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.

 

 

 

Review of WEA International Health Insurance


I want to give you a quick update on our WEA International Health Insurance. In 2015, we explored options for Health Insurance coverage in Nicaragua. See my post below:

Part One: Let’s Get Real about Health Insurance in Nicaragua

After much research, we opted for WEA Signature Plan excluding coverage in the United States. See my post below:

Part Two: Let’s Get Real About Expat Health Insurance

We have now completed two years with WEA Signature Plan and are currently renewing for our third year and this is what I have learned.

1. Deductibles
Each year, as we move into a different age bracket, the cost rises, like all health insurance. We counteract the rising cost by increasing our deductible. Our first year, our deductible was $250. Our second year, our deductible was $1,000. This renewal year since we both have moved into a different age bracket, our deductible is $2,500.

Living in Nicaragua, the cost of procedures and hospital care is much less, thus we pay out of pocket for small procedures and apply them to our deductible.

2. Claims
Our second year with WEA ( Nov. 2016-Nov. 2017) was the first time I had to file claims. I had two eye operations at Vivian Pellas Hospital in Managua with a wonderfully competent retina specialist, Dr. Juan Rivers.

After each operation I filed the necessary documents they requested. My first surgery was considered an emergency, so I did not have to be pre-approved. My second surgery, I requested approval and received it before the operation.

Filing the documents was very simple. I took pictures of all the documents provided by Dr. Rivers, including receipts of the costs of the operations. Then, I attached them to an email to the claims department.

I received instant notification that they received my documents and was assured that they would contact me if they needed additional information. So far, so good.

Then, I waited and waited. They say that all claims will be processed within 22 days of receipt. However, that was not the case. I began to worry when we got closer to our renewal date of Nov. 7th because how could we renew and why would we renew if my claims were not approved.

The closer we got to the renewal date, the more I panicked. I sent emails every day to the claims department. Finally, with the help of Robert Tillotson, the Offshore Health Benefits, LTD and my awesome agent, my claims were processed a day before our renewal.

3. Reimbursement

All of my claims were approved and I received almost total reimbursement for everything, except for my initial exam. My exam cost $220, and I was reimbursed for $70 because I had exceeded the maximum benefit for my policy.

My first reimbursement check was sent to my house in the states. All other reimbursement checks are deposited into my bank account.

4. Customer Service

Except for the lateness of my claims, they were efficient, polite, and responsive to my inquiries. If they were not in the office, they responded with an auto message email that said they had received my email. I think the claims department needs  some encouragement to respond to their customer’s requests, but then I had Robert that pushed them into action. Thank you so much Robert!

I know many people interested in getting WEA Signature International Health Insurance asked me about the claims process. Now, I can respond with my assurances that viable and documented claims will be reimbursed, but not with speed! You must keep on top of them.

Overall, I am pleased with their service and grateful to have insurance that can be used in 182 countries, excluding the U.S.

 

Tale of Two Surgeries


Update December 2019:

On a sad note, we left Nicaragua mid July 2018 due to the Civic Rebellion that continues to this day. On a good note, I had to have another eye surgery and my doctor in the states said my Nicaraguan retina specialist had done a wonderful job with my last surgery. I wish I could tell him, but he fled to Costa Rica during the Rebellion as did most of the good surgeons and doctors.

 

“If I save my insight, I don’t attend to the weakness of my eyesight.” ~Socrates

 

For six months, I lived in a blurry world. Although it was difficult to attend to the visual world due to weakness of eyesight, I gained an accurate and deeper intuitive understanding of people, places, and things. Instead of relying on outsight, I gained a better appreciation of my world through insight. 

Since I had my first eye operation in the United States and my second eye operation in Nicaragua, I thought it would be interesting to compare the surgeries in two vastly different countries. Both surgeries were similar. I will try to withhold judgment, but I can guarantee that if you are concerned about having a delicate or major surgery in a developing country, I will put your worries at ease.

A Tale of Two Surgeries Through The insightful Observations of an Expat 

A look at my island from the taxi window as I was on my way to the hospital in Managua.

Surgery in the United States

1. Facility

The facility where I received my vitrectomy in the U.S. was modern with all of the latest equipment. Johnson City Eye Clinic Website

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Part Two: Let’s Get Real About Expat Health Insurance


“Both terrorism and insurance sell fear — and business is business” ― Liam McCurry, Terminal Policy

IMG_9465The greatest fear of mine is a slow, painful, and expensive death from a catastrophic illness or accident. Living abroad poses many health risks, especially living on a tropical island with limited access to quality health care. After a painful bout with Chikungunya, it became necessary to research our options for international health insurance.

I suppose there are pros to being uninsured in Nicaragua. Health care is cheaper. We don’t have to see a doctor to get antibiotics or other prescription medications. We can usually self-diagnose if the illness is small and uncomplicated. For serious illnesses, Vivian Pellas hospital and the new Militar hospital in Managua offer excellent care. But, without health insurance, a catastrophic illness or accident can be expensive.

I’ve written posts about the need to have emergency medical funds when living abroad. If an expat goes to Vivian Pellas for an emergency medical procedure, before anything happens…anything!  VP swipes your credit card. Do you know what your credit card limit is? How will you afford an emergency $16,000 stent or two?

Therefore, because of my fears and “business is business”…we purchased international health insurance. Part One covered our exploration into the world of international health insurance policies. Now….

             Welcome to the world of two happy, healthy insured expats!

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Part One: Let’s Get Real about Health Insurance in Nicaragua


Ron in our tiny Moyogalpa hospital

Ron in our tiny Moyogalpa hospital

I was in the U.S. visiting my mother when I received a picture of Ron in our tiny Moyogalpa hospital. Robinson said, “Don’t worry, Debbie. We are all helping Ron.” What??? I was frantic with worry. See my post, Love in the Time of Cholera

Chances are greater if you live in Nicaragua, or are visiting for long-term, that you will contact a tropical disease. We have had Dengue, food poisoning, Chikungunya, and maybe Cholera ( it wasn’t specifically identified, but Ron had all of the symptoms). I had a severe UTI infection that could be resolved with antibiotics without a visit to the doctor or a need for a prescription. This is where Dr. Google comes in handy for self-diagnosis, but what about a catastrophic accident or a life-threatening illness?

This is going to be a long post and I will take you through our search for health insurance options in Nicaragua and/or worldwide. So, let’s get started.

Let’s Get Real About Health Insurance in Nicaragua

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