Marriage and family law blindsides unwary expats

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

Shooting oneself in the foot is a common practice in Costa Rica.  Eye candy overwhelms some expats — men and women alike — into making bad decisions that affect their lives forever.

Many men and some women come to Costa Rica in search for love.  They come here because they could not find love at home.

Others come to the country just for the sexual adventure.  Costa Rica is considered one of the top sex tourism destinations of the world.  Amazingly, the current president admitted this fact in a news conference recently. Many past presidents have ignored the reality.

Problems arise for an expat when he or she meets the wrong mate.   Usually this happens because the expat is looking for love in all the wrong places.    Local men and women are everywhere, and they come in all varieties — straight, gay, and bisexual — looking to latch onto a foreigner.

Some of them really want to make a good wife, husband or mate.  Many of them just see dollar signs and a way to make extra money for bad habits like drugs or for their umpteen kids at home.

Professional lovers — prostitution is legal in Costa Rica, pimping is not — are great actors.   Their profession depends on it.  Expats tend to be very bad at seeing through a good show and fall in love easily.   Scientists say that sex hormones are powerful chemical messengers and can cloud people’s minds.

The fact is that many expats get taken to the cleaners here because they are not careful in their amorous relationships and because they do not know the law.

Lucky ones may get a wallet or a purse stolen in a hotel room. The not so lucky ones lose a lot more. Here is a true story:

A North American met a young women downtown in a popular place where many expat men go to look for various types of love.  He was smitten quickly and fell head over heels for her.  In a week, the North American bought his girlfriend a house, a car and a lot of furniture for the house.  He was not a rich man, so he pretty much invested everything he had into this relationship.

A month or so past, and the North American was at the new home when a truck drove up.  Men got out of the truck and started to load the furniture onto the truck.  The North American did not speak Spanish, so he did not know what was going on.  He tried to call the police. They answered, and someone on the other line in broken English told him police knew all about the situation.

The girlfriend had decided to pick up her furniture and move out.  She took the car too. Local officials assumed that the furniture and car were in her name.

In another situation, police booted a man out of his house in his skivvies because his girlfriend filed trumped up domestic violence charges against him.  In the current legal climate of Costa Rica, domestic violence cases are virtually impossible for a man to fight, and any court hearing can be months away.

Here is the crux.  Some expats do their due diligence when buying property because it is a big investment, but they do not do so in an affair of the heart.   However, expats should do their homework in an “affaire d’amour” because this is a big investment too.     shooting oneself in the foot

Here are some interesting facts:

If a man gets married in Costa Rica and his wife then has a child outside the marriage, the child automatically assumes the surname of the man.  Even with DNA testing this situation is almost impossible to reverse. And if the marriage breaks up, the man must continue to pay child support.

When getting married in Costa Rica, some expats fail to realize they are not marrying one person but an entire family.

In any marriage, one must stay married for at least three years before applying for a divorce.

Costa Rica’s family and domestic violence laws are tough and one-sided, on the side of women.   A man going in front of a judge in family court is damned from the outset.

But sometimes expat women have problems, too. A wealthy North American women decided to get a divorce from her Costa Rican husband. The husband successfully prevailed on a judge to award him substantial alimony so he could continue to live in a wealthy lifestyle after the divorce.

If an expat who is paying alimony and/or child support wants to leave the county, he or she must deposit 13 months of payments. Otherwise the expat will find an impedimento de salida, a judicial order, at the airport prohibiting him or her from getting on a flight.

Article 37 and 39 of the family code covers prenuptial agreements.  These types of legal understandings are usually made before a marriage, but it is possible to make them or modify them during a marriage.

Marrying a Tico or a Tica does not help the foreigner to get a visa to the United States unless the couple plans to live there. And even then the paperwork is a chore.

When looking for a mate, it is possible to meet the wrong one anywhere in the world.  However, when looking for love in a country known to be a sex tourism destination extra scrutiny is advised.


Animals for sale

It has been a pet peeve of mine for some time how people stand on the side of the road near the rotunda a Multiplaza in Escazu selling their puppies that are sick or too young to be away from their mother.

Disease is rampant and these puppies if you buy one, you are for sure in store for some major vet bills.  Most puppies (if any) have not been vaccinated for regular puppy inoculations which are necessary to prevent parvo virus (a deadly disease) or distemper.

The prices are better than that you will find in a pet store, however, when you add together all the money you are going to spend at the vet, your going to be spending more than you would if you bought one from a reputable vet or well respected pet store.  You can also be certain by buying from a good vet or pet store that your puppy has received the necessary vaccinations.

There was a raid recently on this area of Escazu and this happens every so often to the chagrin of the pet owners. The puppies were confiscated and taken to the vet to be treated and vaccinated.

Don’t make the mistake of buying a puppy from someone off the street.  There are so many puppy mills in Costa Rica in worse condition than those that make the news in the US.

There are several reputable breeders and veterinarians in Costa Rica that can help you find the right pet for you.  Cats too.



I purchased a gun a few months ago when John was traveling a lot.  Not that I really needed one but coming from Texas it just seems natural for me to have a gun in the house.  Him being from Connecticut he was anti-gun until he was away from home and even then not so tickled about it.

If you have a corporation getting a gun is quite a bit easier than it should be. If you don’t buy it under the name of a corporation it can be a little more difficult.

To buy under a corporation you need a personeria de juridica, cedula for the company, copy of your passport (certified by an attorney) or copy of your cedula (certified by an attorney).  The gun shop will tell you if I have left anything out.

The main thing is that you don’t have to be tested or do psycological testing as you would if you try to get it in your own name.

For more information check with your gun shop.  They are very helpful (of course they are, they want to sell you a gun) and will tell you how to register the gun if they don’t do it for you which is a must do.


Gas prices to Increase in Costa Rica

Drivers in Costa Rica will soon be paying about 5.4% more at the pump thanks to price increases approved Friday by the Public Services Regulatory Authority (ARESEP).

At the request of the National Oil Refinery (RECOPE), the regulatory authority analyzed requests for price increases and approved hikes of 5.4% for super gas, 5.8% for regular gas, 8.2% for diesel and 2.3% for kerosene.

The price of one liter of super gas will increase from ¢588 ($1.13) to ¢620 ($1.19), while one liter of regular gas will jump from ¢522 ($1) to ¢584 ($1.12). Diesel gas will increase from ¢392 ($0.75) per liter to ¢424 ($0.82), and kerosene will cost ¢436 ($0.84), up from ¢426 ($0.82). Finally, airplane fuel will increase from ¢645 ($1.24) to ¢698 ($1.34), according to a statement from ARESEP.

RECOPE cited the increasing cost of fuels on the international market and increasing operating costs as reasons it requested the price hikes.

These new prices will go into effect as soon as they are published in the official government daily La Gaceta.

Tico Times


Visa for the US

We recently tried to get a tourist visa for our maid to go to the United States for a visit. After waiting in line for 5 hours, she was denied the visa along with several other people waiting in line for same.

You must prove that you have ties and a reason to come back to Costa Rica. Now Lourdes has 1 child and 4 others that she has guardianship for as well as a bank account, a car and a house and a job of 2 years with us but apparantly that was not enough. She has been a permanent resident of Costa Rica for over 20 years although she is from Nicaragua and that seemed to be the deciding factor. That she is from Nicaragua but living in Costa Rica.

I have seen people get visas with less ties than she has so it was a shocker to me that they would not grant her the visa.

During this trip I saw a woman that was engaged to a North American that has a good job in Costa Rica and bank accounts and other ties that could not get a visa. The agent suggested that she apply again when she was married and maybe then they would grant her a visa.

So if your thinking of coming to Costa Rica and marrying a Tica/Tico then returning to the US with them, it may not happen. I was surprised at how many people were denied that seemed to have all of their ducks in a row.


It is so inconvenient!

I have heard this more times than I can remember.  Living in Costa Rica does not have the conveniences that you find in the States.  There are no Walmart’s, Target’s or Home Depot’s.  If you live outside of the valley in the beach areas you have to drive into the valley to do most of your shopping.

Everything takes longer and is more difficult when you first get here.  You can’t just open the yellow pages and find a mechanic or plumber.  You have to talk to people and get references and referrals.  You need someone to help you through the hurdles because believe me when I say there will be some mountains to climb and without help it can seem impossible at times.

You don’t get your phone turned on in a day or cable hooked up in two.  These type of services take weeks to get connected and it can make you crazy when your used to everything happening when you snap your fingers.  Costa Rican’s don’t know what snapping your fingers mean unless your doing it to the beat of music so be prepared.

Even getting your drivers license can be an all day affair if you don’t pick the right day to go.  I went to the MOPT twice this week and the first day we were done in a little over an hour and a half.  The very next day I went again (early) with another client and in that same hour and a half we couldn’t even get through the main door because the line was so long.  Had he chosen to stay, we would have been there 5-6 hours at the very least.  This man came in from Guanacaste by plane just to get his license but didn’t want to wait all day as he had a plane to catch to get back. This is inconvenient!  Now he has to come back to try it again.

I love living in Costa Rica and have gotten used to the slow pace where I don’t know if I could ever get used to the rat race again.  But when you first get here, waiting on everything or looking for the things that you need can be maddening.


Gas Prices

Gas prices have reached an all time high in Costa Rica and it is going up again next week. Since you buy gas in liters here and your odometer is in kilometers it is difficult for some of us to do the conversion to actually find out what we are paying for gas by the gallon and harder to find out how many miles you get to a gallon.

Yesterday when we were sitting in the drive through at the bank I noticed a man pushing his car through the line. I thought, poor guy, his car must have broken down. But then behind him came a second man doing the same thing. I was told that Tico’s do this to conserve gasoline. Now I can’t imagine how much they can possibly save doing this but I guess if you do it enough every little bit adds up.

I also while sitting in line did the computations and was horrified to find that I am paying almost $5.00 a gallon for gasoline. That is FIVE DOLLARS per gallon. My car uses diesel so we get a little break on the price but it is still over $4.00 per gallon.

The next time you go to the gas station in the states and complain about how much gasoline prices have gone up, remember us down here in Costa Rica higher prices than what you are paying and on 1/3 of the salary that you are making in the US.



YUK! They are everywhere. Apparantly when the dry season ends and the rainy season begins garrapatas (ticks) come out in record numbers. I have never seen so many ticks in one place. We have treated the animals with everything available and they still are crawling off the dogs and onto the furniture/floor. Our cats have actually picked them up as well and they never go outside. We have sprayed and fumigated until we are blue in the face and they still keep coming.

After much investigation we have found someone that specializes in garrapatas removal that is coming in with some kind of special spray. Hopefully this will do the trick.

We have never had a tick problem like this anywhere in the states or in Costa Rica. Our neighbors brought in a bunch of cows a few months ago and we have to believe that they are contributing to the problem but we can’t spray them.

I’m telling you that frontline, advantex, ivomectrin nothing is working so far so we are praying that the special garrapata guy can do the trick.

You can’t buy the stuff off the counter here that you can in the states. Everything is very mild and watered down as you have to have special permits to bring in poison and apparantly not many people have those permits. If you could these would have been gone a long time ago.

I’ll let you know if we are able to cure this problem with the special guy coming in on Wednesday. Hopefully we will see immediate results


Black outs

We have just had 3 days of what they are calling rolling black outs.  I’m not sure if it is over yet as they have said it could go on for 3-4 days and in Costa Rica, that could mean a week.

Thursday the entire country was blacked out, that is all of Costa Rica was in the dark for several hours.  From where we live you can see 3 of the provinces, San Jose, Heredia and Alajuela and all 3 were pitch black with the exception of a couple of places like the airport that had back up generators.  It was kinda creepy to look out onto the valley that was covered in darkness.

It’s amazing how early you will go to bed when you have nothing to do, nothing to keep you entertained. We tried a couple of times playing cards in the dark by candle light and that didn’t work real well so we gave it up for making paper fans.  That and making hand shadows by candle light was enough to keep the boys going last night until the lights came back on an hour or so later.  We were just getting to the story telling section of our night when the lights came back on.  Ronan, my youngest actually wanted to turn the lights back off and continue the story telling as it was his turn and he had a big adventure he wanted to share with the rest of us.

ICE (eee-say) really hasn’t offered up a good explanation for why all of the black outs.  I’m waiting on the paper tomorrow to see if they have come up with a reason for all the outages.  We thought on Thursday night it was some kind of stike against Cafta but I think it is far more complicated than that.  For something to bring down the whole country (the size of Vermont) it had to be something very serious.  Now they are shutting down sections at a time trying to repair whatever problem we have.

So we keep the candles and flashlights close by for the night, and during the day spend the time in the pool and find other ways to keep ourselves occupied until this passes.  Life could be so much worse.  Even without power, this is a picnic compared to the problems that some have.  We have candles and we have flashlights and we have our health and we are living in a beautiful country.  How much better can life get?  I mean really, is it so bad that we have to go without power for a few hours?



Traffic is SOOOOO bad coming or going to the beach this weekend.  90% of the Central Valley is heading to the beach for the weekend.  Cars were bumper to bumper heading out of the city on Thursday and will be even worse coming back on Monday.  Buses aren’t running so cars are the only means of transportation to the beach and just about everyone that has a car is heading for the beach.

We were at the airport yesterday around noon and saw the masses leaving San Jose in the opposite lane.  I would guess that the 1 1/2 hour trip is going to take 4-6 hours and that is if there are no accidents.

Coming home on Sunday is going to be worse.  During these holidays, I have been told that it can take up to 8 hours to get back from from the beach.  Guanacaste is normally 4-5 hours away without traffic.  I would say 8 hours is a minimum for getting back on Sunday.

At least people really can’t drive like maniacs like they normally do since it is such heavy traffic.

This is why we don’t go to the beach during the holidays.