one thing.  The tax in already included in the price.  Also, we have a very high tax rate here, I believe it is around 12%.  But we also have full coverage health care.  So, when I am looking at a major appliance to purchase, I first think, that is kind of expensive.  But in reality it is not.  I won’t get surprised with bigger price when I go to pay for it.  So, if you are looking at something for $200, that is what you are going to pay.  Another thing, when buying something that is expensive, sometimes you can get it cheaper is you use cash.  This saves the store a bunch of money in credit card fees from the credit card company.  They pass this savings on to you.  I like that the tax is already included in the price, I know exactly what I am going to be spending without having to think about it. 

When it comes to your American products, they will be even more expensive.  On top of the local tax, there is an import tax that has already been included in the price.  A standard Whirlpool dryer, not the new fancy ones, the simple easy to use standard ones.  Those cost around $500!  This includes the import tax of close to 30% and the sales tax of 12%.  That is why the cost so much.  Sometimes you are better off sticking to either local brands or other Latin American brands.  They are just as good.  But I have never seen a clothes dryer from any of those companies.  A clothes dryer is a luxury item here, very few people have them.  They use a lot of electricity and will raise you electric bill.  Although I am considering getting one for the rainy months.  The washer I have has an extractor on it which spins very fast to get most of the water out of the clothes.  So I wouldn’t have to use the dryer for very long.  I can also use the top of the dryer to double as extra counter space in my kitchen.  I have to improvise at times.  But I love it here. 

Domestic help

This is not something that I use, but I thought that I would throw it out there for you.  If you would like to hire a housekeeper here you might be surprised at the cost.  Around $2 an hour where I live!  So you could hire someone to come in a clean your house top to bottom for around $20.  Today, I went to a neighbors house and need some alterations done on a set of curtains that I bought while in the States.  They were too long and just needed them shortened.  They lady suggested also using the extra material to make some ties for them.  She even put little flower buttons on them to hold the ties together.  They came out looking so cute, she was only going to charge me $2 for all the work that she did.  I gave her $3 and she seemed quite happy with that.  I will say that is has crossed my mind to get a local woman in here to clean my house every once in a while.  They know the tricks of the trade down here, where as I am still learning.  It is a completely different thing to clean down here.  You need to clean pretty much every single day, at least sweeping the entire house.  There is no shortage of cleaning to do.  So, if you want to hire a house keeper, there is no shame in it and you can afford it.  Wages will vary depending on the area that you do live in or visit. 

Veterinary care

If you are traveling with pets or moving here and bringing your pet with you a little advice.  To bring a pet into the country it is really easy, I didn’t have to quarantine my cats at all.  They do need to be completely up to date on all of their shots and your vet will need to fill out a form for you that you then have to take to the state and have notarized.  Only once you have all of your paperwork can you then bring your pets with you.  The vet visit is the most expensive, to get the certifications from the state I only paid about $40 and that was for two cats.  Each state is different.  You will also need to check with your airline on what they require. 

I live in a very rural area so all the vets down here are more for agriculture and farm animals.  It took me a little while to find a good vet and good pet food.  But I did find two wonderful vets, both of whom speak English as well.  If you live in a larger city, this won’t be a problem for you.  But I will tell you that the only place to get an endoscopy done on your pet is in San Jose, the capital.  If you have cats like I do, finding good cat litter can be fun also.  But now my vet has gotten used to me and what we need and want for our furry four legged children and does his best to keep everything in stock for us.  There are times when he does run out of cat food, but it is usually because of the distributor, if he doesn’t have it, no body does.  So we always make sure we have several bags on hand in case there is a time that we have to wait to get it so we don’t run out.  A lot of people where I live thinks that it is weird to keep pets indoors, it is not common especially in rural communities.  But they understand that we are from the States and are just a little different.  So bring your pet, but just make sure that you have all the correct paperwork. 

Going out to eat

When going out to eat you don’t always need to pick the nicest looking place.  I actually prefer to go to the local Soda’s, the mom and pop places.  They may not always look like a nice place to eat, but the food and atmosphere is wonderful.  Plus, you can’t beat the prices.  When you go to a place that caters to tourists you are going to pay the price for it.  They just look nicer and make their food look a little better, but it is the same quality.  But usually you get more at the Soda’s.  My husband and I will visit two different places that is more directed towards tourists.  One of them, for the two of us we get our meal, soft drink, dessert and coffee for around $20.  The other is in the town we live in and we get our meal and a natural fruit drink for under $10 and we are full just off of that.  The place in our town also tries to keep the local business coming in so they keep their prices very reasonable.  When we go to a Soda we usually spend around $10 for the two of us and can’t eat another bite.  When going to the city we stopped at a Subway and spent over $20!  I couldn’t believe it.  So, just because a place does not look that great, doesn’t mean it is not.  You cannot judge any place down here on how it looks on the outside.  Also, many of your restaurants and Soda’s are open air.  Meaning open windows with no screens or eating on a patio.  There have been a couple of times where I have had a kitten rubbing around my ankles while eating.  I love cats so this did not bother me.  Also, don’t be surprised if you see a gecko running up the walls, it’s a part of life here.  I right now have a small skink hiding in my bathroom from my cats.  It is a small harmless lizard, really cute too.  So, don’t scream if you see one, they are everywhere here. 

Foot ware

Costa Rica is not all beaches and sand.  It is a rain forest before anything else.  So pick your foot ware wisely.  When going to the beach, or hanging out at the pool in your hotel flip-flops are fine.  Although you will see many locals always wearing flip-flops and they wear them where ever they go.  But they are also used to it and grew up here.  Many of the sidewalks are in very bad shape.  Many are uneven, missing parts and having huge holes in them.  In some areas, there are no sidewalks.  Walking on gravel is not fun in flip-flops.  I myself own two different pair of sandals.  I have a pair of Teva’s which I absolutely love and a pair that is a little nicer for going out to eat.  Teva’s have a very strong sole on them that is great for those small walks on uneven surfaces.  But if you are going out hiking, I will suggest a good pair of hiking boots, even better if they are waterproof.  Remember it’s a rain forest, it rains a lot.  So, when you are out and about it could start raining at any moment.  Open toed shoes and sandals are not a good thing when it starts raining.  You need to protect your feet.  Water does not drain quickly here from the streets and sidewalks, it can be a foot deep in places.  Also, if hiking, most places will not let you wear any type of open toed shoe or sandal.  This is to protect you from creatures that can come up and bite you in the foot.  Snakes are a good example.  Also, we have a lot of ants and many of them will bite.  They do hurt also, I am allergic to them so I have to be extra careful when walking through the yard and grassy areas.  So before you plan on wearing your flip-flops every where you go you need to think of where you will be going and what you will be doing.  That will determine your foot ware.

My day today

I think I over did it today on trying to clean the house.  My back is not my best friend at the moment, but I did have my chiropractic appointment today and got some new therapy to do at home.  This is going to be a very long process.  Told my doctor who bad I was hurting today and he looked a little sad for me.  He worked on me really hard today and when I left I was feeling pretty good.  On our way walking back to the bus terminal we saw our friend, Vivianna, the owner of one of the Sodas.  She came up to us with a huge smile on her face, giving us a hug and a kiss on the cheek, and asking how we were doing.  Any time we are out and someone we knows sees us they always make sure to say hi and ask how we are, I have even had people yell hello to me from across the street.  Very friendly people here.  It is a custom here as in many other countries that when seeing a friend you give them a small hug and a peck on the cheek.  It took me a little bit to get used to this custom. 

So, for the rest of today I am taking it easy, at least trying to.  Enjoying the sounds of nature and the neighbor kids playing outside.  All and all, it’s a good day.

Breastfeeding in public

If seeing a woman breastfeed her child in public is offensive to you, then Costa Rica is not the country for you.  I can’t tell you how many places that I have been where the woman are breastfeeding, and not covering it up.  I have been at the clinic, the park, the bus station, and even inside a government building just to name a few.  There is no shame in it here and there should not be anywhere.  This is the most natural way to feed your baby and they know it.  If the baby is hungry they do not stop to think about where they are at or who is around, the only thing that matters is feeding that baby.  I have seen worse things in the newspaper than a woman breastfeeding her baby.  They will take out the whole breast and put the baby up to it, they will not put a towel or blanket over them or the child to try to hide it.  Why should they?  It’s already hot and humid here in the rain forest.  So, if you find this offensive, you should think twice before visiting.  It is a natural part of life here and no one stares or makes comments about it.