Last Friday we got word that our application for pensionado residency has finally been approved!  Yes!  The next step was to join CAJA, the social health care system, and make some deposits into migración accounts at BCR.   The question always is, can one join CAJA before getting one’s cedula, ID, because one can’t join CAJA without having the cedula; however, one can’t get a cedula without joining CAJA first.

Needing a bit more cash than we had on hand and being limited to six hundred dollars per day withdrawal from our bank account, we headed into San Isidro Sunday after our coffee clutch and an acupuncture session, which was more than halfway there.  Mission accomplished.

Monday morning we chatted with Tita who had come to clean the house and then returned to San Isisdro.  For some reason there was no road work going on so the way was clear.  First order of business was to return to the ATM which doesn’t charge any fees to get some more local currency.  Not bothering to read the screen I inserted my card and watched it sashay all the way in.  That was weird.  The screen didn’t change so I tried to cancel the transaction.  Nothing.  Adrenaline rush.  Bill said he could hear people working on it behind the wall.  Oh, no.  I went to the bank entrance to obtain help and upon return to the ATM was told it was down for maintenance and would have to wait until three o’clock to get my card.  What?  I need my card to get money to pay migración!!  The young man said that was the way it worked so I asked to talk with the manager.  He had me wait outside the closed office door as the manager was not there.  I waited, and waited, and waited.  Bill, who had been guarding the ATM that took my card, came in and said the screen clearly indicated that the ATM was closed, but the people had finished.  The computer was resetting but that it seemed it take quite a while.  Although he was sure my card was safe I had him return to get the progress of the ATM.  When he returned he informed me it was working and being used.  Oh!  I hope no one has my card!

Finally, the manager, Elizabeth, returned and motioned me into her office.  In Spanish I explained what had happened.  She seemed sympathetic and told me to wait.  Just as she left I could see through the glass wall another woman approach her with a few ATM cards in hand.  I could see my card!!!  Elizabeth told me to go with her colleague to the next desk to be processed.  After completing her required documentation of my identity, entering the information into the computer, and making a call she placed all four recovered cards in a drawer and left, telling me to wait.  She returned with a copy of my passport and had me sign the document saying she had given me my card and all was well.  Phew!  And I didn’t have to wait until three o’clock!

We cautiously returned to the ATM, made sure it was functioning!!, and withdrew needed local cash.  Since we were going to make some deposits in dollars we had to go to another bank for that.  Funny, that ATM wouldn’t even take my card!  We noticed a little red door blocked access.  Smart!  The other machine was working so we obtained US cash and went to BCR, Banco de Costa Rica, to make the required deposits.

This part made me nervous because I was going to have to explain in Spanish some very precise requirements about the six needed deposits.  We found a floor manager to make sure we took numbers for the right bank employee which was a cashier, not a platformer.  The bank where we pay the rent does not allow two people to stand at the caja so I explained I would need to translate for Bill.  He asked his age and kindly bent the rules to give us special treatment even though Bill is not quite sixty-five.  While we waited our turn I saw the floor manager talk with a teller and point to us.  Thank you for explaining our needs!

The wait was short and the Spanish speaking cashier was very patient in being sure we both understood our mission.  He let Bill stand with me while he made six deposits, three each in each of our names.  We double checked the account numbers, our full names, and the amounts before signing the two originals which came with copies.  One deposit of ninety-eight dollars was to pay migración for their work and our cedulas.  A second deposit of thirty-five dollars was to join CAJA.  The largest deposit was for about three hundred dollars to pay for a plane ticket should we need to be deported!!  In theory, that can be  refunded in three years.  Yeah, I won’t hold my breath….  Even though the first two deposits could be made in either colones or dollars we had to pay only in colones.  Fortunately, we had just enough without having to convert the dollars.

Feeling a bit giddy that went so well we walked a few blocks to the social security office to join the national healthcare, which is required when becoming residents.  We each took a number and soon it was our turn.  Apparently there is only one person to handle new applications, and she just happened to be done processing another client when it was our turn.  The man next to her who we thought we were to see didn’t seem to know what to do and indicated to see her.  

We had to complete brief forms, show her our resolution letters of acceptance, give her our passports, and then she entered the information into the computer and told us to go upstairs to see Diego with all the documents.  We got up there and saw two rows of chairs, two employees, and no indication of the process.  We finally figured out that there is a chair changing system.  As one client finishes with Diego, the person in the first chair vacates it to see him, and everyone moves over one chair.  I noticed a lot of people were holding the same form that another woman was completing at a table where I perched due to a lack of seating.  I glanced around and saw one page on the other side of me so decided to start filling in the information.  Diego was completing it for an older gentleman, but I wanted to keep things moving as the wait seemed to be long.  After a bit Bill and I were able to sit in the front row when a woman on the other side of Bill, in the first chair, started speaking to us in English to explain the form.  How kind!  We shared that there were no indications of the process, and she nodded and rolled her eyes.

Diego, who didn’t speak English, at least used Google Translate to be sure we were understanding each other.  He said little, reviewed our application, checked the computer for information, made a phone call, and put down our monthly fee was based on the one thousand dollar minimum monthly income rather than the one thousand four hundred and some clearly stated on our application and in our letter of resolution from migración.  Nice!  That saves us about twenty-five dollars a month!  He then explained I would have to go to the CAJA office at the hospital to be processed as a beneficiary under Bill’s account, meaning that my membership was part of his.  Then it was downstairs to make the first monthly payment.

Feeling a bit hungry by this time we took a lunch break at a restaurant near the hospital.  Being fortified with tasty rice dishes, Bill’s with chicken and mine with seafood, it was off to the hospital.  The former president of the women’s club had given me great directions for finding that office.  We noticed the same chair changing system, and as we sat a man came over and spoke to us in English to be sure we were in the right place, and that if we needed help to let him know.  I thought maybe he was an employee but turned out to just be a nice man!

And that was the end of our good fortune.  I knew things were going too smoothly, despite the glitch at the first bank with my ATM card.  When it was our turn I gave the young woman behind the window our paperwork and agonized as she looked them over but seemed to want something that wasn’t included.  She then started rattling away in Spanish, and I had no clue what the problem was.  The nice man came over to translate, thankfully.  It seemed that the bank was supposed to give us a document with our picture, date of entrega??, and that without it she could go no further.  The nice man explained that another branch of BCR does identification, he was about to leave, and would get us a taxi.

After a five minute drive and a short wait inside the bank, I tried to explain to the cashier what we needed.  He seemed clueless but said the woman next to him would help in just a moment.  She rose to the challenge of speaking in very minimal English, and falling back on Spanish at times, that they do cedula renewals, not first applications.  She suggested we go to migración back in town and see if someone there could help.  She even drew us a map!

Fortunately, there was a taxi stand just across the road.  He let us off at the park, just a short walk to migración.  The building is old, the walls dingy, and like a sauna with only ceiling fans in the offices.  After a waiting a few minutes for another couple to finish their conversation, we entered and asked if he speaks English.  We got an emphatic, “No!”  Taking a deep breath I tried to explain our predicament and situation.  He seemed to understand but the more he talked the faster he got, and I was quickly lost.  Then, wonder of all wonders, this man who insisted he speaks no English, started speaking my native language pretty well!  He said our papers were in great condition and thought we could go to the main office in San Jose the next day to get our cedulas.  Then we could go back to the hospital and get our CAJA cards.  We didn’t argue with him about needing an appointment which could be three to six weeks away, though I did explain that.  He just repeated his idea.  I highly praised him on his English which made him grin with great pleasure and some embarrassment.  I clearly made his day!  Always good to be friendly with those who you need on your side!

We decided to stop back at Diego’s office to verify we needed another form with an appointment for migración.  Diego was very surprised to see us back and indicated to interrupt his other client to see what was wrong.  He didn’t understand it any more than we did.  I suggested he call the CAJA office at the hospital, which he did willingly.  After some back and forth and reviewing our letter of approval from migración, he said we needed a document from migración indicating our date to get our cedulas.  Since our membership in CAJA is only as good as the length of the cedula, CAJA can’t issue the membership card without knowing the date of expiration.  So, we can only join CAJA and make payments, but we can’t get our cards yet.  From the receipt of payment it appears we can get health care meanwhile….