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(506) 223-1327        Published  Monday, Jan. 28, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 19            E-mail us
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IRS winning friends among local bank officials
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

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.
banker shakedown

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.

Garland M. Baker is a 35-year resident and naturalized citizen of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community.  Reach him at  Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica.  Find the collection at, a complimentary reprint is available at the end of each article.  Copyright 2004-2008, use without permission prohibited.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 28, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 19

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Hospital arsonist wins
a big break on sentence

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A nurse's aide who has been blamed for torching Hospital Calderón Guardia July 12, 2005, got a break when his case went to the Sala III high criminal court.

The magistrates voided the 50-year sentence the man,  Juan Carlos Ledezma Sánchez, got at the trial court, and sent the case back for another hearing and sentencing. A total of 19 persons died in the fire. which destroyed the top two floors of the surgical recovery wing and led to the demolition of the structure.

Costa Rica law does not seem to provide more than a 20-year penalty for arson. The man originally has been charged with 19 counts of murder, which the appeals court threw out. The Poder Judicial announced the decision Friday.

In an unrelated case, the Sala III magistrates cut the sentence of a man who murdered a 92-year-old by strangulation and then buried the body.

That is the case of a man with the last names of  Ramírez López. The Tribunal de Jucio de Nicoya gave the man 30 year in prison. The Sala III upheld the conviction in the Sept. 3, 2004, murder in Bella Vista de Nandayure. But now the tribunal must set another penalty.

New court circuits due
in three areas of nation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The southern zone, Alajuela and San José are getting additional judicial circuits, according to the Poder Judicial.

The Alajuela III Circuito is being based in San Ramón and will cover parts of Grecia, Alfaro Ruiz, Naranjo and Palmares. The new II Circuito of the southern zone will cover Osa, Corredores, Coto Brus, Golfito and Ciudad Neilly. The III Circuito Judicial in San José will cover Acosta to Puriscal.

Vandals burn railway ties
and stop train movements

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Tico Train to Puntarenas had to make use of a bus for part of the route Sunday because vandals set a fire in the middle of the right-of-way in Belén.

The blaze heavily damaged some ties in the middle of a bridge, and train traffic was halted in that section until until workmen can make repairs. Although ties in many places within the city are of concrete, the ones in this section are wood.

Bandits picked wrong car
to grab and take to Panamá

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Talk about making wrong decisions. Bandits stuck up the occupants of a vehicle in Heredia, ordered them out of the car and onto the ground. Then they took the vehicle.

Except one of the men on the ground was former president Luis Alberto Monge Álvarez, who served from 1982 to 1986.
That was enough to galvanize the investigative agencies of government when the robbery took place April 24, 2004.  Additional victims were the Monge driver and a companion.

Eight days after the robbery investigators learned the vehicle was being taken out of the country, so they set up roadblocks at the border with Panamá. After a police chase, two men with the last names of  Villalobos Sánchez and Pereira Castillo were arrested. Two other men, identified by the last names of  Jara Olsen and Blanco Pérez  were rounded up quickly.

All four go on trail today in the  Tribunal de Juicio de Heredia.

Communist Party visits
Arias and foreign minister

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Both President Óscar Arias Sánchez and  Bruno Stagno, foreign minister, met with visiting Chinese Communist Party officials Friday.

Chen Fengxiang headed the Chinese delegation. He is vice minister of the international department of the party's central committee.

A release from Casa Presidencial quotes Stagno as saying there were close relationships between the Communist Party in China and the Partido Liberación Nacional to which both he and Arias belong. However, there was no explanation as to what those similarities are.

Costa Rica has recognized Red China diplomatically since June 1 when it broke off relations with Taiwan. Since that time China has promised help in building a soccer stadium, provided emergency relief after flooding  and explored other possibilities. One of those possibilities is a free trade treaty, which was mentioned Friday by officials.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday,  Jan. 28, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 19

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Record wheat prices put squeeze on Costa Rican consumer
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The price of wheat, the base of many important Costa Rican foodstuffs, has risen to an all-time high.

Wheat is used to make the flour in bread, tortillas, pasta and pastries. The grain hit prices around $10 per bushel according to the Chicago Board of Trade, the principal commodities futures and option market in the United States.

The price rise was attributed to an increase in the U. S. Department of Agriculture's export demand forecast.
Businesses that use a lot of wheat flour have been feeling the difference lately, as the price of their flour has gone up by about 50 percent  in the last year.

“The cost rise of producing each of our products varies — on average it has been about 15-30 percent,” said Tomas Acuña, general manager of Pinova, a company that supplies Musmanni with its bakery products. The company uses wheat flour every week from Costa Rican mills that import wheat mostly from the United States.

“The prices of our products in the shops have gone up accordingly with the prices of production. On some more traditional items the prices in the shops have not been put up as much, as many people rely on them, which means we have lost a bit of our profit margin.”

Acuña also said that the rise in the price of wheat would be affecting everyone in Costa Rica, adding that businesses which produce pastas or sweet products such as biscuits could have been more adversely affected than his own company.

Figures provided by the U.S. Embassy show that the price of the wheat exported to Costa Rica has been steadily rising since 2005. The price per metric ton in 2005 was $189.98, and the price in 2007 was $233.80.
wheat graphic

Accordingly with this trend, less wheat has been bought each year, with 208,812 metric tons coming to Costa Rica in 2005, and 175,428 metric tons arriving in the first 11 months of 2007.

But embassy information specialist Evelyn Ardón says that the amount imported to Costa Rica in 2007 is still within the range of imports over recent years.

Improving moisture conditions on the U.S. plains caused the price of wheat fuures to drop again slightly shortly after it hit the $10 per bushel mark. It closed at $9.33 Friday.

The Chicago Board of Trade also said that prices could remain volatile in the near future, due to the Department of Agriculture's release of its final production, quarterly stocks, winter wheat seedings and supply/demands reports this month.

Investigative unit gets 27 of its proposed 500 recruits
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 27 new investigators have started the five-month basic course, and the Judicial Investigating Organization is looking for nearly 500 more recruits.

The agency is circulating an Internet flier in which it promises a monthly salary of 517,110 colons or about $1,034 a month for successful candidates.

The requirements are not demanding: a high school education and a driver's license.

Jan. 10 Rodrigo Arias, the minister of the Presidencia, promised 7 billion more colons ($14 million) to the Judicial Investigating Organization. That is enough to add 500 agents to the existing staff of 1,000 agents, said Casa Presidencial at the time.

Considering the time to train some 500 new investigators and the capacity of the programs, it is unlikely that most of the new recruits will be in the field this year. The idea was to fight what officials see as a crime wave.

The  current recruits began their training a week ago with
oij flyer
Judicial Investigating Organization is circulating this

a formal ceremony at San Joaquín de Flores, Heredia.

The director of the investigative branch of the courts, Jorge Rojas Vargas, said his officers were flooded with cases. He threatened to quit. In light of this special appropriation, Jorge Rojas, director of the agency, withdrew his resignation.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday,  Jan. 28, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 19

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Our readers give their opinions on life here and crime
Article should have said
coffee and not coconuts

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I wish to commend Helen Thompson on the article that appeared in the Jan. 23 2008 issue on my experience in Costa Rica and my book. She did very well in the composition of the article and getting everything correct.  I was concerned that a telephone interview would make it difficult to get all the information accurately, but it turn-out very well.

There was one minor oversight. She referred to my statement that, over the years, much use of land had shifted to the export crops of “pineapples, bananas, and coconuts,” when I actually said “pineapples, bananas, and coffee.

Armond T. Joyce
Llorente de Tibas

Veteran of 15 years here
gives some lessons

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

After reading the letters for several years now from mostly people who have lived in Costa Rica for a short time or just plain visitors about the problems of Costa Rica and security, it is time to hear from someone who transplanted here for 15 years who loves the country and who has adapted to the good and the bad but overall has a 200 percent better life than the States.

This is not a whitewash of Costa Rica because like all things, there is good and bad.

 Let’s take the bad like the person who complained about the bank holding his foreign check for 30 days.  The problem is that  Costa Rica attracts a lot of con men, a lot of which are from the U. S. incidentally, that set up phony lottery scams and Internet sales offices for products that do not exist.  The bank has a responsibility to protect the funds of the bank and it does not have the ability to clear checks as fast as the States.  Residents who know the ropes here do not accept foreign checks nor deposit them rather have wire transfer done for $25 which entitles you to the funds immediately.

Do any of you know that a bank exists in Costa Rica which last year had a certified statement that its bad loss ratio was less than .0004 percent.  The big U. S. banks wish that they had such a statement instead of having to beg foreign governments for money.

The process of standing in line and getting misdirected by government officials while trying to get a telephone installed or register a car or pay property tax is never a much fun, but for $1 an hour you can send a messenger to wait in line for you.  Last time I checked this service in the States was about $40 hour.

The traffic is often bad and the drivers ignore safety rules while true enough means you drive slower and know enough to be alert instead of roaring that back home they do not drive like this.  Our roads have as many accidents as the States but they occur at much lower speeds so it actually means you have less chance of dying.

Ticos are usually late and do not say what they mean and are reluctant to accept responsibility.  You adjust to the culture and realize that not having the stress of watching the clock like some of you do in places like New York maybe makes you live a quieter life.  What I notice about the back side of the not taking responsibility is the almost total lack of bullies in the schools in Costa Rica and that the kids are usually kind to each other.

The law favors women who marry or live with Gringos and they often lose their money or their house.  What this article failed to mention is the typical 50- to 75- year old Gringo hooking up with a 20-year-old Tica who more often than not was out selling her body when they met.  There is an old saying if you lay down with dogs, you get fleas.

Visitors complain about lost luggage, rip offs, bad service, lack of English-speaking people, dirty roads, potholes, car jacking.  Take a trip to New Orleans or Miami or East Los Angeles or some small cities in the Midwest where meth labs are on every block.

We almost never go to downtown San José and actually open our eyes when near the airport unlike most of the tourists who experience problems.  Maybe they need to check their tires before they drive off the car rental lot.  A recent client of ours gave a taxi cab driver $23,000 for excavation of a lot he wanted to build a house on but he forgot to get a qualified engineer to check the property first. 

By the time my wife was asked to inspect the lot as she has done in her job as inspector thousands of times for the banks here, the money was spent and the lot was not worth building on.  What was his reason to give this money? The taxi driver spoke good English.   In New York almost every taxi driver I ever rode with would ask me which way I wanted to go since the bridge or the tunnel was out till they realized I LIVED there.   Find someone who has lived here and check their credentials carefully and then decide what to do.

Now the big one, crime and lack of security.  In the last 15 years it has become worse mainly due to the influx of professional criminals from South America but what about the 12 million illegals in the States, many of which are gang members from México and Salvador and Jamaica.  We tend to avoid crime by living in safer areas and living behind gated communities with guards.  As I explained to a visitor last week, which is better:

1. having police come quickly in the States after you are broken into?

2. having walls and guards to stop it occurring in the first place?

What we find is over 50 percent of the Gringos who come here should never have left the States.  They have problems back home, and their attitude is such that nothing is changed by coming here.

We are now developing the perfect retirement community in Puriscal. Why?  Because it offers all the security, old fashioned lifestyle, lack of nightclubs, drugs, grifters we left behind in the States.  We invite you to read our reference section created over the last 15 years where real people with real e-mails and real telephone numbers are listed.
Alan Harold

She comes to the defense
against Costa Rica bashers

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I never send e-mails, but this last Costa Rica-bashing letter by David Galloway, Florida, has me incensed!

In 1979, I flew to New York from Europe on a buying trip for my business. I, too, took traveler's checks — American Express. I deposited them in my now Chase Manhattan account, only to find that they instantly placed a 10-day hold on them. I was stranded in New York with no funds.

This was almost 30 years ago! Traveler's Checks are only instant cash if you cash them — and pay the bank — any bank — commission on that transaction. Otherwise they are treated as a regular check. This has always been the case. Do not blame Costa Rica for your ignorance of international banking laws. Now that we have international ATMs, it is cheaper to draw cash (up to $5,000/day at most banks in Costa Rica) at whatever the charge rate is than to buy traveler's checks. Check your facts before you start criticizing.

On another note: I am truly tired of the sensationalizing of the petty crime that occurs here as it does in every other place on the planet. The e-mail from Joseph Sexton — rethinking their retirement plans and A.M. Costa Rica is their main source for information — how sad is that!

Why not report how many positive experiences tourists have on a daily basis? Or at least remind your readers that the "crime" you report wouldn't even merit mention in a U.S. publication? It is time we started renewing our efforts to present Costa Rica in a positive light — don't we live here because we chose to become guests of this lovely country? Get a grip!
Heidi Crumpacker
San Rafael de Heredia
Just give Costa Rica
some more time

Dear AM Costa Rica:

As I read the latest edition of A.M. Costa Rica this Friday, Jan. 25, I am once again struck by the lack of knowledge some people have about Costa Rica.

In your "reader's opinion" section I give you a prime example. Mr. Joseph Sexton states: "when our cruise ship dropped us off on the way to the Panama Canal, we loved it," speaking of Costa Rica.

First, how long were you dropped off? I am sure that it was not long enough to see the true colors of Costa Rica and its' people.

Second. Just because there is an incident where a bank charges high prices for their services, or there is a robbery of some French tourists, does not mean there is crime running rampant in the streets against all tourists or expats. No far from it!

In my reading A.M. Costa Rica everyday, I find that the reporting of these crimes are small incidents compared to the citizens of the U.S. being subjected to murders, rapes, and robbery by their fellow citizens. And this does not even begin to compare the lack of representation we feel when it comes to our government, and the daily news from the local media.

Mr. Sexton, don't give up on Costa Rica!  Give her a chance to show you her true colors, and the beauty of the people who walk the streets and byways with a smile on their face, and pura vida in their hearts.

Come meet the "Real Costa Rica."

I am moving as soon as I can hopefully sell my house in this market, and begin living where I feel safe for a change.
Jerome Ives
Kansas City, Missouri

Husband of Tica worries
and wants hard, reliable data

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
This letter is in response to Joseph Sexton's letter in Friday's edition.  I couldn't empathize with this man more.  I, too, am planning on retiring in Costa Rica, where I have spent a total of about three years of my life.  My wife is Cost Rican, and my two sons have dual citizenship. 

The articles about crime in Costa Rica published by A.M. Costa Rica over the last few years have been sobering and have actually made me wonder whether it's such a good idea to retire there.  They've even made me wonder whether the editor(s) of A.M. Costa Rica wants to discourage foreigners from visiting Costa Rica.   But let's stand back and look at the situation objectively.

 I think it's important that A.M. Costa Rica alert us to the schemes of criminals and advise us as to how to avoid being victims.  But newspapers are known for reporting almost exclusively bad events, such as crime, corruption and natural disasters.  We've come to expect this.  There is no real balance reporting all the good experiences that people have in Costa Rica. 

Just think about your local news, Mr. Sexton.  If that was your sole source of news and experience for Buffalo, N.Y., what would you think about that city?  I suggest that no major U.S. city would look attractive based on the local news, yet tens of millions of people go about their daily lives in these cities and are never the victims of crime. 

What I would like from A.M. Costa Rica, if they have the staff to accomplish it, is some hard, reliable data on crime in Costa Rica.  Has robbery, particularly of foreigners, gone up or not in the last ten years?  And by how much?  Has violent crime and murder involving foreigners increased or not?  Is crime largely isolated to particular areas, with other areas relatively unaffected? 

If someone could report these numbers, we might be able to make a more intelligent decision about retiring to Costa Rica.  I encourage Mr. Sexton to "test-drive" Costa Rica as a retirement destination.  Without doing so and experiencing it for himself, he cannot make a reasonable decision about it, especially if his only source of news and information about Costa Rica is A.M. Costa Rica.
Brian Crawford
Tupper Lake, New York
The Guápiles-Limón line
was lots of fun, too

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I am from Costa Rica, but I have been living in the U.S.A. for 27 years. I am originally  from Guápiles, and when I was growing up the only transportation we had was the train, and then the bus come along and the people started to travel by bus because it was faster. Then the trains were not making money, and back then the trains ran with diesel, not too long after that they made electrical trains and didn't last  long, and then the train station was closed some time in the  late 70s.

That trip was more fun then the one to Puntarenas, because it was running slower, and people were jumping on and off the train. We use to get off and get into another train because the train split with one goes to Guápiles and the other going to Limón.
Vera Francoletti

He's sick of Americans
who just 'want it now'

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
I tried but I just couldn't do it!  I had to respond to Joseph from New York who decided that Costa Rica isn't the place for him and his wife in retirement.

Joseph, are you seriously going to make your decision based on the fact that a couple was the victim of a robbery in San José, a city of 1.5 million people, and because there is a relatively large fee and a waiting period for cashing a large foreign check at BCR? 

Joseph, Costa Rica is definitely not the place for you!  As a Puntarenas homeowner, and having spent weeks at a time in C.R. over the past few years, I grow weary of the steady flow of letters to A.M. Costa Rica from "I want it now, I want it my way, and I want it perfect" Americans.  Isn't it time we get over-ourselves?  If you can't hang with the Ticos, by all means, stay in crime-free, tranquil New York, where there's a Starbucks on every corner.
Frank Jacobelli

Info on bank limits praised

Dear A.M Costa Rica:

I would like to suggest that you create an award for Letter to the Editor of the Year and that Petra Schoep of Tamarindo be the first nominee.  Her letter about Banco Nacional was so useful in giving instructions to get around the Banco Nacional problems with unreasonable, arbitrary daily limits.   

I had to renew my card in December because it expired.  Banco Nacional somehow decided to set my daily limit for transfers to my favorites at ¢4,340, and I was unable to get help to fix it. 

Thank you so much Petra for simple, clear instruction to solve a problem.    Thanks to A.M. Costa Rica for providing a forum where someone from Tamarindo with a solution can help some one she has never met who lives in the Southern Zone.
Judy Pegg
Tortuga Abajo de Osa
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Jan. 28, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 19

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