When we arrived in Costa Rica six years ago at age 58, we came with 1260 cubic feet of crap, most of which should have been left behind. Six years later, we returned with less than 200 cubic feet consisting mostly of musical instruments, PA systems, computers and a few kitchen odds and ends. Plus, our entire wardrobe was able to fit neatly into just two carry on suitcases.
Let us share with you now some of the thoughts we went through in coming to this momentous decision.
Of All The Places To Move, Why Venice?
We approached our repatriation decision the same way we approached our original decision to move to Costa Rica and that was based on defined criteria as to what we wanted out of life. It became apparent that we were both "beach people", seeking warm weather and a desire to enjoy things beach-related.
We immediately eliminated...
All landlocked states.
Any area that could potentially generate and accumulation of snow or ice.
All beaches whose water temperature would require a wetsuit to swim.
Any areas whose residents would be more likely be fans of Jerry Springer and Duck Dynasty
Any areas that did not offer pet friendly beaches.
After all was said and done, we began focusing on Florida's west coast, specifically Venice Beach. This was confirmed midway through our second visit to the area. So in preparation for the move we decided to get a few very important things out of the way. In the span of just 4 days, we were able to accomplish...
The purchase of a car, a very nice 2011 Kia Sorrento, along with all necessary insurances
Secure temporary living so when we arrived, we had a place to call home (even though it would be for a very short time).
Secure health insurance effective on day 1 of our arrival.
With those major "to-do" list items taken care of, we now were able to concentrate on the move.
Everything Must Go...
Before moving to Costa Rica in 2009, we liquidated most of our furniture and non-essential possessions. So, when we made the decision to return to the States, we followed the same course of action - selling it all. We did so well hosting numerous garage sales, we were able to completely fund the entire cost of returning to the U.S., and that even included the shipping of our dogs.
Our decision to buy a car six years ago turned out to be a good one. At the time, paying a whopping $15,000 for a used car seemed ridiculously high to me but when we sold the car 5 1/2 years later, Costa Rica's low depreciation allowed me to sell it for $12,500. I consider that a pretty good ROI. To all those who are still planning on moving to Costa Rica, car ownership is strongly recommended.
Our two dogs flew back in style via Avianca Cargo. Total cost was only $750, which also included transportation from Guanacaste to the San Jose airport. In addition I had to get two large (airline approved) crates ($200) and another $200 for our vet to complete the required health certifications. In total, it cost us only $1150 to fly our two furry daughters back to the States.
Since we were not shipping back any furniture, we opted to pack all our own possessions, using all the plastic containers we originally brought with us in 2009. Do yourselves a favor and if you are moving overseas, spend a few extra bucks and invest in plastic or rubber shipping containers. Not only will they serve you well on the trip over but they become fantastic storage devices while living abroad.
Remember, if you buy them in Costa Rica, be prepared to spend 2x-3x the price for a much lesser quality product.
We re-hired Charlie Zeller from Ship To Costa Rica to bring back our possessions. Charlie was the one who brought us here and we decided to use him for the return. His instructions to me were simple, box everything and give him a count of the boxes. For estimation purposes, he gave me a rough idea as to the potential cost based on weight and cubic footage. He estimated that if I had about 285 cu feet (roughly 3 pallets) weighing about 2000 pounds, my cost would run about $2600. As it turned out his estimate was spot on. My stuff was picked up (on the agreed upon date and time), cleared U.S. Customs when he said it would and was delivered to my house on the exact date and time promised. Nothing missing or broken and I was not charged one single penny more than what was originally quoted.
Establish A Plan and Work Your Plan...
Our original strategy when moving to Costa Rica was simple, rent BEFORE you buy (if we even buy at all). At least that WAS our intention. But after two, well structured due diligence trips to Florida, we came away with the conclusion that moderately priced, long term rentals was going to be difficult (if not impossible) to find. Seasonal rentals, with month to month leases, were the norm.
Following the crash in 2008 when so many people lost their homes, deep pocked companies saw an opportunity and gobbled up most of the abandoned homes for pennies on the dollar. They turned them into seasonal rentals, catering mostly to the transient tourist crowd but also became the primary housing for those who are unable to qualify for home financing.
Our first two months were spent in one of these houses, a modest 2/2 with fenced yard. No pool but it did include all our utilities. We got all this for "only" $2000 a month! (Ya see what I mean!)
While we kept looking for our dream rental, Fran and I came to the realization that home ownership was going to be our best option. So once again, we re-defined our criteria, and began working with local realtors to find us that elusive "great deal."
Over the 40 years we have been together, we have become well experienced when it comes to shopping for a house. If we tell a realtor we want to see 2 bed 2 bath houses with a 2 car garage in a non-geriatric area, don't waste our time showing us a town house condo in Shuffleboard City. With our strategy in place, in just a matter of 10 (fairly intensive days) we were ready to make an offer on our new Venice Florida house.
While the house we were looking at was originally priced at just under $200k, our research indicated that there was considerable room for negotiation. We sealed the deal at $175k.
The best part was we were able to exchange a $2000 rental for an $800 mortgage and that includes all our taxes and insurances.
In the end, our monthly out-of-pocket expenses will be the same or maybe even lower than what we were spending in Costa Rica. Stay tuned for a future article comparing our real out of pocket expenses.