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panama shopping city mall

Panama Shopping Trip

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Some new friends were planning on making a Panama shopping trip at the Costa Rica-Panama border this week and they asked if we wanted to join them.  We were unable to go on Tuesday as planned so they changed their plans and we all went on Wednesday instead. So many wonderful and nice people in Costa Rica!

Heading to Panama Border

There is a city in Costa Rica called Paso Canoas which is on the border of Panama-Costa Rica. This was our destination for Panama shopping! We live in San Buenaventura, which is 20km south of Uvita, so we headed south on the Costanera Highway (HWY 34) to Paso Canoas. San Buenaventura is approximately two hours from Paso Canoas (or 2 1/2 hours south of Uvita). It's a simple drive. Head south to Palmar Norte, take a right turn at the intersection of the Pan American Highway and Costanera Highway. Cross the Ri0 Terraba River over the iconic Palmar Norte bridge, like you're going to Palmar Sur and Sierpe. However, stay on Highway 2 (Pan American Highway).  The drive is pretty flat and easy, aside from it's a two-lane road the whole way!  There is a larger town Ciudad (city) Neilly which has a hospital, which is where some of the specialty doctors are located. 

Golfito, Costa Rica

About 1/2 way to the border is a town call Golfito, which has duty free shopping. Well, up to $2,000 tax free per year. Plus, there are limitations on how much you can buy of certain items, such as 3 carton of cigarettes or 12 liters of alcohol every 6 months; or one washer every year; or one stove/oven every 2 years; etc. This is separate from the $500 tax free when entering via the airport.

You must get a shopping authorization cart (TAC), which is how they keep track of what you've purchased.  Now you have to get this TAC, but can't use it for 24 hours.  And once you use it, you can't use it again for 24 hours after pick up.  So basically the first day you put everything on husband's card....then the next time you go back, you pick up the husband's card (which can't be used for 24 hours), so you buy everything on the spouse's card; and you keep switching like that...until you have to get a new card each year.

Golfito is known for cheaper prices on electronics and appliances. We didn't stop there today, as we didn't need anything and our ride wasn't going there. However, we'll write up another blog when we do visit!

Panama

As we get to the border, there's a big huge building in the middle of the road, which is the border for Panama.

panama shopping building

We turned left on the road right before the building, the left side of the road is Costa Rica and the right is Panama, but it's just a normal road.  When you go down the road a little ways and find a parking lot, you pay and they watch your car for you 500 colones/hr (~90 cents per hour).  We only had one reusable bag here in Costa Rica with us, so that's all we took with us. However, you leave it in the car because if you take it into the store, then they take it and tag it and you can't get it back until after you check out and everything is already in bags?!?!  So we left those in the car.

We walked into the building (which is on the Panama side--so we're in Panama, but we didn't have to check out of Costa Rica and check into Panama--you only have to do that if you need your 90 day visa)  WHAT?!?!?!  Well at least in this area of stores..more to come on that...

City Mall (in Panama)

First thing you see when you walk into the store is a McDonald's....oh it smelled so good!!!!  We didn't eat there today, but we will in September when we go back for our visa!!!!!

mcdonalds panama
OHHH the smell...I haven't had McDonald's fast food in months!!!

So this store has everything--you name it...shoes, hair products, makeup, clothes, sunglasses, pharmacy, groceries, electronics, etc. etc. etc.

panama shopping city mall
City Mall at Costa Rica-Panama border

It's this huge two story building and apparently Panamanians LOVE U.S. brands. Everything is grouped by brand. So there's a Guess section; Tommy Hilfiger section, Nike, Speedo, Toms, Bahama Mama, etc...just everything.  It's weird because all the women, men's and kids clothes are all in the same location, which is so weird.

panama shopping brands
Stores display products by brand.

And then the SHOES....thank goodness I don't need tennis shoes here, because I could have gone crazy. My brother would love this store as there were just walls and walls of all types of shoes and most cheaper than the U.S. Nike was a little less, but not like the other brands.  For example TOMs are around $80 in the USA but only $35 here.

Panama shopping shoes
I've never seen so many shoes in one place!!

Groceries in Panama

And don't get me started on the groceries!!!! So many more choices and mostly cheaper than in Costa Rica. They even had cheese from the USA so I had to get some Gouda, Havarti, and Muenster. It's one thing I miss about living in Costa Rica is the availability and affordability of cheese. I miss my cheese and crackers.  Ritz crackers were only .87 USD (this store shows prices in USD), so had to do some calculations to compare to the prices in Uvita which are priced in Costa Rica colones. After a while I gave up because they were all cheaper and I didn't want to think that much while Panama shopping! Plus, I'm used to converting colones into US dollars, not the other way around.

panama shopping cheese
Inexpensive and large variety of cheese! These are tough to find in Costa Rica

I was worried this would happen...we had nothing on our list but we ended up spending $71. In addition to the specialty cheeses and crackers, we bought some batteries (way cheaper). I also needed shredded cheese for tacos tonight and this way I didn't have to go to the store when we got back home.... and it was cheaper!!! LOL! I got some soft cat food as treats for the cats that we give them on Sundays as a treat; lunch meat was $3 cheaper per bag and we can freeze that.  Okay not even going to lie, we both got 2 HUGE Hershey's chocolate bars---it's not something you can find in the stores in Uvita.  I can't even remember what else we bought, but we had 3 sacks worth. Thankfully our friends had brought a cooler so we could put our cold stuff in there.

Stamp or no Stamp???

We lost our friends for a little while--we finally found them, they had already checked out and once you check out you can't get back in, so they had to go get the car and he ran in to find us--thankfully we were trying to stand in a central location and not move!  After checking out, we went down the road (the opposite way) to a Soda for lunch. 

I have never, in all my travels seen a border like this! There was a two lane road (that we were on) in Costa Rica. Then there was a strip of land that had stores, gas stations, grass on the other side of that was a two-lane road and that was Panama!!  After lunch we stopped for gas. We pulled in from the Costa Rica side, and we had to make sure to pull out on the right side. Turns out if we would have gone out on the Panama side we would have driven down to the border crossing and we would have been in trouble because we didn't have our in/out stamps...scary!!!  It was confusing, but intriguing, and I'm not sure what the planners were thinking when they designed it. Welcome to Central America.

gas station panama border
One side of this gas station is Costa Rica and the other is Panama--make sure you go out the right exit!!!

After lunch, it was LIQUOR time!!! As I mentioned, in the middle island separating the Costa Rica and Panama roads are shops, and there were liquor stores. Every Panama shopping trip should include a visit to a liquor store. The prices are great! Cheap! The first place we went to, only took cash but doesn't ask for your passport (like they are supposed to)!!  Bottle of Disaronna $12. Not as cheap as making it, but the stuff we made hasn't sat well with my stomach (more about making Disaronna in a future post) could be the cheapness of the vodka!!! LOL.  (and no it's not about the quantity either!!!)  They also had Moscato. Tt's Barefoot, which isn't the greatest, but it's the first Mascato I've found. Plus, it was only $4 a bottle.  So we picked up a stash.

panama shopping booze
Cheap liquor!

So we didn't actually passport stamp in and out in Costa Rica or Panama. You don't have to do that to just go Panama shopping, which is so weird. Unless you go on the wrong road and then you could be in trouble. Our friends showed us the building where we have to get our passports stamped, pay the immigration fee, then the building to actually check out of Costa Rica. Also, they showed us the building above with 'PANAMA' is where you go in/out for Panama....gosh, I hope we can do this ourselves next time in September!!!!

Once we made the last stop, we headed back north to home.  There is a check point about 1/2 way where they stop you and look in your windows..if you have a lot of bottles in your car, they may ask to see your paperwork/receipts, but they just looked and waved us on through.  We're told to go there after 4pm as they are closed!!! lol

We LOVED Panama shopping!!! We felt like we were kids in a candy store! We think it's better than Quepos, even if it is slightly longer drive. There are advantages like everything is in one location and it has more products and variety!


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lisa scott norman costa rica living

Thanksgiving Costa Rica Style

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Thanksgiving Costa Rica Style

Sometimes, especially during the holidays, I miss my traditional food from back home. Thanksgiving is no exception - well, perhaps, especially Thanksgiving since catching up with loved ones around a large meal is what Thanksgiving has meant to me for years. This year was our first Thanksgiving Costa Rica Style.

Living here in the southern zone of Costa Rica was our choice. As we've mentioned before, we like the cost of living, more socializing with the Ticos than other areas, and the slower pace of life is what drew us here to San Buenas, between Chontales and Ojochal. That being said,,,,trying to find traditional style Thanksgiving day food is almost impossible!

Staple foods found back home, are not surprisingly difficult to find here in Costa Rica (flip the idea around: how many traditional Costa Rica foods does a typically grocery store carry in the USA?).

Lisa and I made our shopping list and then went out to find the ingredients for our typically Thanksgiving meal. We went shopping for cream of mushroom soup for my green bean casserole, any type of Stovetop stuffing,  and a spiral sliced ham...we went 0-for-3.

We did find a Butterball Turkey at the BM in Palmar Norte. They were all huge and only one price ….19,000 colones (~US$31). The decision was easy not to spend over $30 on turkey since it was just going to be Lisa and our neighbor Derrick to eat. So we went home with our normal weekly groceries, and some of the side fixings that we could find, and decided to plan for a Thanksgiving Costa Rica style instead.

On our new list we only had one destination on it: there is a local butcher just down the road from us in a town called Coronado and we were going meat shopping! Woo-hoo! Meat shopping! For those who remember watching the TV Show Home Improvement, I let out a Tim Allen-inspired-male-grunt-of-excitement and we dashed to the SUV.

The butcher cuts the meat "made to order" and we asked for a slab of ribs. He brought out this HUGE chunk of meat from the storage locker (it had to be at least 2.5 feet long!) and asked us how much we wanted. Using my hand signals, and over-dramatic facial expressions (I'm still working on my Spanish) we got exactly the amount we wanted. Next we ordered a kilo of ground beef - that was easier to order. Finally, we ordered six pork chops, each about 1.5 inches thick, which he cut to order. The entire bill was the same as the single BM turkey: 19,000 colones.

Supporting the local families here, and getting away from the hustle and bustle of Thanksgiving was a wonderful, albeit initially unplanned, idea.

We got back home to the condo we are renting, fired up the grill and got to 'work'! Is grilling considered work? Look at how hard I'm working and how stressed out I look in the photo below.

thanksgiving costa rica style scott

So we should have enough food to carry us over until the end of the month, just without the turkey dressing and all of the casseroles of years past. I realize that for Costa Ricans it is just another Thursday, but with all of the turkeys and chickens running around the rural areas, I would strongly encourage them to celebrate Thanksgiving Costa Rica style with us next year.  I suppose if we had lived next to a Walmart, Pricemart, or other big chain store, this blog would not exist. We count our blessings and give thanks everyday that we live where we do, and for our wonderful opportunity to live here with amazing people and amazing wildlife.

Let us know if you'd like to join us next year for a Thanksgiving Costa Rica style. We will find you a place to stay and show you around our piece of paradise here in the Southern Zone of Costa Rica.

Pura Vida and Happy Thanksgiving!

Scott Norman

ribs on a grill costa rica
Happy Thanksgiving Costa Rica style


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costa rica drivers license vehicle

Getting My Costa Rica Drivers License

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Costa Rica Drivers License

For those who have been following our blogs, you must know by now that my Spanish is very limited. When there is anything that involves the government of Costa Rica, it pays huge dividends to do your due diligence ahead of time. That way, one will be prepared for most anything without any hiccups along the way. This is true for obtaining a Costa Rica drivers license also.

Getting back to my story, you just don't walk in and get a drivers license like you might in the USA. In fact, there are quite a few steps along the way that are different, and dare I say, smart.

The first requirement, which needs to be done several days in advance of going to the license bureau, is to find a government approved translator whose job is to translate your current (in this case from the USA) driver's license into Spanish. Keep in mind, although there are a lot of self-proclaimed translators that are available for most everyday help, when it comes to government documents it is necessary to use an "official" one. Contact us and we can recommend one for you, or you can do what I did, which was use social media to find one.

This means that whatever classifications you had on your state-side drivers license is the classification you would get here in Costa Rica. Since we live in the southern zone of Costa Rica in San Buenaventura, the closest office is in San Isidro de El General (or simply 'San Isidro' as the locals call it), located approximately 75 minutes away. We first spoke by phone and we were told what was needed.

  1. Copy of my passport and all of the stamped pages
  2. Copy of drivers license from the USA
  3. Copy of my cedula (note: a cedula is the official name of proof of residency in Costa Rica)

The total fee for this service was 15,500 Costa Rica colones (or about $25). Keep in mind: This is a necessary part that cannot be skipped!

The translators did their part and it was mailed to the Cosevi (another Costa Rica government agency involved with issuing drivers licenses), who then had it waiting for us at the licensing location. With a tracking number that was provided, I just handed the clerk at the post office the slip and out came a package with my translation.

The next step was to get a physical. That's right...before you get a Costa Rica drivers license you need to have a simple physical. What a great idea!  It makes sense that people driving 1/2 ton vehicles should have a minimum level of health.  The location was conveniently located across from the drivers license facility. There were several folks outside but they told me to go on in. In broken Spanish, I explained that I needed a doctor's examination "dictamen medico". I paid 20,000 colones (~$33) and was lead to a small adjoining room where I was examined. I had some simple, but important tests done including, vision test, reflex test, blood pressure checked, and listened to my lungs with a stethoscope. In all, it took about 10-15 minutes and after the exam, they said I was good to go.

So, I walked across the street to a guarded entrance. They wanted to see my passport, proof of medical examination, and cedula. This was all while the gate was still shut and passing items back and forth. Once let in, the usual "musical chairs" routine (a Costa Rica tradition!).

After visiting one office, was let out to go next door and pay the actual fee for the driver's license. This fee was 8 mil because there was a motorcycle and car endorsement . Went back to the gate, showed my paid documents and was taken to another room for more questions"are you a organ donor amongst others" and this went fairly well.

Picture time!!! Check out my great photo!

Walked out with a new Costa Rica driver's license and now legal to drive. By the way, they still get "rubber stamp" happy and stamped all kind of documents, some I got back and some they kept. The license is good for three years and there was no drivers test to take. It all very smoothly considering this ol' Gringo's Spanish??!!

Let me know if you want more information on how to attain your Costa Rica drivers license.

Scott Norman

costa rica drivers license

Here's a checklist of things that you need to do to get your Costa Rica drivers license:

  1. Copy of passport and all stamped pages
  2. Copy of current drivers license
  3. Copy of cedula
  4. An official government approved translator
  5. A physical and the subsequent document from the medical facility
  6. A little bit of patience
  7. Around $60 (bring colones)


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lisa and scott norman expats

Costa Rica Living Blog with Lisa and Scott Norman

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Costa Rica Living Blog

Lisa and Scott Norman are USA-Expats living in Costa Rica who want to share their stories with others who are visiting and/or considering a move to Costa Rica. They have experienced the highs and the lows of making a big move and will continue writing about their experiences here, on their Costa Rica Living Blog. Osa Property Management has provided them a platform for them to share their experiences in an unbiased, and personal, way.  The following post will provide a little about their background and what made them ultimately choose to move to Costa Rica. Enjoy getting to know the people behind the Costa Rica Living Blog - Lisa & Scott Norman!

Scott Norman

Scott grew up in Illinois, after attending college he began working in sales.  He first started at a automotive dealership as a scott normansalesman and over many years moved up to Vice President of the dealership.  As time went by, Scott decided it was time for a move to warmer temperatures.  He always loved visiting the beaches of the gulf coast and decided Panama City Beach, Florida was the place for him.  With his many years of sales experience, Scott quickly landed a job selling  yachts and sport yachts for the largest boat/yacht dealership in Panama City Beach.  Although Scott loved being around the yachts and especially the sea trials he decided it was time for his sales experience to go towards a new direction.

Scott had been introduced to a recreational vehicle dealer that was looking for an experienced salesman and Scott was just the man for the job.  Scott continued the rest of his career in the RV sales business and became the 'go-to-man' for Tiffin Motorhomes.

Lisa Norman

Lisa was born in Florida, but grew up in the southern area of Birmingham, Alabama. After graduating from the University of Alabama with her degree in Graphic Design and Photography, Lisa moved just a little north of her hometown where she landed a job in graphic design.  After three years, Lisa was ready to spread her wings and really wanted to move to Panama City Beach, Florida where she vacationed with her family.

Lisa was thrilled to find her 'dream job' and she moved to Panama City in November 1992 and started working as a graphic artist and photographer for a contractor on Tyndall Air Force Base.  Over the years Lisa became the main photographer on base, she documented all types of events to include: award ceremonies, graduations, change of command ceremonies, retirements as well as day to day activities all over the base and on the flightline.  She also shared the responsibility of on-call alert photographer for all after-hour emergencies.

lisa norman f15 camera

Lisa made many wonderful friends while working on base and spent many weekends SCUBA diving and spearfishing with the Tyndall Dive club.   Lisa spent a total of 21 years working at the base, starting off in the staff positions and moved her way up to assistant manager and finally Contract Manager for the Multimedia Center at Tyndall Air Force Base.  Lisa had the opportunity to photograph two Presidential visits as well as numerous other distinguished visitors over her many years on the job.

For all her years of hard work, the wing commander awarded Lisa the a flight in one of the base's F-15 Fighter Jets. Many years later,  Tyndall AFB changed from a training base to a combat base and, unfortunately for Lisa and her staff, at the end of  2013 most contractor positions were replaced by active duty personnel.  Her dream job of 21 years had come to an unexpected end.

Lisa norman f15 jet
After years of photographing F15 fighter jets, Lisa was awarded a flight of her own.

Scott and Lisa met in 2002 and later married in 2004.  They both love the Panama City, Florida, USA, area and the beaches of the gulf coast.  Both Lisa and Scott were very busy with their careers, and they spent most of their free on their boat with friends at Shell Island or riding their Harley Davidson motorcycle with friends.

lisa scott norman harley davidson
Scott & Lisa enjoying an afternoon during their "Harley Years"

In 2017, Scott was eligible for retirement and they decided it was time to sell everything and move to Costa Rica.  Since they arrived in Costa Rica, these Retire in Costa Rica Bloggers have learned many things; from opening a bank account to buying a car and eventually getting their Costa Rica residency. Keep following the Costa Rica Living Blog here at Osa Property Management to learn from their experiences.

Other posts by Living Costa Rica experts Lisa & Scott Norman

lisa and scott norman


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lisa and scott norman

Ex-Pat Living with Lisa and Scott Norman on Moving to Costa Rica

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This is the first of many 'Lisa and Scott Norman Ex-Pat Living' posts. We absolutely love it here in the southern pacific zone of Costa Rica and have been offered a wonderful platform to share our experiences, our learnings and our thoughts with everyone who wants to read our blog.

Trip #1: Guanacaste

We first traveled to Costa Rica in the fall of 2011 with family members. We chose the Guanacaste region because we had a timeshare condo there that we were using.  I vividly recall the winding roads being mostly dirt, not maintained, and lots of potholes, which was totally new to us (we lived in Panama City, Florida, at the time).  But the change was good. Different culture, exciting lifestyle and spending valuable time with family never gets old.

Total time visiting: ~1 week.

lisa and scott norman family

Trip #2: ARCR & Grecia & Atenas

Our next trip to Costa Rica was six years later, March of 2017 to be exact. By then we had decided we may want to retire soon and we had heard that Costa Rica was a popular destination for ex-pats.  With that in mind, we scheduled a very busy fact-finding trip.

At the beginning of this trip we attended a two-day retirement seminar put on by ARCR (Association of Residents of Costa Rica) in San Jose. There we learned valuable information about all things to consider when choosing to retire in Costa Rica.  After our two days in San Jose we visited the cities of Grecia and Atenas in the central valley, to see if these were areas where we might want to live.  These cities were chosen because of our research of having organized ex-pat communities and we wanted to stay somewhat close to the airport in San Jose (SJO - Juan Santamaria International Airport).

Since we were visiting in late March, everything was really dry. As we learned later this was about the end of the Costa Rica summer and not much rain falls during that season.  During this time we were staying in a small, country-side, hotel. It was cute and functional and we saw lots of birds and tropical vegetation.  We really enjoyed the area, appreciated meeting some ex-pats there but felt something was missing...we just didn't know what exactly.

Total time visiting: ~2 weeks

lisa and scott norman bridge

Trip #3: San Isidro del General

After our second trip to Costa Rica, we knew it was the country we wanted to retire in...the only question was 'WHERE in Costa Rica did we want to live?'.  We returned back to Florida and did more research online. It was decided we would head back down in a couple of months and explore the town of San Isidro de el General.  San Isidro (as it is often referred to), is located in a valley in the central-south-pacific area of Costa Rica.

They have flights from San Jose to San Isidro (Perez Zeledon airport), but we chose to drive along Ruta 2 of the Pan American Highway to get to San Isidro. This section of road is called the "Cerro del Muerte" (road of death) due to how dangerous it used to be to drive on. Now, there are breathtaking views, but it is important you pay attention when driving as the road climbs to over 11,000 feet in elevation. Although the locals can make the drive in as little as two hours, it took us four hours since we had never driven it before and didn't know the pattern of the turns.  That trip seemed like it took forever and we were happy to arrive into San Isidro!

We had arranged to stay in a nice house that we found on Air B&B.  It had a view of the city down below and we  began our search for a home to rent for our final move the next year.  We liked the area, it has plenty of shopping and great energy, but again, something just didn't feel right for us.

After a week in San Isidro we decided to take a different route going back to San Jose.  We chose the road that follows the Pacific coastline - called the 'Costanera Highway' (Highway 34 on a map). We saw some spectacular views of the water and finally felt like anywhere along that area would be a place we could finally reside. Having lived near to the ocean our whole lives, we both felt more 'at-home' near the sounds, sights and smells of the ocean.

We stopped for a short while and visited Uvita, Dominical, Quepos, and Jaco on the way back North. We did notice that financially the further North we went, the more expensive everything got.  It was quite a education and a lot of on-the-job-training.  Our thoughts were, we wanted to end up somewhere along the coastline but further south so we were thinking something south of Dominical (and we had 'beach homesickness'). The southern pacific zone has some of the most beautiful beaches in all of Costa Rica.

Total time visiting: ~2 weeks

san isidro del general cathedral
San Isidro's most recognizable landmark is the downtown cathedral

The One-Year Plan is Set

At this point, we knew we were making the right life changing decision of moving to Costa Rica.  I was close to retirement and put ourselves on a one-year plan. This meant that we had a goal of one year to prepare for the big move. This meant the start of letting subscriptions run out, becoming experts at selling our things on Craigslist, having a several garage sales, and whatever it took to sell all of our belongings except what would fit in a small storage building north of our hometown in Florida.

So, in the fall before the big move, we started looking for homes for rent and we picked an area between Uvita and Palmar Norte.  It was a little further south then most people look, but still close to the beaches.  We had scheduled our move for March of 2018 and wanted plenty of time to search for just the right spot.

We found osapropertymanagement.com through a Google search and spoke to the owner Nick.  He had some home for rent exactly where we wanted to be, between Uvita and Palmar Norte in a small community called San Buenaventura.  I thought it was smart to chose a property manager who knew the area and was someone who we could ask questions about where to shop, where to find a veterinarian for our English Springer Spaniel, and where the nearest banks were located.  It was important for us to find someone who actually had hands-on experience.

Trip #4: We found it! San Buenaventura & the Southern Pacific Zone

After taking several trips, and spending almost six weeks living and visiting several different areas of Costa Rica we were confident of our decision.

We made the move to Costa Rica in March of 2018 and have not regretted it one bit!  Nick and his company have been more than helpful, and we consider him much more than just another property manager.  His staff live in this area full time, are bi-lingual, and have been known to bring over some local cuisine for us to try after a Sunday family get together.  Now how can you beat that, there are such wonderful people down here.

Stay tuned for more information about our ex-pat living and all of the fun, adventures and challenges, we have in the Southern Zone of Costa Rica!

Pura Vida!

Lisa and Scott Norman

lisa and scott norman expats


Experience in the Area

Our team has decades of collective experience in protecting and managing real estate assets in the Southern Pacific region of Costa Rica, particularly in Uvita, Ojochal, Tres Rios, San Buenaventura, Palmar Norte.

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