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COSTA RICA'S LEADING ENGLISH LANGUAGE NEWSPAPER

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Costa Rica Expat Living: No Vuela!

A long time ago, I found myself caught in the slow-grinding wheels of the Costa Rican bureaucracy. I was recently divorced. As this marriage produced two Costa Rican born children, an exit block was automatically put in place. It prohibited me from freely leaving the country until I paid a deposit the equivalent to 13 months of child support. However, my ex and our two children later left Costa Rica and went to live in the United States.

The exit block remained in place. Here was the actual process involved in paying the deposit: Three hour trip from my home to the courthouse where the case was filed. Wait of one hour until the case was pulled from file and reviewed. Wait of 30-60 minutes in bank in order to make deposit. Return to courthouse to present proof of deposit–another 30-60 minute wait. Return to court house 24 hours later to receive document needed to present in San Jose.

Three hour trip back to my house. Wait of one hour at office in San Jose to receive the document needed to present in the airport. Tired of the hassle, I presented the Family Court with the documented proof that my children had departed Costa Rica and had not returned. I explained to the judge the time-consuming process I had to go through any time I wished to leave the country, and the sizeable deposit I was required to leave behind.

The judge told me that Costa Rica is a nation of laws and no one was above it. I considered debating her on this topic, but refrained. Her verdict was clear: As my case was still in the system, any time I wanted to leave the country I had to continue to pay a cash deposit, for the benefit of two children who no longer lived here.

Then, on two subsequent trips out of the country, when I got to the airport and checked in for my flight, I was not asked at the airport for the documentation I carried, that proved I had paid the deposit.

Was the monkey off my back? Perhaps some statute had expired, or my name had in some other way been deleted from the files? When the time came for another trip out of Costa Rica, I decided to save myself the hassle and expense involved and just wing it.

I arrived at the airport anxiously confident. When I presented my ticket and passport at the desk the agent took an inordinate amount of time processing me through. He leafed through my passport several times. He pecked the keyboard, looked at the screen, looked at me.

Then he asked if I had any other photo ID. I produced my Costa Rican driver’s license, thinking at this moment: “Isn’t your passport your photo ID when you travel?” After a tense minute, he finally checked my suitcase through and gave me my boarding pass. I passed through security and entered the boarding area breathing easier.

My flight was announced and everyone began lining up. Then over the loudspeaker I heard my name called. I hoped that I had just experienced some sort of audio hallucination. Then they called my name a second time. I walked slowly toward the gate like I was walking toward the gallows. I identified myself and asked if there was a problem.

A security guy was speaking into a walkie-talkie. Two other police looking types flanked him. My interrogation party. They requested the documentation that I had failed to procure, and began a line of questioning clearly meant to establish that I was the same person whose name lingered in their files.

I thought about trying to brazen my way through it with lies and denials, but I was surrounded by them, on their turf. “No vuela!” the guy with the walkie-talkie said. “You aren’t flying.” So, I was led back past hundreds of people like some kind of terrorist, a security official on either side of me.

I’d been busted, although my only sentence was a day and a half in San Isidro del General and another chunk of money deposited that I wouldn’t get back until my return to Costa Rica.

I had done this drill before and two days later I flew out thanks to the correct paperwork. It was not until years later, when my kids became adults and accompanied me to the court to sign off on the child support paperwork, that my name was freed from the labyrinth of the Costa Rican bureaucracy.

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