The 10 Secrets to Happiness

Living in Costa Rica, which has often been rated as the “Happiest Country on Earth”, has taught me a few things about finding happiness.  It’s not about living in a tropical paradise.  It’s about finding peace within.

1)      Don’t wish for a different path in the past.  Use the past only to help guide you in the future, not to keep you stuck there and wishing for something that is gone.  Don’t sit and wish how things should have been done differently.  Again, let past mistakes give you experience to apply in decisions for the future, but changing one decision in the past would prevent your present and no one knows what that other present would be like.  Let it go.

2)      Don’t live only for the future.  Although it is important to set aside funds for the future, don’t forget your present by denying yourself everything for the plan of enjoying the future.  We don’t know what the future will hold.  We don’t know if we will be around to enjoy the future.  We don’t know if the people we care about will be around to enjoy the future with us.  Don’t wait until “tomorrow” to give the time needed to a loved one.  Life is short.  So, don’t leave all great experiences for the “future.”

3)      Live in the present.  Don’t live for the past nor for the future, but open your eyes, ears, and heart to the present.  For example, how we treat a child each and every day affects the child’s future.  Taking time each day to look around and be “here”, in the present and being your best each and every day.

4)      Don’t wish for someone else’s life.  The grass is always greener on the other side.  Don’t think that everyone else’s life is so much better.  Everyone has problems and until you have walked in their shoes, you have no idea the trials that person is going through.  We see it every day with suicides of the rich and famous, in these lives that appear perfect.  Celebrate the successes of others so that it makes you happy instead of letting jealousy bring you down.

5)      Enjoy what you have.  Right along with living in the present means appreciating everything you have.  The people you have and the life you have.  Find something every day to be happy about and give that significance in your life.

6)      Get rid of anything and everything that doesn’t allow you to be happy.  That means cutting off contacts that make you feel bad and blocking Facebook people who get you all riled up.  My great-grandmother stopped watching the news because it was only about wars that were happening around the world or other terrible things that she couldn’t do anything about.  So, she stopped stressing herself out and never turned on the news again.  She focused on local efforts and within our family where she made a difference every day.  I doubt any of us could be quite that absolute with our need for news, but you get the idea.

7)      Surround yourself with people who love you and encourage you.  Positive people who both help you see the great things in your life and are willing to be with you in all of the low times but to see you out of the rough times, not to keep you down in it.

8)      When something bad happens, see the good side in it if possible.  If I am waiting in a long line at the bank, at least I am in air conditioning in a chair instead of standing in a line in the heat.

9)      Spread happiness.  If something hasn’t happened to make you happy, send something nice to someone else.  Giving creates happiness.  Saying something nice to someone or helping someone naturally gives you a sense of happiness.  Being grumpy spreads negativity.

10)   Pura Vida!  C’est la vie!  Sh– happens.  That’s life.  The ability to get hit with an unpleasant situation and to be able to throw up your hands and use one of the above expressions is one of the reasons that Costa Ricans can be so happy.  Don’t get mad.  Shake your head, laugh, and move on.  Pura Vida!

 

Tina Newton is an Oklahoma girl who has spent the last eighteen years living in Costa Rica.  She has raised her two children and wonderful grandbaby there.  She originally studied international relations with an emphasis on the Former Soviet Union and then finished with a Master’s in International Economics and Development at Oklahoma State University.  After working as an analyst for a while, she felt the need to get out and help people and so she got certified as a Realtor in Kansas.  Upon moving to Costa Rica, she opened and ran a community center, “Su Espacio” for 10 years, tried out another stint in the corporate world at Proctor & Gamble, and then came back to doing what makes her happy in the field of real estate.  Finding homes and guiding people in the process is what she enjoys.  She is always available to answer questions about living in Costa Rica.  You can send her an email, catch her on the Facebook page, or send a message through the website for Tristan & Newton Real Estate.

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The Giving Town

In times of terrible hardships and survival such as in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, it is always amazing as to how people come together to give what they can of their time and money to help others.  From million dollar individual donations, to companies and funds matching donations of givers, to individual donations of $20, it all adds up and helps with the relief and recovery efforts.  People put away words of hatred and separation to come together and help.

The town of Atenas, Costa Rica, has a tradition of giving.  First of all, as in many small towns, people naturally come together when there are people in need.  Whether it is because they are related to one another or just because they have known each other for years, people chip in and do what they can.  Churches are often known as these centers for giving and help when disasters occur.

In Atenas, the Catholic church is very strong and so are many smaller, independent churches, but what steps up mostly are the individual efforts that are seen.  Many of these efforts are led by international residents who want to do what they can to help the community.

Animales Atenas is a great organization set up to eliminate street animals through castration clinics, adoption campaigns, and more.

The Angel Tree is a project with community participation of all levels, providing individual gifts to approximately 350 needy children each Christmas.  The Angel Tree party is provided through food donations, location donation, and all of those wonderful gifts provided by all of the community.  This year’s sign up date is already upon us as it will be Tuesday, October 3rd starting at 10 a.m. and the party will be held on Saturday, December 2nd.

The swim campaign “Swim for Life” is an effort to prevent future drownings by providing safety information, encouraging swimming classes, and funding to those who want to participate in classes but don’t have the money to do so.  They will be taking additional donations in order to provide free swim classes during the summer vacation to the kids in the Angel Tree program so that the children will not only receive Christmas gifts, but the ongoing gift of life as well.

The Chili Cookoff started off as a fun activity to benefit the children’s home “Hogar de Vida.”    It draws people from all over the country and for 2018, will expand into a weekend event, called the “Atenas Life Festival”.  The Chili Cookoff will still be on the Sunday of the event, raising money for the children’s home, but the Saturday will allow for other groups in need to receive funds for their projects.  The dates are currently set for March 9, 10, and 11th, 2018.

All of these events take lots of volunteer time, leadership, donations, and creative ideas.  Atenas has been very lucky to have received such amazing participation of all levels.  And to support these efforts for the town, a non-profit corporation is being set up so that people who want to donate to these projects and receive US tax donations, can do so.  The corporation will be called “Supporting Solutions for Atenas” and should be set by the end of the year.

Atenas, which has often been called, “The Best Climate in the World” could be even better known as “The Giving Town”.  I am proud to be part of this town and many of these projects and I would be glad to help you be part of it as well.

Tina Newton is a real estate agent and co-owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate.  She has been involved in the community activities since she arrived 18 years ago and is always happy to share information and answer questions about Atenas and life in Costa Rica with anyone who asks.  You can contact her by email, Facebook, or through the website.

Raising a Family in Costa Rica

After living 18 years in Costa Rica and raising a family here, would I do it again?  You bet. 

We live in the small central valley town of Atenas, and like many small towns around the world, everyone is somehow connected to each other and is keenly aware of what everyone else is doing. So when word got out that a red-haired gringa and her Tico husband had moved to town, we were warmly welcomed by everyone and immediately became family.

They opened their homes and hearts to us like a long-lost relatives, even though I didn’t speak a word of Spanish!  I grew up in the small town, Perry, Oklahoma, so this kindness and hospitality felt very familiar, and ultimately helped me avoid ever feeling homesick.

Costa Rica is a country that is very focused on children and families, so pregnant women are treated like goddesses. They get to move to the front of the line at the bank, are offered help with everything, and are relentlessly given advice. I became pregnant shortly after our arrival in Costa Rica, and having come from a 1st world country, and being in my 20’s, I ignored a majority of that advice. I would later discover that much of what I’d been told was accurate and could have really helped me through that time. That’s when I began listening instead of assuming I knew everything. 

I had both of my children in private hospitals at about ¼ of the price of hospitals in the U.S., and the care was fabulous.  I hit the button to ask for a pain killer after my daughter was born, and before I could even think about how I should ask for it in Spanish, the nurse was there offering exactly what I needed.  The nurses immediately assisted me with breastfeeding and when needed, took the baby away for a while so I could get some sleep. Both children slept right beside me at night in their little hospital cribs, and a bed was also provided for my husband! I can’t imagine how my experience could have been any better. 

Costa Ricans really love babies.  My daughter was only 2 weeks old when I had to attend a funeral and a lady came up and took her right out of my arms.  I froze and was ready to panic when the lady next to me, said, “No worries, she is a nurse and is allowing you to have some time in your mourning.”  Waiters would often take my baby and walk around with him/her until I finished eating. Initially, I was a little apprehensive about this, but when I saw how they adoringly held my little munchkin and showed him/her off to the other employees, who would exclaim, “Preciosa!” and “Que guapo!” I knew I had nothing to worry about, and I really appreciated the break!

Children of citizens of other countries who are born in Costa Rica, are granted dual citizenship.  This has helped our children as they’ve travelled around the world, because they can choose which passport to use when they travel, each one with its own benefits. 

Not only are my children bilingual, they are also bi-cultural. They are fully immersed in the Tico (Costa Rican) culture, but being raised by a mom from the U.S., they’ve also inherited lot of their mother’s gringo-isms.  Having a Costa Rican father and family on that side, they eat their share of rice and beans, but get a more international cuisine at my house. 

Costa Rica is a country that is very we” oriented. Ticos (Costa Ricans) are more concerned with the common good, rather than the desires of the individual. One of the first times I witnessed this all-inclusive attitude in our children, was when our five years old daughter stopped in front of the candy section at the checkout counter, staring at all the colorful options. After examining the selection she asked, Mom, can I have five candies?  Baffled, I asked her why she needed five, and she said, So I can give one to each of my friends.”  I don’t think I could have bought them any faster. 

Our son also shares this generous attitude, and instead of selling the soccer cleats he regularly outgrows to help pay for his next pair, he insists on giving them to kids in town who need them.

Our kids don’t understand consumerism. When we visit the U.S., they’re shocked at the the more, more, more attitude and just shake their heads.  However, my son really would have 10 pairs of shoes if I let him, so I suppose a few things truly are genetic!

As I mentioned, the small town we live in is very much like an extended family. I was reminded of this as I led a cultural activity in the central park, and I heard (in Spanish), Matthew, get down out of that tree!”  This might have upset some parents, but all I could think of was how incredible it was to have a whole town watching out for my kids.

When my daughter turned 12 and wanted to hang out with her girlfriends on her own, I knew I didn’t have to worry because they were eating ice cream at the local shop where the owner would keep an eye on them.  I have eyes in every corner of this town.  My kids know that their mom really does know everything they do, and I think that is incredibly cool!

Many people who move to Costa Rica decide to homeschool. In my opinion, I think those people are completely missing the point of raising children in another culture.  Why take children to another country if they aren’t going to play with the locals or learn the language?  But I suppose everyone has their reasons.

I did choose private schools over public schools. Public schools in Costa Rica provide a good education, but children are often sent home if the teacher is out for the day, and as a working mom, that just didn’t work for me. 

My daughter is now in her last year of high school and she is currently taking Physics, Biology, and Chemistry in the same year.  I wouldn’t have been able to take all three sciences at the same time when I was in high school, so yes, I feel the education my children are receiving is excellent. 

Next year, she’ll hopefully get accepted at one of Costa Rica’s five National (public) Universities. Her tuition at the National Universities will be…..yes, wait for it……$300/semester, and that’s without the many scholarships that are available to students! 

The National Universities outrank the country’s private universities in academic rating, because they are so selective about their incoming students. The private universities were established for students who could afford college, but didn’t have the grades to be accepted into a National University.  My fingers are crossed that she will score high enough on her exams to be accepted at a public university next year.

The temperate year-round weather means my kids spend most of their time outside. I often have to ask my son to sit down and play video games for a moment, because his running in and out can drive me crazy! 

He would rather be out playing soccer than doing anything else in the world and my daughter loves to swim. I’m not saying they don’t chat with their friends (that would mean they weren’t teenagers) but they love to be outside. When we’ve visited the U.S. in the winter, they’ve been shocked that the sun could be shining so beautifully and yet it be too cold to get out and enjoy it. They can’t imagine being stuck indoors for days at a time.

One of the downsides being here is that there aren’t many options for organized activities outside of school in this small town.  Fortunately, my son loves soccer, and soccer, karate, swimming, and volleyball are all offered here in Atenas.  However, if someone really wanted their kids to play baseball or other sports, they can be found in the bigger neighboring towns, it would just take a little more work logistically.

Costa Rica isn’t like the U.S. where kids can be involved in four or more after-school activities each week, but maybe that is a good thing.  Enjoying a little free time is part of “Pura Vida”.

Are they missing out on anything else?  I don’t think so. 

Do they have fun?  Yes. 

Are they safe?  Yes. 

Do they have good doctors?  Yes. 

Do they have friends?  Yes. 

Do they have every fast food restaurant?  No, but they can go for homemade food ready at any soda” or small café and get rice, beans, and meat, or hand-made empanadas.  Do they have everything they need in life?  I think so.

When we moved to Costa Rica, we said we would take it two years at a time and see what we thought.  After 18 years, running a community center, having two kids, getting divorced, remarried, and starting  my own business as a real estate agent in Atenas, I can’t imagine raising my kids anywhere else. 

At 17 and 13, my kids have had the opportunity to travel to many parts of the world. I think growing up in Costa Rica, and having travelled around the globe, has made them empathetic, confident, and optimistic global citizens who would be capable of handling almost any situation, and could be content on any continent. 

Being a parent in any country gives you an insight into the culture that you just would never get as a childless adult. You plan field trips, class parties and go to games with other parents. You watch each other’s kids and get to know everyone’s extended family. All of these things give you common ground with the locals. Living in Costa Rica has not only been a great experience for my children, but for me as well. 

I may still be the crazy gringa, but I am also a mother and in Costa Rica, that makes me family.

Tina Newton is a real estate agent and co-owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate.  She is an entrepreneur and community leader in Atenas.  She was asked to write this article for a new blog page called Penny’s Pura Vida and will be posting more articles in the future.  You can check it out at http://pennyspuravida.com/raising-children-costa-rica/ .  See the FB page or email Tina with any questions you have about real estate in Costa Rica, living in Costa Rica, or helping with activities such as the Swim Campaign for Atenas, the Angel Tree, the Chili Cookoff, or the Chamber of Tourism of Atenas.

Why you really NEED a Realtor when buying property in Costa Rica

Sometimes being a Realtor is not the most respected profession.  I understand that there are lots of people out there, and especially in Costa Rica, who are not professional, are crooks, and don’t know what they are doing.  And therefore, I halfway understand when a local says they don’t need a real estate agent and will go directly to the owner.  However, when I hear a foreigner say that they want to buy a property directly from a local with no agents involved, I shiver.  What can go wrong?  After 18 years of living here and hearing horror stories, here are five things that can go VERY wrong.

1)       You could end up paying WAY more than the property is valued.  You don’t know the value of the land.  Every local will tell you that the property is “ganga” or cheap, even if they’ve priced it at $1,000,000.  I adore this country, but I have been told so many times by locals that they will put a high price on it and eventually someone will come along and pay it.  A good realtor will know the value of the land and other properties in the market.

2)      You might have bought a property that can never be transferred into your name.  Well, maybe NEVER is an exaggeration, but it could easily take 10 years in the courts.  You don’t know if the person who says they are selling the property is truly the owner in the registry.  Sometimes, it could be someone out to fraud someone, but often it is people who honestly believe they own the property and don’t.  How?  A grandson has inherited his grandfather’s property, but nothing was ever changed in the registry, and the grandfather has passed away so there is no one to sign over the property to you.  Or, there was a divorce and the property is no longer in the person’s name who is trying to sell it.

3)      You might have bought a property with liens and mortgages attached.  You could have bought a property that only has rights to half of it, or a mortgage that hasn’t been taken off the registry.  Even if a mortgage is paid, it must be requested by a lawyer for it to be taken off of the registry.  These must be cleared before you consider buying a property.

4)      You might have bought a property with concessions, allowing roads to be widened or high tension electrical wires to run right through your property.  Sometimes these are on the registry papers and sometimes they aren’t and it’s important to know what is going on in the community to know.  Imagine buying a property in Orotina that will be directly next to the new airport. 

5)      Can you live without water?  Unless you have been in the area for an extended period of time, you don’t know which areas have good access to water and which ones get shut off for hours at a time.  You very well could be buying into a development with no water rights at all.  And forget building anything if you don’t have water approval.

Now, it’s true, not every agent out there will check on these things in advance.  They should have, but not all will.  So, it is important to know your Realtor, get recommendations and ask these questions.  If they can’t produce a copy of the registry and plano (plot) for each home you want to see, be careful.  But to say outright that you don’t want to use any Realtor for the transaction is like going into surgery without a surgeon or going into court defending yourself in a murder trial.  NOT recommended.  Will you save money if the owner doesn’t have to pay the commission?  Look at number one.  If you are paying the market rate or better, wouldn’t you prefer that to paying double?  The seller pays the commission so even if you look for properties with an agent and decide not to buy, you don’t pay anything.  So, do your research and select someone who can truly help you and guide you in the Costa Rican jungle.  It’s worth your weight in gold.

Tina Newton who is part-owner of Tristan & Newton real estate is always glad to help you in the search for a home, to sell a home, or even to just answer any questions you have about living in Costa Rica.  Check out the website, facebook page, or send a direct email to find the home of your dreams.

Needs versus Wants

Have you ever seen the commercial about the guy that goes out to buy a new car and drives his new, red, 2-door, sports car into the driveway where his wife and three young children are waiting?  That’s what I mean…need versus want.  It’s the same with houses.  You have to find a good balance and a good Realtor will help you find that.  You LOVE the two story home with the huge backyard, but you are over retirement age.  Stop and think.  Are those stairs going to be a problem or a big headache for you in a few years?  Is the large backyard a lot of work?  Maybe your needs are more in line with a smaller home with no stairs and a yard that is maintained by someone else.  But maybe you just don’t like that.  Well, it’s time to find a balance or sacrifice one for the other.  Maybe that doesn’t make me the best “salesperson” who would push you into the largest, most expensive home of your dreams, but it’s what makes me a good Realtor.  A good realtor understands both your wants and your needs and can help you find that perfect match.  And if you are lucky enough, you might just find exactly what you need AND exactly what you want in the same property.

How can you help your Realtor help you?  Determine these things first and let your Realtor know.

What are your needs?

  1. How many people are in your family?
  2. How many bedrooms and bathrooms do you need?
  3. How often do you have visitors?
  4. Do you need indoor space or more outdoor space, such as a patio?
  5. Do you have pets?
  6. How much care can you give to a yard or pool?
  7. Do you need easy access to town or a highway?
  8. Do you need to be able to get to the main city or hospitals?

What are your wants?

  1. Do you want a guest bedroom or house?
  2. Do you want a large yard or a small one?  Are you willing to pay someone to keep up a larger yard?
  3. Do you want a pool?  Are you willing to pay someone to clean it or are you willing to do it yourself?
  4. Do you want to live in a gated residential community or in a smaller local community?
  5. Do you want a new home or one that is a more established neighborhood?
  6. Do you want to live in a secluded rural area with no neighbors?
  7. Do you want to never drive on a dirt road?

How can you compromise the two or make a tradeoff?

  1. Do you want the guest house, but only have visitors for one week out of the year?  Would it be worth to live close to a small hotel or short-term rental where you could have them sleep there instead?
  2. Would a pool that is available to the residential community work so that you don’t have the personal maintenance?
  3. Could you buy a smaller house and build a separate guest home in the future?
  4. Would you want to get a secluded home but still close to the city?
  5. Would you be willing to drive on a good dirt road if it meant living in the home of your dreams?
  6. Do you love the beach but hate the heat?  Could you then live 30 minutes away from the surf but up where the air is cooler?
  7. How do you get a home with a view over the whole valley without driving on a hill?

 The more inline that your wants and needs are, the easier it will be, but sometimes compromises or tradeoffs can be made between the two.  It can make it even more complicated when two people have very different ideas of what they need and want.   For example, a wife who likes to be close to town in a home with very little maintenance and a husband who likes to be out in the country with no neighbors in shouting distance.  So, then you have to try to line up two sets of needs vs. wants.  The more you can know this about yourself before you start and let your agent know, the quicker you will find the perfect home. 

Tina Newton who is part-owner of Tristan & Newton real estate is always glad to help you in the search for a home, to sell a home, or even to just answer any questions you have about living in Costa Rica.  Check out the website, facebook page, or send a direct email to find the home of your dreams.

Don’t Be Scammed

 One truly sad fact about the electronic age…anyone can fall prey to a scam.  As much as we constantly hear, “Don’t give out your account information, the bank will never ask for this information over the telephone, keep your passwords safe, etc.”, people fall into the trap every day.  Thieves keep getting more and more sophisticated.  I have had several clients who were in the process of selling a car when a great buyer appears (never in person), offers to put down a deposit and then needs the bank account to do so.  Of course, they think.  If someone is going to make a deposit, they need my bank account number.  I often have given my account number for someone making a deposit, but if you don’t know this person, don’t do it.  They can give you a cashier’s check.  Sometimes they even call you with an “agent” from the bank to show that it is legitimate.  This often happens after bank hours so that you won’t know you are getting scammed immediately.  First of all, bank agents NEVER call you by phone to confirm your information and have you ever known a bank employee to work after hours (sorry to my banking friends)?  But yet, it is amazing the amount of information strangers can already know about you.  Remember that your name and identification as well as date of birth can be found publically in the registry.  This is not private information.  So don’t be convinced if they know it.

Second clue…they call on Friday afternoon and want to make a deposit right away to move in over the weekend.  Again, if they haven’t come in person to see the rental, home for sale, or car, but yet, they want to put down a deposit.  STOP.  No one buys or rents a home without seeing it first, unless they are working with an agent who has been designated to find something very specific and this agent knows them personally.

I once had someone call and insist on moving in right away to an expensive rental without seeing it and they wanted to do it on Sunday and sign all of the paperwork on Monday.  Nope.  I told them they had to see it first and we would do the paperwork and have the deposit made before they moved in.  He was going to call me back.  Thinking maybe I was being too cautious, I saved the name and number in my phone in case they called back.  About 2 weeks later, the same number popped up but asking about a different rental.  When I asked the guy his name, he responded with a different name than was registered and when I told “Alfonso” that it was interesting, because he was “Eduardo” the last time, he hung up and has never called back.

We once had a buyer from “France” who even sent a photo of his family and started by giving lots and lots of details about why he wanted to purchase a specific home, but wanted to put down the money without seeing it and then move in later.  Again, he asked for a bank account.  The owner was desperate and wanted to believe this was all on the up and up and was actually angry with me for doubting this incredible buyer.  So, I told him we could set up an Escrow account with Stewart Title so he could make all of the financial arrangements through them and his money would be protected.  Never heard from him again.  Later we heard that someone out of Manuel Antonio had been scamming homeowners in this way and they were trying to capture him.

What happens?  These thieves convince you to confirm or give them certain information, then they quickly transfer money right out of your account.  You can be left with nothing and since you gave them the information, the bank is not held responsible.

Point….you cannot be too careful.  Don’t get overly anxious to make a deal and trust too quickly.  If someone really wants something, they will do it the right way.  These scammers have a way of making us all feel so stupid.  We know that we should have been smarter.  But they are really good and they get better every day.  They find information that no one should have access to, but they do.  Always stop and think, get a number to call someone back, ask for payments in an official, non-digital way at least until you can confirm that this person is legitimate.  And NEVER EVER give your information over the phone or internet especially if someone calls claiming to be from the bank. 

Tina Newton is a Realtor and part owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate in Atenas, Costa Rica.  She is always glad to answer any questions about living in Costa Rica, travelling abroad, or housing options.  You can contact her directly by email as well as through the website, or Facebook.

Opening Eyes and Building Confidence

Getting out of your comfort zone, going to another country, another culture, is incredibly important.  Having just returned from taking a group of 50 people to Europe, 19 of whom were 13 years old, I got to see eyes opened, confidence given, and understanding granted.  Every child of this age (and really of every age) should be exposed to different cultures.  Here is what I witnessed:

1)      A junior soccer team from Costa Rica went to Barcelona and played in one of the top international tournaments in the world.  They got their booties kicked in the first game which gave them a respect for other teams and styles of play.  Then they came back and won 5 games in a row, winning 2nd place in the consolation bracket, and giving them the confidence that just because they are not a major European team, not only can they compete, that they have the ability to win against some of the best.  Think about how this relates to their day to day lives in the future.

2)      This group learned how to manage the public transportation system in Madrid, Paris, and London.  They figured out the metro system so they can get from place to place in some of the major cities of the world.  The fear of the unknown was conquered.  They began to understand that they can figure these things out and don’t have to be afraid to try and to ask for help.

3)      Learning to communicate with others without knowing the language.  First, many recognized the importance of English as the international language of communication but even without that, they figured out ways to get the answers they needed.  Whether they used technology, a friend, or hand signals, they ordered meals, found locations, and made new friends.

4)      Seeing how other cultures react to rules.  The group discovered that rules are very important to the British and these must be followed.  If you cross the street, it must be in the crosswalks and with the light.  If you do so, the world stops for you to cross the road, if not, you are risking your life.  Lines are not to be cut.  Rules are there for a reason and must be obeyed.  It was a very obvious contradiction with the Costa Rican culture that opened their eyes to other differences in cultures and helped them to understand that not everyone sees things the same way.

I know that for many of these families, this was a very difficult expense and a sacrifice to send these kids overseas, but it has had more impact than only a soccer tournament or just seeing the Eiffel Tower.  This was life-changing for these kids whether they realize it yet or not.  For those parents who bring their children to Costa Rica and immerse them here, the same happens.  Anytime that children (and adults) can be exposed to another culture is a positive thing.  I am so glad to have seen it in this group and hope that other kids will have this experience which will absolutely shape their lives in ways unimaginable. 

Tina Newton is a Realtor and part-owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate, located in Atenas, Costa Rica.  For information on homes in Costa Rica or just to answer your questions about living there, contact her at her email, check out the listings on the homepage or follow on Facebook.

Anxiety about Moving or Traveling Abroad

As I get excited and yet nervous about my upcoming trip to Europe, I was reminded of my fears when I first moved to Costa Rica.  It’s exciting because you are going to a new place with new experiences, but at the same time, it’s mixed with an anxiety and nervousness of the unknown.   What can you expect?  Will it be difficult?  What if something happens?  How will you react?  And I think this final question is the most important.  Your reaction.  It’s all about attitude.

1)      Language differences.  Moving or visiting a place that doesn’t speak your language is scary.  How do you communicate?  First of all, take a deep breath.  There is usually someone who speaks your language and hand signals work wonders.  Find a common language or a language that is semi understandable by both sides.  I don’t speak Italian or French, but have found that my Spanish works wonders there.  I can decipher most written French because of the Latin communalities with Spanish although the spoken language is impossible for me.  In Italy, again the similarities between Spanish and Italian were amazing.  Having the patience and letting go of frustrations will make the difference.  Laugh and try.  Trying to communicate rather than just getting angry because no one speaks English, can often get you what you need.  I did have an issue once in Italy when I was trying to find an ATM and all of the banks were closed.  For some reason, I couldn’t find a word in Italian or a way to fully describe what an ATM was and in the end, the lady that was trying to help me gave me her sandwich so that my children wouldn’t starve.  From now on, I will always make sure to know how to ask for an ATM in any language.  But it’s all in the attitude.  Go with the flow.

2)      Living conditions.  No hot water?  Shared bathrooms? Hamburgers that are terrible?  No air conditioning?  I won’t go then.  Nope, not for me.  Oh, come on.  If you go to a foreign country hoping for exactly the same experiences that you have in your home country, don’t go!  Open your eyes and hearts to new experiences.  I admit, there are a few things that I’ve never quite gotten used to in my foreign home, but that’s okay.  Learn to take the best of both worlds and live without the things that really are not so necessary.  When I travelled to India, I insisted on going to the bathroom with a real Western toilet rather than a hole in the ground.  After seeing the filth of the toilet, I was very happy to pee over the hole and I could see the benefits of wearing a skirt rather than pants.  There is a reason that everyone uses the hole in the ground.  And seriously, who goes to Latin America for a good hamburger?  Try the patacones or arroz con pollo instead.  Attitude.  Go with the flow.

3)      Cultural differences.  Kisses on the cheeks?  1 or 2? Wimpy handshakes?  Eye contact?  Space between people when speaking?  Take off your shoes?  Cross your legs?  Don’t?  Observe and practice.  Obviously, there might be some cultural differences that you just can’t get used to or can’t accept.  But many are just not a big deal and showing that you are trying to adapt goes a LONG way.  After 18 years in Costa Rica, I still forget to greet everyone in the room with a kiss on the cheek both on arrival and departure, but I am working on it.  Does it kill me to do it?  NO.  When I was younger, I felt angry at having to cover my head when walking into a Russian Orthodox church.  American females just did NOT cover our heads.  What a young, naïve, and conceited 20 year old I was.  Did it kill me to respect the culture?  No.  Luckily I was older when I went to Dubai and India and decided to have the Indian style pants and tunics made for travel so that I would not insult the people around me.  When the ladies, often in full burkas, looked at me and nodded their heads in appreciation, I knew I had made the right decision.  I had found the right compromise between covering myself completely and wearing shorts even though other Americans who had been there told me I could wear anything I wanted.  And to be honest, the pants were the most comfortable things I have ever worn.  Again, attitude.  You won’t be a local, but at least you can try to respect and try things that come up.  Go with the flow.

Perhaps moving somewhere permanently requires a bit more adaptation than just a trip, but attitude goes a long way in either case.  Be open to trying new things.  Sometimes you will reject certain cultural practices (I will never be able to function on “Tico Time”) but other practices you might actually find enjoyable and adapt them into your everyday life (I’m still working on the greetings, but I think it is a fabulous thing).  I’m still nervous about my upcoming trip, but I have learned a lot over the years about acceptance of other cultures and I’m really excited to add to my experiences.  The right attitude will allow you to enjoy your experience way more.

To answer your questions on living in Costa Rica or look for a home, contact Tina Newton with Tristan & Newton Real Estate through email , on Facebook or the website.  She tries to put home buying and cultural living experiences on the blog as often as possible.

How the banks are killing tourism and investment in Costa Rica

So, you think you want to visit the beautiful country of Costa Rica with your family and don’t want to tuck cash in your socks and underwear to do it?  No problem, you’ll just use an ATM for your cash, right?  Remember that first you have to notify the bank that you will be using your credit or debit card abroad.  Okay, you’ve done that.  Then remember that you will have daily limits on how much can be withdrawn in order to protect against fraud.  Ok, you can live with $500 per day.  But then you get to the ATM at Banco de Costa Rica and you realize that the ATM won’t give you more than $100/day.  At this time, Banco Nacional and private banks still allow more, but $100/day?  What family of 4 can vacation on $100 a day?  Not in Costa Rica.  So, what do you do?  For now, you go to every bank you can, pay withdrawal fees at each of them and unfortunately, waste a lot of time on your vacation.

Why this sudden restriction?  The answer I got is that the Hacienda (or the tax agency in Costa Rica) wants to track payments that previously have been done in cash and therefore, not reported as income.  I’ve also heard to avoid money laundering, although I’ve never heard of any money laundering that happens with only $500.

What if you want to bring down a student group for a trip?  They’ve paid for their trip and you need to figure out how to bring the money down to pay.  You can’t bring more than $10,000 without reporting it and who would want to carry that much cash anyway?  Forget the ATM (see note above).  You’re only here a week so opening a bank account is out of the question (and see the limitations below).  And third parties are not allowed to accept your money to give you here on this end due to money laundering concerns.  What do you do?  Do you have to make international transfers to each and every hotel, national park (which doesn’t accept bank deposits for payments), and restaurant?  Just how do you pay?  Make each child carry their own money?

What if you want to move down and buy a home?  No problem here.  Costa Rica allows foreigners to buy property and if you invest in $200,000 or more, you qualify as an investor for residency.  Just go open a bank account and move your money down, right?  Hmmm.   Banco de Costa Rica no longer allows anyone without a residency to open a bank account.  They have set up an easy to open account system for foreigners, but it limits the amount in the account to $1000.  Not going to buy a house on that money!  And with housing rentals at typically $1000 and up, how is a family going to live on this?  They aren’t.  Honestly, who decided on a $1000 limit?  So, you would actually have to make the transfer down from your home bank on the day of the closing, but make sure you have someone back home authorized to make the transfer for you.

So, once someone has their residency, they can apply for a bank account (at BCR), but the trick is that you can only apply for investor residency after you have bought a house (with no bank account) and have waited the approximately 6 months for your residency to be approved.  Of course, you might qualify for residency in another way, but you will still have to wait for the processing and approval before you can open the account.  What a mess!   Banco Nacional still allows people to open accounts on a passport, but yes, there is a lot of paperwork to have ready before you hit the bank.  Best to consult your local lawyer on that one so that you don’t waste your day just to find out you don’t have all of the papers.  And be prepared to sit in the bank for hours while the account is being opened (even though you have every document ready).  Then, once the account is opened, make sure you can verify why you are bringing the money in or it will be frozen.  Be able to present a contract to buy something at the time of the transfer to prove the reason for this influx of money.

I personally have my account at BCR and like the fact that the website is in both Spanish and English, but the recent restrictions have made new accounts and ATM withdrawals impossible at this bank for tourists and immigrants.  They claim that the other banks will soon be following suit as it is a government mandate.  I really hope this isn’t true because it is already difficult enough to travel or live internationally without these restrictions.  For the moment Banco Nacional is still opening accounts for foreigners with the proper documentation and Scotiabank has confirmed that they also are available to open new accounts.

Costa Rica is still one of the most amazing countries to visit and live in, but the banking restrictions are making it harder every day for the average tourist and immigrant.  If anyone has discovered legal ways to get around these restrictions, please comment on the blog as it would be very helpful to many.

For more information on opening a bank account and what you need to have with you, Cecilia Tristan, at the law firm of Gomez, Tristan, & Tristan can help you every step of the way.  Email her at Cecilia@gomeztristanytristan.com.  Tina Newton is co-owner of Tristan & Newton and you can contact her at tina@tnrealestatecr.com as well as through Facebook and the website.

Costa Rica 101

There are a few differences in Costa Rica that just might make you shake your head and smile (or cry depending on the case). 

1)       Roosters can start crowing at any hour, even at 3 in the morning.  Forget the idea of roosters crowing at sunrise.

2)      New Year’s Eve parties are usually with families.  Parties at bar and clubs will start after 1 a.m. which is when Costa Ricans go out to celebrate the New Year after celebrating with the family.   If you think you are going to go out and be part of a large crowd to welcome in the New Year at midnight, you will be deeply disappointed.

3)      Easter is celebrated all week, that is, the week before Easter Sunday.  Vacations will be in full bloom and many places closed.  Stores often re-open on Saturday, before Easter Sunday.

4)      Christmas is completely focused on Christmas Eve.  Christmas dinners and gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve at night and Baby Jesus gets placed in the manger at that time. Even though Santa is becoming more common, you will still hear that Baby Jesus brings the gift.

5)      Vacations are taken VERY seriously.  The National Registry is closed from the 21st of December until the 9th of January.  Do not even hope to do anything that involves legal processes during this time.  Even if the office you need is open, don’t be surprised to find that the person you need is on vacation and no one else can do anything about your problem until you get back.

6)      If you have a new baby, you will find that ANYONE may come up and ask to hold him/her.  Costa Ricans love babies.  After at first being shocked when a lady came up and took my baby while I was at a funeral (I was quickly informed that the lady was a nurse and she was to be trusted), I quickly learned to love the fact that waiters would take the baby and walk around with her while I ate or had to run to the bathroom.  A new baby is always considered a blessing and NEVER a shame no matter the circumstances.

7)      Tomorrow does not always mean tomorrow.  It could mean anytime in the future.

8)      Costa Ricans do not seem to feel worried about canceling or changing appointments.  “If God willing or wishes it” ends most arrangements to meet or see another person.  And with that, a laid back attitude about appointments.  If it rains, or someone was just delayed for any reason, appointments may be cancelled, often without advising the other party.

9)      Time in general is just not stressed about.  “Tico Time” is the term for when people arrive late.  It can vary from person to person, so you might want to check if the activity will start “en punto” meaning right on time, or “en hora tica” which is Tico Time and could mean 30 minutes to an hour later.

10)   Reading is not as common.  Children’s books are hard to find and very expensive in International bookstores.    Definitely, bring your favorites with you.

11)   Watching international news is not considered very important.  Why worry about something on the other side of the world when you really need to know if the bridge to San Jose will be closed for your commute?  So don’t be surprised if discussions tend to be more locally oriented.

12)   Forget “blocking” your friends because you disagree on politics or religion.  Costa Ricans can easily discuss or disagree on things without feeling personally offended or accusing others of being wrong. 

13)   If you are told that something will be “difficult”, assume you are being told , “No, this will not happen.”  Costa Ricans do not like confrontation and rarely say no.  So, when you hear a “maybe”, forget it.

14)   Defensive driving is a must.  Always assume that the other driver will not follow any of the rules of the road.  Blinkers? Nope.  Stop signs?  Just suggestions.  Passing on curves, going uphill?  Absolutely. 

15)   More than a coffee break.  In government facilities, do not be surprised to get to the front of a long line, just to have the clerk get up and leave with no explanation.  What is happening?  If it is between 8 and 10 a.m., he/she has gone to breakfast.  This can be 30 minutes or longer.  The same occurs in the afternoon for coffee time.  What to do?  Have a seat and wait and hope you have a book.

16)   Why does everyone say “goodbye” or “adios” when you pass by?  They aren’t really saying goodbye.  When someone is just passing by on the street, people will often yell out “adios”, just like we might say “Hey!”

17)   Glad your flight has landed?  Costa Ricans are so happy, they clap.  A full applause can be given upon landing.

18)   Rain.  The rain makes people sick.  I always scratch my head at this one.  The rain here is warm and just wet but people will often use it as an excuse to not take children out.  It is raining and they can’t get wet or they will get sick.  Hmm.  Except for soccer, of course.  My child has played games where they couldn’t even see the other players or the ball because of the rain and the stands will still be full of devoted fans.  Who knew?

19)   Differences are considered interesting, not threatening.  I had a Costa Rican lady come up to my African-born volunteer.  She touched her skin and said it was so beautiful and so much healthier than her own white skin.  What a great way to see the world.

20)   A true family focus.  Older brothers and sisters carry their little siblings around and help care for them.  Extended families are very common with grandparents living in the same house and everyone caring for each other.  I don’t ever remember seeing so many teenage boys willing to help care for a baby.

Differences that are frustrating, silly, or endearing, Costa Rica is “Pura Vida”  with a lack of confrontation (except on the road) and a relaxing love of life and living in the present.

Tina Newton is co-owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate in Atenas, Costa Rica.  She has lived in Costa Rica and is always glad to answer any questions you might have about life in Costa Rica or purchasing a property here.  Contact her at tina@tnrealestatecr.com.  Her work partner is Cecilia Tristan who has been a broker for 40 years and is an attorney with specialties in residency and property transfers.    Both are bilingual and completely available and willing to help you every step of the way.  Click on the website or Facebook page for more information.