An email from Sandra asking about bus passes for residents 65 and over had me thinking that perhaps it would be a good idea to once again share some of the things I have learned since becoming a resident and a ciudadano de oro, the Costa Rican phrase for senior citizen. In some ways, it is a golden age because there are ways to save money.
If you are a frequent bus rider, you really get a deal. Just show your resident cédula to the bus driver and within the city limits you get a free ride. And it saves you from searching for change. A bus driver may have to enter your cédula number if he cannot make your card ding in the machine or the route is such that he has no machine. From time to time you may get a grumpy driver who will mutter something under his breath. Don’t take it personally, although it probably will be. Just think of it as the price of freedom.
There are stores, especially farmacias that will give you a 10 percent discount when you show your gold card. But very often you will get a discount if you are paying cash and announce that you are. Sometimes you will be asked if you are paying with efectivo or tarjeta de credito. Or you can ask if a discount comes with cash.
Of course, most of us know by now that in most banks seniors get special attention and quicker service. The national banks, especially, are conscientious about this. The Banco de Costa Rica, has a machine where you can get a special ticket that will get you quick service. There usually is a guard who will help you. (And a word of advice, always ask for help, not service. This especially true if you are frustrated with the seemingly slow progress of transactions.) Years ago when I was standing in a long line at the bank – a common activity back then – I turned to a woman behind me and asked in Spanish, “Don’t you ever get angry and complain about the lines here?” She responded, “No, but you can because you are an American.” Lesson learned.
This is a country where relationships are high on the list of what is important. I have often heard drivers honk their horns immediately after the light has changed in case the driver in front has not moved quickly enough. I have never heard a driver of a car honk because the driver in front has stopped in the middle of the lane to chat with a friend who is leaning nonchalantly against the car head in the window, oblivious of those of us behind. (A friend told me that in the first case they are just signaling the first driver, who is under the light and can’t see it. He may be right.)
But back to buses. Once the front seats were marked as reserved for older people and disabled, but not so often now. However, bus riders are usually very nice and considerate. (I always try to look my neatest and best when I ride the bus. It seems to attract help if I need it.) Once it was men, young or old, who would give me their seats, now it is young women, and sometimes not so young women. But I have never been without a seat for long, even in the most crowded of buses.
All foreign residents, by law, must be members of the national health plan here, known as the Caja. That is when you do go to the building on Avenida Segunda just below the Teatro Nacional on the south side of the street. It is a tall building, and there are people inside who will tell you what and where you do and go. You can also apply for a tarjeta de oro at that time.
If you live outside the city, there may be a Caja building in your town.
When you sign up, you will be instructed to register at the ebais or clinic near you. You will be told which one you belong to depending upon your address. The cost for health insurance used to be based upon the basic $600 income expected of a pensionado, but today is calculated according to your retirement income. It is far cheaper than anything you can get in most countries and is worth the price just for the emergency help you may need. The private hospitals have become very expensive when it comes to emergency services and often demand a show of a credit card or money before they will attend to you. Not so at the Caja hospitals. Even the Cruz Roja ambulance you call will be free. And almost invariably they are very nice people. I seem to say that often about Costa Ricans.