“We need to make-a da money,” says David.

Kirk and I are in Costa Rica. It’s April 2011.

The four of us, having finished dinner, are sitting around the table brainstorming business ideas. With Kirk and I in the United States and Natalia and David in Costa Rica, we can use our respective locations to our advantage. Opportunities exist to make a profit on products shipped from the US to Costa Rica. Prices are often double or triple in Costa Rica than in the US. This goes for clothing, electronics and vehicles, for example. Vehicles, including motorcycles.

“I think motos are a good idea,” says Natalia. Kirk and I agree. Both Natalia and David are motorcycle savvy. They’ve owned a handful of bikes over the years and have knowledge of the current market. Kirk and I? We’re not motorcycle aficionados, but it’s not as if we’re opening a repair shop. We’re buying and selling. (Not to undercut Kirk’s motorcycle experience – he once owned a Honda CB250.)

Making money without a job has become our obsession. It’s the pursuit of freedom in its purest form. To be able to pick up and leave whenever we want, to move to Denver to ski over the winter, to surf in Hawaii when the swell picks up. To visit the relatives I just found out I have in Monaco, or my sister in NYC (before she decides to move herself!) Traveling is important. But more so, making money without a job sets your life free. It’s about enjoying your morning coffee – not in your car on a frustrating commute – but rather at the kitchen table while reading the paper. Or, at a coffee shop over conversation with a friend. Or, at the ocean while watching the waves! Making money without a job is about living the lifestyle you choose to live.

October 2011.

After months of talking about the idea we finally make the decision to pull the trigger and buy a motorcycle.

What type of bike to choose? Even with thousands of makes and models available, we needed to find one within our few-thousand dollar budget that would garner the highest profit margin between the two countries.

We decided on a dirt bike. Dirt bikes don’t require license plates in California (as long as you don’t ride them on the road), nor do they require registration or smog testing in Costa Rica. The amount of red tape we avoided by selecting a dirt bike saved us hundreds of dollars. To select the right make and model, I researched prices on craigslist here in San Diego and compared them with prices on crmotos.com, Costa Rica’s website for vehicle classified ads. Kirk created a Google spreadsheet that Natalia and David could review and give the thumbs up or thumbs down to various bikes.

On paper, the Yamaha YZ450f and the Honda CRF450 looked to have the highest profit margin. An ’04, ’05 or ’06 could still be found for around $2000 in California and were selling for up to ₡2,500,000 ($5000 US) in Costa Rica. Gross profit? $3000.

Cake, right? Why wasn’t anyone else doing this? But wait, we can’t forget the expenses:

  • Shipping.  A Tico shipping company with an office in LA. offered us the cheapest quote: $350, Long Beach to San Jose. We were stoked! (Until this proved too good to be true.)
  • Gas/truck rental. We could go looking for the bike just fine in the Passat, but once we found it, it wasn’t going to fit in the hatchback. It’s a motorcycle, right? Just ride it, you say. Ah, but it’s not street legal. Plus, the one we ended up purchasing was still sporting its paddle tire from recent romps in the desert. Those don’t roll on pavement. Moral of the story: we threw Kyle some gas money to borrow his GMC Sierra.
  • Import taxes. This was the scariest of them all. Supposedly import taxes were 40%. But 40% of what? Forty percent of the what we declared to be the US customs value, $1200? Forty percent of what we actually paid for it, $2000? Forty percent of what it could sell for in Costa Rica, $5000?! Forty percent of some arbitrary number they pulled out of their own a**es?! Ohh, motocicleta bonita! You pay much money. No profit for you! There was no way to get our hands on solid number until the bike was under the scrutiny of a customs official in Costa Rica. From what we heard, this was like bringing a clown to a toddler’s birthday party: it could turn out fine, or, really, really bad. This number would make or break everything.

Every investment is a calculated gamble. So what did we do? Rolled the dice.

November 2011.

It was a rainy day in Escondido. With one last look over the chosen 2004 Yamaha YZ450f, Kirk shook hands with Marc, a new father with no time left in his schedule for riding. I tried to keep Marc’s anxious one-year old entertained with a horribly off-key rendition of Itsy Bitsy Spider while Kirk and Marc signed the papers.

Kirk handed over the 100 twenty-dollar bills. We had placed our bet.

By the end of the week the motorcycle was sitting in a warehouse in Long Beach, with many thanks to Kyle and Dana. Besides Kyle lending us his truck so we could transport the bike, the two of them let us store the bike in their garage for almost a week between picking it up from Marc on Sunday and making the day trip to Long Beach on Friday. Without our generous friends, details like this would have been this endeavor’s undoing. We don’t have a truck. We don’t have a garage. Where would we have kept the bike for five days? It’s not like we can park it on the street. This bike doesn’t need a key! Anyone could have kick-started that baby and within a couple of hours be whipping up sand at Ocotillo Wells. (Not that taking it for a joy ride is the first thing a motorcycle thief would do, but we didn’t park it on the street to find out.)

With the motorcycle now entrusted to one Miguel Larios of North Atlantic shipping company in Long Beach, all we had to do was wait. Or so we thought.

A week and half went by. I called Miguel. Did the bike ship yet? “No, no, I’m sorry, there were some problems in Costa Rica, and … ” blah, blah, blah … OK, fine, whatever.

Another week goes by. Did it ship yet? “No, no, but next Tuesday eet will ship.” What? Uh, now this is getting ridiculous.

It was about this time that I endured a sleepless night worrying about the motorcycle convinced that it had been stolen, wrecked or sold to drug runners. After weeks of near heart attacks over this stupid motorcycle – Why again did we do this in the first place, gah!? – I bring you to … drumroll, please …

My Facebook Wall, Friday January 6, 2012.

IT MADE IT! Over 3000 miles by container ship from California all the way to Caldera, Costa Rica and finally inland to the customs yard in San Jose. (Now you can breathe easy, Aunt Cindy!)

But, the reckoning hour has yet to come. Will all of our effort pay off? We won’t know until we can tally our expenses. To do this, we need the customs official in Costa Rica to hit us with our 40% import taxes.

Tax man, what’s your number? ☼