What’s prettier than dollars, celebrates the animal world, and disappears faster than a tapir in the underbrush?
Once we mastered the Cajero Automatico (see earlier blog) we have been steady supporters of the economy in CR. I cringe to think how much we are spending per day on average for cab fare (we did not bring or rent a car) but in the food department we are living cheap in this part of CR. One important thing – always carry colones – it is what the locals do and most merchants will only accept colones.
By US standards Costa Rica is a “poor” country meaning the average per capita income is less than $12000 per year. Therefore, in my opinion, the best way to enjoy Costa Rica in the long run is to go with the flow and drop the idea that things make you happier. Live as much like the Costa Ricans as you can. Just as houses don’t need insulation in most parts of this country, you do not need to insulate yourself with things.
This morning I did not watch TV or check the weather on the web or my email. I sat with a cup of coffee outside and watched the sunrise. I noticed the pink and gray mist creeping over the hills from the distant Pacific were like an approaching mountain range capped with snow. That’s entertainment.
I walk to the local store and have a short, pleasant conversation in which I practice a little Spanish. I always hear a “con mucho gusto” after I thank the lady behind the counter. In fact, I have had only one impolite conversation since arriving two months ago. This was from a tired bus driver who couldn’t understand where we were going to be let off until we said the magic works “a cerca Alto San Juan”. But this was also satisfying because I learned to say “Yo voy a ir Alto San Juan” (I am going to Mt. San Juan) from that point on. This phrase promptly earned a discounted bus fare as I was able to identify my exact departure point.
We are quite aware that we have more of money than the average Costa Rican. The Costa Ricans I have met don’t seem to care about this disparity of cash between us. They have other riches. They often share income within a large family structure and this family appears to be close by if not actually living in the same house. This saves on rent and food and Costa Ricans eat simple, usually non-processed food. Additionally, Costa Rica has free universal health care for all its citizens and permanent residents. The system is constantly being upgraded and is considered number one in Latin America and in the top 20 for the world. You can also travel across the country on nice buses for less than $7. Costa Rica does not spend 30% of their gross national product on a military. They don’t have a military. Costa Rica education system is ranked -20th in the “Global competitiveness Report 2013-14”, and is described as of “high quality”. The literacy rate in Costa Rica is 94.9%. All public education is free and compulsory. These benefits are obviously worth a lot.
You can become a permanent resident for the same $12000 per year average CR income by proving you have a steady $1000 income per month – usually this means retiree income like a pension but there are other ways of proving you can support yourself if you really want to live here. For example most gringos have some sort of business from making jewelry to practicing acupuncture.
Costa Rican money is pretty . Check out the colors, the celebration of the native animals and plants. The values as compared to a dollar are based on the exchange rate of one dollar equals 530 colones. From top to bottom 1000 colones or a $1.88. 2 Mil or 2000 colones or $3.76. 5 Mil or 5000 or $9.41 and 10 Mil or 10,000 colones or $18.82. Not pictured is the 20 Mil bill which is worth about $37.40. My favorite coin is the bronze colored 500 colones heavy weight. Its about four times the area of a quarter and weighs almost as much as a AA battery. I can hand one over to a bus driver and ride the 10 km into town.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are usually a bargain.
We shop for food mostly at the feria or farmers market in San Isidro(San Isidro is an agricultural town so the prices here are likely lower than the rest of CR). At the feria you can buy more fresh fruits and vegetables than you can carry for less than $10 or about colones.
However, go to a major, air conditioned supermarket and the prices can be higher than in the US.
Eating out can be also be inexpensive if you follow the locals and eat where they eat – keeping in mind they don’t eat out a lot – and you order the usual fare like rice and beans, chicken, plantains, simple fruit drinks and tortillas. You will pay a lot more for any processed foods, places like McDonalds with standard US fare, and fancy restaurants especially those near tourist areas.
If you come here for a week or two and visit a tourist area I think you have made a wise choice for a country to visit but you may get the impression the whole country is like the one area you were in. I am just beginning to get a feel for the rich and varied climate zones in CR, the amazing wildlife and the deep beauty each part of my day and for the Costa Ricans. I am fortunate in that I don’t have to reflect much on earning a living here but I can say that not only do people work hard but they also don’t worry much. They also go out of their way to welcome and help others. The other day my wife got a bit lost in downtown San Isidro. A woman on her way to work in a business suit, stopped, listened, and walked my wife to her destination which was definitely out of her way. To me this demonstrates that Costa Ricans are not people who work for the dollar (or the colone), work appears to be simply part of a life they enjoy living.