Got a problem? Facebook is where the action is

Government institutions in Costa Rica are usually impossible to reach on the telephone.  Sometimes the phone just rings and rings. Other times one gets a phone tree that states “dial ‘this’ for ‘that.'”  If “that” answers, usually it knows nothing about the “this” one was calling about.

Many expats need assistance in English because they do not speak Spanish.  Many times it’s almost impossible to find someone who speaks English well enough to help them with a question or a problem on the phone.

Xochilt Quesada, an assistant to an expat, found at least one solution to get answers.  Facebook!  Unbelievably, there are people dedicated to answering Facebook messages on their institutional Web sites.  Xochilt now gets answers to questions at the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social in minutes when she used to spend hours on the phone just waiting for someone to answer.  She also solved a worker’s compensation problem with the Instituto Nacional de Seguroswhen the institution would not accept the monthly forms.  The person assisting her walked her through the process using their chat system.

Many expats do not like social media and most of all Facebook.  They believe it is for the younger generation and a total waste of time.  Well, this may be true, but think about it for a moment. Who works as assistants and secretaries in most of these governmental workplaces?  Yes, younger people who eat and breathe Facebook.  What a great way to work the day away, chatting with friends and family while occasionally assisting someone who truly needs attention.

Some of the Web sites have people full-time just answering queries. Others have their Facebook page monitored part-time and replies to messages may take a few days.  It is uncommon not to receive a reply.  The Municipalidad de San José is one example. It usually takes three to four days for workers there to respond, but they do answer.

Sometimes it is easier to get an answer in English than on the telephone.  This could be because offices choose language-skilled employees to oversee their Facebook presence.  Pulling in co-workers to help answer messages is also easier when using chat than during a telephone call.

For the expat who does not know how to use Facebook, it is simple to use.  First, an account is required.  They can be set up at  Facebook requires minimum personal information, adding more is optional.

Visiting any of the links for Costa Rica’s government and other agencies shows a timeline of events and news about their organizations.

The secret to getting answers is in the message drop down box right of the like box under the cover picture.  Clicking on this box will open a window and display an email-like interface.  The “to” field is already filled in. One just needs to type in the message section.  There is also an option to attach files or photos.  Click “send” when done.  Sometimes an auto-responder returns a notice indicating the message is queued for response.  Many of the agencies listed also have online chat systems on their Web sites and a Facebook query directs a user to the chat system.

Many of the institutions that use Facebook as a public relations tool summarizing news and events also use Twitter, a service that enables its users to send and read short text-based messages to keep followers up-to-date on current events.  Private messages via Twitter to these institutions also elicit rapid response in many cases.  The government of Costa Rica uses Twitter extensively to transmit all kinds of information to the public and the press.

Expats may want nothing to do with social media in light of the news about the National Security Agency’s snooping.  Privacy is a concern for everyone.  However, almost everybody uses email, and setting up a Facebook page with minimal information and strict privacy settings is pretty safe.

Here are some safety precautions:  When one opens a Facebook account, the privacy settings are set to everyone. Which means no privacy.  To fix this, one needs to log into and click on “Account,” (the gear icon in the upper right corner) then on “Privacy Settings.”  This section “Privacy Settings and Tools,” is where one can control who sees what.

Social media gets its bad press for sure.  However, it is an evolution in communication.  If used correctly, it can be a great tool and one that could prove to be useful when trying to fix a problem or find an answer to a question in this country.

Garland M. Baker is a 42-year resident and naturalized citizen of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community.  Reach him at  Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica.  Find the collection at, a complimentary reprint is available at the end of each article.  Copyright 2004-2013, use without permission prohibited.

Here are the links to key Facebook pages
Banco de Costa Rica (BCR)
Cuerpo de Bomberos de Costa Rica (Fire Department)
Banco Nacional de Costa Rica (BNCR) 
Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (Social Security Administration) 
Cruz Roja Costarricense
(Red Cross) 
Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería Costa Rica (Immigration)
Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje (INA)
Instituto Nacional de la Juventud (MIDES-INJU) 
Instituto Nacional de Seguros
(National Insurance Administration)
Instituto Meteorológico Nacional Costa Rica (Weather Institute)
Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes (Transportation Ministry)
Ministerio de Trabajo y Seguridad Social (Labor Ministry) 
Organismo de Investigación Judicial (OIJ)
Policia de Transito de Costa Rica (Traffic police)
Municipalidad de San José
(San José Municipality) 
Patronato Nacional de la Infancia (PANI)
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