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Thursday, September 9, 2010

To Work or Not to Work -- That Is the Question

Ten laps in the pool yesterday, seventeen today. Now that’s progress. So far I am making good use of that luxurious feature of our new home. We’ve been told that, just as a view becomes “wallpaper,” after awhile so do swimming pools become another unused element of a property. We plan to avoid that outcome and concentrate instead on swimming as a valuable exercise as well as the delicious sensation of warm sunshine on bare skin. Yes, we are using plenty of sunblock.
      Now once again the thunder is rumbling in the distance and the clouds are moving in so we have brought in the wash from outdoors before the afternoon rains. Only a few days have failed to bring at least light showers and on many days, the downpour is torrential. We are adjusting well to life in the rainy season.
      On Tuesday we caught an early bus into Alajuela, transferring there to the Heredia bus for a meeting with the publisher of The Costa Rica News, an online English-language newspaper. During the summer while we were still in the States, I had noticed an ad on the site saying they were looking for regional correspondents. I emailed a letter to the editor outlining my experience as a former publisher, my education and links to a few of my online travel pieces, as well as this blog URL. The editor quickly responded, saying they would love to have me as a freelancer. But the pay structure, based on advertising sales, made me hesitate a day or two as I considered whether I would want to work that way. Before I could respond, however, publisher Daniel Y. called me from Costa Rica to discuss the possibility of my working with them not as a freelancer but as a staff member in some capacity. Needless to say, having been unemployed for over a year in the U.S., I was flabbergasted to so quickly have a job opportunity here in Costa Rica. We agreed that when Layne and I returned, we would pay a visit to his office to talk further about a possible role for me with the paper.
      As I perused The Costa Rica News over the rest of the summer, I was in all honesty unsure that I wanted to join the company. While the website is well designed and the writing is generally good, the content is slow to change. Although the paper bills itself as a weekly, not a daily, there still is a need for fresh articles in order to retain the sophisticated Internet visitor. Week after week, The Costa Rica News front page offered much of the same material, often with only one new item. Obviously, the effort to recruit regional reporters, if successful, would help bring in more news but meanwhile, the paper seemed a bit stale.
      On the other hand, Layne and I liked the editorial philosophy of the paper and the selection of news. The content focuses on progressive topics such as the environment, eco-travel, information for expats and retirees, “green” businesses and thoughtful metaphysics. So we could see the potential for a simpatico relationship with this small newspaper and an opportunity to help it develop.
      But there’s a hitch -- actually, a couple of them. One involves Social Security. For Social Security recipients who live overseas and like me, have not yet reached full retirement age, there are stringent reporting requirements if you work or own a business. The rules state that you must report to Social Security any work you do outside of the United States, whether it is part-time or even if you are self-employed. Some examples of the kind of work you must report are: “work as an apprentice, farmer, sales representative, tutor, writer, etc.” Notice “writer” is one of the examples. That would be me. The rules go on to say that if you own a business, you must notify Social Security “even if you do not work in the business or receive any income from it.” Interesting, huh?
      Furthermore, failure to report your work can result in a penalty that “could cause the loss of benefits.” And indeed, benefits are withheld for “each month a beneficiary younger than full retirement age works more than 45 hours outside the United States in employment or self-employment not subject to U.S. Social Security taxes. It does not matter how much was earned or how many hours were worked each day.” In other words, if I worked more than 45 hours a month, I would lose some of my Social Security benefits. How much is unclear.
       And this is just part of the problem of taking a job in Costa Rica. Immigration rules here are quite strict in limiting the kind of employment that non-residents can pursue. Expats are welcome to set up a new business in the country and hire Ticos, but taking a job that a Tico could do is forbidden. And since we do not yet have our status as legal residents, we certainly don’t want to do anything to jeopardize that process or risk our position once we get residency. It may be true, as I had thought, that the potential job with The Costa Rica News would be one that a Tico could not do, given my unique skills in English and journalism. But at this point that is by no means certain.
      So it was with mixed feelings that Layne and I traveled to Heredia to meet with Daniel, hoping for a positive result but not sure how I could take a job if it were offered. But whatever may come of our job interview, we were both quite wowed by the young publisher. A handsome Venezuelan, Daniel is dynamic and visionary, articulate and passionate about his many projects. Possessed of a vibrant entrepreneurial spirit, Daniel seems to have many irons in the fire, from his publishing venture to a blossoming business in biofuels. He explained in great detail the promise of a particular plant native to Costa Rica and Central America, Jatropha, a fast-growing tree that yields a vegetable oil that can be added to diesel fuel, which he is developing through his company United Biofuels of America. More on Jatropha and United Biofuels in future blogs as we learn more ourselves.
      In the meantime, we look forward with anticipation to our attorney Monika’s appointment with Immigration on Monday, the 13th, to take the next step toward residency. If all goes well, maybe then I can take that job. Wish us luck!


  1. Kat,
    We are down to just a few lefties come home.....Just kidding. Good luck with your work related endeavors. The house looks wonderful and I really enjoy following your adventures. Give my best to Layne.

  2. Hi Andy - How cool to see your comment. Thanks! We're meeting quite a few "lefties" down here, believe it or not... feels rather good.

    Come on down for a visit! We'll throw down the futon in the living room for ya...