Help us to fund a new school campus in Nicaragua!

Dear Readers,

As most of you know, in 2008, Justin and I set out on a journey to Nicaragua.  What began as an extended honeymoon has turned into so much more – San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua has become our home and more importantly, it is now home to our two children: Lucinda and Theodore.

In 2009, our dear friend, Julie Speier, opened the doors to a small ½ day preschool.  Five years later, San Juan del Sur Day School has developed into a pre-k thru grade 2 International English School, educating expatriate and Nicaraguan children.  Julie’s vision does not end there.  By the year 2020, she hopes to have a fully operational Pre-k thru grade 12 school.

Our own daughter, Lucinda, has been attending the school for over a year now.  Each morning, before she has even cleared the sleep from her eyes, she inquires as to whether or not she has school that day.  She is often ready to depart for school a full hour before the lights have been turned on and the doors opened.  We delight in seeing our daughter take so much joy in learning.  And while she may not realize it quite yet, we know that she is already establishing the foundation for her education.  Some time next year, Theodore will also join his cohorts, perhaps becoming a member of San Juan del Sur Day School’s graduating class of 2031!

Due to its exponential growth, San Juan del Sur Day School is quickly outgrowing its current location.  Fortunately, the school recently received an incredibly generous donation of 30 acres of land upon which to make the dreams of San Juan del Sur Day School a reality.  Now, it is time to begin raising the funds to build those dreams.

Julie has played such a huge part in our lives, acting not only as schoolteacher and friend, but also as doula at the birth of both of our children.  Her commitment to the wellbeing of our children and those of San Juan del Sur is profound.  Now we can play a big part in her life and the lives of our children.  Below, you will find detailed information on the school and how to donate. 

http://www.indiegogo.com/at/sanjuandelsurdayschool/x/6505494
or
http://sanjuandelsurdayschool.com/contribute/

Please consider making a donation to the construction fund for San Juan del Sur Day School.  Every donation counts.  Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and for being such wonderful people in our lives.  Feel free to share and forward this to others who might be interested in helping.

Gratefully,

Sarah, Justin, Lucinda, and Theodore

San Juan del Sur Day School is a private International English school educating a diverse Nicaraguan and Expat student body of children from the ages of 18 months to eight years. We provide our students with engaging, stimulating and educational opportunities at all stages of development. We create a learning environment in which children are safe to make choices, exchange ideas, share feelings and gain some degree of autonomy. Our school helps children to develop that lifelong love of learning that will enable them to succeed in any environment. We are growing rapidly and can use your help! For information on how to support the school, please visit: http://sanjuandelsurdayschool.com/contribute/

Obtaining Nicaraguan Residency

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I was opening my computer to write a post about obtaining residency in Nicaragua when I stumbled across the following article.  Rather than reinventing the wheel, I figured I would just share what I found:

Getting Residency in Nicaragua” courtesy of Nicaragua Community

and here is a link to an older article on the same topic:

How to Apply for Residency in Nicaragua” courtesy of Nicaragua Dispatch

Note: The information provided in this post is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional legal advice.  An Expat Life in Nicaragua does not endorse nor control or take responsibility for the content or information on any external website listed here.

Relocation Consultations

I am so excited to announce my latest endeavour as a Relocation Consultant!  After 5 years of helping wayward expats find answers to their most burning questions about life in Nicaragua, I’ve decided to formally offer my services as a Relocation Consultant.  Please visit my new page to learn more about the services offered, topics covered, and fees.  I look forward to working with you and to helping you find home in Nicaragua.

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Health Insurance in Nicaragua

 

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When we moved to Nicaragua, my dad’s first request was that I not get pregnant while living abroad (a physician, I assumed this was his recommendation based on health – I only learned much later, with my first child, mind you, that this was actually a grandfather plea).  In any case, I’ve since had two kids here and all has gone exceedingly well.  But I digress.  His second request, let’s be honest here – his second demand – was that we have some form of health insurance.

“I was talking to a friend whose brother worked over seas for a few years and the phrase was (a bit out of date), “For minor illnesses you take two aspirin, for major illnesses you take Pan Am.”  -Dad (September 2007)

And so we began our research by looking into catastrophic insurance, which would essentially help only if we needed medical evacuation.  Justin, in his usual charming way, reached out to an expat we’d met during our visit to Nicaragua the previous year:

“I’m writing you to ask about health insurance.  We are fine with going to Nica doctors for bumps & bruises, etc, but I’d like to have coverage for anything catastrophic.  Like cancer, monkey attacks, or (gasp) if I knock my wife up.” (November 2007)

Run a search on “medevac insurance” and you will be inundated and overwhelmed by options.  We eventually paid through the nose for a catastrophic insurance policy via IMG (International Medical Group).  And as a fellow expat once shared,

“This is how I look at it (and it might be a little harsh but..), chances are if you get in a catastrophic accident here in Nicaragua, the probability that you get to a hospital in time, they get organized and get that helicopter that you need to fly you out of Nicaragua is probably not going to happen. But, good news is, that the Vivian Pellas hospital in Nicaragua is world class, and has a host of international doctors there.”

Thankfully, we never needed to be airlifted out of Nica, but it did appease my risk-averse dad who had a friend who did, indeed, need to be med-evacuated out of Costa Rica (20 years ago) after a heinous rappelling fall.  I will say that international health insurance policies appear to have come a long way in just the six years since we moved, including basic travel insurance and not just catastrophic options.  So I do recommend looking into all options before discounting them altogether.

After a year, we let our policy lapse, but fortunately, our health did not.  Then, we began the baby talk and decided that even if we didn’t worry so much about our own health, it was time to take the responsible road and insure our children’s health.

We ended up purchasing a policy via Seguros America.  With an office in Managua, they were easy to find, helpful in choosing the appropriate policy for our needs, and very affordable.  Seguros America offers tiered coverage, including a silver or gold plan with varying deductibles.  You can purchase a policy that covers you in only Nicaragua, in all of Central America, or worldwide.  Obviously, those plans with lower deductibles and greater geographic coverage are more costly, but they are still quite reasonable.

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For under $1,000 per year for the entire family, our policy provides us with regional coverage, up to $25,000 per person per year.  The plan provided up to $2,000 in maternity care (prenatal and labor and delivery).  You have up to two weeks after the birth of a child to add him/her to your policy and receive coverage for newborn costs.  Ambulatory visits are unlimited and will be reimbursed up to $20 per visit.  Specialized medicine visits are also unlimited and covered up to $30 per visit.  There are plenty of more detailed items that are covered, based on your chosen deductible and package, including ER visits, surgeries, physical therapy, etc.  It’s best to consult with an insurance agent to review these details prior to purchasing a package.

To obtain coverage, you must first meet with a rep from the SA office and then submit to a physical exam. We still pay out of pocket for all medical expenses and then submit receipts, along with a basic reimbursement form signed by our doctors, to the headquarters in Managua.  We typically receive reimbursement checks within two weeks.  All of our healthcare has taken place at Hospital Metropolitano, Vivian Pellas and have had no problems seeking reimbursement.

Another option, which I understand functions similarly to Seguros America, is the insurance plan offered by Vivan Pellas.  They have an office on the first floor of the hospital.

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To date, we have been exceedingly happy with our coverage.  Though it does not cover us when we travel outside of Central America, we have found great travel insurance plans via Seven Corners.  They provide you with a quick and easy online quote after completing a basic questionnaire. Look into travel insurance provided by your credit cards, as well.

For further reading on health insurance in Nicaragua, visit The US Department of State website:

You can’t assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It’s very important to find out BEFORE you leave whether or not your medical insurance will cover you overseas. You need to ask your insurance company two questions:

  • Does my policy apply when I’m out of the United States?
  • Will it cover emergencies like a trip to a foreign hospital or a medical evacuation?

In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctor and hospital visits in other countries. If your policy doesn’t go with you when you travel, it’s a very good idea to take out an additional policy for your trip. For more information, please see ourmedical insurance overseas page.

Be wary of private companies that claim to provide Medicare coverage outside of the United States. Generally, Medicare does not extend to beneficiaries overseas; we recommend you purchase additional medical insurance to ensure complete coverage. Please see the pamphlet Medicare Coverage Outside the United States for more information.”

Cost of Longterm Housing in San Juan del Sur

Thinking about a move to San Juan, but don’t know how much to budget for a rental?  Your monthly rent will vary widely depending on your needs, comfort level, and amenities.  Here are a few examples:

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When we first moved to San Juan, we rented a small one-bedroom, one bath home in Nicovale, a quiet community of 8 or 9 homes owned and managed by a Nicaraguan/Italian couple.  Located up a rather steep hill, the neighborhood was still walking distance to town (under 10 minutes), and a great workout on the way home.  Though we didn’t have a view, we loved the area for its proximity to town without being right on the main roads.  We could still hear the bumpin’ Semana Santa parties, but we were far enough removed from the main streets to escape the hourly announcement from the fruit and veg/scrap metal/politico trucks.  The owners were also very dedicated to their properties and managed repairs and ongoing maintenance swiftly.  Five years ago, we paid $450 per month, which included rent, electric (no a/c), water, twice weekly cleaning, security, parking, cable tv, and wifi.  The house came sparsely furnished, with basic kitchen utensils, and also included linens that were washed and changed twice a week.  The landlord also had a backup generator that he turned on during nighttime power outages.  The apartment served us well until we outgrew it and moved here:

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When I learned I was pregnant, two years later, we upgraded to a 2-bedroom, 2-bath newer construction unit in the same neighborhood.  This home had modern appliances and nicer furniture, as well as air conditioning in both bedrooms.  It also had the added bonus of a large balcony overlooking the bay.  We paid $700/month, which included all of the above amenities, minus electricity.  We averaged approximately $150/month on our electric bill, running both a/c units nightly.

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Two years later, our growing family prompted a third move – this time to a 4 bedroom, 2 bath house that also includes a fifth bed/bath in the pool house.  And it goes without saying that a pool house also suggests a pool (a large lap pool).  The house is a stand alone with large rancho, grill, as well as a two-car garage (we use one side while the other is reserved for the owners).  It sits in a small development of other standalone homes, each with different owners.  It’s nicely located within a 10-minute walk to the town beach and a 20-minute walk to town center.  Rent is $1,000/month and includes water, satellite tv, wifi, caretakers who maintain the grounds (excluding the pool) and provide security.  The house does not have backup and the water is on a pump system, so when the power goes out, we not only lose power, but water, too.

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To find out how we achieved the rental rate that we did, check back soon.  I’ll be offering more details and info on how to get the best rate for your rental.

To give you a sense of other options:

These 1 bedroom, furnished apartments, located right in town, rent for $350/month

This small development offers a variety of options sleeping 2-6 people and renting for $400 and up.

This studio, located just a few minutes walk from the beach currently rents for $550/month.

This 3 bedroom, 2-bath stand-alone home, in-town, rents for $600/month.

This 2 bedroom, 1 bath is a short walk to Playa Marsella and rents for $800/month.

This 2 bed, 2.5 bath condo, located a few minutes north of town rents for $1,200/month.

This stand-alone three bedroom home, located in the hills of the Pacific Marlin development, appx 10 minute drive from town rents for $1,500/month.

Ultimately, your decision on where to live will come down to your priorities.  Do you need a room with a view, a yard with a pool, or are you willing to sacrifice space for location and be closer to town?  How many rooms does your family require?  Can kids share bedrooms?  What amenities are you willing to give up and what are deal-breakers?  Do you want to live in a community or a standalone home?  Do finishings matter or can you make anyplace a home?  Keep in mind that power is expensive in this country.  You may think you want a home with central air (which is actually not too common here) until you receive your first electric bill.  Pools are fantastic to have, but you may prefer a rental with a shared pool that doesn’t require your time and energy.  Stand alone houses are great and private, but would you be happier in a neighborhood setting?

There are myriad ways to find your perfect rental.  When we moved here nearly 6 years ago, no one had long term options listed online.  We were lucky to find vacation rentals at that time.  But a lot has changed since 2008 and now you can do a large chunk of your search online at one of the many real estate/rental companies.  If that doesn’t work for you, it’s worth your time to skim the vrbo.com listings.  More often than not, owners there are looking for short-term vacation tenants, but you might get lucky.  Don’t forget to check local classifieds found in the Del Sur News.  You might even have luck checking Craigslist Nicaragua and Encuentra24, but these sites tend to focus on Managua and not San Juan del Sur.  And while it’s hard to imagine moving to a new country without home base, if you are traveling solo or have some flexibility, your best bet may be to stay in an inexpensive Guest House your first few weeks and spend some time simply wandering the streets.  You’d be amazed at what you can find just by asking around and showing up.

When you do find your dream spot, don’t forget the details.  Most rental companies will have you sign a rental agreement and pay some form of deposit.  If you rent direct from a homeowner, they may require a lease, but many don’t.  And be sure to ask the right questions:

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-Is electricity included?  Find out if they have old bills or can provide estimates of monthly usage if you will be paying this bill.

-What else is included? wifi, cable, water, security, parking, housekeeping, pool maintenance, etc.

-Any recent security issues?

-Who pays the caretaker salaries?  What happens if I am unhappy with the caretaker?

-Do you have backup power/water?

-What kind of water system does the house have, i.e. gravity tank, pumped well, town water.  This is important to ask because the type of water you have will determine when and how often you could be without.

-Are pets allowed?  Children?

-Who manages the property and to whom do I report maintenance issues?

-Who pays for repairs on the home?

It may seem complicated at first, but once you’re settled in your new place with a Nica Libre and the most beautiful sunsets, you’ll know that it was all worth it.  To learn some tips on how to save on rentals, check back soon for more exclusive info.

The Trooper

I had some minor [major] car troubles yesterday, while Justin was out of town, and it reminded me of this early experience I had in Nicaragua…

Shortly after Justin and I moved to San Juan, he took off for a weeklong bachelor party in Colombia.  I knew the trip was planned before we even set foot on Nicaraguan soil, but I don’t think I truly believed that Justin would actually leave me sola in Nicaragua just 5 weeks into our adventure, until he did.  Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to be the girl who stood between Justin and his best buddy’s bachelor party, even if it was 1,000 miles away.

We had just purchased our new (old) car – a 1997 Isuzu Trooper, so I drove Justin to the airport in Managua and then planned to drive back to San Juan on my own.  Even now, after 4 years of life here, I can’t believe that I actually agreed to drive back from Managua, on my own, with absolutely no knowledge of Managua, the route to San Juan, or the transit “laws.”  I did it anyway.  Thankfully, our new friend, Baldo, was in Managua the same day and offered to ride back with me.  So after leaving Justin at the airport, I went to meet Baldo at Metrocentro, a mall just 15 minutes away and also a place I’d never been, but was certain that I could find easily.  A mere 4 hours later, I pulled into the parking lot and we were on our way.

I handed the keys over to Baldo, exhausted from my half-day trek around the winding streets of Managua, and we set off for San Juan.  As we neared Rivas, and dusk, our new (old) car began to show signs of distress.  First the interior dashboard lights began to dim and shortly thereafter, the radio stopped working.  Baldo assured me that we were fine, so we continued on our way.  We rounded the corner at La Virgen and embarked on the final passage home.  These days, that last stretch of road takes about 15 minutes to cover, end to end, but 4 years ago, that tiny stretch of highway required a 45-minute commitment thanks to giant potholes and endless desvios (detours).  So, it should come as no surprise to anyone that shortly after we made that turn, the sun set, the car stalled, and our headlights went out.

I encouraged Baldo to pull over – perhaps we could call a tow truck, I suggested.  Baldo just laughed and pointed out that not only were we in the black hole for cell phone signal, but it would be a long wait for Triple A.   Instead, he hopped out, push-started the car, jumped back in and we continued down the highway.  This time, Baldo only accelerated when climbing a hill.  The rest of the journey, we relied on dear old Newton and his Law of Motion, chugging up hills, using the gas, and coasting down hills using sheer momentum.   He did his best to get behind other vehicles (which were few and far between) to light our way home.

To reassure me [and to calm my intermittent hysterics and quiet my naïve mechanical suggestions], for the remainder of the ride, Baldo regaled me with stories of his teenage years.  He’d been in this very situation before, except that when the headlights went out, his buddy walked alongside the car, illuminating their way home with a Bic cigarette lighter.

At one point, the wind picked up, swirling dust into the car, so [naturally] I closed my [electric] window for protection to which Baldo sighed loudly and reminded me that we were trying to conserve the car’s energy, not deplete it.  You can imagine how thrilled he was when, a few minutes later, I began to lower the window to relieve my forehead from the beads of sweat forming across my brow.

Eventually, we rolled [quite literally] into town, stopping at the Texaco to charge up the Trooper’s battery for the final push up the giant hill in Pacific Marlin, where we were staying with friends.  Barely in the door, I burst into tears, cursed Justin and our dear Trooper, and fell into a dead sleep.

The following morning, I rose early in an attempt to get a jump on the day and a jumpstart for the car.  I walked out the door only to find a flat tire and decided it was the Trooper waving her white flag in surrender.  I laughed to myself, turned around, walked back inside the house and gave her a nice 7-day rest.  Because a Trooper she is.

Shameless self-promotion alert!

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Image by Joshua Berman via Flickr

At the risk of self-promoting a little…I posted a blog over at Mom’s the Word about our 4 year Nicaversary.  The highs and lows, pros and cons, etc.  I thought it might be relevant to some of you readers here, as well.  Rather than re-posting, please visit me over there and check it out.  Thanks!

Manhandling Managua

I need to take a moment to brag a little here…

Justin and I crushed it in Managua last week.  I mean, we freaking rocked.   Anyone who has ever ventured into Managua on a day trip understands this accomplishment.  If you plan on 4 hours to complete your errands, you can expect it to take 8.  If you hope to get home before sunset, you should assume that you will return before sunrise the following day.  If you dare to say “this shouldn’t take long,” it will take longer.

Managua days are tough for San Juaneño transplants.  Us Expats are used to having 5 malls within a 20 mile radius.  But not here in Nicaragua.   Two hours there, two hours back, and 14 hours of navigating labyrinth-style roads, stop-light window washers, semis and oxcarts in between.

Normally, we leave San Juan later than planned and get home much later than we hoped.  But last week, we put Managua to bed.  Just like that.  We got out of the house by 7:30.  We rented a [reliable] car with functioning a/c and managed to drive more than 80 kilometers per hour without fear of a breakdown (car or mental).  We rolled into Managua just after 9:30 and were so early that we even had to wait for stores to open.  In 7 hours, we accomplished this:

-Bank
-PriceSmart
-Doctor
-Migracion (visa renewal – arrived to find a minimum 2-hour wait, but jumped the line thanks to the awesome migracion ladies who remember and adore Lucy from her passport application
-Lunch (I resisted the BK urge that often accompanies stressful MGA days and leaves me feeling nappy)
-Transito (paid a multa from our last trip to Managua)
-Lab (pesky thyroid)
-Stop and Go (a little slice of heaven for Expats craving Dr. Pepper, red curry paste, Butterfingers, and anything else that you can’t seem to find anywhere else.)
-Bavaria (sausage kings)
-La Colonia (stocking up on Cheerios and chocolate)

And we still made it home in time to put Lucy to bed, too.