Thursday, August 18, 2016

As the World Turns: My four years in Costa Rica (2012-2016)

And what I learned from them

By Ed Rogers

Let me start off by saying how much I love Costa Rica. The country and the people are like a part of me. But not everything is rosy. True, there are many up-sides to living there, but there is also a price to be paid. I will cover two of the down-sides in hopes it will help others not make the same mistakes I made.
    But first let me recap our adventure:

Four years ago, in March 2012, my darling wife, Janie, followed me on an adventure of a lifetime. We sold what we could in Mississippi and gave away a ton of stuff, and we put the rest in a shipping container headed for Costa Rica. We stepped off the airplane in San Jose, Costa Rica and headed to San Ramon. It is a beautiful little town nestled in the mountains of the Central Valley – 45 minutes from the airport and 45 minutes from the beach. We fell in love with the country and its people. Every day was something new: new foods, new animals, new plants, and incredible new sounds. Those who followed us on Facebook traveled with us and met some of our friends over the years.
    As with all adventures, this one came to an end. I always knew it would one day. However, when you reach your 70s the need for good medical care becomes more of a factor in your decision-making than anything else. While I thought we would have two or three more years there, it was not to be. Janie has gone through some bad dealings with medical care in Costa Rica, and the last go-around broke the camel’s back – we decided to take leave of that beautiful country and our wonderful friends.
    Would I do it again? Yes. Would Janie? Maybe not. I can’t and won’t speak for her. There are people we are leaving behind and will probably never see again whom we will miss and always love. We had fun times and saw things most people never see. However, I didn’t face the medical issues; she did. And even after being told she had Parkinson’s Disease and trying to fight through that terrible news only to be told she didn’t have Parkinson’s Disease! The blow of finding out you don’t have something like that is almost as hard as being told you have it. Anyway, one wrong diagnosis after the other led to our departure. There are some very good doctors down there, but we ended up with a bad one.
    Costa Rica is changing, but for us the memory will be of what that beautiful country was when we were there. I wish all the best to everybody who is still there and to everyone who goes there. Many expats leave Costa Rica better; we left with sadness in our hearts.
    And now the two down-sides:

The first down-side has to do with prescription medications. If you are old enough to be retired, the odds are your medications are very important to you. The first thing I learned is that all the advice in the world will only take you so far. No two people have the same medical needs or the ability to adapt their prescriptions, so what works for someone else may not, and usually won’t, work for you. Each day for me was a new experience.
    When we came to Costa Rica for the first time, we contacted ARCR [Association of Residents of Costa Rica], which is a group of lawyers that walk your paperwork through the system. They messed our paperwork up and applied for individual Residente Pensiondo [retired resident status] for each of us, rather than joint status. This meant that my wife was not my dependent and she had to have her own CAJA [government health insurance that everybody has to pay into]. It wasn’t that bad at the beginning. Our CAJA cost $50 each, or a hundred a month where joint CAJA would have cost $75.

    Then we found out that CAJA’s hospitals didn’t carry all the prescription drugs we needed and we had to buy those uptown. Even that was not all that bad at the time. The cost was about what our co-pay had been in the States ($40). We were still ahead of the game, but not by much once you added the private doctor who wrote the prescriptions for CAJA at $50 per person. The cost of CAJA per person went from $50 up to $89 a month, and the drugs downtown, which we paid for out of pocket, doubled in price.
    Someone was asking the other day why drugs cost so much in Costa Rica. Well, CAJA is the Costa Rican government and it, like the Veterans Administration in the US, can demand cheaper prices from the drug companies. The drug stores downtown are corporations and, like any other business, they want to make a profit. As everybody has to belong to CAJA, the private drug stores sell a lot fewer drugs, so there are no discounts from the drug companies, plus the products they import are taxed by the Costa Rican government. Since being back, I have found that drugs cost me less in the US than they did in Costa Rica. That is not to say that all drugs are cheaper, but the ones I take are.

The second down-side has to do with all of our belongings that we took to Costa Rica with us – in a twenty-foot shipping container, which cost us ten grand. If you are leaving the U.S., I do not recommend that you take much with you. I tried to tell Janie not to bring anything that she could not just walk off and leave. The cost of shipping the stuff back to the States is more than shipping it down there; we would not be able to return to the States with it. However, she wanted to take her stuff with her to Costa Rica.
    I should have fought harder not to take so much to Costa Rica. And I advise you, before you leave the States to go live in Costa Rica, or any other country, to pack your things and put them in storage. Then take care of all of your paperwork and go and live in your new country. Give it time to see whether CAJA – or whatever healthcare arrangement your new country has – will work for you; it may not. The one thing you cannot live without is good medical care, and the drugs you take are important. You need to know that you may not be able to get them – even imported. Remember, if things work out for you in your new country, you can always call a moving company to bring your belongings to you. If life in your new country doesn’t work out, you can just catch the next flight home.
    As things turned out for us, we came back with nothing but some pictures.

Some final thoughts. I wrote the following letter on a blog in Costa Rica before I left:
To my dear expats,
    This is an open letter to say well done. I have traveled many places in my life, but moving to Costa Rica was the first time I experienced the American dream.
    I know it sounds odd to call leaving the US the American Dream, but that is how we became the United States of America. It was not by people who did not take the gamble. America became great because of people like you. Those who for a dream gave up everything and cut the anchor line and set sail not knowing if they would prevail of fail. Wherever you land and however long you stay is not important. The spirit that allowed you to draw the knife and cut the line is what defines you today.
    I am so proud to count myself among you. The trials you have faced or will face – they are hardships and disappointments that only we few will know. These true meanings live in our hearts. I cheer what you overcome and cry with you over what you cannot overcome. You have had the courage to look upon the unknown with wonderment, not fear, and embrace a new life with hope and joy.
    There are those – and maybe one day it will be you – who will think of us as having failed because we returned to our home country. Remember this: there are few who ever dared to do what we have done. We rode the whirlwind and it was a great ride. I leave you, but I still wonder what is over that next hill.
                              Expat Ed Rogers 2012-2016
Copyright © 2016 by Ed Rogers


  1. Wo Ed. I bet that took you some deeply considered time to write. I felt your excitement, your wonders and your pain. Bravo cousin. I am guessing it has helped some in your re decisions and continued healing. I hug you buddy...

    1. Thanks Vic, It would sure be nice to see you and Shirley again. It has been more years than I can count.

  2. Ed, that's a catching photo of you, too - in the inset. I wish you always felt so chipper as you look in it. Do you remember the occasion of the photo?

    1. That was taken at the water park in San Ramon a week before I came back. It was a wonder day with very dear friends.

  3. Ed, don't be saddened by this; but the healing and anger that accompanies many during repatriation takes more time than I want to admit. We feel your pain and appreciate you giving us a glimpse beyond the national catch phrase of Costa Rica: Pura Vida! Blessings.

    1. Thanks Wally, I am still kicking around the idea of writing about the repatriation depression. However, you have been in its grip longer and have much more insight. How about you doing a piece about it, I'm sure Morris would love to post it. You are welcome to put it under, As The World Turns.

    2. Ed's right, Wally, I'd be pleased to publish an article by you about "repatriation depression" - or whatever you might prefer to call it. And he's making his own spot available for it. What a deal!

    3. Thanks, I'll see what my current mental state can bestow that might be worthy.

    4. Thanks, Wally. Blessed be your endeavors!

  4. Ed, thank you for your wonderful writing, as always, and for raising some stark details most of us never think about...until too late. Every time I've returned to the U.S. from whatever trip abroad, I've spent months wondering why I came back: maybe now I know. Four years in a new place is certainly a very successful adventure; I've read that less than half the Pilgrims who first came here managed to survive even a year.

    1. From out of the Dark a voice is heard once more. I've missed your voice Paul. Before I left CR I met Wally on one of the expat blogs. He told me I might go through this. I've traveled a lot and lived in other countries but never for so long. I didn't know it was going to have the effect that has.

    2. I've missed your voice too, Paul. What a gift that you noticed Ed's article today, and thank you for commenting.

  5. thanks Ed, hope all goes well for you, glad to know wife's diagnosis was not correct..