11 August 2012

Shopping trip to Golfito

Wow, I can't believe it's been over a month since we've blogged about anything! I apologize to our faithful followers and I have been duly chastised by more than one of you. It's not that we don't have anything to share, we've just been busy! I've been purposely holding off, because I've been trying to get the house in shape to take some photos of our beautiful place and share them with you. We have been taking our time (after all we are retired) and trying to find a space for everything has presented some challenges.

This week we had an opportunity to go with our good friends, Maritza and Vinicio, to Golfito and check out the Duty Free Zone. This is where the old United Fruit Company's headquarters used to be. When they pulled out of Costa Rica, it practically shut down the town, and the local economy was collapsing. The government saved the town, by declaring it a duty free port with shopping restrictions. Golfito is a great place to buy small and large appliances, tires, tools, clothes, cosmetics, housewares, etc.

Instead of just helping the merchants selling the merchandise, the government setup a clever way to help hotel and restaurant owners too. If you want to shop in Golfito, you have to present yourself, with your cédula (national identity card,) or passport, to the office of Ministry of the Hacienda (Treasury) ONE DAY BEFORE you want to shop. The Treasury representative will enter your information into their system and give you a TAC (Tarjeta de Autorización de Compras (Authorization to Purchase.)) This is actually a sheet of paper that looks like a ledger. It lists your name, cedula (or passport,) and the amount you are allowed to buy for the current semester.

Today, residents are allowed to buy up to $1000 of imported merchandise, duty free, once a semester, January 1st to June 30th and July 1st to December 31st. In our particular case, we didn't take advantage of our $1000 allowance during the first semester, so it automatically rolled over to the second semester and each of us were given a TAC with an allowance of $2000. The allowance expires at the end of the year, but come January the allowance of $1000 for the first semester will become available again.

We decided we needed to take 2 vehicles so we would have enough storage space for our purchases. So, this past Wednesday, we followed Maritza and Vinicio on a long 5 hour drive, all the way down the Pacific coast, close to Panama. The drive is beautiful, with ocean views through the tropical jungle. Maritza, had made hotel reservations for us at a nice little place on the gulf that they have been going to for 15 years. The hotel is called Mar y Luna and it will become our hotel of choice the next time we make this trip

We checked into the hotel, then we drove over to the Duty Free Zone to get our TAC's and check prices on some of the things we wanted to buy. It reminded me of some the of the outlet malls in the States, but all of the stores were crowded with shoppers and very narrow aisles. We found a small LCD TV for our bedroom and a new gas dryer to replace the one we brought down with us from the States. The old dryer is giving us some problems with the igniter, in spite of John's best efforts to get it working right. The dryer is about 14 years old, so we've gotten our money's worth out of it and it's time to replace it.

After price shopping, we went back to the hotel for some dinner and then I got online to look at product ratings. I also compared the Golfito prices to U.S. prices. It turns out the prices are better than the U.S. on some things. The LCD TV was $20 less and the dryer was $150 less. Keep in mind that in addition to the items being duty free, they are also exempt from any sales tax. The TV and dryer we priced are also name brands, Sony and G.E, and they both have great product reviews.

Thursday, after breakfast, we went back to do our actual shopping. It's a very interesting process. As you go from store to store buying, they take your TAC and record the invoice number and amount spent. You can take your purchases with you, or you can leave them for pick up after you've finished with all your shopping. There are porters with dollies available for hire to help you get all the stuff to check out. The porters charge $2 to take something directly from one store to check out, or you can hire a porter for 3½ hours and he will follow you from store to store for $5. Not a bad deal.

When we were ready to check out, we hired a porter and he took everything to a check out lane that looks something like a TSA line at the airport. We loaded all our stuff (yes, we did buy a bunch of other goodies) onto the belt rollers and when it was our turn, we gave our TAC to the agent with all of our receipts. He validated everything and verified we had not exceeded our allowance. When he gave us the green light and we hired another porter to take everything (except the dryer) to our car for another $3. The dryer was delivered to a cargo company to be transported to us here in Atenas. They charge 3% of the purchase price, plus $32, as delivery fee. The dryer is supposed to be delivered to us sometime this afternoon.

We didn't even come close to using ONE of our TAC allowances. Unfortunately, you only get one shot at the check out line and you have to turn in your TAC. I thought of somethings we should have bought after we loaded the car, but now we have to wait a minimum of 22 days before we can have another TAC issued. I don't think we will be going back anytime soon, but it is nice to know what is available in Golfito.

Friday morning, we had breakfast at the hotel again, then we started the long drive back to Atenas. We got home around 1 P.M. yesterday, to find a couple of very happy dogs. This was the first trip we've taken away from home in over a year. We had a friend stay here while we were gone. He looked after "da boyz" and took care of things while we were gone. It was fun to get away for a few days.

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