Part I: Will We Return to Nicaragua to Live?


“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Benjamin Franklin, Memoirs of the life & writings of Benjamin Franklin

One day tourism is booming, my local neighborhood friends are buying taxis, expanding hotels, and competing for wealthier tourists who have recently discovered Nicaragua. Literally, the next day tourism is dead, taxis are repossessed, hotels close, and my friends are struggling to make sense of it all.

People ask us all the time if we will return to Nicaragua. Now that Ron is cancer free (after a long, dark winter of treatment), we think we know the answer, but life altering changes happened so quickly that we don’t trust visions of our future anymore.

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Comparing Cost of Living in USA and Nicaragua: It will surprise you!


“Everything costs something.”
Zara Hairston

When we lived in Nicaragua, we occasionally referred to ourselves as economic refugees. We took early retirement and lived off our small teaching pensions. We did everything financial experts advised to prepare for living abroad such as, becoming debt free, having an emergency medical fund, purchasing international health insurance plans, saving money for unexpected emergencies like trips back to the states to help our families, and living within our budget.

Thank goodness we didn’t burn any bridges. We rented our house in the states and kept our stateside bank account and address, which was important in keeping our U.S. credit card.  We were legal residents of Nicaragua and Tennessee and had the best of both worlds.

When the Nicaraguan crisis and Ron’s lumps in his neck made us reconsider moving back to the states, we were concerned about the cost of living after spending more than 10 years abroad with cheap, cheap living and all the comforts of home.

What we learned surprised us!

Most retired expats in Nicaragua will tell you that their main reason for moving abroad was affordability. They said they had a hard time living on a fixed income in their home countries.

But, what they don’t tell you is that everything costs something! It is cheap because there is no quality control, the education system does not prepare employees to be productive and skilled laborers, the infrastructure such as roads, utilities, and internet are pitifully unreliable (and many times unsafe), and most materials and foods imported come with a hefty price tag. In other words, you get what you pay for…and it isn’t much!

So, I made a comparison of the cost of living in Nicaragua and the USA for the month of February. I used eight general categories and color coded them the same in each pie graph.

The monthly cost of living in our home in TN is $1,626.20. The largest slice was miscellaneous, which included paying off our credit card in full each month. We rarely use cash here and pay for almost everything with our credit card. I missed that so much in Nicaragua, because I can always accumulate enough reward points to pay for several airline tickets.

Surprisingly, several items are cheaper in the states, like gasoline for transportation. It is $1.80 per gallon with my grocery store discount card. The package deal for fast internet ( I mean really, really fast…100 mbps) and cable TV is $101.24 a month. I paid much more in Nicaragua for the internet, not including the maintenance of a very tall microwave tower that was always breaking. And…AND…the speed, if we were lucky, was 8 mbps, when the system was working. The internet blinked on and off daily many, many times.

We have a heat pump and several small portable electric room heaters for the winter months. February is usually the most expensive electric bill according to our past usage. In the summer, we have whole house air conditioning and our electricity averages $75. Most of the time we don’t use the air conditioning. We prefer opening the windows and every room has ceiling fans and window fans.

We own our house in TN and are mortgage free. Rents are reasonable in our small town, averaging $871 per month for a 1 bedroom house or apartment. For a single person a monthly cost of living on average is $1,600.

 

In Nicaragua, our monthly expenditures were  $1,341.00 Our cell phones were cheaper… we had two cell phones and only one with unlimited data from  Claro. The data transmitted was only 3g and service was spotty depending on where we were in Nicaragua. In the states, I have 4g and unlimited data with free calls and text in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico with AT&T prepay.

Transportation was more expensive in Nicaragua for two reasons. Gasoline is very expensive and taxis are expensive. Usually, we took a monthly trip to Managua with our taxi driver, Francisco. The cost round trip was $60 and we tipped him $10 and bought him lunch.

Although we had an abundance of fruits on our property, we enjoyed some imported foods like peanut butter, dill pickles, chocolate, and wine, which increased our monthly food expenditures.

Nicaragua is a cash society. We seldom used a credit card. Our miscellaneous fees included propane for cooking, house repairs, and workers.

We still support our goddaughter and my children’s library and librarian, so that has not changed.

 

Overall, the difference in monthly costs is about $300. When the weather warms, our electric will go way down and make up much of the difference. We can reduce our monthly internet/cable TV service by cutting the cable cord. The only reason we have cable TV is so Ron could watch his sports throughout the long winter cancer treatments. We can stream everything we want to watch, so the cable will be cut soon.

Our annual expenses are comparable in some areas, and more expensive in others.

Comparable:

1. International health insurance in Nicaragua and Medicare with Medicare supplemental insurance in the U.S.

2. VPN service for our internet remains the same.

3. Amazon Prime yearly bill is the same, but living in the states we have used it so much more for free shipping and streaming movies.

More expensive:

1. Property taxes $650 yearly in the states vs $60 in Nicaragua.

2. Car insurance is much more in the states. We bought and paid cash for a car when we returned…and we have to have car insurance. In Nicaragua, we had our dune buggy and our motorcycle insured for $75 a year. However, there is no telling what the insurance would have covered if we had an accident in Nicaragua.

In making comparisons, the best decisions we made were to pay off our mortgage in the states and buy our house in Nicaragua. Our house is rented in Nicaragua now. The worst case scenario would be that our house in Nicaragua would be confiscated by the government. If that would happen, because of our wise financial decisions, we would not suffer, nor would our retirement  funds be affected. We are not in any hurry to sell our place, nor do we feel pressure to sell. Although we will probably not return to live in Nicaragua, we have no regrets about financial decisions we have made throughout our lives.

It feels kind of weird to say we aren’t expats any longer. But, we are redefining the term expat. Possibly global citizens would be a better term. I’m in the process of writing a post about that. Stay tuned while we rewire.

 

 

 

Random Rants about My Country of Birth


Random ranting is always good for the soul. It is like a pressure cooker value releasing steam. A good rant is cathartic. Sometimes ranting keeps me sane. And living in Nicaragua as an expat, I have some frustrations about my country of birth. It has been a while since I’ve ranted, and Anita of the blog No Particular Place to Go inspired me with her rant-a thon, so here are a few of my random rants.

U.S. Health Care Rant

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate having Medicare, but we can’t use it abroad! With my first eye surgery in the states, single payer was quick and easy. I paid 20% of the total cost of the doctor, facility, and anesthesiology. When I told my doctor that I needed to fly back to Nicaragua, he said he would have to replace the vitreous in my eye with silicon oil, which necessitates a second eye surgery to remove the oil.

“I am going to see if a doctor in Nicaragua can remove the oil in my eye,” I said to my surgeon. “Good luck with that,” he responded. “I doubt that you will find anyone as competent in Nicaragua as eye surgeons in the states.”

What is it with doctors’ arrogance? Waiting for surgery in the gurney, I watched as a train of gurneys were moved in and out of the operating room. “How many retina surgeries do you do here in a day?” I asked the attending nurse. “Usually 15 per doctor per day,” she said. I quickly calculated that the doctors each made $1750 per surgery X 15 surgeries a day = $26,250 a day!!! That is just the doctor! It doesn’t include the facility or anesthesiology fees.

I made an appointment in Managua at Vivian Pellas Hospital to see a retina specialist. Dr. Juan Rivers gave me a through exam and patiently answered all of my questions. When he said my eye was still extremely swollen, he asked, “Why didn’t the surgeon give you steroid shots to reduce the inflammation before injecting the oil?” I said that the doctor told me oil and water don’t mix, so he couldn’t put steroid shots in my eye. “Well, that is what we do before we inject the oil or gas,” he said kind of irritated. He shook his head and said that I would have to keep the oil in my eye for three months, which could have been avoided if they reduced the swelling first.

Through my tears… in only one eye… I thanked him for his patience and his TLC and scheduled another eye appointment for the end of August. His initial consultation cost $160.89. The surgery to remove the oil and replace my corroded lens will cost $3,000 for everything. Since we have international health insurance, we weighed the cost of airline tickets, a rental car, and at least two weeks of expenses to repair my eye in the states in a train of gurneys vs the cost of surgery with Dr. Juan Carlos Rivers at Vivian Pellas. I opted for a competent, caring doctor in Nicaragua. I can file claims with my international insurance and get some of my money back.

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Lasting Impressions of Cuba


“Anarchy is like custard cooking over a flame; it has to be constantly stirred or it sticks and gets heavy, like government.” ― Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

Anarchism as a social movement in Cuba held much promise for the working class during the 19th and 20th centuries. I won’t go into the sordid details, you can read the history here Anarchism in Cuba.

Yet, what I would like to discuss are my lasting impressions of Cuba. First, Che is everywhere. Forty-five years after the death of Ernesto “Che” Guevara — the Argentine doctor who led the 1959 Cuban Revolution alongside Fidel Castro — his portrait is the most reproduced image in Cuba.

His face appears repeatedly on murals, water tanks, billboards, and even plates, t-shirts, coffee mugs, beach towels, and bikinis. While extraordinarily popular as a figure of revolution where children are taught to see him as a hero from a very young age, his image is used to promote commercialism in Cuba. My impression is that he has become a pattern and a design to sell to tourists, and I think they have gone too far and misrepresented Che. Would you buy a bikini with Che’s face on the butt of a bikini bottom?

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How to Avoid ATM Fees When Living Abroad


“Folks don’t carry money around in their pockets. They’ve got to go to an ATM machine, and they’ve got to pay a few dollars to get their own dollars out of the machine. Who ever thought you’d pay cash to get cash? That’s where we’ve gotten to.”~Bill Janklow

banpro-1Twelve years ago, we had to go to the mainland to take money out of an ATM. The first time we took our neighbor kids to Rivas, the ATM machine impressed them the most. They were amazed at the small cool room, and it really blew them away when money came out of a hole in the machine. When they told their Papa about the miracle they saw in Rivas, he asked us if he could get a card for the money machine, too.

Today, we have at least five ATMs to choose from in Moyogalpa. However, our MasterCard debit card from our bank in the states is only accepted by one bank and one private ATM at the Mega Super grocery store. Recently, our bank sent us new debit cards with the digital chips. Now, the only bank that accepts our chipped debit card is BAC.

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