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Retirement in Costa Rica: Real lives and real perspectives from San Ramon

Article apeared in Scott Oliver's Website -www.welovecostarica.com

by VIP Member Preston Gitlin



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Retired in Costa Rica - Bob and Jill Montgomery with their adopted "Tico grandkids"

Retirement in Costa Rica: Real lives and real perspectives from San Ramon
VIP Member Preston Gitlin

I moved to Costa Rica in 2006 and have settled into a comfortable life in San Ramón, enjoying the many friends I have made, the less stressful pace of life, and of course, the terrific climate and numerous outdoor activities.
I am fortunate to have the opportunity to live here - particularly in these difficult times - and I know many people who read "WeLoveCostaRica" are currently considering what I've already done.
However, the worldwide financial crisis is a significant concern for all of us; none of us have been spared. For people who are considering Costa Rica but have not yet made the move here it is certainly a frightening time.
If you are close to retirement or even several years away, you are probably scrambling to figure out how to have the same quality of life in retirement that you had during your working years. Presently it seems impossible to conceive of a stress-free, happy lifestyle if you'll have to make significant sacrifices living in your home country.
More than ever I believe it is time to seriously consider Costa Rica for retirement as it could be several years before the world economy greatly improves. We all remember "Japan's lost decade" of stagnant economic growth and that's a real possibility.
If you are from North America or Europe, you can live here for less than half of what it'll cost you at home, you'll receive excellent, low-cost medical care, eat cheap and delicious food, feel your energy increase, and your stress quickly evaporate.



   Jill's Father is 98 years old howwver "He looks like a man in his 70s" and he's "healthier now."

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Jill's Father is 98 years old howwver 'He looks like a man in his 70s' and he's 'healthier now.'

You'll also become part of a close-knit community of people who will help you make the transition to life here. And, you can do as much as you want, or as little; Costa Rica offers something for everyone. To learn more about Costa Rica from real people like you, I've put together this first in a series of interviews with retirees who are now living here. Through my work in real estate and retirement consulting, I've been fortunate to have met many foreign retirees who are living a better life.
These are people who were in the same situation as you, not so long ago. My hope is that you will fully come to realize there are better options than simply suffering through this potentially long-term world financial crisis, and that these interviews will help settle some of the uncertainty or anxiety you're feeling.
This first interview is with Bob and Jill Montgomery, a retired couple from Massachusetts, who now live in San Ramón. Bob has a down-to-earth personality and a dry sense of humor. He's a Colombia-grad who acknowledges other people's intelligence and never his own. Jill, just as smart, is the spunkier of the two. She has tons of positive energy and goes out of her way to make people feel good.
Costa Rica Retirement Interview March 10th, 2009 With Bob and Jill Montgomery (age 66 and 62) who's previous home was in North Hampton, MA
Career prior to retirement: Academic and writer, Clinical Psychologist
Current location: San Ramón, Costa Rica
What prompted you to consider living in Costa Rica?
Jill: I wanted my husband to retire, number 1, then I researched places I could afford to live on our pension, and there was no place in the U.S. that I could enjoy my retirement, or living for that matter. I don't consider myself "retired." I'm just as busy as I used to be, so is my husband, but we don't get paid.
Bob: My wife! She first started talking about it, and my work was very stressful. I was making good money, but it didn't seem worth it. I was working with very difficult clients. My wife had already retired, and my father-in-law was living with us. He needed a lot of nursing care. Admittedly I needed a lot of convincing. I had lived in the U.S. for 60 plus years. I was pessimistic at first, but once Jill showed me the alternatives, I considered Costa Rica with an open mind. Quite frankly I'm surprised at how much better my life is. Once we decided to come here I was completely sold. I didn't know a place like this existed.


'It's an unbelievable feeling to no longer fear the health care bills.'
   "It's an unbelievable feeling to no longer fear the health care bills."

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Why Choose To Retire in Costa Rica and not Mexico, Panama, or Nicaragua?
Jill: Better in all ways. Mexico was too scary and unstable. Also, I felt they didn't like Americans. We also met some very interesting Gringos here. It was a big part of it. We felt a part of the ex-pat community right away. People were very helpful. They exchanged information with us, and they accepted us. It felt great.
Bob: Costa Rica has a long standing democracy. I also liked that it took care of its people. Learning about the CAJA [the government-run health insurance program] was a big plus. We also fell in love with the country; it reminded us of Northern California in the 60s which was a very good time for us.
What is the biggest adjustment you've made since moving here?
Jill: I think it has to do with time - the whole Costa Rica sense of time versus the U.S. sense of time. There is a lack of efficiency. Everything takes much longer to do. You can't get things done like you're accustomed to. You have to let things go. But, things do get done. It's actually nice that things move slower here. We're coming from a very stressful life-style.
Bob: I was addicted to ESPN in English every day. It's in English sometimes, but not every day. I'm a big fan of the Boston sports teams. I realize we can get satellite, but we just didn't feel it was THAT necessary. I also miss the Barnes and Noble. We used to spend a lot of time at the bookstores. We miss the small ones too. Now we buy our books on Amazon.com.
What were the biggest surprises you found here?
Jill: For me the surprise was that I could get by only being fluent in English. I was never any good at language class. I always used to be ashamed or embarrassed. Yet, when I came here I found the Ticos [colloquial term for a native of Costa Rica] to be extra helpful. I get by just fine. And, it's fun. I can't believe I'm saying that speaking Spanish is fun.
Bob: I found that my writing improved. I became more creative. And, I think it's because I have more time because things don't move at rapid speed. My mind is clear. I feel more productive. I was also surprised at how safe I feel here. Crime does exist here, but it's petty compared to what we have in the U.S. Granted, Downtown San Jose can be dangerous like any other big city, but we live in a college town. It feels safe.


Bob & Jill - Living in Costa Rica
   Bob & Jill - Living in Costa Rica

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Why did you choose San Ramon?
Jill: I liked the people here. We didn't want to live in a Gringo enclave. There are about 50,000 people here. We are a part of the Tico community yet still have enough Gringos around too. People are just nice - the people in the shops, the cafes.
Bob: I liked the size. It was similar to North Hampton or Berkeley where we lived before. It wasn't one of these horrid Gringo communities. The weather is the best. It's not hot here, and it's not cold. It has a northern California climate which is perfect for us. We don't like the humidity and the overbearing heat at the Beach.
Do you feel a part of the community here? Are you involved in activities?
Jill: Absolutely. We're involved with our Tico friends and families. We've pseudo-adopted a number of Tico grandkids and families. We participate in their family events. We also have very close Gringo friends. We have many more friends here than we ever had in the States. We're also involved in local activities, volunteering in the schools.
Bob: Exactly what Jill said. And in fact you can do SO MUCH with very little here. You can change lives for the better. It takes very little to participate and be active and to make a change.
How has moving to Costa Rica changed the quality of your life?
Jill: Well I think I've becoming Tico-ized. Everything isn't such a worry anymore. There's no more running around or competition between neighbors and friends. No more self-scrutinizing. I've become more easy-going. I've gone from type-A to type H...HAPPY! And, I'm never bored.
Bob: It's just much better. I'm so much more relaxed. I do more things that I enjoy. I'm not driven by a schedule on any particular day. I might do any number of things that I just never had time for. I don't get bored here either. There's no reason to.
How has your financial situation changed since moving to Costa Rica?
Jill: Oh my god, our spending in the States compared to what we're spending now is INCREDIBLE. We were paying $450/month for gas, taxes and insurance on the house was about $5,000/year. Food was at least twice what we're spending here. We don't have a gas bill here because there's no need for climate control. There's no air conditioning and there's no need to heat the house either. The taxes on our house and our investment land combined are less than $500/year combined.
Bob: The biggest difference is health care. We have to care for Jill's father. We had to pay $20/hour in the States. Here, we pay $2. Our social security pays the bills. We are fortunate to have more than just social security, but that's bonus.


Jill's father has two people that take care of him for $2 per hour each instead of $20+ per hour in the US.
   Jill's father has two people that take care of him for $2 per hour each instead of $20+ per hour in the US.

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How has your health been affected by living here?
Jill: Well my dad for one thing, is 98. Every week in the States we were at the emergency room with a life threatening crisis. We've been here for over a year now and he hasn't had a single trip to the E.R. He is healthier now. He looks like a man in his 70s. It's mind boggling. He's sharper. In the States he was becoming demented. That's cleared up now. Personally I'm the same. I don't get sick easily. The air seems fresher here, but that could be because I'm so much happier, hard to say.
Bob: It was brutal staying at the E.R. in Massachusetts. We used to spend 12 hours there. We remember 4 times in six months Jill's dad had life-threatening illnesses. Personally I've had one cold since I've moved here. I'm like Jill though. I don't get sick often.
What were you spending on health care in the United States? What are you spending now?
Jill: We were spending $1.600/month on health insurance because we were self employed. We didn't have benefits from a company. Now we pay out of pocket. We are signing up for the CAJA as well. We spend two hours with a doctor here and he charges us $40! We go to the dentist here, and the dentist examined my father's teeth. He said he didn't need anything and then didn't charge us ANYTHING! It's an unbelievable feeling to no longer fear the health care bills.
Bob: I had surgery here. It was only $600 dollars. In the States the same procedure would have been many thousands. And, quite frankly I think my doctor here is better - far better. We do still have to pay for our medicine, which can be expensive, but we have admittedly been a bit lazy about it. There are approaches to benefiting there as well.
Do you regret moving to Costa Rica? Would you consider moving back?
Jill. No never. Not for a second. I feel that here I can depend on so many people and close friends. People come and help, always. I wouldn't want to give that up. In the States people don't talk to their neighbors anymore. The relationships here are like what we had in the States in the 60s. You were closer with people back then. We're close again. I'm addicted to the generosity we find here.
Bob: No. I don't even like going back to visit. Jill had to go back once for a special X-ray. We couldn't believe the anxiety we felt in the airport. Everything seemed so fast and big. We started noticing things we didn't think of before. Everyone had a date book and place they had to be and soon. We know people who do go back, 6 months at a time. And, that works for them and that's great.
What do you recommend to people considering Costa Rica for retirement?
Jill: I think first and foremost they need to make contact with people they like and can trust. They need to pick other Gringo's brains and not be afraid to ask for help. People are helpful. The biggest advice I give is that if the only objection you have to Costa Rica is because you're anxious, that's not good enough. I recommend that you do it.
Bob: You have to be ready to feel a bit disoriented at first. It's like that with any move. It does take a little bit to get used to the new life. It's a bit of work to move here, but once you're settled in, it's "Pura Vida." It really is.


A San Ramon sunset ...
   A San Ramon sunset ...

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A special thanks to Bob and Jill for being so open and honest with us. I hope these questions and answers were helpful, but I'd also like to get feedback from WLCR readers. Please send any suggestions for questions you'd like to be asked of expats, and I will review them and possibly post them for the next interview.
Warren Buffett, the famed investor, recently said that "fear comes quickly and confidence comes back slowly." You're probably feeling the former right now. However, by taking the time to learn more about Costa Rica, particularly about practical issues such as the cost of living, residency, health care, and things to do, the more confidence you'll gain about making the decision many of us have made already.


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