Your Goods To Costa Rica
Here are a
few thoughts from those who did...
RETURN TO NEWSLETTER
After months (or years) of research you
have finally come to the decision that Costa Rica is going to become
your new home (away) from home. Now the dilemma becomes what do
you bring with you. Maybe you want to live the minimalist
lifestyle like Jerry and Nancy
video), and travel light,
bringing only what you can stuff into a couple of duffle bags. Or,
maybe you decide to bring everything you own (including the old Dodge
Caravan) and cram it all into two 40 foot containers! Whatever
your choice, you will still face the dilemma of what to bring in order
to start your new life in Costa Rica.
A common strategy many of us have followed
(including me and Fran) is to liquidate all our North American possessions
and start fresh! A noble thought but not necessarily very prudent. As I have reported in our
previous newsletter, many of the things
you want and need will cost
more here (see
related article). Selling
your perfectly functional, $60 Cuisinart Coffee Maker for $30 and replacing it
with an identical model purchased here may set you back $180 or
Things To Consider
What and how much you bring in country
will be predicated on how you plan to live your life here.
If your strategy is to rent or buy a condominium in a gated community in
Escazu, then it's obvious, you probably won't need your riding lawnmower, arc welder
and heavy duty auto repair tools. But, if you are leaning towards spending your retirement years
operating a cozy B&B overlooking the Pacific coast, then by all means,
you may very well need this sort of stuff. Replacing
them in Costa Rica will cost you many times what you originally paid
for those items plus you
stand a good chance of getting a product of diminished quality.
Since I started producing the Boomers Offshore
video series, Fran and I have had the opportunity to meet many
wannabe and veteran expats. We've swapped many stories over
several boxes of really good
Merlot. Recently, I queried several expats who have made
the move here. I wanted to get their thoughts on this very subject
and asked them the following:
I received many great responses. I
soon realized that virtually all the answers came from people who bought
or built a house here. So it stands to reason (and I'm going to
paraphrase the late great comedian George Carlin)...
if own a lot of stuff and you really like
your stuff, and you have room for your stuff, then bring your stuff!
The results of this informal and
unscientific survey can be found here.
But I'm A Renting NOT
Like us, if you plan on renting, your
decision on what to bring or not to bring may be quite different than
If you are renting a furnished place, travel light. That means you
may not need to bring beds, couches, end tables, refrigerators and the
like. Your rental place will probably come equipped with most of
However, you may decide to rent an unfurnished place. In that
situation, you may want to plan on bringing extra furniture.
It is important to understand that
"furnished" places can vary in style and quality. In fact, some
furnished places we saw were downright nasty. Just because it is
furnished does not mean you will not need furniture. In fact, at
our first house, the new couch was so uncomfortable (as are most Tico
sofas), we went out and bought a brand new sofa. Life got
better... real fast.
You should also know that an unfurnished
place may not even include your basic appliances like a refrigerator or
stove. Keep these thoughts in mind if you decide to bring or not
bring certain items.
Your Mileage May
Since we knew we were renting a furnished
house, we were able to see the furniture, sit on the couch, lay on the
bed and check out the appliances. We had the luxury of knowing
what we were getting before we got here. So it was our decision
to sell off the majority of our possessions and bring just those items we
needed to start our new life in Costa Rica. That included clothes,
toys (electronics) and such. We also made the mistake of selling
off a few key items only to replace them when we got in country.
During our last two months in North
Carolina, we sold off virtually all of our furniture including three
bedroom suites, a leather sectional sofa, solid wood dining room set
with six chairs and a hutch, two sets of china... you know, the same
sort of stuff that you have.
I got rid of all my business clothes.
And when I say all, I mean all. The Salvation Army really scored
big with me. I wound up donating a half dozen business suits, 20
long sleeve dress shirts, and a couple dozen ties. If the clothes
even remotely suggested business... they were gone. I did manage to
keep one pair of Docker slacks but here it is, 18 months later and I
still have yet to wear them. The only time I have worn a
pair of socks is when I have gone hiking. For that purpose I kept
three pair. Today, my footwear consists of 1 pair of beach sandals, 1 pair of
Keen Hiking sandals, 1 pair of high-top
hiking boots and 1 pair of FitFlop sandals. I own no regular shoes
that would go with my Dockers except for a somewhat molded pair of
leather Topsider deck shoes that may be getting shit-canned any day now.
Getting Your Stuff
After all our analysis and planning, it
looked like our possessions would require about 600-700 cubic feet of
space for shipping. Since a normal 20' container accommodates
roughly 1200 cubic feet (mas o menos), we were going to need about half
a container. But here's the catch... your options are (1) take the
entire container or (2) share your load with others as a consolidated
I am not a big fan of consolidated
shipments for two reasons. By the time you start figuring out your
cost per cubic foot and comparing your consolidated container cost against
the cost of an entire container, securing an entire container may be your
best bet. The second reason I am not a fan of consolidated
shipping is a personal one... I feel uneasy having all my possessions co-mingled with
other people's stuff.
In the end, Fran and I opted to get the
container, filling only half. It is for this reason,
if you bring a container, you might as well fill it. The worst you
can do is either sell your unneeded things once you get here or give the
away to needy Ticos... both of which is a win win for you.
When shipping a container, it can take
anywhere from 4 weeks to 8 weeks from the time those steel doors slam shut
at your home until your stuff is delivered here. That means you will do without most of your possessions for
two months or more. Planning ahead will minimize that
Fran and I went through our list of things we
planned to bring and identified those items we would need immediately.
Those items we labeled as Day One Essentials. The remainder
of our items would go on the container.
Day One Essentials
We had already planned one more CR visit
before executing our actual move. Our plan was to load up as many
extra suitcases as need be on our pre-move trip and leave them at the
home of our friends Deb and Rob Klipper in Esparza. So in January
2009 (pre-luggage restrictions), we packed loads of summer clothes, my
guitar, some video equipment and lots of things we wanted to have as
soon as we arrived in Costa Rica. The remainder of the Day One
Essentials would be packed into extra suitcases designated for our
actual move on March 31, 2009. In those extra suitcases we brought
the remainder of our clothes, a video projector, wireless surround sound
system, a 15" flat screen TV, some kitchen utensils and a bunch of
spices. In total, we brought seven suitcases and four carry-on
pieces. We were loaded to the max but the good news is we had most
of what we wanted and needed.
On April 22, 2009 I received an email from
our shipper stating our possessions were in Alajuela and had cleared
Customs. We were ready for delivery on the following day.
There Is No Right
There are few right and wrong answers to
the burning issue of what to bring or what NOT to bring. What worked for us may not work for you or
vice versa. Your lifestyle and where you will be living will
drive your decision process. When we lived north of San Ramon, we
were very glad that we packed a few sweatshirts and blue jeans.
But now, living at the beach, both items remain packed away in their
plastic storage bins.
The single biggest regret we have is not
bringing tour 4 burner, propane grill. We had the
room!!! I wound up selling the grill to the guys who were painting my
house back in North Carolina. OK... I saved $200 on the price of
my paint job but that was nothing compared to the price I was looking
at to replace the same damn Charbroil 4 Burner Grill in Costa Rica.
Every place I looked wanted to charge me $925 plus $50 for the stupid tank.
Hell, I only paid $350 for the damn thing at Home Depot in Charlotte and
that included the tank. The good news was, after 6 months of
searching, I found a floor model of that same grill. It turned out
that it was missing its cooking grate. So I immediately went into
negotiator mode and told the store manager that I would take the grill
off his hands for $300 and he throw in a tank. We settled on
$375 and the free tank. I had a steel fabricator friend of mine
back in San Ramon create a custom stainless steel grate on which to cook
my food. His price was $60. So for $435 I got my grill.
But the point is, I already had a grill, it was perfect and it would not
have cost me a penny to bring it!
Have A Strategy and
Stick To It
If you tend to be a pack rat and collect
things throughout your life, then it is going to be decision time for
you. It's our opinion that anyone moving to Costa Rica is probably
seeking a simpler life. For 38 years, Fran and I have been hauling
around boxes of memorabilia and just plain shit that we have acquired
over the years.
Before moving, we spent days sweating our butts
off up in our attic rummaging through cartons, too numerous to count,
pouring through memories of our life. We laughed and we cried (a
little) but mostly we asked "what the hell is this crap?" There were lots of
kid stuff we had saved plus we had INCOME TAX RETURNS dating back to
1973! OH. MY. GOD. Are we insane or what?
I have to admit, it was kinda cool looking
back at the tax records and seeing the pitiful earnings we had back in
1975. While looking at one of my old pay stubs from my days at the
NCR Corporation, I saw a $27.00 contribution being made to my retirement account.
We looked at each other and smiled, for had we not been diligent back
then, we'd be
Screwed Blued and Tattooed today!
I wanted to begin throwing away all this
useless crap but Fran jumped in and screamed NO! All the old
homework assignments from the kids, Christmas and Birthday cards etc.
meant something to someone at one point in time. Fran is the
sentimental one in the family. Me, I'm the process and efficiency expert. I say
toss it but Fran trumps me when it comes to this stuff... she said save
it, and save it we did.
We agreed to put all this crap into neat
piles, one pile for each kid, one pile for must save (legal and
personal) reasons, one pile for things we wanted to bring to Costa
Rica and one pile destined for the dumpster. We did save the last
7 years of tax returns, shredding the rest. All our kid's stuff
went to their respective piles and was crammed into a single plastic
storage bin. Old school yearbooks, along with the tax returns and
a few keepsake items went into another bin (actually two) and the rest
of the shit (oops... memories) went into two huge rollaway garbage bins.
We have successfully archived our life!
Digitize As Much As
Start today. Develop a plan to
digitize as much of your life as possible. If you don't own a
scanner, borrow one or better yet buy one. They are cheap enough.
Begin with all your photos. If you were like us, in the pre
digital camera age, you took hundreds, maybe thousands of pictures which
you sent off to the drug store to get developed and printed. Today
these picture sit in shoe boxes or dozens of three ring binders.
In addition, you probably have hundreds of envelopes containing the
original negatives from which these pictures came.
Spend the next several months or more
scanning these keepsake images. Today's new scanners will even do basic
color correction, taking faded and overly saturated images and restoring
them to their near original state. But wait... some of you were
zealots who shot 35 mm slides and your closets probably are home to
hundreds of neatly stored and labeled Carousel slide trays! Or
you may have been an early movie buff (like me) and you have
500 or more, 3" reels of 8mm film which are slowly deteriorating.
The good news is these items can also be
Instead of doing it yourself, I strongly recommend you
outsource this task to a company who knows exactly what they are doing.
I used a U.S. firm called
HOME MOVIE DEPOT.
They took over 6000 feet of my Super8 movies shot way back in the 70's and
digitized it all onto DVDs. From here I can load those
memories into my computer and make real movies of that content.
Aside from pictures, you need to scan
ALL your important papers. Once scanned, bring the images with
you and leave the real stuff in a secure place back home.
the biggie... I am a music whore! I owned a CD
collection approaching 1200 CDs. There was no way I
was going to box up all these disks and haul them around
Costa Rica. So for three months I devoted most of
my spare time to digitizing (ripping) every single CD to my
computer's hard drive. The software I used to
rip the CDs is called CDEX. It is a free program and I have
added as a download link (see left) if you would like to
archive your music collection.
When I was
finished, I had ripped 10,986 songs to a 65 gig space on my
PC. For backup purposes, I transferred all the
music to two, inexpensive 300GB external drives.
I also added all my pictures and important
scanned papers to the drive as a safety measure.
I gave one of the drives to my son in Pennsylvania and I
have the other. In addition, all my music is
stored on a single, 120 GB iPod Classic. So,
wherever I go, whenever I go, I take my entire music collection with
for the really cool thing... I sold all my CDs on
Craigslist and made almost enough money to pay for my
What's The Next Step?
Have you hit information overload yet?
To be brutally honest, you are no where even near overload. If you
plan on taking your personal possessions with you, then you are going to
need a shipper. But be very careful, there are many people out
there calling themselves "international shippers" but in reality are
only "sheeps in wolves clothing." Do your research and get
lots of feedback from those who have gone before you. Two of the most
popular international movers to Costa Rica are:
Fran and I are familiar with both
companies and feel confident recommending either. While Charles
Zeller shipped our goods, I know many people who have used Barry and
Arden with completely satisfying results.
Fran and I are experienced movers.
Corporate relocations, spanning our 38 year history has forced us to
become experts. We decided from the outset that we were going to
pack ourselves. This way, if something gets broken, it's probably
going to be our fault. One of the best tips we learned through our
research was to incorporate "reusability and sustainability"
as part of our moving plan. We
purchased about 30 plastic storage bins from stores like Target and
Wal-Mart. Yes they are more expensive then cardboard boxes but
they also resist moisture and mold... a key factor to consider when you
live only 7 degrees north of the equator.
To Bring or Not To
Bring (My Car)... That Is The Question
This is perhaps one of the most hotly
contested debates with people who are looking to move to Costa Rica.
We elected to buy a car here instead of shipping one
article). But our reasons were
pretty direct... we had two cars, one was a lease and the other was a
hot sports car (Nissan 350Z Roadster). In order to bring any car
into this country, it must have a free and clear title.
That ruled out the lease car. And as for the "Z", well it had only
6 inches of ground clearance - not advisable for Costa Rican roads.
No matter who you talk to, for every good
reason there is to ship a car, there are an equal number of reasons not
Costa Rica's tax system penalizes you
based on the age of your vehicle. Cars that reach the ripe old age
of 6 or more years are assessed tariffs at the highest rate... 79.03%, while
cars 0-3 years old pay the least in taxes at 52.29%. And cars that are 4-5
years of age are assessed at the rate of 63.91%.
Here are two examples
of how the taxes are applied:
Let's say you bought a brand new,
2011 Suzuki Grand Vitara. You want to ship it to Costa
Rica. By the way, this would be an excellent type
of car to ship. By the time you calculate shipping costs,
insurance, car's value etc, the taxable value of that car
will be somewhere in the area of value is $23,000.
The import tax would be based
on the lowest possible rate, somewhere around 53% or
The total cost of the car is
now valued at $35,190.
Interestingly though, you can
buy a brand new 2011 Suzuki Grand Vitara in Costa Rica but
it will not be built on U.S. standards for around $35,500.
This is one of those situations where buying Stateside and
shipping may be a better idea.
Now let's say you have an 10
year old Mitsubishi Montero 4x4 with low mileage and in
perfect condition. The taxable value of that car may
The import tax for that vehicle will
be charged at the highest level and may set you back an
So with the applicable fees to
nationalize the car, your total now is looking to run around
$12-13,000. That same Costa Rican version of
that car purchased locally may run around $15,000
This is not such a bad deal,
especially if it's a car you've owned, you know its history,
or you've bought it from a reputable source and know that at
least you have a car that has spent its first decade on the
pretty cushy North American roads vs. having the crap beaten
out of it in Costa Rica for the past 10 years.
Doesn't End There
In both of these examples,
you'd have to factor in the actual shipping costs. If you
shipped it on its own from southern Florida, you might allow
another $1200. If you put it into your container, the cost
is negligible -- ranging from basically "nothing" if you can
squeeze it into the 40' container you'd already decided you
needed, to $1000 if you consider the typical cost difference
between a 20' and 40' container.
Once you pay you import duties don't
You'll need to clear the car through
Customs, either by yourself or with the help of a qualified a
customs broker, but that too will come at an additional price!
If you are bringing in a new car from
the the U.S., say bye bye to that warranty. It will not be
If your car becomes damaged in
shipping or things have been stolen (quite likely unless
containerized), good luck proving it and getting insurance to pay
The Tale of the Navigator
A few weeks back I received an email
from a guy seeking advice on whether
or not to ship his 2010 Lincoln
Navigator to Costa Rica. I
chuckled under my breath for a
minute knowing full well that this
guy's head was firmly lodged
somewhere up his ass. It was
obvious that he has done little or
no research on this subject so I
tried to give him the facts or my
best advice (as I saw it).
is a huge, gas guzzling behemoth that screams "Big Fat Ugly
American." Driving such a vehicle here helps to
instill that unfortunate stereotype.
Operating such a car in Costa
Rica will immediately make this guy the center of attention and a
strong candidate to become another crime victim. Any
(common criminal) will see this fat cat as an easy mark,
assume he is rich and vulnerable. And the next thing ya
know... another one bites the dust!
Imagine driving that big,
black shiny rig down a congested street in Alejuela.
And let's not forget about finding a parking space!
Good luck to that!
And one last reason, the price
of gasoline in Costa Rica is almost TWICE that of the
You will pay more for a new car in Costa
Rica than you will pay for the same model (if it exists) in the U.S. but
the good news is the tax rate for new cars are much lower. Dealers
pay a 20% tariff based on the car's wholesale value as opposed to used
cars which are based on a perceived retail value. In addition, you
will have a car with a manufacturers warranty that can be serviced
In the states we tend to get in a
mind-set about owning cars that are
nearly new or, at most, 5 or 6 years
old. Owning a ten-year old car
in the States is less and less
common in regular "middle-class"
life, but here in Costa Rica, many
gringos quite happily own 10 to 15
year-old cars. They find that the
amount of money they spend in
repairs and upkeep is fine when
considered against the total amount
of money (not very much) that they
So, part of the "mind-set switch" in
moving here is recognizing a car as
transportation, not as status
symbol. Think in practical terms.
Good advice for the entire moving
For more information on shipping versus
buying, here is an article written by Barry Wilson and Arden Brink that
may help to clarify more of these points.
BRINGING A CAR TO COSTA RICA.PDF
OK, Let's Bring This
Epic To A Close...
It all boils down to what you should
bring and what not to bring. Unfortunately, there is no right
answer. It's going to depend on...
Where you are moving
What your plans are when you
Are you buying or renting
Furnished or unfurnished
Will you need a car or ride
If you talk to a dozen people, you will
get a dozen different opinions. All correct and all wrong. You
need to do what is right for you and your lifestyle and then prey like
hell you can recover from any mistakes.
While writing this article, I received
many really good tips on what to bring and what not to bring. Some
made sense and some seemed bizarre to me. In the end it will be
Check out the links to the right to see
WHAT TO BRING
WHAT NOT TO BRING
LOCAL REPLACEMENT PRICES
Contributors To This
I'd like to thank all those who helped
supply information for this article and hats off to the individual who
recommended NOT to bring your mailbox! And a huge thanks to Arden
Brink for her assistance and proof reading expertice.
Arden Brink - San Ramon
Barb Aira Atenas
Donna Anderton San Ramon
George Ernst San Ramon
Gloria Yeatman San Ramon
Heather OConnell Playa
Kathy Bell San Ramon
John Rockwell - Dominical
Lee and Cathy Coleman Atenas
Louise Wittman San
Pieter Roelofs Playa Hermosa
Rolando Cline - Puriscal
Stephen Doyle San Ramon
Toni Laws Playa Hermosa
HERE ARE A
FEW VIDEOS THAT SUPPORT THE THEME OF THIS ARTICLE
SOME GREAT (AND INFORMATIVE) READING
FROM MY FRIEND ARDEN BRINK
To Download your 30 Page
"Unraveling The Mysteries of Moving To Costa Rica"
Click on the book!
MAINER'S IN COSTA RICA