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Paying the bills


Tuesday 06 November 2012 |QFeature

Numerous and serious studies conclude that Wanna-be expatriates are not lining the streets looking to live in our little country by the sea.

Having said that, Costa Rica´s etched in bronze ecological fame (Real or imagined) and the mere image of escaping to a more laid back democracy where opening a new Popeye´s franchise makes headlines can look pretty good. And coming from a hectic developed country life style to one that is so terribly polite and unrushed does have its appeal.

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“Yes,” coming to Costa Rica will reduce big city and corporate stress. But many expats say, “ in developed countries like the U.S., you will die of stress but when living in Costa Rica you will die of frustration.”

Only this week I witnessed an expat freak out over the immigration process and finally exclaimed how different she was (Superior) from Ticos. This aged, grey haired beauty in her ten speed wedgies just finally flipped out and kept repeating over and again, like some sort of mantra, “If you keep me running in circles, I´m going home and you cannot have my money! Do you hear me?”

She could have been a zillionaire or on welfare, the non-working bureaucrats could not care less and I doubt if the country of Costa Rica could care much more either, if at all.

Image D. Mora, Diario Digital Nuestro País

The dull eyes of just about every agency worker within immigration just passively stared at this truly irate lady since they have heard it many times before but perhaps not quite so loud. She was required to have a “government official” translation to Spanish of her already in Spanish passport. I guess Costa Rica does not trust the Spanish in Spain.

Even after cooling down  to a mere mumble, the lady did not grasp that this episode was only her first real step into the world of redundancy and unexplainable, illogical tasks that are required to live and invest in Costa Rica.

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For many, once they get past the sloths and toucans, there is serious cultural shock when coming to CR from a more developed country.

In reality, unless you plan to eat and live as the locals, it is also more expensive than Miami despite the published under 5% inflation rate.

On the other hand, if you promise the government a mega-deal, like a sports book, call center, language school, etc. the massive government is quite good because (a) you can avoid taxes, (b) the daily utility bills for larger businesses are deeply discounted and (c) dignitaries will embrace you.

However, the welcome rug is pulled when your organization rises above the Costa Rican radar in which case you do have problems looming on the horizon as a threat to well established Costa Rican business concerns. They are sure to call for some sort of national protection and the implementation of an obscure law written in 1867. Or the biz goes belly up.

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Currently, it is the importation of alcoholic beverages, namely beer which has angered the largest import/export company Florida ICE and with the flick of an attorney legally challenges imports of alcoholic beverage (Wine and beer) lower than their wholesale prices. So much for the highly touted neoliberal free market system.

Costa Ricans are extremely protective of their “good old´ boy network” and to be unique or innovative only solicits, “Why did I not think of that so let´s put this person out of business and as quickly as possible.” Or, the enterprise is suddenly deemed illegal since manufacturing popcorn violates some kind of ecological standard.

That is always hard to defend since ecology is the key word in Costa Rica yet 92% of all human waste and trash are tossed into the rivers that flow to the ocean.

The “network” is most visible in the election process.

What tend to recycle presidents and the candidates every four years, and the same goes for most ministers as well as institutional senior management. “New blood” is not allowed.

In the 2014 election the closest person to “new blood” is Johnny Araya and if not the mayor of San Jose would have been laughed off months ago.

My point is please do not come to Costa Rica with the idea of opening anything more than a T-shirt factory on the beech that closes at lunch and re-opens when there are no customers.

Be prepared to learn Spanish, at least conversational Spanish so you can understand the lawyer, bureaucrat, mechanic, the real estate sales person, car salesman, and last but not least the traffic cop looking for a bribe.

Shopping at Automercado

Make sure you have checked and double checked prices before making a purchase. Since transparency is only talked about, due diligence is mandatory and I mean you must do a lot more than 50 centavos of homework.

We have a saying, “If you want to take home a million dollars from Costa Rica, bring two million.”

Long term residency (90 days or more) is both frustrating and costly. But, and this is a big but, the foliage, the green, the beaches, the wildlife, the climate is worth all of the expenditures. And so too are the simple things you find from time to time like the tamal, the parks, the open air markets, freedom to use all the public beaches even those of the rich and famous, soothing warm ocean water and when the Christmas season hits, it hits big with all kinds of free events worth attending.

Relax and enjoy the process!

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Paying the bills
Juan Sebastian Campos
An expat from the U.S., educator and writer in English and Spanish since 1978 with a doctorate in business administrations (DBA) from the United States and Germany. A feature writer for ABC News, Copley Press and the Tribune Group with emphasis on Central America.

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