Things We Take For Granted


Mail Service


"Oh My God... what do you mean there is no mail delivery in Costa Rica?" 

"How am I going to pay my bills?"

"What will I do without my Lands End Catalog?"

Like clockwork, six days a week, it's amazing how addicted we have become to receiving our mail  However, thanks to technology, our demand and need for amassing large amounts of printed cellulose is decreasing; but the perceived need is still there.

Now, after long thought, you have decided to pull the plug and retire (in true expat style) and move to Costa Rica.  And all that important mail you were receiving back home will follow you here... right? Just fill out a change of address card!  Except, there is only one problem... we have no addresses here. 

For the most part, there are no street names or numbers (and needless to say) there are no house or building numbers.  We seem to take for granted that just because we have mail delivery and absolute location identifiers back home, the same thing will exist wherever we go.  Such is not the case and especially here in Costa Rica. 

This means you must develop a new "mail strategy" and put it into place BEFORE you ever leave the hallowed shores of North America.

Today, virtually all physical mail received at home can be delivered to you electronically.  That even includes magazines and newspapers.  There are some exceptions and most involve legal documents and tax forms.  But even for those documents, there are viable strategies that will virtually guarantee accurate and on-time delivery.

The first step in developing a mail delivery strategy is to ELIMINATE the need to even receive any mail.  Here is what you should consider doing:

  • STOP ALL CATALOG DELIVERY.  They are probably available on on line anyway

  • Email all your friends and acquaintances and tell them that if they want to contact you, they should do it through email, SKYPE, MagicJack or some other form of digital methodology

  • Inform all creditors, financial institutions, insurance companies, utility companies etc. that effective immediately you no longer want to receive paper statements.  Everything must be delivered via email.  They will be happy to comply because it cuts their costs dramatically.

But in reality, there are some things that can not be delivered electronically; tax forms is a good example.  Here is one possible solution.

  • Establish a forwarding address back home.  Preferably the home of a stable individual.  I chose one of my son's who owns a house and is tied to his community.

  • Before leaving the US, I filled out a USPS Change Of Address Form.  Start Here.  This way, any mail that is still being sent to your old address will now be forwarded to your new "go to person."  Additionally, you can also instruct the Post Office to NOT INCLUDE anything that is defined as "junk mail."

  • Periodically, I do a SKYPE call to my son to review any mail he may have received on my behalf.  99% of all the stuff he gets he is told to toss it out.  However, things like year end forms, he will scan and email me the JPG files.  That works for almost everything.

There are always going to be situations where you will need to receive a hard copy of something from back home.  This should be the exception and NOT the rule but since I am not privy to your business here are a few options you can employ.

  • Option #1: Have a friend with access to a local Post Office Box receive the occasional mail parcel for you.  Your friend will be required to pick up the mail for you but since this is only the exception (and not the rule) your friend should be OK with it.  You'll owe him a beer.

  • Option #2: Get your own PO Box.  Go to the local Oficina de Correo and rent your own box.  Expect to pay about $10 a year but just don't be surprised if you are put on a waiting list.

  • Option #3: Engage the services of a mail forwarding service back in the States.  For a monthly fee, they will give you a physical mailing address (not just a box number).  They can filter out junk mail and send you the balance.  Some forwarding companies will even scan the outside of the envelope or its contents.  Then through an internet link, you can view each item and select what items to throwaway or to forward.  Forwarded items are then packed and sent to a local receiver in Costa Rica.  The most popular service is provided by a company called Aerocasillas.

  • Option #4:  This is the last and probably least assured of all the options but you can have the Post Office actually deliver mail to your house, even without an address.  My friend George Lundquist informs me that the Correos WILL DELIVER to your place of residence, also known as "direción," but you must make a special request to the local Oficina de Correo.  Utility companies will also send your bills to a local pulperia (small general store) or to the Cruz Roja (Red Cross) facility in your community.  You may also request that all local mail be delivered to your direción but keep in mind, deliveries are only made once a week.

These options all work well but now let's complicate matters even more. 

Now The Fun Begins...

You are now living in the Costa Rican home of your dreams whose physical location is "Trescientos metros al sur de la cerca blanca en la carretera principal." That's three hundred meters south of the white fence on the main road.  But wait... with no mail delivery, how will I be notified when (and where) to pay my utility bills? 

Costa Rican utility companies feel it is your responsibility to pay your bills but it is NOT their responsibility to tell you when.  Yes it is a bit of a paradox but that's the fun of living in a foreign country.  To pay your bills, you will need to visit your local utility office, bank or supermarket, walk up to the designated "payment" window and pay your bills in person and (generally) in cash.  Costa Rican utility providers assume it's your responsibility to pay your bills but not their responsibility to notify you. 

If you are fortunate to have ePay capability at your bank, you can probably pay all your bills from the comfort and convenience of your PC.  Just remember, if you don't pay your bill and on time, they will probably shut off your service.  And if you think that is inconvenient, try to get the service restored when you can't speak Spanish!

We take for granted many of life's pleasures.  Living in North America has spoiled us.  Living in Costa Rica will be an adventure.  Don't expect all the things you have come to love and appreciate back home to be available here.   Just keep telling yourself... "I'm not in Kansas anymore!"


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