Friday, June 20, 2014

Another trip to Panama to renew our Visas for a Costa Rican Bank

Starting a business in a foreign country, especially in a foreign language can be a test of patience, as well as a humbling experience. While our 3 kids are also teaching us much patience, our new Beef Jerky business in Costa Rica is taking us to a whole new level. We have actually accomplished a lot within the year we have lived here. We had a beautiful baby girl and we have launched a couple of internet businesses, plus we have started a Beef Jerky company called Carne Rico JERKY. During this time we have managed to do everything within the scope of the Costa Rican law, hiring an Attorney (abogado) and a Certified Tax Accountant to assist us with our residency and business, so in addition to the many steps which need to be followed in order to start a legal business, we also are ordering sticker labels, boxes for our product in addition to marketing and social media. We have our bar codes on all our products, which consisted of a course and lots of paperwork. We have a building in which to prepare our product, necessary to obtain our permit in order to sell in all the ferias and most stores. So our final step seemed to be opening a bank account in a Costa Rican bank before applying for our permit (permisso).
Having 3 small children and going to official places is like setting off a bomb, so while Max was in school, we took our baby, Sofi and Sara, our almost 3 year old to the Banco Nacional to open a new account (cuentra nuevo). Arriving at the bank in Grecia at 8:30am is a must to be one of the first people in line. After going through the metal detector and greeting the armed guard, we pulled our number from the machine and sat in the first row. I brought plenty of toys since we have been warned of the slow process since a year prior to our move here, but our number was quickly called so we proceeded to our customer service rep, Omar. He asked if we would prefer Spanish or English, and while we probably would have understood him in Spanish, we told him we would prefer English. We waited a few minutes longer while he took our documents over to another bank employ. They examined them and returned to give us an explanation. Even though all our paperwork was in order, the bank's system requires one of 2 items in order to open an account. Banco Nacional needs either a cedula or a passport with a current Visa stamp. We have an open file with immigration; therefore, we are not required to leave the country every 90 days to renew our Visa, so we no longer had a current stamp. Since our cedulas might be anywhere from 1 month to 6 months away, it looks like we are off on another trip to Panama, just when we thought our border runs were over.
The thought of a quick border run with 3 children is daunting, so we arranged an overnight stay for our oldest son, Max with a friend; and our 5 month old baby girl, Sofi was welcomed to stay with her Godmother (Padrina). Matt and I were excited to spend some quality time with our 2 1/2 year old, Sara, alone. So we packed our bags and a case of Beef Jerky and headed to Paso Canoas in the Southern Zone for some fresh stamps and light shopping at Zona Libre. We have heard there is a large, air conditioned mall with duty free shopping and huge, cheap selections of clothing, shoes, electronics and appliances, you name it, they've got it.
After calculating our trip, we planned to stay at a hotel after shopping in Panama. Since it would be about 5 - 6 hours to Panama and through the border, we left Grecia around 7 am, dropping 2 children off by 7:30 on a beautiful Sunday morning. We planned our route on WAZE and even though it was only 257 kilometers, we know with the maximum velocidad of 80 km/hour, the roads in Costa Rica can be slow, but to our surprise, the slowest part of our trip, with the help of a drum parade, was getting out of Grecia. We had never been further South than Manuel Antonio, so it was exciting to see the landmarks and signs on our way to Panama. The Highway 34 was smooth and fast until about 1 hour this side of Panama, but after seeing some of the road construction, it appears to be a work in progress. When we arrived in the border town of Paso Canoas, we parked in front of the Costa Rican Migracion building and jumped right in line to Exit (Salida), only to be sent into a small room to pay an exit fee in a machine of $7 US each. While back in line, Sara was laughing and swinging on the partition chains until, she slipped and hit her head loudly on the concrete. After a few minutes of crying, no blood and a goose egg, we got back in the truck and drove for 30 seconds across to the Panama side, where we found a normal parking attendant offering to watch our truck for tips. It was hot and Sara was still upset about her recent trauma, so we quickly got in the entrance line (Entrada) and showed all our papers. We noticed a busload of football Americanas arriving just after us, so we thought we were lucky to get there when we did. While the immigration worker was stamping our passports for entrance, Matt, holding our upset Sara, asked him, "How long do we need to stay before we can exit?" in Spanish, proudly of course. Before the man could answer, Sara vomited all over Matt's face, ears, neck and down his shirt. Several nice ladies started handing me wet wipes and all the football team started to chuckle in surprised disgust. Matt's face was epicly sick and surprised at the same time. The immigration man handed our passports over to the EXIT (Salida) side and they quickly stamped us so we could leave. I have never seen a man covered in throw-up so happy. He was probably calculating in his head how much money I was going to spend in the mall, but not now; a little puke never hurt anybody, I guess.
We rushed back to the truck for a quick change since apparently, the bathrooms were all closed on Sundays. Matt and Sara got clean with wet wipes, and amazingly it did not stink, thanks to no milk that morning, it was mostly the aroma of grape juice and pretzels. After paying the overpriced parking attendant, we skipped the shopping mall altogether and headed back to the other side to re-enter Costa Rica. Sara was feeling much better, sin stomach contents, and she was excited to hear we were going straight to the hotel to go swimming in the pool. After a quick jaunt through the Entrance (Entrada) line, we were back in Costa Rica in record time and with my husband's wallet in tact. Since we were approximately 2 hours ahead of schedule, we decided to stay somewhere nice, closer to Uvita. The famous Whale's Tail (Bahia Ballena)beach is located in Uvita and I have always wanted to visit. I remembered seeing signs along the highway of a hotel called Whales and Dolphins that boasted the best view. This was my chance to begin manipulation techniques. Since we had not spent any money at the mall we could up our hotel limit to $100 US. Since Sara had a long, rough day, we needed to treat her to a fun time with a nice pool. Since we were ahead of schedule, we needed to get there before sunset, which would put us ahead of schedule the following morning, meaning we might actually get to sleep late, or stroll to the beach before heading back home. I was full of anecdotes and this time they worked!
We arrived at the top of the mountain to Hotel Whales and Dolphins at approximately 4:30 pm. Jason greeted us pleasantly and I was so pleased to get a $99 rate which included breakfast. There were a small group of people at the pool and Sara was totally happy with our choice. The pool was awesome with sunset views over the ocean. We hurried to the room and did a quick change as not to miss the sunset, not to mention we were all starving, even little Sara. We had over 1 hour to enjoy the pool and order some food to watch the sunset. The hotel offers a large 3 foot pool for the kids in addition to an adults pool. We were able to spend quality time with Sara, which was much needed. She was fearless in the water and with a little work, we taught her to swim. She will be 3 in 3 months so we were very proud of her accomplishment.
We treated her to french fries (pappas fritas) and icecream with sunset views over the whales tail. Matt and I enjoyed a beer and fresh ceviche and we were all quick to bed. The next morning we were all 3 up early, as usual, with plenty of time to stroll on the beach before breakfast. We drove 2 kilometers to the coast to Bahia Ballena National Park. We showed the park attendant our papers and he allowed us to pay only $1 US instead of $12 US. The park was interesting with signs warning of caimans and rip currents.
We were definitely not there to swim since there were 2 rushing rivers meeting the ocean at that point. We walked the beach and played around some driftwood before heading back to the hotel for breakfast and an early swim.
While Sara was content with her quality time, she repeatedly asked for Max and Sofi. Breakfast was great and the views of the Whale's Tail were incredible with the lower tide.
I highly recommend the hotel to anyone. The staff was pleasant and helpful and the room was spacious and clean. The views were everything we hoped for and I also recommend this trip for a Visa renewal; even though we did not do any shopping. On our way back home, we stopped off in Jacó for lunch and to sell some Beef Jerky to a local business called AXR. The owner was happy to sell our product and we made the deal. If you are ever in Jacó, stop by AXR to rent an ATV and buy some JERKY
Our trip was a great success, we have fresh Visas so the following morning, we arrived at Banco Nacional again at 8:30 sharp. We were lucky enough to have a sitter for all  3 kids this time; which was a lifesaver because were were in the bank for 2 1/2 hours, opening our new account. We were treated well, with smiles and hospitality, Omar even remembered us and greeted us. Marvin was our customer service rep that day and we had no problems speaking Spanish to complete our transaction. The only interesting part was that Marvin wanted our permit for his file, and we kept telling him we needed the bank account in order to apply for our permit. Round and round we went, before he agreed to let us bring the permit into him once we received it in about a month. True to the rumors of Costa Rica, some of the rules of bureaucracy are not in sync. The permit office wants us to have a bank account in order to apply for a permit and the bank wants our permit in the file when applying for a new account. It turned out that with a few smiles and kind words, we were able to compromise. Pura Vida!


  1. A most excellent adventure. I got to see what you had to do in order to get all in order. Well written.

  2. I enjoyed the every sound you shared here about the trip to Panama to renew your Visas for a Costa Rican Bank. After all this educative info and all kind of programming assignment problems we all should know and that you have posted here. Thanks.


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