All posts by Ivo Henfling (Special Guest Contributor)

Does Costa Rica have security issues or not?

By Special Guest Contributor Ivo Henfling of

I received this email from Paul, a future expat, today:

“I just returned from a 4 day trip to San Jose and participated in an Expat seminar put on by International Living magazine at the San Jose Marriott.  I walked to 7:00 mass one morning through a neighborhood where EVERY HOUSE had heavy iron gates across the driveway, razor wire and or electrical security fence and some even had uniformed guards.

What on earth are the Ticos afraid of?  I live in the DETROIT area sometimes called the MURDER City instead of the Motor City and I assure the only razor wire you see is at the county jail.  What gives? “

This is my answer to Paul and to all of the future expats and retirees who have the same doubt about property in Costa Rica and your security when you move here:

Hi Paul, I am glad you enjoyed your 4 day trip and the 2012 International Living conference, we did too! Let me first explain about the razor wire and other security measurements the Ticos take. It is a very simple explanation, though a long one. I had to check first how much jail time you get for home invasion for example in the US to give you a clear answer:

1) Home invasion in the first degree is a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 20 years or a fine of not more than $5,000.00, or both.

2) Home invasion in the second degree is a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 15 years or a fine of not more than $3,000.00, or both.

3) Home invasion in the third degree is a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 5 years or a fine of not more than $2,000.00, or both.

The judicial system and welfare

That said, Costa Rica like most of Latin America, has a messed up judicial system that takes forever to judge a case and there is no money to build jails. The reason is that most people in Costa Rica don’t pay their taxes. Expats who live in Costa Rica don’t pay any taxes either, except for the duty on imported goods, the sales tax they pay in the stores and a variety of real estate taxes.

Costa Rica does not have a welfare system like many 1st world countries and there are a lot of poor people here. So anybody who loses his/her job for whatever reason, has to find a way to feed the babies. And there is also the drug addict who will do anything to pay for his habit. For the above reasons, we have a lot of petty thievery and even if the police does catch them, they have to let them go in a few hours because there are not enough jails to put them in. Most jails in Costa Rica have an 80% overpopulation.

Security systems

To stop thieves to come into our home, in Costa Rica we build walls around it, razor wire on top and if we have flatscreen TV’s, jewelry and other valuables, even a security system.

Because of this petty thievery, Costaricans protect themselves as much as they can with alarm systems, razor wires and a security fence. It is like a competition of who has a better security system, starting the day a house is built. I used to have a chainlink fence and one night, someone broke into my office and took all my cameras and computers and probably sold it all for a few bucks. Now I have a electrical security fence too, though I don’t have any bars on my windows. You can also grow Bougainvillea around your property like I did, I’ve actually done a blog about that a while ago.

Adjust your lifestyle

No place on earth is perfect and living in Latin America also has a negative side and you just found it. If you are looking to live in another country, you might have to adjust your lifestyle a bit. In Costa Rica, you will see very little police around and even if they pick up the thief, nothing much will happen to the thief, quite the opposite from the 5 years, the 15 years and the 20 years in jail of punishment they will receive where you come from.

Condo living

I have lived in a condo, right next to my neighbors, with security fences all over and security guards everywhere and living in a condo is not my lifestyle either. I live in a single family home and besides the security fence I have, we also pay a guard at entrance of our street. But I live in Escazu, which is more city, where you have more security issues (if you don’t protect your home) then you will have in more rural areas like Atenas, Grecia and San Ramon. Though living in those areas doesn’t make your home safe. You still need to make sure there is either someone taking care of your home while you are away, like a maid, a gardener or a friend or at least have a neighbor keep an eye out.

Not feeling unsafe

I have lived in Costa Rica for over 30 years and haveNEVER felt unsafe. Just like everybody else, I just like to make sure nobody takes my belongings when I’m not looking.

If you plan to move to Costa Rica, you need to keep an open mind for some of these issues as they are a fact. If you move to another country, you will need to be aware of the advantages as well as the disadvantages of living there. When you move to Costa Rica, wherever you will live, security is definitely an issue you should be aware of and you should consult your real estate agent about the security issue when you are looking at properties in Costa Rica for sale and for rent.

Is the security in Costa Rica indeed bad or are they exaggerating

By Special Guest Contributor Ivo Henfling of

Most Costa Rica realtors are afraid to write about topics like home invasions, robberies, squatters, expensive prices in the supermarkets and many other negative things you will read and hear about Costa Rica and most other places you might be researching to retire. Most of you who follow my blogs know by now that I am not. I just think people should be aware of what is going on around them and it will make them be a tad more careful.

The shooting neighbor

To start this blog, I want to call your attention to something that happened a couple of weeks ago: a good neighbor heard some noise outside, found out his neighbors were being robbed and shot one home invaders dead, wounded another and saved his neighbors. Oh my God, I hear some of you say, how can anyone live there? Is it that dangerous to live over there? Where is this place?

I see my agents already saying “Why do you have to start about this again”? I do because I believe in reality. Our life doesn’t turn around home invasions, they just happen, like anywhere else. They happen in Escazu, in Santa Ana, in San Jose and now in Atenas, once in a while. But we do have to realize we should worry about our security a bit. One of our real estate agents, Paul Furlong, was a NRA Instructor and taught hundreds of people “Practical Pistolcraft” over a 20 year period and is open for business again. Next week, look for a blog from Paul about this business. You might not like hat you are reading about but if you want to move to Costa Rica, you might as well learn what is going on in Costa Rica so you can adjust your expectations.

Home invasions and taxes

I have written an article about these home invasions before. The fact is that since nobody pays taxes in Costa Rica (!), there is not enough money for security. Most of you don’t realize it, but you have paid taxes all your life back home so you are used to that. But you don’t realize that most expats who live here are not paying more than a couple of hundred dollars a year on property taxes and also 13% sales tax on most goods you’re consuming here. Security is definitely becoming an issue in many places and as far as I know, there are fewer places left than there was yesterday, where you can just live with your doors open like they do in places like Atenas.

Newspaper articles worldwide

Since GoDutch Realty has Atenas homes for rent, I would like to point out that home invasions happen in lots of other places. These are part of some recent articles from newspapers in the US: When a burly ex-convict forced his way into a posh Florida home last week, he had no idea what awaited him — a 25-year-old beauty queen with a pink .38-caliber handgun. Meghan Brown, a former Florida pageant queen, shot and killed 42-year-old Albert Franklin Hill during a home invasion March 12 at the 2,732-square-foot house she shares with her fiance in Tierra Verde, Fla.

And what about this Question and Answer on a Yahoo Forum: Are there more home invasion taking place in Miami Florida in 2011? Yes and all over the nation, the lack of employment is causing people to do things they ordinarily would not do.

14th of April in the Huffington Post: Authorities in west Tennessee are searching for the 20-year-old cousin of country star Whitney Duncan. The young nursing student was abducted from her home during an apparent home invasion, police said.

This might strike you as incredible: MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Aug. 11, 2011 – Thieves are continuing to prey on foreclosed properties, removing copper, appliances and other fixtures, and leaving behind a mess for those who have to sell it. Foreclosures often become prime targets because they’re vacant.

They have curfew in Philadelphia now, riots in London, most of the immigrant squatters in Catholic churches in Brussels (Belgium) are Muslims and on and so forth. Pick up any newspaper from any country and you only read about drugs and violence.

What is going on in Costa Rica?

With the above excerpts, I am only trying to show that Costa Rica is not so different as many parts of the US security-wise.  I doubt the problem in case of Costa Rica has to do anything with the unemployment rate. The drug trade is taking over in Mexico and a large part of Central America and that of course hurts us. Costa Rica laws are easy going on criminals because we never needed any of that, we didn’t have many criminals. The population is growing fast and the laws are staying behind. The lawmakers are still asleep and the police can’t do much more than arrest the bad guys and then they have to let them go again. There is not enough money to fight the drug problems. President Laura Chinchilla asked Hillary Clinton more money, as the US is the user market and that’s why Central America is suffering with this. We have way to go, but we can all help by changing our lifestyle and realizing we need to be more careful.

Change your lifestyle a bit

Wherever you live in this world that is getting uglier every day, you probably have to change your life style a bit, don’t show off with what you have or simply hire Signal Secure to take care of you and your family’s security. I know it’s ugly to look over your shoulder, but as long as the laws don’t change it’s not going to change anytime soon. In the Southern Zone of Costa Rica, expats have decided not to put up with the secrity problems and got organized. A group of concerned and determined citizens, residents, non-residents, frequent visitors, and business owners who want to ensure their area stays safe and beautiful for all sent a message to the criminals “CRIME WILL NOT BE TOLERATED!.

Real nice neighbors

Realtor Ivo Henfling sells Costa Rica real estate and still recommends you contact Isabelle Jones to buy a home in Atenas since this is the area where you get the best value and views for your money. Oh, and your neighbors are really nice people. Atenas offers a laid back lifestyle and that is the reason people leave their doors open when they shouldn’t. Contact Isabelle Jones now to see Atenas real estate for sale or any other property you might be looking for.