If it wasn’t for the European Union and President Obama this would be Paradise.


The European Union has been poking its nose into Caribbean and Central America for some time now.
It has built itself offices in Barbados: top of the range 4x4s are parked outside the best restaurants in Nicaragua, and it has been advising Costa Rica on:

A. A grand plan to zone the Gran Area Metropolitana – the capital and its major suburbs.
Result? Vast amount of money spent and no plan forthcoming.
Just what might be expected of the EU.


B ….more successfully…how to raise taxes.
Also what might be expected of the EU.

The Costa Rican government are eager to follow the advise of the experts on how the twisting of balls will miraculously result in blood gushing from stones and tried eagerly to bring in VAT – that most iniquitous tax – until the Constitutional Court stopped their gallop on the grounds of technical failures in the passage of the appropriate law.

As an alternative, the government brought in a luxury tax…thus making it even more difficult for poorer people to vary their diet.
Since when has an aubergine been a luxury?
Answer…when you buy it in a supermarket catering to the high end trade which obeys the law.
If you buy it from the chap on the market he has as little interest in collecting the tax as you have in paying it.
Olive oil is also a luxury…but the chap on the market doesn’t sell that, so people are stuck with palm oil and its by products.

Another bright idea from the EU was to give local authorities a sound tax base from the rates on property, and experts were seconded to help in this laudable effort.
What seems to have resulted is that ‘technicians’ have clicked on to Google Earth, have calculated the extent of your roof space and whopped on a tax according to their measurements.
Up to you to argue the toss…and if you haven’t argued by the due date there’s no appeal.
Except you didn’t know what would be charged until you went to argue…..and our local authority has discovered a black hole in its finances following the departure of the last mayor.

The Man from the Ministry would be in attendance at the Municipalidad (local government offices) on Tuesdays and Fridays running up to the deadline and Violetta suggested I go with her for support in case of problems.
We went on a Tuesday. The Muni was shut for a conference.
We went again on the Friday. The Muni was open, so we entered and took our place in the queue.

Now the Muni is housed in a traditional colonial style building with offices round a central courtyard, wide eaves giving shelter from the sun. The door of the appropriate office was open and customer number one was being dealt with.
We were third and fourth in the queue and sat on the chairs provided. As time passed, more people arrived, the supply of chairs ran dry and staff brought out benches.
People began chatting. People produced their papers, comparing same. Problems were perceived.
A member of the local tax staff was raked out of her lair and the perceived problems were explained. At length.

There were members of vast families with incredibly confused documents thanks to the habit of chopping a bit off a holding to give to a son or daughter to build a house and not remembering to get it registered properly….there were cadastral plans which resembled blobs on flypaper….there were people whose property was held in a company who had not supplied themselves with a power of attorney….

The member of staff took a deep breath and began to send people to the appropriate places to get their documents sorted…a vast file took off for the Post Office where copies of powers of attorney could be obtained…others were busy on their mobiles summoning family members whose signatures would be needed and a few were sent in search of their lawyers.

She inspected the remnant. My documents were passed as being adequate, as were those of Violetta and number two in the queue.

Chatting resumed.
I don’t mind waiting in Costa Rica….the chatting is good for my Spanish and the knowledge I pick up of all the infinitesimal trivia which make up the bricks of daily life is invaluable.

The first customer came out and number two rose to enter the office as the Man from the Ministry came out at the charge, heading for the exit.
Given the sheaf of papers clutched by the first customer I wondered whether he had decided to make a permanent bolt for freedom, but the local lady explained that he had gone for a coffee.

After half an hour people were wondering loudly if he had gone to pick the coffee rather than just drink it and when, a little while later, he was seen entering the courtyard, number two shot into the office, ready for action.
But he had headed instead for the loos on the other side of the building.
After some little time Don Hugo went over and kicked the door.
The Man from the Ministry emerged and, drawing breath like a diver about to plunge into the depths, entered the office.

This interview went smoothly and then Violetta and I entered together, neatly blocking his attempt to escape round the corner of his desk.
Resigned, he started the process.

It appeared that the Ministry has designated the base value of land in the canton according to criteria which seemed as much of a blank to him as to us…but since ours were at rock bottom we were not complaining.
So, given that, he moved on to the nature of the property itself.

He pulled up a map showing the contour lines which in both our cases evidently passed muster as hilly…

On to the next…the house itself. He pulled up Google Earth. Our houses appeared as faint blurs. Google Earth had clearly not been doing much updating lately.
Collapse of EU system.

Well, Senoras, said he, let’s just say traditional build, traditional materials….tax as last year and no declarations of value for another three years.

We agreed, signed and left at a smart trot. Mission accomplished.

Another lesson the Costa Rican government has learned from the EU is to cover a rip off by claiming that something which is going to cost you an arm and a leg is for your own security.

So now we are faced with changing our car’s number plate in order to have a ‘secure’ one.
One with a sort of watermarked map on it…one that can’t be duplicated for nefarious purposes. Supposedly.
One that costs an arm and a leg.

Our household operates on a sort of division of labour basis.
If it’s fiscal or legal it’s mine.
If it’s the car it’s his.

So my husband was OIC of Operation Replace Numberplates.

There are two ways of doing this.

A. You go to the National Registry special office in the suburbs of the capital bearing your documents, proof of payment for arm and leg at a bank and your numberplates.
You queue.
Once your papers pass the desk you wait an hour until the new numberplates are handed over.

The Men were going to the San Jose house…not too far from the offices…so I suggested that this would be the best solution.

No, it appeared that it would not. It involved wasting time waiting in the National Registry when much more exciting activities could be undertaken.

So it would be

B. You go to the local post office armed with your documents, proof of payment for arm and leg at a bank and your numberplates.
Once your papers pass the desk you wait six working days for the return of your plates…and in the interim cannot take the car on the road.

Danilo had to change the plates on his motorbike, so The Men decided to make a joint trip to the Post Office.

All went swimmingly…..

Except that the six days had lengthened to twelve….
Except that there would now be two weekends to add on…and the public holiday on May Day and, to add insult to injury, the day on which the President of the U.S.A. arrived in the country for a visit whose purpose eludes me would be a non working day for civil servants in the San Jose area – mostly because they would be unable to get into work for all the security cordons in the centre where offices for four blocks round his destinations will be off limits to their normal occupants.

Given that May Day is a Wednesday and Obama arrives on Friday a fair number won’t see much point in going into work on Thursday…so don’t hold your breath for the twelve working days either…Costa Rican civil servants can make a French ‘pont’ with the best of them.

Normally there would be no great problem.
We can drive up the back road into town…park the car behind the football pitch – a no go zone for the traffic police – and walk up the hill to go shopping or get the bus into the capital.

But there is a complication.
A friend from South Africa is arriving at the airport on what will be working day thirteen.

Fingers crossed!


57 thoughts on “If it wasn’t for the European Union and President Obama this would be Paradise.”

  1. This is exactly how reappraisals are made and property taxes calculated in Wisconsin. I must tell Ann she could move to Costa Rica and not skip a beat.

  2. Thank you for a fascinating, well-written read! Costa Rican administration bears so mamy close resemblences to the French way of doing things, and the old “pont” is a corker. Here they have managed a five day “bridge”, which I have come to term a “viaduct”.

    1. It’s the legacy of Napoleon….Costa Rica being a Spanish colony inherited all the control freak lunacy of the Napoleonic system imposed on Spain during the brief reign of his brother Joseph…

    1. Totally mad. All they had to do was to make the receipt proof of possession…but two ministries can’t get their act together to do that.
      Out in the sticks no one will be bothering of course, but it will be a field day for the traffic police on the main roads.

  3. There seems to be no nook or cranny left anywhere safe from the tentacles of greed and exploitation. It’s rather depressing, isn’t it? Click click …….

    1. Government greed here might be its downfall…people will put up with a fair bit of inconvenience but there is a lot of very loud discontent being expressed and committees being formed to formulate action….

  4. I’ve just gone off moving to Costa Streaker. Didn’t realise the French took a pont/puente too. In fact perhaps everywhere except the UK does?

    Your division of tasks sounds like ours. Me: paperwork, bookwork, money. Him: anything remotely practical and getting work as I am too useless to employ. Vehicle: Joint. I sit there with the manual while he does the repairs under instruction from la jefa. He gets the MOT and the permit for being able to use loading bays for commercial use – but I have to do the paperwork.

    Our catastral value was revised a few years ago. Currently paying something under 300€. Better than UK rates though which were £1000 more than ten years ago.

    Do remind me again why it was preferable to wait six days [insert hollow laughter] from the PO rather than an hour at the NR?

  5. It would be hilarious, if it wasn’t. Sometimes when I’m reading your posts about such craziness I think it’s the way that you tell it. Then I think of the number of times you have described the lunacy, and the hours I, too, have spent in post office queues and at the Carcassonne Prefecture, trying to rise above it all pretending it’s fine, and just part of the way things are done round here. You are right, complete chaotic lunacy.
    Who do you think has the better deal..you or the man, fiscal/legal v the car? On one hand it seems he has it easy……..but when car stuff needs doing, it usually needs doing now. I do hope you manage the airport trip on day 13. Jx

    1. I don’t mind waiting if I get a result.
      So far here, I have not been passed from office to office as they used to try to do in France…so that’s a plus….and the civil servants have been helpful – once you prevent them escaping from their office.
      But neither country could organise a celebration in a brewery nor run a whelk stall.
      I should have reclassified the number plates as fiscal and gone to the National Registry myself…won’t make that mistake twice…and for mechanical he has the Cuban up the road for electrical problems and the wonder worker of Cartago for mechanical stuff, so not so bad.
      Mark you, the MOT is coming up soon….

  6. Fabulous Helen! Love your storytelling of daily life. Reassuring that we are not alone in the world, in the bureaucratic nightmares we face daily in France. Bureaucratic idiosyncrasies exist worldwide to make all our lives difficult. You’re right, if they would only leave us alone to sort these things out ourselves, life would be a paradise. Small triumph recently though. Wrote to F. Holland last August about the downright incompetence of RSI (as a small business we are obliged to pay into this fund for retirement & health) & the constant cock ups they have made with our ‘account’ and, from what we hear, the ‘accounts’ of many other small business owners. Received a letter yesterday from the Regional Director of said organisation, apologising (yes, apologising! unheard of in France for bureaucrats to apologise to you!) for cock ups, clearly explaining exactly how they have arrived at their calculations. Wow! I think I love him! Think I love Mr Holland even more….! Big triumph for the small man.

    1. Wow, Lindsay…an apology!
      Are you on Survive France? There are an awful lot of people moaning about RSI there…your story might be an encouragement to them to do the same.
      Gleefully contemplating the Elysee Palace disappearing under a mound of letters of complaint….

  7. After reading that I am going back to bed for an hour.
    That makes the UK DWP appear organised.

  8. The joys of petty bureaucracy! I didn’t think anywhere could beat France (well I’m sure that Italy would give it a run for it’s money), but you’re getting there! Oh dear, a visit from the US President – the whole country will be in lock down mode. It’ll be nice for you to have friends visit from one of my favourite countries (Cape Town is my favourite city in the world) – will they be carrying Marmite with them? If so, then it’s worth breaking any number of rules to pick them up.

    1. As I say, after France it’s a doddle…if you go for the jugular. I should have put my foot down about using the National Registry.

      And as for blasted Obama….comes for two days and paralyses the whole country….and for what? No one seems to know what is on the agenda…he is to be hidden from the public….
      With any luck his armoured limo will fall into a pothole.

      Yes, she will be bearing Marmite – which takes precedence over the laws of man!

  9. It’s starting to sound like you didn’t just travel across the Atlantic but through the looking-glass, Helen. I feel tired just reading about the convolutions. Makes the UK, apart from the weather, look like the place to stay……

  10. LOL! Only men could come up with the bright idea that it is easier[ !!] to go to the Post Office and wait for an eternity for documents to be sent back than to wait for a couple of hours at the relevant office and receive them in hand!

  11. Too right!
    I suppose because I handled all the admin in France it has not dawned upon Certain Persons that you never let any document or legally required item out of your sight.

  12. You sum it up perfectly in your reply to Multifarious Meanderings…I can only guess that Paradise would seem very dull in comparison. Axxx

    1. I’ve just come up for lunch from the pool where I could lie in warm water watching a yellow breasted flycatcher perch alongside, the water hyacinth blooming in the tilapia lagoons, the palms we planted already growing on the windward side, and the papyrus and banana plants framing the whole.

      Just a dull bit of paradise.

  13. I can’t believe that I am only finding out about your new residence over here by sheer chance. If I wasn’t so thick skinned I might be miffed!

    Interesting post Helen, nice to see that you have lost none of your razor sharp edge.

  14. Is nowhere safe from interference by the EU? I’m exhausted reading all this. Hope you manage to do the airport run.

  15. I can’t imagine what they think they are doing, messing about in Central America with the money of European taxpayers….
    If the worst comes to the worst a friend will take us to do the pick up…but it is so unnecessary (grinding teeth).

  16. I think the EU should mind its own business and stick to sorting out the mess it’s got itself into instead of advising others on how to get into exactly the same type of mess.

    Country govs can get into their own messes quite satisfactorily without any help from external busy bodies!

    1. I bet people don’t think their taxes are going to provide top of the range 4x4s for the staff of EU projects in Nicaragua…..as described by one frustrated local activist…

      Before if we wanted to put up a noticeboard with details of local walks, we’d just do it.
      Now we have to submit a request, fulfill all sorts of gender equality requirements, and then wait…by which time the path has gone in a landslip.

  17. Seems to be a full time job merely staying on the right side of the bureaucrats in Costa Rica. I do agree that the last thing they need is anything like the EU. I’m even starting to think myself it’s a bad idea, although thats a slippy path to go down at present.

  18. Ummm….you left France for that? 🙂 Just cracks me up about these countries seeking advice from the EU which can’t seem to hold itself up let alone anybody else. I’m in the process of another fight here which means I’m in the continual process of sending registered letters to a place that is practically next door. Can we talk about it? Mais non! We have to fight it out with registered letters. It’s all so &*#*^& exhausting!

    1. Just wait until they tell you that you may indeed have sent a registered letter but…drumroll…there was nothing in the envelope! (This is when you’re getting close to defeating them.)

      Costa Rica hasn’t reached that point of development yet…..

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