A wish list for expats to give to the politicians

The season approaches for campaigns, and the general election is Feb. 2.

Costa Rican law and simple courtesy prohibit foreign expats from participating in a candidate’s campaign or donating money, although that last rule frequently is broken.

But there is no reason expats should not push for changes in the management of the country when they are directly affected.

Here is a wish list:

1. Driver’s license: A provision of the new traffic law prohibits issuing driver’s licenses to any foreigner who is not an official resident. This rule should be changed so that anyone who has applied for residency can obtain  Costa Rican licenses, usually by  recognition of an existing foreign license . Now expats who are waiting a year or two years for their residency application to be approved still have to leave the country every 90 days to keep their foreign license valid.

While on the topic, expats should be able to get their first license based on a foreign license at any issuing office instead of having to make a trip to La Uruca.

2. Firearms permits: President Laura Chinchilla has stripped rentistas andpensionados of the right to own firearms to protect themselves and their homes. Legal residents usually have to wait three years to become permanent residents and acquire a firearm permit. Yet pensionados and rentistas are some of the most vulnerable with many possessions and usually of less physical capacity that a gang of young toughs.

While on this topic, how about speeding up the permit process? Long lines and fingerprinting of expats who already have been fingerprinted are just techniques to make getting a permit more difficult.

3. Lawyer fees: Many expats buy a home or property in Costa Rica. At closing their have to pay 1 or 2 percent of the purchase price to the notary who documents the sale. A fee of 1 percent on a $400,000 condo is $4,000.  That is disproportionate to the work that a notary-lawyer might put into the deal. They should work based on hours expended on the job.  Of course, with the legislature full of lawyers, and the fees set by the lawyer’s union, the Colegio de Abogados, there is little chance of this change.

4. Pensionado benefits: Years ago expats who became pensionados were allowed to bring in an automobile without paying import tax. There are still some vehicles carryingPen tags. Other countries treat their new arrivals far better than Costa Rica. The legislature should consider restoring some of these benefits.

5. Illegal work: The informal economy here involving expats is huge. Call centers, gambling houses, bar and restaurants frequently have tourists on their staffs illegally. Some even have creative ways of paying their workers, like via a credit card issued by a Panamá bank. Costa Rica should lighten up and adopt reasonable rules to allow these people with an obvious needed skill to work here. Many are at the beginnings of their careers, so forcing them to be crooked can have long-term effects.

6. Instituto Costarricense de Turismo: This bloated government agency need a radical fix. What this agency does not know about advertising the country would fill a book. They have placed ads on New York buses, gave away free trips and now are promoting the country to the sub-teen movie audiences.  And they seem to be counting everyone who arrives at the international airports as tourists.

Many expats have tourism operations, and they are directly affected by the actions of this agency.  The ICT, as it is called, needs to define its market and use traditional methods to reach it in a transparent manner.

7. Beach concessions: Pity the homeowner who is being whipsawed by the central government and the municipality and seeing the annual concession tax or canon skyrocket. There needs to be reasonable approaches so concession property holders are not treated as if they were an international hotel chain.

8. Online purchases: Plenty of expats are afraid to make online purchases because they have heard of the red tape. Sometimes the government just confiscates the purchases. For minor purchases, expats sometimes have to hire custom agents to get the product through the labyrinth. The situation with medicines is even worse. A much-needed medicine that is unavailable here is confiscated because it has not been approved by the Ministerio de Salud even though the product is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. So expats mule in the illicit medicines. Didn’t the free trade treaty cover this?

9. Double insurance: A rentista, pensionado or permanent resident must belong to the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. The fees are going up. Those who do not want to get in line at 4 a.m. to get an appointment eight months later with a public physician, frequently obtain local insurance from the Instituto Nacional de Seguros or elsewhere to cover them at private hospitals. Those who purchase their own insurance should get credit for that and not be forced to join the overwork public medical system.

10. What is it with the exchange rate? Expats and exporters who receive funds in dollars have been getting skinned for years with an unrealistic exchange rate subsidized by the Banco Central. Should officials just let the rate float?

Costa Rica, a country that will not drill for its petroleum or dig up its gold, is in a difficult financial position. The current situation with half the national budget borrowed is not sustainable. Officialdom should be a little more receptive to retirees and others with money who want to live here an become part of the economy. And expat should not be shy about telling officials so.

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