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What Can I Do To “Fit In” in Costa Rica?

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So you’ve made a life changing move to a small country in Central America. Now that you’re here and you want to be able to ‘hang’ with the locals and when your friends from ‘up north’ come to visit you want to show them that you are now Tico too. Here are some simple steps to get you on your way to “Ticohood”.

-Call everyone “Mae”. I also suggest you start and end every sentence with it. What does ‘mae’ mean? The closest translation in English would be ‘dude’. I heard that it was originally derived from the verb Majar which means to pound or mash and was used in the form “No me maje” or “Don’t mash me”. Now, it may be the singular most word used in Tico slang, whether in times of happiness, anger or indifference. You may get a funny look if you call an elderly woman or President Solís mae, but you’re pretty much good-do-go the rest of the time. Once you master this word you can move on to “tuanis” or “huevon”.

-Support “La Sele”. La Sele is the knick name for the Costa Rica National Soccer Team and is short for ‘La Selección’. Soccer or ‘fútbol’ is the only one main sport in CR, so if you want to be able to banter with locals at the bar or even with your taxi driver… start supporting La Sele. You can pick up a red Sele jersey almost anywhere and they should always be worn on game days. While most Ticos are either supporters of ´La Liga´ (Alajuela) or ‘Saprissa’ (San Jose) for their club teams… Everyone comes together to support La Sele. It isn’t a tough team to support either. They far exceeded expectations in the last World Cup and continue to be a dominant team in the region. You had better learn this name too: Keylor Navas. Keylor is the goalie for Real Madrid and the star of La Sele. In fact, they may not let you through immigration/customs if you don’t love him. About 20% of all children born in Costa Rica between 2014-2017 were named Keylor (both boys and girls…). Learn it. Live it. Love it. Si se puede.

-Quince Minutos. Whenever there is a reference to time, you’ll want to respond with “quince minutos” (15 minutes), no matter the real estimated time. Here are some examples…

  1. Q: How long is the drive to: Garza/Ostional/Samara/Marbella/town/the beach/school/etc? A: Quince minutos.
  2. Q: When will you be here? A: Quince minutos.
  3. Q: How long will the heart transplant surgery take? A: Quince minutos.
  4. Q: When will my car be ready? You guessed it… A: Quince minutos.

You get the idea. For some reason, that is always the answer… but you can bet your backside that when fifteen minutes are up… your car will not be ready. Deal with it…

-Lip Point. The most Tico mannerism I can think of is pointing with your lips instead of your finger. So instead of pointing your finger to explain direction or location… you simply pucker your lips in an exaggerated fashion as if you were going to kiss your sister, look in the direction you want to convey and lift your chin up for about 3-5 seconds. This ‘lip point’ will tell your acquaintance where to look/go. It is imperative that you keep your arms down through this process as it may send mixed signals and cause confusion.

-Zarpe! The Ticos have come up with a word that English language is sadly lacking. Zarpe is the one word term meaning ‘last round’. When you’re at the bar with your friends and it’s time to go home someone will always say ‘zarpe’ (they usually say this to the waiter/waitress directly, thus negating your possible chance to vote “no”). Technically that should be the last round; however, some of my friends have been known to go for 2nd, 3rd and even 4th zarpes.

-Park Anywhere. Motorcycle, quad, car, bus… It doesn’t matter. Turn it off or stop wherever you see fit. If you see a friend coming from the other direction you should stop in the middle of the road, flag them down and have a conversation. Take your time and make sure all details are discussed. Do not be concerned that the rest of traffic is waiting impatiently behind you. They’ll get over it. Park as you please… if you are taking up two spaces or are blocking traffic, it’ll be alright.

-Be Late. The Latin culture has always been known for being relaxed and not as up-tight as others (attention: Gringos ;-). That too is true in Costa Rica as well. So, if you show up to a party at 7:00, don’t expect the cups, plates and napkins to be out, even though the invitation said 7:00. You’ll likely be the only one there unless another ‘green’ gringo was invited. In that case the two of you can look at each other for a while until the rest of the guests show up between 8:30 and 9:00. In this country, watches are used solely as decoration.

Follow these simple steps and you are sure to fit in. Fail to… and you’ll forever be another passing Gringo. Keep in mind these steps are only level one. Tiquicia 2.0 can only be achieved with fluid knowledge of at least 10 cuss words, knee high rubber boots and a machete… but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Contemplating Change in Nosara

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Change

verb (used with object), changed, changing.

  1. to make the form, nature, content, future course, etc., of (something) different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone:

noun

  1. the act or fact of changing; fact of being changed:

Whether the word is used as a noun or a verb, change certainly applies to little Nosara. But is change good or is it bad, is what I ponder. People often discuss the subject of change and point out how relatively quickly this small surf town has grown. There are many new houses, new businesses and additional people, seemingly every day. In the future, will the various reasons that currently draw and attract people to Nosara continue?

Throughout my 16+ years in Nosara there has been a lot of physical change. When I think back to what was here when I arrived and what stands now, it is breathtaking. I began this blog by making a list of the pros/cons of the most obvious changes I’ve seen, and in general, they fell into two categories: Crowds and Convenience. It looks something like this:

Cons:

Crowds- One thing that is affecting the quality of Nosara life, due to our influx of earthlings is parking. It has been very noticeable the past two high seasons that when cars parallel park on both sides of the slender roads, only one car fits down the middle, two way traffic ceases to exist and bottle-necks emerge. This is especially true on the road in the G Section from the Delicius Del Mundo to the Frog Pad and on the road in J Section that runs from the entrance of the Harmony to the beach access (especially in the beach parking lot). I know it isn’t exactly the 405 in LA or I-95 leaving NYC, but apparently common sense eludes many drivers as their parking decisions literally choke out the fluidity of traffic. Solution: Ride a bike or walk to the beach… I personally couldn’t stomach a parking garage here.

The crowds are also noticeable in the surf. If you read about coming to Costa Rica to surf warm water and with no one else competing for that perfect wave… your source is outdated, very outdated. Face it, the secret is out. At least you’re not wearing a wetsuit whilst waiting for a set wave only to get dropped in on by Justin Bieber and his posse… ‘Party Waves’ were nostalgic back in the 1960’s and apparently the fad is back in vogue. Solution: Surf after 10:00pm and before 5:00am.

The beach area has also been noticeably noisier than in years past. The pioneers of Nosara who were here long before reliable roads and electricity speak of the only noises heard way back when were from Howler Monkeys, waves crashing on the beach and the occasional whinny of a horse. Today you don’t have to listen hard to hear passing quads by day or the ‘boom boom’ of music certain nights of the week.  Have I turned into that grouchy old man who hollers at the kids to turn down their darn rap music? Yep… you betcha! Sleep is just too darn valuable and most of the music today stinks (now excuse me while I change the ink in my typewriter).  Solution: Now in the downhill half of my 40’s my eyes are going so I’m sure my hearing will soon follow. Pura vida.

Pros:

Convenience! We have a gas station in town! I know there are some who were against it for environmental reasons; however, I do not miss the kids pouring gas from 5 gallon containers into the car or having to drive to the ‘Bomba’ in Samara to fill up. You can even pay with a credit card! Hellllllooooo 21st Century!!!!

Really everything is much easier today. We now have two banks with ATM machines. Woohoo! We used to have to drive 1.5 hours to Nicoya to get cash and the darn thing would only spit out the equivalence of $300. Try paying your employees every-other week and have enough left over for yourself without having to head back to Nicoya through several rivers and streams that didn’t have bridges. We truly knew the meaning of ‘cash is king’ back then. In retrospect, everything was a pain in the rump, we just didn’t realize it. For instance, before the Tempisque Bridge was built it could take anywhere from 5-7 hours to drive to San Jose. And 5 hours was only if you were extremely lucky and caught the ferry at the right time (which was rare). Many times the ferry had long lines or was even broken down and we had to drive all the way to Liberia and around. Talk about fun… Or, the ‘new’ (2004) airport in Liberia! How about that for super 21st Century convenience! International connections just two hours away!

Besides large infrastructure the little everyday conveniences help the most in my humble opinion. Having good doctors and dentists in town, pharmacies, a fully functional hardware store (it used to be in someone’s house when I first came here…), a large supermarket, organic markets, veterinarians, a Montessori/IB school, and even the luxuries of international foods like Sushi and Thai. If you didn’t know any better, you might think I was describing the luxuries of a swanky neighborhood in Brooklyn, not rustic old Nosara!

And if having things like Netflix wasn’t enough… Last week I had a colossal experience. I ordered something from Amazon.com and one week later it was in Nosara. It was only a three pack of socks (it was a test run…). Up until last week, I would do a year’s worth of clothes shopping (usually in about 15 minutes) on an annual trip to the States at any mall (they’re all the same after all). But, like magic, I pushed a button on my computer and the socks appeared the next week. There is no convenience like Amazon and this could be considered a ‘game changer’. Now, if we could only get the QVC shopping network…

Conclusion:

After deliberating for all of 3.5 minutes, my conclusion is this: There is both good and bad in change, it is out of my control so I might as well embrace it and steer it in the best route possible. There are obvious infrastructure changes that the community needs to rally behind like water and trash and everyone needs to pull their own weight for the greater good. While having a larger town and a more robust economy provides more opportunity, we need to remember what drew us here in the first place and make certain that clean beaches and vibrant nature are not dismissed along the way. We have seen it happen in places like Tamarindo and Jaco. We should continue to wave to other cars as we pass and smile to others on the street. I appreciate some of the conveniences city life provides but I do not seek the anonymity of the people I share the road (or beach) with. But most importantly, I’m no longer wearing socks with holes in them. Amen.

Do I need Costa Rica Residency?

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According to the recent Census statistics in Costa Rica, there are about 150,000 foreigners from the United States who choose this country as their permanent place of residence. Only about half of these foreign residents from the U.S. have followed the legal path of residency or naturalization, the rest live in some state of perpetual tourism. These long-term tourists, however, have seen their lives become a bit complicated in the last few years.

Perpetual tourism in Costa Rica is enabled by a straight-forward interpretation of current and previous laws. Legislators and legal analysts have always managed to include some level of ambiguity with regard to visas for tourists and the consequences of overstaying. This is further complicated by the fact that rulemaking in Costa Rica often tends to contradict standing law, and it takes a while for the mess to be fixed.

Perpetual tourists in Costa Rica tend to be from Group One countries, which are mostly comprised of North American and European nations. Visitors who hold passports issued by Group One nations can enjoy a three-month visa issued at Costa Rica’s various ports of entry such as the Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport (LIR) in Liberia, province of Guanacaste.

 The Perpetual Tourism Conundrum

The Costa Rica Star has numerous articles on the subject of perpetual tourism, which is the term used to describe the different ways certain tourists can get around the permanent residence obligation:

Law 8764, as it pertains to Immigration and foreigners, unintentionally creates the “perpetual tourist” immigration status that many foreigners take advantage of. The relevant section of the law is Article 33, section 3, which directs all foreigners to exit the country upon expiration of their visas. That section states tourists must either exit the country upon expiration of their visas, or else pay a fine equivalent to $100 for each month overstayed. Failure to abide by this section could prevent the tourist from getting a visa for a period equal to three times the amount of time overstayed. This fine does not apply to minors, refugees, or disabled elderly persons.

The law does not explicitly prohibit tourists to stay away for any length of time, and thus perpetual tourists can take advantage of this. The law does question foreigners who intend to make their stay a more permanent affair and fail to apply for temporary or permanent residence. There are several situations -other than marrying a citizen- that merit the issuance of a residence permit. Professionals, journalists, investors, and employees of certain companies [for example] can modify their status from tourists to residents.

Immigration reform was enacted in Costa Rica in 2010. Years later, it is still being painfully implemented. For example, the law has a $25 visa extension that can be granted 48 hours prior to the visa expiry, and yet few immigration officials seem to know about it. Then there’s the contradiction itself, which on one hand reminds foreigners that they must file for a residence permit if they intend to stay in the country longer than three months, but on the other hand allows them to exit the country and return for another three-month round of fun in the sun.

The contradiction is not lost on the rulemaking and administrative procedures of immigration officers. There are not too many reports of foreigners being hit with the $100 per month visa overstay fee, but there are numerous reports of perpetual tourists who have been given visas of only one month upon their return to Costa Rica. This seems to be an arbitrary decision by immigration officers who are basically reminding perpetual tourists that they should be filing for residency, but it could also be that they are as confused as everyone else about the law.

Applying for Residency: A Legal Alternative to Perpetual Tourism

Perpetual tourism in Costa Rica may sound like a ticket to eternal summer slacking, but the reality is not so enticing. Visa runs to Panama and Nicaragua are becoming uncertain and getting pretty expensive. Some perpetual tourists are wondering if saving $100 per month to cover their visa overstay is actually better than visa runs. Others end up considering nefarious schemes. There is a better solution to all this hassle and uncertainty, and it involves applying for resident status.

As mentioned above, marrying a Costa Rican national is not the only path to residency -although quite a few foreigners consider Ticos and Ticas to be attractive spousal prospects. There are plenty of other strategies and approaches to residency.

According to Immigration Experts founder Marcela Gurdian, the path to legal immigration in Costa Rica can be accomplished in many ways that are less taxing on the wallet and on the soul than going on visa runs every three months.

From becoming a principal in a business entity to seeking medical treatment and convalescence, the laws in Costa Rica offer feasible options for foreigners who wish to become legal residents. There are different immigrant categories, which also include students and workers who contracted for specific projects by companies doing business in Costa Rica. Since perpetual tourists often end up working or doing business to support them in the most expensive country in Latin America, they may be better off applying for residency and leaving visa runs behind.

If you would like to apply for legal permanent residency in Costa Rica and have all of your immigration questions answered, contact Immigration Experts, law firm specialized in immigration matters over the past 20 years. You can check their website: www.immigrationexperscr.com or email Nicole.quesada@immigrationexpertscr.com.

Working from Abroad… at the Beach… in Nosara.

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While I was growing up, I thought the only people that worked at the beach were lifeguards. In the past few years there is an ever increasing trend of expats keeping their current jobs while moving abroad to places like… Nosara. I have worked with many people who dream of living here, but they are unsure of what to do for work. The ‘old’ answer was that you had to find something to do related to tourism which 1) Doesn’t suit everybody 2)Generally takes a lot of working capital to start a business 3) Is often a saturated market and/or seasonal. For most people who don’t have a bottomless bank account, a great way to live in paradise (isn’t it ironic that I always write that Nosara isn’t paradise and then refer to it as such?) is to work here while still earning a living with North American/European wages.

What types of jobs can be done online?  Actually, many and people from all walks of life have settled here from around the globe. Here are just a few examples of work being done from Nosara right now:

  • Stock Trading
  • Commercial Musician
  • Employment Recruiting
  • Software Sales
  • Software Development
  • Internet Marketing Sales
  • Cellular Refurbishing Sales/Management
  • Writers
  • Accounting
  • Vacation Travel Management
  • And there are several company owners who manage their staff from sunny Nosara

For those interested in living this Bohemian lifestyle but have never lived abroad, it also provides a bit of a security blanket. That is, if things don’t work out they can simply return to their previous life. Of course it is also nice to make good money in a land where it is harder to spend it (no malls, no Home Depot, etc). Other benefits are fairly obvious like a year round tan and no winter clothes. I’ll focus on the challenges because the whole idea is to help you arrive here properly prepared in advance.

When you are working via the Internet… you need reliable Internet service. While it has gotten more stable over the years it does go out from time-to-time. One friend who previously experienced Internet challenges always has a phone with the ‘Hot Spot’ on and ready in case the house DSL goes out. Of course the hot spot isn’t as fast as the regular DSL but it may save you in a critical situation. Most homes have good DSL lines and fiber optic is even creeping its way through Nosara. We still lose service at times but not too often. Having a backup battery connected to the computer and a hot spot provides a good Plan B. The only other piece of advice to consider during rainy season is to schedule your call. For instance, if you have an afternoon call with a client in San Diego, and the client thinks you are in San Diego too and then a thunderstorm rolls through, you could be caught with your pants down. The thunder here can be quite loud and will be impossible to mask.

Another friend of mine has a marketing company in Manhattan. He is on calls and video conferences all day with clients throughout the US. Most of his longtime clients know he is calling/working from an office in Costa Rica but there are few who assume that he is at his desk in the City (you don’t want your client to be jealous and think you’re a slacker…). Little do they know shorts and flip flops are worn just below the screen shot.  He returns to NY every 4-6 weeks for a few days to meet face-to-face with clients and staff but the bulk of his work is done about a two minute walk to the beach.

One gentleman, an online stock trader, likes Costa Rica because of our time zone. Without daylight savings time, we bounce from Mountain Time Zone in the summer to Central Time Zone in the winter. For people who work with clients or employees across North America, it is nice to be in the middle.

With the sunny climate, constant surf and being surrounded by energetic tourists, how does one get any work done? A good friend told me she got more work done in Nosara than she did while in the California. She felt so blessed that her company allowed her to work from abroad that she didn’t want to let them down and found ways to be even more efficient. She also gained two hours of free time per day by eliminating her dreaded daily commute.

Some people work from home and others rent office space near the beach. For those who have small kids, it is tough to get work done while a little one comes to terms with the fact that he/she cannot have the cookie they want or if you are on a video conference call with our biggest client and have sticky fingered toddler trying to crawl up on your lap. There are several offices for rent in the Playa Guiones area near Banco Popular and there are also desks/offices to rent at ‘Offices By the Beach’ next to the Harmony Hotel. Prices for space can vary from $250/month to $1200/month depending on the size of the space. It is important to note that commercial office spaces can get more bandwidth from the Internet providers than residential.

The Internet is indeed changing the world and for some, giving them freedom to live where they choose. So if you can choose… why not choose a tropical beach destination with warm water, good surf, bumpy roads, year round flip flops and more yoga retreats than dry cleaners? -Bram

I Flew My Dog to Costa Rica

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Many people who plan on moving to Costa Rica wonder about bringing a pet with them. I’ve now done it twice.  I am still not an expert, but here is my story. Back in 2001, I brought a two year old Boxer with me when I moved to Nosara. It was relatively easy. I remember having to get documents signed off by my vet in California that verified the dog’s shots were up-to-date and then I had to send that document to Costa Rica Consulate in LA to get stamped. This time around it was a bit easier and I didn’t have to mail anything to the CR Consulate.

I had a trip planned to North Carolina to visit my sister in late October. A few weeks before the trip I did an Internet search for ‘puppy Boxers’. We’ve had a few Boxers over the years and were looking for one to fill the hole in our hearts left by our last Boxer that passed away about a year ago. We hadn’t had any luck finding a Boxer litter in Costa Rica, so I tried NC. I found a very reputable breeder that lived only one town over from where I was going near Ashville, NC. The pups in this litter were old enough to take home and when the breeder sent me photos of the available pups, it was love at first site. After securing my pup, which would be later named ‘Dempsey’, I had a short amount of time to get my plan together. I looked at Delta Airline’s website for pet restrictions and saw that I could bring the puppy on board with me in a small crate that would have to fit under the seat in front of me. The added cost was $125. Good thing Dempsey is still a pup, because Delta does not let snub nose dogs (Boxer, Bulldogs, Pugs, etc) fly underneath the plane anymore, no matter what their size. I then ordered a ‘soft crate’ on Amazon that was airline approved. I was now only about 10 days away from my trip. The next step was to get the pup’s travel documents in order. Thank goodness, the breeder I chose was the most helpful person ever and got the travel docs signed and stamped for me. I downloaded the “Veterinary Health Certificate for the Export of Dogs and Cats from the United States of America to Costa Rica” form (yes, that form actually exists) and e-mailed it to her. The breeder’s vet filled out the form stating the pup’s vaccinations, health status, etc. and mailed it (with a stamped return envelope) to The US Department of Agriculture to be stamped and certified and mailed back.  The entire process took about five business days. Here are some points of interest I learned:

  1. This vet examination needs to be done within 2 weeks of the departure date in order for it to be valid.

  2. Dogs need vaccines for distemper, hepatitis, Leptospirosis, parvovirus and rabies (Cats just need rabies shot). Dempsey was too young for the rabies shot so we did that a month later here in Nosara.

  3. Neither a ‘chip’ nor ‘pet passport’ is required for travel to Costa Rica.

So now I’m ready to fly from Liberia, Costa Rica to North Carolina for my visit and to pick up the pooch. The world’s most awesome breeder had e-mailed me copies of the travel documents ahead of time so when I went to the airport in Liberia to depart, I stopped at the  Customs Office and asked for the Head Honcho and showed him the dog’s docs. He told me that everything looked perfect that I only needed to bring the originals with me when I was to return a few days later with Dempsey in tow.

Now in NC, I picked up my new best friend and he was everything I’d hoped for; super cute, playful and yet with a touch of mellow. After spending a few days with him I started to have a few concerns about the trip. For starters, he was only 3.5 months old but was growing at an insane rate. When I first inquired he was about 14 lbs, and now only ten days later he was 18 lbs with three days to go before I return to CR. Would he fit in the little crate I got him? The answer was no… I had to go to PetSmart and buy a bigger model (it was made of vinyl and mesh with a shoulder strap and cost about $50). Oh well. I knew if I didn’t go back to Costa Rica soon, he would not fit under the seat on the plane at all.  My second concern was would he stay in the crate for the 7 hour trip back to Liberia (Ashville to Atlanta and then Atlanta to Liberia)? After all, he is a puppy with a ton of energy. We practiced for three days getting him to stay in the ‘soft crate’ for a few minutes at a time and he wasn’t enjoying the confinement. My genius sister went to the pet store and found an all natural/organic liquid that keeps dog ‘chilled and relaxed’. It is a called ‘Calm Down’.  She said because it is all natural, you can’t overdose the dog, but recommended only an eye dropper dosage every half hour as needed. It worked!!!! He was perfect for the entire trip with nary a peep. In fact, the people sitting next to me on the flight didn’t know I was with pup until we were getting off the plane (which was unfortunate as he let out some deadly gas a few times and I’m sure the lady next to me thought it was me…) . When I arrived at Liberia and was going through customs, the Head Honcho recognized me and came and helped me with my luggage. He took my paperwork with little more than a glance, began petting Dempsey and welcomed me back.

I couldn’t have hoped for an easier trip. Now a month later, Dempsey is a huge part of our family. The little research and planning I’d done ahead of time went a long way, not to mention the super awesome breeder and my all-star sister for their help. Here are some helpful links:

https://costarica.usembassy.gov/catsdogs.htm

https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/pet-travel/by-country/pettravel-costa-rica

https://www.earthanimal.com/c/pet-health/organic-herbal-remedies/