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AVisa 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.

My six-quart en­gine had only two quarts of oil left in it.

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