114. We’re Completely & Officially Residents!

Tuesday 3/21- Today is the first of two final appointments that we need to be fully official residents. Today we have to travel to Rio Claro, about 1-½ hours South of Uvita and on the way to Panama. Since we are still illegal to drive, Geoff and Tracy offered to take us to our appointment so that we didn't risk being pulled over and getting in trouble with the law. As I mentioned in a prior blog post, we’re currently illegal to drive right now due to the whole passport stamp situation. Since this appointment is only about a half hour from Panama where we go shopping once in a while, the decision was made that it would be a good time for all of us to do some shopping there.

Today's appointment is for the Homogolation of our US driver’s license. Basically, what that means is that Costa Rica will review our current US license and accept it as proof that we know how to drive. We have to have 3 things ready in preparation for this appointment:

  1. Our DIMEX card (resident ID)
  2. A medical exam
  3. An “official translation” of our valid foreign drivers license.

Fortunately we were able to pick up our physical DIMEX card just last week (I guess they got their printer fixed). For the medical exam we just made an appointment with the local doctor. The exam wasn't exactly thorough, though. They took our height, weight and checked to see if we could read a line on an eye chart. Then the doctor asked if we wanted to be an organ donor, and which was our dominant hand. There may have been one or 2 other simple questions, but that was essentially it. It didn’t take too much thought and we both easily passed. 

The translation had to be done by an official translator, the closest of which is up in San Jose. Thankfully, we only had to send a copy of the front and back of our license to a local lawyer, who in return sent the copy to the official translator. They did their thing, certified the translation with a seal, and then mailed (or sent via courier) back to the local lawyer the stamped certified piece of paper and when we went to pick it up paid the cost us $85. Yeah, that’s a bit expensive for what was actually done, but it was still way better than having to drive to San Jose to do this. At that point, we had everything that we needed for today’s appointment.

Our appointment was scheduled for 9am so Geoff and Tracy picked us up at about 6:45 to we hit the road. We left early enough just in case things got crazy on the drive down (which, down here, you just never know!) but traffic was really good and it was about 8:20 when we got to where we needed to go. No problem we had Tracy drop us off at the building where our appointment was and let them go check out the town while we wait for our turn, and we’d text them when we were finished & ready to be picked up. When we walked up to the building there were already people standing outside waiting and we had no idea how long this whole process would take.

The people outside waiting pointed us in the direction we had to go so we walked to the gate where the security guard asked if we had an appointment and at what time. We understood and could speak enough Spanish to easily have this conversation with him, and he brought us inside the gate and pointed to a row of chairs where he told us we should wait. We were still more than 30 minutes early for our appointment. It wasn't long before a person came out to take our paperwork. He asked us to wait out here while he entered the info into the system and told us that he would be back when he was ready for us. About 10 minutes later he came back out and had us follow him in and sit in a different row of chairs. After a few more minutes he called me into his office first, it almost felt like being called into the principal's office (at least according to Ramie, I have no personal experience with that). He had only a couple more questions for us to answer including my Costa Rican phone number (which I have no idea what it is, so I had to have Ramie come in and tell him), the town that we live in, and my email address. After he had that information he sent me out and called Ramie in for the same questions. Thankfully this guy spoke good English so it made this all a little bit easier for us, although I'm sure we could have handled this simple appointment in Spanish too. That was it! We didn’t get anything confirming that our information was input or that we had this appointment, we just had to hope that everything was done correctly. We were told by Laura (the person from the attorney’s office that has been helping us along the way) to make sure that before we left that the info was truly entered into the system because sometimes they don’t actually input it, but she also let us know that they don’t provide any documentation for confirmation. Ramie played dumb (well I think he was playing anyway) and asked the guy for proof that this appointment had happened so we have it for our next appointment.

The guy just told Ramie it's all entered into the system, they have it, and we’re good to go. Ok, I guess a verbal confirmation is all we’ll get. That was it for this appointment. It was by far the fastest and easiest appointment we have ever had in Costa Rica! And we were out the door and texting Tracy to come get us even before our appointment that was scheduled for 9am.

They were just waiting down the street and showed up quickly to pick us up. Alright, onward to Panama! It only took about 30 minutes and we were already at the Panama border. First stop, cheap liquor! First we had to navigate the narrow and crazy one way street. Panama is on the left and Costa Rica is on the right. Each side of the street has similar shops, but the Panama side is much cheaper and actually real brands, where the Costa Rican side are fake knock offs.

Geoff and Tracy have never bought liquor in Panama before so we wanted to show them this store and how inexpensive it truly is here. We arrived and Ramie quickly got to work picking out his liquor order. This place will run promotions where they will group several bottles together for a discounted price. Ramie always looks for the Rum promotions, today they had a 1.75L Bacardi, 1L Malibu knockoff, and 1L cheap Rum for $21. Separately they cost $27. Ramie knows the cheap rum is only $5 anyways, so it's basically buy the other 2 get the cheap bottle for free. Not a bad deal. Ramie was pretty excited about this and bought 3 of those promotions. Then he was off to find some Jamison whiskey for the next time Dylan comes to visit, and a couple 1.75L bottles of white rum. We also bought some Vodka and some Baileys. Grand total was $84. Geoff and Tracy didn't plan on buying a lot here, but once they saw the prices I think they bought more than they had planned. Alright, the liquor is done, time to go to City Mall for all of the other stuff.

We guided Tracy, our chauffeur for the day, back through the one-way streets and the crazy border crossing area and finally to a parking lot near the mall. It's called City Mall but it's not actually a mall like you’d think. It’s actually just one very large 2 story store that carries just about ever category of things you can imagine. Clothing, electronics, toys, appliances, automotive, paint, groceries, you name it they may have it. We parked the car and headed inside with each team grabbing a cart. I briefly explained the layout and where they would find particular types of things, and we went our separate ways. We would occasionally run into each other going in different directions but it looked like they were finding some things that they needed. We completed our shopping but did not want to check out because they had the keys to the truck. We just hung out and waited in an area where we could spot them when heading to the registers. Eventually we saw them going in that direction and went to check out ourselves. We finished up, loaded everything into the truck, and by then it was about noon and we were hungry. In sticking with the tradition that Loren and Nancy started, we ate at the McDonalds that is right inside this store. Once we were filled full of greasy food it was time to hit the road for the 2 hour drive home. We got home around 3pm, unloaded our haul from their truck and once again thanked them for driving us. I would say it was a productive day for all of us, and I think they enjoyed checking out the shopping at the border. 

Sunday 3/26- There isn't a whole lot to write about it, but we dog-sat for some friends while they made a a border run. It was nice to have a furball in the house again, even if it was only for a couple of days. She liked to hang out under my desk, by my feet while I worked. :)

This is Izzy

Wednesday 3/29- Today is our 2nd and final appointment to make ourselves official & legal. Today we will get our actual Costa Rica Driver’s Licenses. They certainly do not make things easy for anyone here in Costa Rica but the one nice thing is you actually walk out of this appointment with your license in hand and don’t have to wait for it to be sent to you. Our appointment last week was actually at the Costa Rican version of the DMV, but somewhere along the line, the license center lost the authorization to actually give out the physical licenses. You now have to get your license at the bank. Oh, but not just ANY bank, only certain specific banks! I know you're probably asking why and shaking your head wondering (just like we have many times before about so many different things). Seriously, why is a bank processing Drivers Licenses? No one, including the people of Costa Rica have any idea.

Once again Laura helped us out and found the only bank within a reasonable distance (ie. Less than 2 hours away) that had two appointments available at very close to the same time. Today we had to travel to Ciudad Neily which is in the same direction as last week’s appointment, about an hour and 45 minutes South of here. You might be wondering, isn’t that more or less at the Panama border? Yes sir (or ma'am)! This appointment is only about 15 minutes from the border. Today we would be making the journey to the Panama border crossing again. Today, though, Loren and Nancy offered to drive (remember, we’re still illegal to drive until after today’s appointment). They had shopping to do at the border as well and it worked out perfectly for them. The appointment today was not until 1 and 1:30 (yes we each had to have our own appointment times for this one) so we’d be doing the shopping first and then the appointments. We hit the road at 7am like last week so we had plenty of time to get all of our shopping done an not risk being late for this appointment.

We once again made good time getting to Panama and where did we go first? Well, first it was the gas station, but THEN it was the liquor store again! This time we focused on getting some better-quality wines than I can find (for a reasonable price) in Costa Rica.

Of course Ramie decided that he needed more Rum. I swear he is a pirate! We bought more than we really needed and then hit City Mall. Since we were just here last week, we didn't have much on our list, but one thing we did want was a battery backup for the TV. If you remember in a prior post we mentioned all the power “blips” we’ve been having lately and we have truly finally had enough of it and decided we wanted to splurge and get one for the TV.

Randall, the Tico that does our oil changes on our truck and has went with Ramie to take it in for inspection asked us to pick up some oil for his truck (we bought some for ours last week) since it is significantly cheaper here than back in CR. To give you an idea of how expensive motor oil in Costa Rica is, the oil Ramie uses for his truck can only be bought from the Toyota dealership. Of course, right off the bat it's already marked up because of where you are buying it from. We pay about $85 for 4 liters of oil. Last week when we were here with Geoff and Tracy, Ramie found the type that we needed and for 5.5 liters it was only $48. Of course, since we were here, we bought 2. Ramie told Randall about the price down here and asked if we could pick some up for him as well. No problem! He does a lot to help us, so we were happy to help him out. After finding the oil that Randall needed, we ended up buying more random stuff that we hadn’t really expected to, but that's ok because we know we saved money compared to buying similar items in Costa Rica. The plan, as always, was to meet Loren and Nancy at the check outs at noon, eat McDonald's, again, and then head to our appointment. McDonald's might be nice once or twice a year but I’m really not feeling it twice in one week. I guess it was that or go hungry, so we ate some more greasy food again. It was well before noon when we were all finished shopping, so we finished up eating early as well.

It is only a 15 minute drive from the border to Ciudad Neily but we were ready to hit the road. It wasn’t much after 12:15 when Loren and Nancy dropped us off at the bank where our appointment was (our appointments weren’t until 1 & 1:30) and said they were going to go drive around and explore. “No problem, we will message you when we are done and hopefully it goes just as fast as last week.”

One thing about Costa Rica is that you don’t just walk into a bank here, most tend to have locked doors with security guards who have to let you in. This bank had a guard inside the main entrance, and a front door that they kept locked. As we walked up, he opened the door to see what we needed. We checked in and he told us that the person we need to see is at lunch, and basically hang out until they are back. We chose the comfiest looking piece of concrete sidewalk (fortunately it was in the shade) and sat down. At a little bit before 1:00 the guard opened up the door, spoke some fast Spanish to all of us that were waiting outside, and started calling names and allowing people in. We walked up closer to the door and he just waved us off, I guess it’s not our turn yet. Ramie’s appointment was first but, like we do on most things here, we tried to go in together. Unfortunately that was a no-go and you can only go in one person at a time, I have to wait until my scheduled appointment time. Ramie went in at his time and I continued to wait outside. At 1:10 they called the next name, but no one got up to go in. I guess he wasn’t here?? Over the next 10 minutes the guard continued to call the name for the 1:10 person and wouldn’t let the 1:20 person in until exactly 1:20. Well, no wonder this takes so long! They truly don’t let you in until the exact minute of your appointment. Seriously, why not call the next person early and keep people moving along! If the 1:10 guy shows up, he can have the 1:20 appointment! Nope I guess they don't do that here. As much as we love Costa Rica, the customer service is horrendous here! Ramie came out at about 1:15 with his Costa Rica license in hand. He waited with me until exactly 1:30 when they finally called my name. I went in, and the 1:20 guy was still in the office finishing up getting his license. It seemed to be taking a while and then I saw the employee start messing around with the printer. She started taking things apart and I figured that maybe it was just out of ink or something. She kept messing around taking pieces out and putting pieces in. Please don’t tell me the printer broke on the guy before me!!! As I sat and watched, she pulled out a roll of tape and started taping the printer back together. Uhoh, this does NOT look good!

Fortunately, whatever she did made it start working again, she printed the guy’s license, and then called me in. I answered the few questions that she had, she figured out that I was the wife of a guy that was in a couple of people ago and didn’t even have to ask me most of the questions (she just used his same answers) and before long I got my license too and headed out the door! That's it! That is completely it! FINALLY!!! We are officially residents, with Costa Rica identification and Costa Rica Drivers Licenses. The next time we have to do anything official is in 2 years when we have to renew our “temporary residency” to “permanent residency”. 

Even though it took forever (and I’m sure Ramie was getting a little bit nervous about what was taking so long) I exited the bank with a smile on my face, we walked across the street where Loren and Nancy had been parked and waiting since about 12:50, and got back on the road headed North, (I told them all the story about the printer that was fixed with tape and they all had a good laugh at that) and we made it home around 4pm, completely exhausted from the long day but so glad that we are now fully official.

Pura Vida!