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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Costa Rica: Efficiency Experts Apply Here

Big news here in Costa Rica: The city of San Jose is putting up street signs! If you've never had to find a location based solely on "turn left at the red barn"-type of directions, you may not fully grasp the significance of this step. It's not that the streets have no names, it's just that nobody knows what they are. Addresses here are given in 100-meter segments, meant to indicate a city block but it's a loose measure for sure, and distances are counted from landmarks. For instance, our home address is "200 meters east of the Catholic Church, on the left side." But that doesn't get you to our house. What's on the "left side" is a street, which, unless you know otherwise, looks like a driveway, especially since the surface quickly disappears from view in a steep incline that hides the houses below. So there's that. But then, said street has two houses on it; ours happens to be the last one on the left. Try telling that to a taxi driver - in Spanish! So it's a big deal to be getting street signs. First thing you know we may even have numbers on buildings!

The other recent big news for Layne and me was that we successfully renewed our cedulas, the plastic identification card that says you are in the country legally. It's amazing to us that two years have flown by since we got residency here, but it's true. So with our friend Carmen as hired translator, we started the process a few weeks ago. I had already called our residency attorney to learn a little about the process. She explained the documentation we would need, along with a fee of $129 in colones, and she gave me a phone number to set up an appointment. Oddly to us, this transaction would be handled by the Banco de Costa Rica (BCR), a banking institution instead of immigration. Perhaps that just reflects the key point for the Costa Rican government: get the money.
My Cedula

Requirements for pensionado or retiree residency in Costa Rica include transferring $1000 per month into colones and maintaining a paid-up membership in the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, better known as just the CAJA, the country's universal health care system. So our first step was for Carmen to call BCR to make the appointment and learn what we should bring. This included a letter from our bank proving we had transferred the required amount of money each month, copies of our cedulas, copies of our CAJA receipt and, of course, those fees.

Next we met Carmen at our bank to get the letter, which proved to be an amusing example of Tico bureaucratic inefficiency. Layne and I had printouts of all the deposit confirmations, which included dates and dollar amounts from our online transfers. When the clerk looked at our paperwork, however, she told Carmen she was unsure whether they were acceptable. Since the banks "say" they only keep records going back six months, we had a moment of panic. If they didn't have the records and wouldn't accept ours, what would we do? Fortunately, after checking with her supervisor, she said our copies were fine. Then she proceeded to handwrite each month's date and dollar amount on a blank sheet of paper to check against the records in her computer. Never mind that the same information was right in front of her on those printouts. But finally, after a mind-bogglingly slow process, she typed up our letter and sent us on our way. Pura Vida!

For the next couple of weeks, Layne and I stressed over whether we had everything we needed: copies of cedulas, copies of CAJA receipt, copies of the bank letter, proof of Social Security income from the US Embassy, a form showing his check is direct deposited here, a letter showing I am his dependent (in Costa Rica, I'm a married woman so dependent on mi esposo) and of course, the money. We had it all organized in separate folders, carefully paper-clipped together.

On the day of our appointment, we had everything with us as we bused with Carmen to the
No photos allowed in BCR, but here's the food service at Int'l Mall
International Mall in Alajuela where the BCR was located. At BCR, however, the procedure was anti-climactic. After a long wait, (Pura Vida again), it was finally my turn. The unsmiling clerk entered in her computer my street address (see above re addresses), asked for my CAJA receipt and the $129, of course. That was it. No proof of income; no letter from the bank; no issue of dependency. She took my picture and my fingerprint - same finger, four times. Go figure. Then in a classic case of ineptitude, she lost all of the data she had entered, had to restart her computer and go through it all again. Hey, lady -- hit Save next time!

For Layne the process took less than ten minutes. In neither case did she ask for proof of income or the letter from our bank, even though that is one of the most stringent requirements. All we could do was shake our heads in amusement and count our lucky stars that our cedulas will be renewed. For how long? we asked the clerk. She didn't know. And neither will we until we receive our new cards. Sigh. Pura Vida indeed.

Check out Layne's book "Moral Turpitude," available for only $2.99 at High adventure with corporate intrigue, danger and romance; from the exotic jungles of Borneo and Costa Rica to the erotic jungles of San Francisco. Sample or purchase at --

1 comment:

  1. I guess we better get use to this type of "service". But you know some time in the US it is not much better. There are 900,000 veterans from Afganhstan and Iraq waiting for their disability claim to be processed. The average wait time is 273 days and some have waited up to three years. So you see beauracratic screw-ups happen all the time