Friday 22 September 2023
HomeExpat Focus“Are you an idiot?” my father asked me (Part II)

“Are you an idiot?” my father asked me (Part II)

... a lot of people were envious but these were people that we knew would never take the risk…

Expat Focus“Are you an idiot?” my father asked me (Part II)

... a lot of people were envious but these were people that we knew would never take the risk…

“You’re an idiot!” Part Two… a continuation… I honestly don’t think that the vast majority of people that move to Costa Rica, whether full or part time… truly know what they are getting into.

Basics are just that… basics … and almost everyone gets them right.

People in general buy into the “pura vida” lifestyle and what great people Ticos are.   They believe because they want to believe.

- payin the bills -

But hold off on that sentence for a moment…

After buying our land… we basically looked at each other and said “what do we do now?”

In the States we would simply hire a builder and he would handle everything from A to Z.

Not in Costa Rica.

- paying the bills -

So we had to educate ourselves first…

We found out from a local expat that owned a Bed and Breakfast in our town what the procedure is … and least “roughly”… and we also got a referral for a builder from Wady  ( remember?  He was our first guide and setup our original purchase of land and our first rental ).

Meet Arturo, a transplant from Venezuela who married a local girl from Grecia.   He was our builder.

Rhonda designed our house… but we needed to have the design put into the proper format for permitting purposes.

I was glad to give the construction work to her… she is mechanical… I am non-tech AND non mechanical.

She and Arturo got along famously considering neither totally understood each other.

- paying the bills --

And construction is one area where newcomers are viewed as “easy marks”.   If you read much about Costa Rica and building your own home… you will read horror stories galore.

It was an education.

Neither of us had ever built a house… and we were stunned at how everything was reduced to basics… primarily because no one could really afford luxuries like cement mixers or laser sights or even ANYTHING resembling a power tool.   It was the way it was “back home” probably 60 or 70 years ago, maybe more.

But everything went amazingly well.

We weren’t necessarily shocked because we just assumed that everyone else did what we did.


People were shocked when they found out what we ended up paying.

We actually had people knocking on our door asking if they could see our home… and local online papers and writers stopped by for information and the biggest shock was Newsweek wanting to do a story about us.

They did. ( they called it “Running Away to Retire” )

It wasn’t exactly the most exciting news of the year but considering that we had done something which , up until then, most gringos had failed miserably at.   Luckily, it is different now… well, most of the time.

Then… we invited my parents down.

Dad was apprehensive and even asked if the house had running water.   This is a guy who had his ship sunk in WWll and survived in freezing water for half a day.

When he saw our house…. He was speechless… literally.

He went through every inch of the house and couldn’t believe that everything was custom made and everything was basically done by hand.

Then he apologized.   And then he actually had tears in his eyes and could barely get out a “I am so sorry… this is beautiful and I am sorry that I doubted the two of you.”

Now… this doesn’t happen today like I described.    Gringos and home builders are a common occurrence and nearly two decades have gone by… but…

Some things never change…. Because most contractors or builders will always find ways to make more money off of those who do not know “how things really work.”

And I firmly believe that over 90% of all people that build in CR overepay substantially.

No one could believe what we built our home for… in fact , even our neighbors would stop over and rave.  ( well, part of the reason for it too, was that Rhonda loves bright colors… Ticos don’t ).

Even today, real estate and construction are two of the most common purchases by gringos and sadly, most gringos have no idea what they are doing and what is a fair price and what is not.

Do your homework.

Other customs and everyday occurrences that might shock or blindside you:

Before proceeding I will tell you point blank that most of you will think I am lying…  people want to believe that Costa Rica is the promised land and everyone is honest and forthright.

Sorry, but there are warts and pimples even in paradise.

And when I write this I am always reminded of a song that I heard when I attended a banquet when I was graduating from college… it was really more of a roast and a “going away” but with tongue in cheek.”

Three people sang a song that one had written and it was entitled and dedicated to all of those “couples” that were intending to get married after graduation… It was called “you have pimples on your butt, you are nice.”

You get the idea.

Well now, 50 years after my graduation that song is still bouncing around in my head but it now applies to Costa Rica.

Moving on…

Here are some of the most common irritations that most gringos list their first few months in country:

  • Waiting in lines… Ticos seemingly have the patience of Job… they do not mind in the least and seemingly retreat to a corner in their brain where they are entertained. It is a miracle.    Accept it or move… because this is one attribute that most gringos wish they had.    And the lines never get smaller.
  • Why do many Costa Rican businesses have three people for every one job? Notice when you are in one next time…
  • Ticos are horrible drivers… REALLY horrible. Drive defensively everywhere you go.
  • Many businesses, when totaling up your purchase will overcharge you… sometimes it is a conversion mistake but most of the time they will add in a few extra dollars ( or more ). Check your own bill.   Just make sure.   This is one “wart” that people really don’t believe … just be aware and get used to it.   It happens to everyone.
  • Many Ticos think gringos have “money trees” back home… in other words, no matter if you have nothing more than a social security pension or you have just purchased an ocean liner… this is really another touchy issue because many Costa Ricans will deny it but you would be surprised how many locals do NOT realize that an ATM is not a place where money is printed for gringos only. Accept it and be firm.

You should NOT be embarrassed about having money.    Be generous but don’t be taken advantage of.

  • Real estate … if you really truly want to know how you will be overcharged 99% of the time and not even know it… ask for a copy of my book “The Greater Fool Theory of Real Estate in Costa Rica”
  • Should you rent before you buy? Well, we didn’t and no, we are not sorry but a lot of people are… very sorry.   Costa Rica has so many climates and geographies that you will think you are in a perpetual Kodak Minute.
    One of our favorite things to do is to take a drive to a place we have never been before… because you can drive anywhere in the country and back in a single day ( granted, some destinations make for a VERY long day… but you get the idea.  This is one point where I can say, without any hesitation, that the country puts damn near anywhere else to shame.   It really does.
  • There IS pollution in Costa Rica… and you would really think that all of the emphasis on pura vida and the emphasis on renewable energy and much more… that pollution is minimal. It is not.   There is crap everywhere and it is accepted… It IS getting better… but just don’t be shocked.
  • I know that this one likely will not surprise too many people but do not be surprised at how much almost everything costs … I am still shocked if I order a typical Costa Rican meal ( a casado ) and I am handed a bill for over $10.    In the States it would be $5… honest.   Gas is still $5 a gallon as I write this and no one has said boo… most of the money from gasoline purchases (surprisingly) goes to the government.
  • Many people have a “fantasy island dream” of how Costa Rica SHOULD be based upon readings, websites and advertisements from the government. Face it, “no military”, pura vida, biodiversity,  absolutely stunning scenery almost around every corner, friendly people… the list is a long one especially if you are surfing from website to website.  Reality is not someone else’s opinion, it is yours to make it what you wish.    Take your time.
  • There IS crime here… most is petty. Take steps to protect yourself.
  • A few more things in closing… Tico drivers are maniacs, drive defensively ( I had to say it again ) … there IS corruption ( probably less than “back home” … but it exists and yes bribes are commonplace )… there are weird insects and poisonous ones too… ( they ain’t going away either… get used to them )
  • Eventually you will see that Costa Rican law is different than almost everywhere in the States or Canada. And it is also considerably different when the courts hand out sentences.   They are remarkably lenient and if the country ever wants to attain LESS crime, they will have to raise terms of sentencing… Face it, 10 years for a murder is not exactly a crime deterrent… or suspended sentences for theft.

Take the small amount of information that you don’t believe, with a grain of salt… accept that there will be things that drive you crazy and accept that you will probably lose a few dollars ( or more ) in a business transaction because everyone does…

Do NOT be surprised that everything is not Nirvana or a perfect world.

Rhonda and I have been here nearly two decades and we have seen all of the “bad stuff” that I mention here… and more.

But in all honesty, from both of us… we would not live anywhere else.   The beauty surpasses anywhere else as far as we are concerned… and the variety, the fauna and flora… and even all of the P.R. that we see in press releases or advertisements…

In today’s world… it is where we belong.   And there is nowhere else that we would rather be than in Costa Rica.

Especially in today’s world.

Read “You’re an idiot!” Part one here.


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Randy Berg
My name is Randy Berg … and I am, I guess, officially an “old guy”. Now, my best guess is that you are thinking something along the lines of “why should I give a sh.. ?” And you will have to be the judge of that as one of the editors of this online “newspaper” asked me if I wish to contribute my writings. And no, that does not mean that you will like my writing. But I hope you do… and I want to start by telling you that my writing is a little different than most. I don’t use flowery language and I usually write too much on each subject, mainly because I don’t know of any other way to write. It is what it is. I write from the heart and I tell it exactly as I see it.

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