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Costa Rica lures retiree away from St. Petersburg

By Austin Bogues, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Sunday, March 1, 2009

When Sandra Krause and her cat, Sweet Pea, move to Costa Rica in May, she will work for a friend’s real estate company.

When Sandra Krause and her cat, Sweet Pea, move to Costa Rica in May, she will work for a friend’s real estate company.


[LARA CERRI | Times]



Sandra Krause is giving up on America, for now, at least. The 59-year-old retiree is headed to Costa Rica in search of cheap health insurance, a low cost of living and warm weather similar to Florida's, with a few mountains added.

Krause has been trying to gain employment as a full-time teacher in Pinellas for several years but was unable to get a job because her qualifications would have required her to be paid too much. After 10 years of part-time employment and risking it on health insurance, an idea from a friend led her to explore the tropical country.

Now, Krause plans to start an adventure as a real estate agent along with a friend who has already made the move.

"I've never done it before, but it seemed like a good option," she said. In recent years, she has received a pension of roughly $28,000 per year.

When she moved to Florida in 2000 after retiring from teaching in Rockford, Ill., she began taking computer classes at St. Petersburg College. "I thought the extra skills would make me more competitive," she said.

Although she's eligible for health insurance through her retirement, she has chosen not to buy it because it's too expensive. "I'm practically healthy," she said. Over the past decade, she estimates she has spent a mere $500 on medical expenses. Krause said she intends to enroll in a Costa Rican health plan for about $75 per month, a fraction of the cost of a private health care plan in the United States.

Krause is taking the drastic step in the face of the recession and uncertain job market here at home.

In 2006, she bought a condo for $210,000, thinking it would earn some equity and provide a little nest egg, she said. Since then, the value has plummeted and she needs to rent it since her temporary job as a tutor ends in two weeks. When she goes to Costa Rica in May, she'll share a house with a friend for $400 per month.

Her friend David Ingram, who owns a realty company, said the inexpensive costs lure many Americans to Costa Rica.

"A retiree can live very well here, and I know dozens of baby boomers that have relocated here," he said in an e-mail to the Times.

"After buying a home with the proceeds of their former home in the U.S., they can live very comfortably on $2,000 per month and that would include literally everything with a maid, gardener, beautiful home, beaches, and the sheer beauty that surrounds you at every step in Costa Rica."

Krause's son Gregory, who lives in Illinois, said he was initially taken aback by her decision, but was more comfortable when she explained that a lot of Americans have made the move.

"My only feeling is a concern for her safety, being that she's moving to a foreign country," he said. "I knew that she was adventurous. I thought it was odd that somebody with her level of experience wouldn't be able to find a job in the States."

If Krause can make it in Costa Rica for a few years, she said she hopes to come back to the United States one day. She added that she'll miss the comforts of Florida, including the breakfasts at Skyway Jack's and the art community in St. Petersburg. But she thinks it'll be worth the wait during the economic downturn.

"The American economy is in a time of terrible trouble, but I think it will pull out," she said wistfully. "We always pull out. It always comes back."

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