How Not to Get Electricity for Your Property in Costa Rica
We are going to the government run utility office to get electricity for our property. We’re optimistically attempting this on our own, without the help of a translator. We have a contact there, let’s call him “Diego” because that’s his name, who speaks English pretty well but we don’t know if he’ll be there. He was the first person we talked to about the transformer and meter we needed.
We presented the required documents, which included a Personerîa (proving we were people in good standing) and a set of papers stating we were a Corporation (on advice from everyone we know here. All your major assets are enveloped by separate Corporations in order to limit your liability). Diego read every line of these common Official Documents before assessing: “These are copies.”
“Yes, I know,” I said. “The bank took the originals when we opened an account—”
“Hmm. I can do it with these.” He worked at his computer for half an hour and finally produced our application. “See, I am putting here that you only speak English. Someone will call and tell you when they will come to your property.”
“Excellente.” I said, in Spanish. “When will they call?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe a week?” It was a question to which he thought I might have the answer.
“I see. Okay, we’ll wait.”
“But when you come back you must see me.”
“We have to come back?” That turned out to be rhetorical. Of course, gringo.
Three weeks later…
I got a call from a guy who didn’t speak English. The connection was bad, so I had to walk around outside after dark to find the best signal. I thought he had a wrong number and almost hung up until I realized he was saying electricidad and mañana.
Electricity. Tomorrow. “Oh! Si’ si’!”
Two weeks later…
I stood on our deck at 7:30 in the morning, coffee in hand, and a man on a quad (a four-wheel motorcycle, basically) showed up. He was from the utility company and was there about our power, but I understood nothing that followed. He drove away in order to pick up Jonathan, a worker who speaks English, and brought him back. Without removing his helmet, he and Jonathan had a long conversation while I sipped coffee and lit a smoke.
I was blowing smoke rings in the absolutely still air when Jonathan turned to me. “He says you need a transformer.”
“I know that, yes, and a meter.”
He spoke again at length with Helmet man, then turned to me. “You have to put your name on a waiting list.”
“Aha. How long does it usually take?”
More translation chatter ensued. In a nutshell, it could take a year unless I wanted to purchase one on my own—which will run in the thousands. Or I could put my name on the list and still have to pay something (he didn’t know how much) when they deliver.
So it was back to Diego in order to get on the waiting list. Once again, he read our documents and assessed, “These are copies. No puedo.” (He can’t.) Doesn’t matter, because he recommended we wait until we get our “cedula” (official residency card) before signing the list because “it’s better that way” and who can argue with irrefutable logic? In the interim, the Angry Mountain Villas community allowed us to patch into their power so it’s not an emergency situation. Still, it’s something I should have researched and known before moving all our worldly stuff and two cats here.
That being stated, the way to get electricity to your property in Costa Rica is to have your architect handle the details. In the meantime do like we did—get a long extension cord and plug into your neighbor.
Rules of Costa Rica
Rule Number Eighteen: Get a Consensus.
If you need to know the answer to an important question get a consensus. Five people will give you five different answers, maybe seven. If two are similar, that’s probably not the right answer either. The true answer depends on who you talk to, when, and what they know to be true—and it’s probably not. Sorry. Your best bet, in all cases, is to find someone with a relative in the department you need information from.