Mandatory Caja payments top list of expat gripes

Expats have a lot of complaints, but they also have some serious solutions, according to an informal email poll Sunday.

High on the list are residency requirements and mandatory payments to the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social.

“There should be a smoother and more efficient protocol for residency, limiting perpetual tourism,” said Peter Aborn, a dentist from Rohrmoser.

“To attract permanent residents who seek residency status, one key issue is the required payment to the Caja for services that most expats will never use,” said Ted Gibbons, who has a home in Playa Guiones at Nosara.  “There is no way to predict in advance what the monthly payment will be prior to getting approved.  There are many expats who would prefer to leave the country every 90 days than to risk having to pay a subsidy to the Caja that could be anywhere from $60 to $600.”

Angela Jiménez Rocha, an architect and appraiser and rental owner in Escazú, points out that the Caja and the central government could save a lot of money if residents were allowed to choose a health insurance policy from the Instituto Nacional de Seguros, known as INS.

Right now, she points out, the Caja pays in full the cost of an ailing and covered expat who needs extensive medical care. If the expat had a policy with the Instituto Nacional de Seguros, the bite would be a lot less because the national insurance company reinsures itself with major European companies. The national insurance company might end up paying only 10 to 20 percent of the medical costs, she notes.

The policies at INS also are valid at the private hospitals expats prefer.

Plenty of foreigners here do not become legal residents for a variety of reasons. They may not have the pension to be a pensionado or the large cash outlay needed to be a rentista. So they become perpetual tourists and leave the country every 90 days to renew their tourist visa. This does not stop them from working because some firms, such as sportsbooks and some call centers, are happy to hire illegal employees.

The employer benefits because there are no payments for the Caja for these illegals and probably no mandatory Christmas bonuses.

One solution comes from  Jim Twomey of Santo Domingo de Heredia, who suggested “allowing 90-day visa tourists to purchase an additional 60 or 90 days, without the necessity of making a visa run to the border.  This will keep the  tourist money in Costa Rica rather than having the funds spent in Panamá, Nicaragua or elsewhere.”

When President Luis Gullermos Solís spoke to visiting tourist operators last month, he cited a 4.1 percent increase in tourism for the country this year.

Central American Data reported May 8 that in the first three months of the year, 92,000 more tourists entries were recorded by the Tourism Authority of Panama than in the same period in 2014, representing an increase of 13.8 percent.

“The main reform Costa Rica needs to make on behalf of foreign residents is to revise its welcome051815immigration laws and improve their administrative application,” said Ken Morris of San Pedro.  “Currently the laws themselves are still a mess, even after the last reform, and the mess frankly seems to reveal the ambivalence the Ticos feel toward foreign residents.”

Glenn Klima of Golfito expands on that theme: Marine wise allow any yacht to stay in any marina however how long the owners wish. Folks who wish to park their yacht here generally keep a captain and crew. Those folks spend money.

Of those who responded for the request for opinions, plenty were critical of Costa Rica’s advertising for tourists and the arrival and exit taxes.

“One lesson that the Mexican tourist authority has learned in attracting tourists is to make the arrival and departure experience as easy and pleasant as possible.  There is still room for improvement by the Costa Rican government in this regard,” said Gibbons.

Ms. Jiménez agreed. “Solutions to attract well-to-do expats to Costa Rica are easy to understand since Panamá has created a program which this country should consider cloning,” she said.

Among other tourism incentives, Panamá offers 30 days of free medial and evacuation insurance for tourists landing at the Tocumen Airport. The country also operates a 24-hour bilingual help line. There is no paperwork. Those who need medical care just have to show their passport at the hospital.

Panamá also offers extensive discounts on daily living expenses for expats. That includes the light bill. Plus pensionados there get a one-time customs deductions of $10,000 on importing personal items and a deduction every two years on importing a vehicle.

Costa Rica did away with such programs long ago.

Some expats pointed out the interrelation of tourism and the economy. Current expats probably came first to Costa Rica as tourists. Tourists and new expats are the ones who purchase property, increase sales at retail stores, hire Costa Ricans and start businesses.

One expat proposed an agency that would promote the needs of tourists in the same way the Defensoría de los Habitantes does for the public here.

“The first step the government should take is construct an organization (like a mediating entity) to represent and defend the foreign residents,” said Naveen Bagla of Lepanto on the Nicoya peninsula.  “This would allow me to turn to someone who better understands the needs and thinking process of a foreign resident where we rely on the legal system to resolve our problems.”

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