Could They Have Found the True Mayberry?

Every expat who moves from the United States to Costa Rica has to make some adjustments.

Things are slower, more relaxed. The lifestyle is about time with family and friends, not work and material possessions. You won’t find big box stores on every corner…nor experience the “need it now” mentality.

But Laurel Carpenter, 57, and her husband Charles, 55, may have had a bigger adjustment than most. Born and raised in Beverly Hills, the couple moved to Atenas, in Costa Rica’s Central Valley in 2009.

Atenas is classic small town Costa Rica. Laurel likened it to Mayberry—if everybody spoke Spanish.

And the Carpenters wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It took a little getting used to. We had a very hectic life back home. It was very consumerist,” explains Laurel, a former attorney specializing in property and asset management. “But we’re happy to not have that life here.”

Since their arrival they’ve integrated into the community.

Laurel likes to head to the town park to people watch and see friends. She’s a regular at Kay’s Gringo Postres, an expat run restaurant/community center. Wednesday is the famous Expat Ladies Club meeting. It’s a truly international group, with members from Japan and the Netherlands, among many other countries.

Laurel also enters in the annual chili cook-off at Kay’s. She took third place with her “Superman” chili a couple years back. (So named because she’s a fan of comics. She owned a comic book store back in California, too.)

She volunteers with a local animal rescue. Goes horseback riding. And then there’s the winding mountain roads of the Central Valley.

“I just love to get in the car and drive and explore the back roads,” says Laurel. “You never know when you’re going to come face to face with some farm animal.”

Charles and Laurel also had a very practical reason for moving to Costa Rica. Their first visit was to try some stem cell treatments for Charles’s multiple sclerosis. The therapy wasn’t effective. But they had a good experience with the medical system.

“We were impressed by the modernity of the facilities and the professionalism of the doctors,” says Laurel. “They were very caring. That’s something you don’t find in hospitals in the U.S.”

For example, says Laurel, a visit with a Costa Rican neurologist lasted an hour and a half—no rush to get to the next patient.

Faced with a $1,200-a-month insurance bill in the U.S., with a $5,000 deductible and co-pays for every doctor’s visit and treatment, Costa Rica’s low-cost health care and more patient-centered system was very attractive.

Here they pay $88 total per month to be in the government-run universal health care system. That pays for all Charles’s doctor visits, treatments, pain medications, and medical supplies. Also included are regular visits to their home from a doctor, nurse, psychologist, and physical therapist. There are a few prescriptions not available in Costa Rica they pay out of pocket.

With the $1,200-a-month they no longer have to pay for insurance, they can afford to hire a private live-in nurse.

“That would be $9,000 to $12,000 a month in the United States,” says Laurel.

Top notch medical care. A small town life. A new country to explore. Life is good.

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