A Utopia in Costa Rica

Have you ever dreamed of living in a sustainable neighborhood with organic permaculture gardens in which the community shares the harvest each week?  20160223_092533 (Copy)

Being able to practice yoga with your neighbors on an open-air platform with a view of nature in every direction and swim in a large shared saltwater pool? 20160223_092839 (Copy)

Having the perfect combination of being one with nature and yet with the ease of modern living?  MLW-triskel-2616 (Copy)

What if we threw in an alternative school of international recognition?   Casa Sula, was created and maintained by this community, and is the only alternative school of its kind in Costa Rica.  Imagine learning where children absorb materials through experiences and let their desire to learn guide them in their studies.

If this is something you have always wanted, then the community of La Ecovilla is for you.  There are currently five homes for sale in this unique and amazing international community and you can be as elegant or as “close to nature” as you would like to be.  All ranges are to be found. 

1)      Butterfly home.  Who wouldn’t want to live in a home that was designed in the shape of a butterfly?  This three bedroom home has an incredible view and a guest home on the side.

2)      Triskel.  Open to nature. Who says you have to live within four walls?  This 6 bedroom, 4.5 bathroom home has the main living area open to nature which can only be done in the perfect weather of Costa Rica.  Four of the bedrooms have private entrances as well so they are perfect for a B&B in a free spirit living style.

3)     The New Moon.  Stone elegance.  The use of nature through stonework and natural woods bring an elegance which blends in with the nature around.  Three bedroom, 2 bath home in the shape of a new moon.

4)      Luxury living.  All of the luxuries of life were combined with the ecofriendly environment of this community.  Three bedrooms with exquisite bathrooms, plus an office and oversized garage.

5)      Low maintenance and high tech.  This home uses technology to provide comfort for its human inhabitants while being very friendly to the environment.  Solar electricity, special wall structure to keep everything cool, and a flooring which is above ground to allow air flow and keep the home flexible.

Having lived in Costa Rica for 18 years, I have never seen community living combined with environmental awareness and human comfort so perfectly intertwined.  Located only 30 minutes from Atenas, 30 minutes to the beach, and 20 minutes to the new international airport that is being built, it is conveniently located to everything and yet, you would never need to leave if you didn’t want to.  Forty homes make up this very special place that is only awaiting your participation.

Tina Newton was a licensed Realtor in the States and has lived in Costa Rica for over 18 years.  She is co-owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate with her business partner Cecilia Tristan who has been a broker in Costa Rica for 40 years and is an attorney and notary public with the firm Gomez, Tristan, & Tristan.  They are always available to answer your questions on real estate and life in Costa Rica in general.  Relocation is their specialty with everything under one roof.  Check out the website, Facebook page, or send them an email.

A special thanks to the professional photographers who took the photos for the owners of these beautiful homes.

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.

Satisfaction in Your Life

Where do you get your satisfaction?  Maybe it’s a bit of a funny question, but if your life revolves around positive things that give you satisfaction, the happier you will be.  Personally, I have surrounded myself by the things that give me lots and lots of satisfaction and only run around singing “I Can’t Get No…Satisfaction” just for fun, not as my anthem.

1)      Watching my kids.  Observing my children in their day to day lives (not in a stalker way) and seeing how they have grown up and behave in situations gives me a ton of satisfaction.  In general, they are just great kids, but I feel satisfied that I have guided them in a good way.  When my son tells me he doesn’t want to sell off his used soccer cleats, but instead give them to a child who needs them, it gives me a real sense of pride.

2)      Social involvement.  Whether it is working with the Angel Tree project for needy children, assisting in the Chili Cookoff for the Children’s Home, putting on events such as the Climate Fair or the Christmas Fair which bring entertainment to the town and allow young people to exhibit their talents, or heading up the swim commission to promote water safety to the community, these things give me so much satisfaction.  I feel I am making a difference.

3)      Making dreams come true.  It’s why I enjoy real estate.  For me, it’s not the wheel and deal of the transaction, it’s matching up someone with the home of their dreams.  When I take someone to a property and they turn and say, “this is EXACTLY what I want”, it makes me so happy.  That is why I do what I do.  I got out of my field of study (economics) because of that.  I was good at it, but didn’t feel the satisfaction from it.

4)      My network of friends and family.  When things happen (for good or for bad) and I have all of these helping hands there to assist and fix whatever it is or lend an ear, it’s a great feeling.  It’s a satisfaction in knowing that if I can’t figure out, I know who can. 

5)      Giving advice. When I feel that I can share my experiences to help guide another person and make their life easier, it just feels good.  I enjoy it.  For that reason, when I give someone my card and say, “Contact me for any questions you have, whether it’s about real estate or not”,  I really mean it. 

Maybe I require more confirmation and satisfaction than the average person, or maybe not, but that sense of accomplishment keeps me going every day and inspires me to do more.  What keeps you going? 

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.

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.

Water or Waterless in Atenas?

What do you think of when someone mentions Atenas, Costa Rica?  In the past, the first thing that everyone said when Atenas was mentioned was, “Ah, the ‘Best Climate in the World,’ but lately, I am hearing instead “Ah, where there is no water.”  So, I’m here to set the matter straight.

The central area of Atenas which includes Guizaro, Los Angeles, Brazil, and Fatima among other neighborhoods which receive their water on the water line from Grecia often have issues.  The main problem is that the line from Grecia is old and only has the ability to distribute a limited amount of water.  Therefore, there are often scheduled (and sometimes unscheduled) times in these neighborhoods when the water will automatically be shut off each day.  In response, most people living in these neighborhoods have extra water tanks which store water to be used during the water shut offs.  Some others just schedule their washing around such hours.   A few months ago, there was a landslide which broke the main line from Grecia.  Because the old line is so ancient, parts were not readily available.  It first took time to get to the line because of the fallen tree and then they had to have the replacement part made in order to fix the line.  During that time, the water company, AyA, had water trucks going throughout the central area delivering water.  It was a terrible time, but the line was fixed.  The new water distribution line is currently in place, but there is no set date for the changeover from the old to the new line.  The office of AyA informed me that, as of today’s date, this is still more or less a year away.  Until that time, AyA will not issue any new water meters or water permits on properties which do not already have them in place.  Without the water permit, the municipality will not issue any building permits for those properties.  For this reason, Atenas has this new reputation of “no water.”

However, this image that Atenas is without water and there are no building permits allowed, is really only a small picture of the story.  Most of the rural areas surrounding downtown Atenas are actually on ASADA’s which are water associations, still overseen by the AYA, but with independent water sources.  These areas include Barrio Jesus, part of Sabana Larga, Mercedes, Morazan, and more.  Any properties in these areas apply for water permits directly from the ASADA.  So, it is up to the water association if the permit is granted.  There is no moratorium in these areas.  As long as the water association grants the permit, then the Municipality will process the building permit and approval or denial is dependent on all of the other requirements.

In addition, each of the residential areas (Roca Verde, Vista Atenas, Lomas del Paraiso, Hacienda Atenas, etc) have their own water source.  Again, as long as the water association or developers approved the new water permit, the municipality will not automatically deny a building permit based on water access.

Finally, there are many properties that have their own well or natural spring as the source of water.  In this case, it is important to make sure the well is registered and tested frequently, but it is a great option to avoid external water issues.

It is incredibly important when looking for properties to buy (or even to rent) to know what the water source is and to understand that not all of Atenas falls into the same water category.  In any area, there are times when repairs need to be made and luckily, the AyA does a great job getting water distributed to the neighborhoods when there are down times.  So…now you know.  I look forward to the day when I hear again, “Oh yes, Atenas, ‘The Best Climate in the World’” instead of the town with no water.

Tina has lived in Atenas for 18 years and is co-owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate.  Check out their  website at http://www.tnrealestatecr.com and Facebook page for updated listings.  Tina is always glad to answer any questions at tina@tnrealestatecr.com.  

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.