John Quam Editor in Chief Howler Magazine Costa Rica

A Visa isn’t just a travel document: Don’t get stuck holding the bag if someone filled it with less than the gold you bought.

I want to relate a personal experience that could happen to anyone, but not necessarily with as favorable an outcome. In preparation for my most recent Riteve vehicle inspection appointment, I had planned to get an oil change the day before. It was a Friday afternoon, and I had noticed that a new auto maintenance and repair shop had just opened down the road, so I thought, “Huh, might as well give him some business.” The mechanic was friendly and I accepted the option of synthetic oil for the oil change. In conversation I mentioned that my business partner had been wronged by a mechanic he went to right before his Riteve inspection. When the oil change was completed, I paid with my Visa card and drove off, ready for my 7 a.m. inspection the next day at Riteve in Nicoya.

I had no reason to doubt my vehicle would not pass the inspection. The process flew by with no issues until the last station, where the car would be checked underneath. The inspector showed me a massive oil leak. I was shocked; this had never happened before.

So I took my car around the corner to one of many repair shops in the Nicoya area ringing the Riteve inspection center. Here, I was a captive of the mechanic who broke the news that my six-quart engine had only two quarts of oil left in it. Of course, I said, “Fix it up.” This mechanic seemed as shocked as I was to discover that the other guy had not only put my filter canister on wrong but also did not put in a new filter. Naturally, I was incensed that this had happened. I took pictures of the old filter, and obtained a statement and contact information from the Nicoya mechanic.

After finishing the second oil change, I underwent the Riteve inspection once again for another 5,000 colones, passing with flying colors this time.

On the way home, I stopped at the shop where my oil had been changed the day before and told that mechanic what had happened. He assured me he would refund my payment. Upon driving away, I remembered, Visa will protect me in this situation! I gave the mechanic a couple days to contact me and make it right. When his call never came, I notified Visa, which immediately took action to refund the first oil change cost.

Living in a foreign country certainly is rewarding. However, be alert. “Paradise” can lull you. Always make sure you get what you pay for. If something goes wrong, your chances of being compensated might depend on how you pay for things. In Costa Rica’s largely cash environment, it’s very important to pay carefully. Consider potential problems that may require assistance from a third party. Look into the kinds of protection that your credit cards offer you. Insurance policies and other measures covered in the fine print of your card holder’s agreement can be important instruments on your behalf.