1. Waiting at the ATM. Sometimes people take 5-10 minutes to do their business at the cajeros, as they call ATMs. You can do payments of various bills using these machines, which can make individual transactions take longer. However, I believe that some of the people don’t know how to operate the machines or cannot read. Perhaps they go there to enjoy the air conditioning. Whole families can be inside the ATM booth sometimes. On certain days, the lines can be very long as well, making standing in line last as long as 30 minutes.
2. Waiting in the bank. This is a problem mostly in the state banks, Banco Nacional, Banco Costa Rica and Banco Popular. If you go to commercial banks like BAC San Jose or Scotia Bank, waiting is not usually a problem. This morning, I was going to go do some quick business at the bank. However, as I came up to the bank, there was a line of about 100 people waiting to get in. “Okay, another day,” I said to myself. But waiting in line within the bank is not unusual; usually there are about 15-20 people ahead of you on any given day. You enter the bank and get a number first. Luckily there are usually several rows of chairs for people to use during the wait. In order to kill time, I play card games on my iPhone, since you can’t use the phone as a phone in the bank. (I am getting pretty good at casket.) Alternatively, you can bring a crossword puzzle or a Sudoku game with you to while away the 30 minutes to an hour of waiting.
At least two problems cause the excessive waiting. First, there is a lack of personnel in the bank to service customers. Often, half or less of the teller widows are occupied. Second, the tellers don’t seem to be authorized to do some transactions on their own and they have to leave their booth to get authorization from their supervisor. About 50% of the time I am at the bank, the teller has to leave the desk for some consultation with a supervisor.
3. Unreliability of utility services. Power and water outages are very common. Sometimes there are uninterrupted services for as long as a couple of weeks or a month. Both water and power are serviced by government monopolies, AYA and ICE, respectively. They are not managed by local utility companies as you find in the U.S. These outages result in many personal inconveniences, business stoppages and security problems as well. For instance, I was robbed of my wallet during a power blackout at the Puntarenas Festival in 2008. Otherwise, I would have been okay.
Residents are infrequently warned of service outages, which adds to this frustration. Perhaps, "planned" service outages are not very common.
4. Unreliability of the Internet. Luckily, competition introduced into the market here lately. I have had RACSA Internet service (which is part of the energy monopoly ICE) up until recently, and the service was so lousy that I had to buy a phone card to call the U.S. instead of using Skype. I have since found that CableTica has another provider and have switched to them. It is faster and more reliable, but consistent high-speed Internet is not always present. Like today, for instance, there is absolutely no Internet. It is therefore difficult to base a web business that requires a reliable, consistent connection. Because of this problem, I would never host my web site in Costa Rica.
I have since noticed that ICE is spending a lot of money advertising its new Internet service. Perhaps they are distancing themselves from RACSA, or they are just trying to hold onto clients with their same lousy service.
5. The Roads. Road conditions, like abundant potholes and landslides during the rainy season, can be appalling at times. In cities and communities, bridges are declared off limits to traffic due to poor condition, but they are not repaired for years. For instance, the bridge in Liberia on Calle Real has been condemned for 3 years, and no repairs or movement towards repairs have been done.
Gaping, large, potholes, lasting for several months at a time, are very common in the streets. In quite a few barrios, many of the roads are not paved. Many streets which are paved are a continuous patchwork of pothole repairs, a situation that should require repaving, but pothole repairs still are done, making for very bumpy rides.
Highways are patched more frequently, and this is usually done by hand and a roller machine. So these patches are very bumpy. When new pavement is laid, the old pavement is not dug out, a new layer is put on top of the other. Thus, the edges of the road may be up to eight inches above the shoulder, making it dangerous for anyone whose car wanders toward the edge. And speaking of shoulders, they really don't exist, so it is common for disabled vehicles to be in the middle of the road when they are disabled. This is a huge hazard problem.
6. Driving. Many Tico drivers are aggressively reckless on the road. This can be in town or on the highways. They pass in dangerous places, tailgate and cut in front of you, especially the taxi drivers. This is still common, even when you exceed the speed limit by 10-20 kilometers per hour. There is very little law enforcement on the roads and there are no patrol vehicles. There are occasional roadblocks. Enforcement of the laws is spotty, to say the least, and therefore it is not a strong deterrent for people who regularly flout the laws.
7. Customer service. I am sure that most of the tourists have great service in their hotels, but when you get out into the communities and use various services and buy goods, you will find that the concept of customer service is pretty foreign to some Ticos. If you take something to get repaired, you will be lucky in some cases to get the item back in a reasonable amount of time or in good working condition.
If you want a refund, they may say, “We don’t give refunds,” which is a violation of consumer protection laws in the country. They will allow you to purchase other items for the equivalent amount of money though. I had this frustrating experience when I exchanged an eyeglass frame for a cheaper one because my prescription would work in the expensive frames. (So, watch out for Opti-Vision).
8. Communication and appointments. One of the common phrases for Ticos to say is “Dios quiere” (God willing) at the end of a conversation for which have been plans made for the next day. This can be the equivalent of a type of mañana, the day after (which may never come). Some people (more than a few in my circle of acquaintances) are always pathologically late for meetings or trips.
With cell phones, there is the possibility of communicating when you are going to be late. And, I don't think there are a lack of cell phones in Costa Rica, as you find almost anyone has one, including children in high school who seem to always seem to have one in hand. I just think there are a lot of people in this culture who have the bad habit of being late.
9. Communication infrastructure. Another problem with communication in this country is the telephone directory of the country (put out by ICE). It is not current and doesn’t have all of the businesses listed, but that doesn’t stop them from issuing out two huge directories for the country to each household each year. I know that some businesses are a flash in the pan here, but there are many large businesses in my local area that have never been listed in the telephone directory. So, people find the businesses they like and have to take their card or put the numbers on their cell phones if they plan to do further business with them by telephone.
I believe that if ICE could outsource the directory and put it up for bids, then perhaps they could ameliorate this problem. I believe that they could solve a lot of their problems in this manner, as it has been an unresponsive monopoly for too long. For example, the recent advent of competition by other cell phone service (TUYO and Claro) providers has caused their cell phone service to improve.
10. The costs of goods and services. While the hotels and many of the restaurants may have reasonable pricing for tourists, the overall costs of goods and services are high. There seems to be an equivalency in effective costs to the consumer of 1,000 colones to 1 dollar. But the actual exchange rate hangs around 500 colones per dollar.
By effective costs, I mean a situation like this: If a computer costs $400 in the United States, then the asking price in Costa Rica will be 400,000 colones, which would be equivalent to $800. This situation happens to be the case for the cost of common goods like foods, beverages and other consumables.
Import taxes don’t explain the differences, as they top out at around 10% of the cost of goods. Transportation costs may figure in at another small percentage, as well as labor and storage, but a 100% increase in price over that seen in the United States still makes me believe that price gouging is the norm.
*Disclaimer: I don’t know if some of these generalizations fit for the entire country, but they all apply in Liberia and surrounding communities in the Guanacaste Province.