Earthquake in Costa Rica

You might have already seen the news in the states or maybe you read the paper online like I do, or you were there when the big one hit.  Whichever of these you fall under, Thursday was a very memorable day in Costa Rica.

There was an incredibly strong (6.2) earthquake that made the world shake for what seemed like an eternity.

Many people are missing and believe trapped under the many mudslides that have taken place all over the country.

From what I understand, the area around Poas was closest to the epicenter and caught the brunt of the quake.

As of this morning, there were 15 counted dead and many more that were missing or hurt.

If the first quake wasn’t was bad enough, the aftershocks which were as strong as 4.0 continued to shake the whole country for several hours and into the night.   Not many felt good about laying their heads on the pillow last night for fear of another devasting quake.

Well, the night passed and Costa Rica is almost back to normal.  There is an abundance of work that must be done on homes and buildings throughout the country. With roads collapsing, many are still stranded.  I heard that 400 people were stranded up and around Poas because the roads collapsed as a result of the big quake.

We pray that everything will get back to the way things were and that rescue workers find people stranded rather than dead when searching for the survivors.


Fugitives in Costa Rica

Two to three times a year we pick up the paper or read online that another fugitive has been captured in Costa Rica.  The last bad guy was picked up in Playa Garza last month.  This one was a convicted child molester.

Tom Noel Mastin is the latest of several fugitives that have made their home in Costa Rica and gone unnoticed for years before being captured.  He had been in the country since 1999. Officials deported him in 2007 into the custody of Florida law enforcement.

On February 21, 2008 he entered a plea deal in Florida and was placed under house arrest.  Amazingly, he was seen again in Playa Garza only 7 days later after sneaking back into the country.  Mastin was deported this past Monday for the SECOND time!

Several questions come to mind when going over this recurring problem we seem to have in Costa Rica;  With the new laws in place in the US one can no longer travel outside of the US without a passport but don’t they take that away from you when you become a convicted felon?  If Mastin didn’t have a passport, how did he get out of the US?

When you enter Costa Rica legally, your passport is scanned and sirens, bells and whistles start going off if you are a convicted felon or have been kicked out of the country. CR does not let you back in for 10 years if you do something worthy of getting kicked out ie., working under a tourist, pensionado or rentista visa just to name a couple.  Being carried away by US law enforcement means that you are never allowed back into the country.

Hundreds of Nicaraguans “sneak” into the country every year but the idea of a 70 year old man (Mastin) coming in the way that these others do is mind boggling.  Had it not been for some good Samaritans reporting Mastin in the country, he could have lived his life out in Costa Rica and the police nor immigration would have ever known.

Guardian Angels CR received a call last year asking what the extradition laws were in Costa Rica.  We promptly told the caller that if they were running from the police and found in Costa Rica they would spend time in the Costa Rican jail before being sent back to the US.   They didn’t request our relocation assistance after that response. :)

I feel that Costa Rica has become a sort of haven for criminals from many countries because of the non-existent police presence and immigration laws not being enforced in the outlying areas.

If you get robbed or your home gets broken into it is your responsibility to go down to the central police headquarters and file a report.  No one comes to your home to investigate or take your complaint so many crimes go unreported and many fugitives are still running around free.

I suppose other countries in Latin America have similar problems, however living in Costa Rica, all I care about is the safety of my children and my family in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica needs to enforce their immigration laws, do something about border control and catch the bad guys before they catch us at a vulnerable moment.  Sounds like some of the same complaints I hear about the United States.

where the police force is basically non-existent.


Gringo beware!

The Gringo never even saw it coming
The legal right to steal: A valid power of attorney
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A U.S. citizen returned to Costa Rica in February 2003 to find his lawyers living in his Pacific coast villa. They had taken all his possessions and burned them to complete the takeover.

A criminal court case ensued, and the lawyers won. They got away with transferring millions of dollars in real estate to different companies to cover their tracks of plunder.

The shysters had so much audacity they offered the U.S. citizen a mere pittance to drop his case during the proceedings because they said they had buyers for his property and if he did not accept he would get nothing in the end.

They were correct. He did not accept the absurd offer and now has nothing to show for his investment in Costa Rica.

How is this possible? How did the lawyers win?

This scenario was possible because The U.S. citizen made the same mistake many newcomers and old-timers make. They let lawyers put strangers on all the company paperwork that holds their property.

In many cases, people come to Costa Rica and buy a company from a legal professional where the attorney assigns his or her office staff to the important board of director positions. The law office’s gardener could be the president, the maid is the secretary, and the messenger is the treasurer. Any one of them or all of them could hold a full power of attorney.

People do this for a variety of reasons. Here are two that top the list: The legal professional talks them into this kind of arrangement because it expedites their work or they have ulterior motives. Or the client is trying to hide assets from their home country’s tax authorities, wife, judges, or for other reasons.

The lawyers won because the law gave them the right to transfer the property using the full power of attorney they had in the company holding the property.

Most companies formed in Costa Rica give full power of attorney to the president and sometimes to the secretary and the treasurer. Usually the power is not restricted in any way and is for use individually versus jointly with someone else.

Articles 1253, 1254, 1255 and 1256 of Costa Rica’s Civil Code regulate powers of attorney. Mandate is another word used for a power of attorney, defined as a document giving an official instruction or command.

In the case of the U.S. citizen, his property was in a company that he bought from one attorney who used his office staff as the officers. Later, the man picked up the company from the attorney and gave it to another who put his office staff in control.

The new group devised and executed the transfer of the U.S. citizen’s properties without his permission. The motive was money. Millions.

Someone other than the U.S. citizen was in control of his assets. He never had control over them, even though he was always under the impression, he was in control. He had no stock certificates or company books or any other documents to show he was involved in the firm.

The professionals the U.S. citizen trusted took advantage of him. They turned out to be nothing but sharks.

A.M. Costa Rica not going to name anyone in this case because the lawyers would certainly sue even though the case is fully documented in the courts.

As property values skyrocket in Costa Rica, corruption has spiraled out of control as well. The glitter of gold is changing this once simple paradise.


IRS in Costa Rica

IRS Winning friends among local bank officials!
The sign of things to come: Banco Cuscatlan now requires citizens or resident aliens of the United States to fill out a W9 form for personal accounts at the firm’s banks in Costa Rica.

Why?  Because Citigroup bought Grupo Cuscatlan from Corporación UBC Internacional S.A. for $1.51 billion in cash and stock. Grupo Cuscatlan has operations in El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras and Panamá.

Most United States citizens are familiar with a W9 form.  It is an Internal Revenue Service form used to obtain a person’s taxpayer identification number.   In the case of individuals, the identification is the Social Security number.

The purpose of the form is to acquire information from taxpayers for the United States government’s tax collection efforts.  A web version of the form that can be filled out online and printed can be found HERE!

The bank is also requiring account holders to sign a form that states the following:

“The undersigned hereby authorizes Banco Cuscatlan de Costa Rica, S.A. to report, on an annual basis, the information on the account holder and his or her account(s) and any interest earned on such product(s) or account(s) held in Banco Cuscatlan de Costa Rica S.A. to the United States Internal Revenue Service and to withhold any United States tax.”

This is just another scary story of the transparency phantom stalking bank information.

Recently, an expat sold his home in Costa Rica.  He almost put the proceeds of the sale in his Cuscatlan personal account.  There is no capital gains tax in Costa Rica but there is in the United States.  In theory, the bank could withhold money and send it to the United States government as backup withholding to cover taxes due.

If United States expats do not fill out the form, their personal accounts can be closed and/or the bank can withhold as much as 30 percent of any moneys in the accounts.  The deadline for compliance is the end of this January.

Many expats believe their money in Costa Rica is safe from their home country’s tax authorities.  Some countries do not required the payment of taxes on holdings or gains from investments in Costa Rica.  The United States does.  No matter where a United States citizen goes, he or she owes taxes on the money he or she makes on investments.

Many expats from the United States try to hide their gains here by using companies to hold assets.

Some go as far as to use Costa Ricans to hold their stock to hide their profits.  Those that do
have no control over their assets, and some take a beating from white-collar thieves.

This kind of reporting to the United States is just the start.   Cuscatlan is just taking the lead because it is a United States banking institution. GE Consumer Finance purchased 49.99 peercent of BAC San José in May 2005, and since that purchase, the bank has scrutinize accounts very closely.  The bank continues to close many questionable accounts held by expats before the purchase.

HSBC recently purchased Banex.  HSBC Bank USA has close ties with the Costa Rican subsidiary and probably will be requiring the same forms as Cuscatlan very soon.

All these facts mean the accounts once used by expats to hide money in Costa Rica are almost gone.  Most banks, even the ones not mentioned here now, require any new customer to fill out a form or sign an agreement that permits the bank to give information about the account and the account holders to any authority, including the U. S. Internal Revenue Service.

The best practice when living and investing in Costa Rica is to be on the up and up with all ones business dealings.  This includes paying one’s taxes to Costa Rica and the home country.  It makes for a better nights sleep.

By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica


Deposit Needed

World Pet Travel/Guardian Angels CR and many other pet transporters have encountered problems recently with people contacting us and asking for help with their international moves for their pets.

Just this week Frank and Susana Wheeler from London England, new to Costa Rica, refused to pay for the services that they requested that I have been working on for months in preparation of their pets and their relocation arrangements for housing which they requested me to find them temporary and permanent housing. Since these cats originated in Spain then went onto London and were on their way to Costa Rica there was quite a bit of time and effort put into this move.

Prior to the Wheelers, John and Mary Harding of Phoenix Arizona needed help getting their 13 cats to Costa Rica. After making all of the necessary arrangements with the airlines and customs, the Hardings decided that they did not want to pay WPT for their time or expenses. They would pay for the airline expense but that was it. This has happened 3 times this week and we have been out hundreds of dollars in international phone calls and other expenses involved and will not be reimbursed by these dishonest and cheating people.

For years we have done this at no charge to our client and have never had a problem with our clients following through on their obligation or proceeding with their moves.

As of late, many professional pet transporters including World Pet Travel/Guardian Angels CR have had a problem with people not following through on their move after we and other agents have gone through all the motions setting up the move.

Setting up an international move requires a lot of time, phone calls and contacts with agents and veterinarians in the destination country as well as the departure country. Often times we spend a minimum of 2-3 days pulling everything together for the move with the help of the airlines, other agents and brokers in the country of destination.

After we have made all of the necessary arrangements for this move, including setting up airline reservations and customs arrival requirements, many people have backed out of their obligation to make the move with our company and others. This seems to be a problem across the board with professional pet transporters that work together to insure the safest and most stress-free trip for your pet. If you read our blog, you know that we have been doing this successfully with 100’s of happy clients and 4 legged friends.

Because of this, we will be requiring a deposit from this point forward (February 1, 2008) to work up international moving arrangements for each pet.

World Pet Travel/Guardian Angels CR now requests a deposit of $50.00 per pet to move forward with making the necessary arrangements for your international move.

We are very sorry that it has come to this but at this point, we see no other way to be reimbursed for our expenses when someone backs out of their move at the last minute.

This fee will be credited to your move if you complete your move with us. If you back out at the last minute, your deposit will not be refunded.

Please note pet transportation when handled by a professional pet transporter is tax deductible.


Exclusive listings

Let the seller beware!!! Do NOT EVERY list your property for sale with a Realtor under an exclusive listing. There is no MLS system in Costa Rica contrary to what your Realtor may try to tell you there is not and never has been. Some Realtors work together and combine their listing but that is the extent of it.

One of my clients leaving Costa Rica got totally screwed by a Real Estate Company that knew no one lists their properties as exclusive but yet locked them into a years contract so that he is the only one that can show their property. This limits the exposure to their property to only those that come to him for property and that is not a lot of people as he is not very well known in Costa Rica.

This is wrong wrong wrong and my client is suffering because of it. These people want to return to the states after being in Costa Rica for only a few years and everything that could go wrong is going wrong.

It is not right for a Realtor to take advantage of the ignorance of North Americans that are used to Exclusive listings thinking that they will be put on the MLS and their property will sell quickly.

This is a beautiful property up in the mountains with lots of land and surrounded by national forest. It is the perfect property for someone that is looking for peace and tranquility and away from the hustle and bustle of the city. This family has done a lot of remodeling of the property bringing it up to US standard with all new GE Profile stainless appliances.

If you know anyone looking for a property like this email me and I will make arrangements for you to view their beautiful property.


Marijuana in Costa Rica

A picture is sometimes worth a thousand words.  This sign was posted in a restaurant in Limon.  And for those of you that don’t speak Spanish, it basically says, “No smoking Marijuana in this establishment”  I can think of a few dozen other places that could use a sign like this.
Maybe I should start a side business making signs for shop owners to post in their stores and restaurants.  Good business idea for those of you looking for a real job.


Pet transportation No No’s

Beware of bad information in books and on websites as it is abundant. There are several people in Costa Rica that will give you out of date or incorrect information about all sorts of things related to your move to Costa Rica.

One example is ARCR, if you are a member, you are paying them for the information that you get from them but if you are bringing pets into Costa Rica they have all of their information wrong. They charge you for documentation that you do not need and give you a list of useless information.

Since I have been moving pets for many years and have been a member of the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association for some time now, I get very upset at entities giving out bad information especially when it comes to pets because this poor information can affect their livelihood and cause unnecessary stress on the family.

I have recently read in 2 books from well known authors that have listed incorrect information. This can not only be misleading, it can be downright dangerous to your pets.

Some of the wrong things that are being written are corrected below:

You can NOT take a pet in your purse in the cabin with you on ANY airplane.

You do NOT need ANY documents authenticated or certified by the Costa Rican Consulate.

You do NOT need an import permit for dogs or cats.

At the present time, you can not bring birds into Costa Rica as the rules have changed in the last year making it impossible to meet the requirements of the MAG and the MINAE.

A rabies vaccine must be OVER 30 days and less than one year old.

Your regular veterinarians health certificate is not adequate for entering Costa Rica.

You MUST have an APHIS form 7001 issued by the United States Department of Agriculture in the state where you live.

I get angry when people have been told a list of lies in order to collect money from them. When you join a group like ARCR only to be left to your own devises when they don’t return emails or phone calls and a family is trying to get the right information for their pets. Or when someone takes what they read in a book as being fact when the author is not an expert in all areas and particularly not in the moving of pets.

Animals are my first love and I do everything that I can to protect them and insure a safe and trouble-free trip for them to Costa Rica and leaving Costa Rica as well.

There is not a lot of information out there about how to get your pets out of Costa Rica and thank goodness for that because the rules of each country vary greatly. Some countries you can not send your pets directly from Costa Rica.

Some countries require tests that take 3 months to acquire, particularly anywhere in Europe.

You can not move pets to Australia or New Zealand without first going through quarantine in another intermediary country.

There are so many ins and outs to moving your pets. It’s just not as easy as calling the airlines and sticking them on a plane. You should really have someone that knows customs and import and export requirements.

I have heard from customs agents of people coming to Costa Rica without the proper documentation. It has taken a day to 3-5 days of them sitting in the customs warehouse in their kennels to get them cleared. If they can’t be cleared, they are put in quarantine.

As mentioned in an earlier blog entry, a veterinarian in Costa Rica that claimed that he knew how to get animals into Europe sent them with only a health certificate from Costa Rica which is completely unacceptable. These pets were returned to Costa Rica at the owners expense. They contacted our office and we got the EU Certificate completed along with the rabies titres and they eventually made their way back to Europe.

If you need accurate and up to date information on what is necessary to get your pets in or out of Costa Rica, contact IPATA (International Pet and Animal Transportation Association) from anywhere in the world. They have members all over the world that often work together with other members to insure a safe trip for your pets. It can be expensive, but not as expensive as having your animals shipped back to their country of origin because things were not done correctly.
Go to and on the left side of the screen there is an option for find a pet shipper. You can put in the country you are leaving from or the state if coming from the US. Since we are the only members in Costa Rica, we will help you on this end to insure that your pets are only in customs for a couple of hours rather than several days.

With the agent that you are working with in your home country and our office coordinating our efforts, we can insure that you will have all of the proper documentation, then forward that onto us so that we can pre-clear your pets.

Now you know from my previous posts that I do not talk ill of other people or companies but when my client called me crying because they couldn’t get hold of ARCR after paying their membership fee. They were only days away from flying down and they didn’t have any of the documentation that they needed. I get angry and want to warn other people not to put themselves in the same position.

We had to hustle to get everything together but they made it down with their 3 dogs after seeking help from myself and an agent in San Francisco.

If your considering a move in or out of Costa Rica and you have pets, please contact myself or another IPATA agent.



Over the last several weeks there have been several people, mostly Americans that have been deported for living and working in Costa Rica illegally.

The most recent was a woman working in Guanacaste as a realtor living here under a tourist visa.  She was kicked out of Costa Rica and will not be allowed to return for 10 years.  It is my understanding that she was here for several years working in Real estate illegally.

You can NOT work in Costa Rica under a tourist visa.  This is illegal and if caught, you will be deported.

Another pensinado who had been living her for 2 years with legal residency was caught by immigration working in a local hotel during one of the raids that have become more frequent over the last year.  Although this man was living in the country under pensinado status (legal residency) he was working illegally as you are not permitted to work under rentista status or pensinado status.  He was given 48 hours to appeal his case but ended up being deported.  He has a home here in Costa Rica and has established a life for himself here but because he was working illegally, he was deported and will not be permitted to return to Costa Rica for 10 years.

Immigration is coming down hard on those that are living outside of the law.  Do not put yourself in the position to loose all that you have invested in while living here because it can all be lost in a minute if immigration finds that you are breaking the law.  They take this very seriously and where once you could live here as a perpetual tourist for years and work wherever you wanted, that just is not the case anymore.

I read of at least one deportation a week in one of the local papers and I am certain that not all are being reported in the newspapers.

If you don’t know what it takes to live here legally, read more on our blog under residency or living in Costa Rica.  You can write or call for more information as it relates to you.


Domestic violence swindling

There have been several articles on Costa Rican women taking advantage of the Domestic Violence laws lately.  Below is another article from AM Costa Rica.  I have met some of these men myself and it is very sad when they fall head over heals for someone only to be kicked out of their own house when they haven’t even done anything.  Read more below.
By Garland M. Baker Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Women are kicking their mates out of the house in record numbers in Costa Rica. Some of them are enjoying it and using the law designed to protect women against domestic violence to swindle expats. Many expats come to Costa Rica in search of a relationship and end up shooting themselves in the foot by making bad choices. Police in Heredia say women are abusing Law 8589 Article 7. The article states, “In order to protect the victims, they will be able to request, from the start of the complaint, the protective measures contemplated in the law against domestic violence, as well as the necessary precautionary measures foreseen in the penal code of procedure.”

Yes, an expat male — or any male in Costa Rica for that matter — can be tossed out of his own home by his wife or girlfriend by merely having a complaint filed against him by the woman if she says he was being abusive. Abusive, as it stands today, can mean anything, including just raising one’s voice.

Two weeks ago a woman put her expat boyfriend in jail all night when he raised his voice to her adult son — he is over 18 years of age — for popping bubble pack and painting satanic symbols on the wall. The son, who has tested positive for drugs in the past, became vocally abusive, so the expat called 911. When the police arrived, the girlfriend and her son asked the police to take the expat to jail. Officers did so without question. The woman also said that he struggled with the son and bumped into her.

The man who was jailed is the legal owner of the home. The girlfriend took a coat to the expat that night because it was very cold in Heredia. Either she had a guilty conscience or she was looking for information. While at the jail, she spoke with the police, and they gave her pointers on what she should file with the judge the next morning in court. In the morning, the police escorted the tired man from his jail cell to the court. He was lucky, he had a cell phone, and the police let him use it in the patrol car. He called an attorney who met him at court.

The judge told the man that the police would take him to his own house where he could pack two suitcases of essentials but that he had to vacate his home immediately. A police officer escorted the expat and his attorney into the house. While the retired man gathered his belongings, the police officer told the attorney that throwing men — mostly foreign men — out of their homes in Heredia was their daily routine. He said they use to chase robbers and other bad people, but now they were bored because mostly they just deal with domestic violence cases. The police officer further said: “Women in Costa Rica are taking advantage of this new law. They throw out their boyfriend and then steal their things and leave.”

Other women do not leave. They start court cases against expats for damages or palimony to wear them down to get a payoff. The lucky ones get off with the women taking a few TV sets and the women kicking Get out of the house! home computers. At least in these cases the expat can move back into his house. When the girlfriend does not leave the home, expats have a serious problem. They have to file other court cases to get the unwanted tenant out of their house. These processes can take months to years.

Usually, domestic violence injunctions — called medidas here — are for six months. Normally, a judge will not rescind a medida, and the frustrating part is that no one takes an accused man seriously. In most cases, the medidas expire before a judge ever makes a decision. In this case, that of the expat put in jail and thrown out of his house, the man is staying in a hotel. The girlfriend and her son used the words, “my husband” and “my stepdad” in their court complaint. But, in fact, they have no legal relationship with the man. This case looks like it is going to be a long one. The expat feels frustrated and helpless. He may just pack up and leave Costa Rica. Women taking advantage of the law for their personal gain overshadows the reason the laws were passed in the first place.

Many women and some men have died because of domestic violence situations. Some 25 to 30 women die a year on average. There are around 30,000 domestic violence complaints filed a year. A University of Costa Rica study said 58 percent of women interviewed in a survey experienced some kind of physical or sexual violence in the past 16 years. However, there are no firm statistics on how often women use the new laws to end a relationship and take the possessions a man must leave behind. The law, of course, only protects women. A man cannot use this law to get an abusive woman from the home.