Costa Rica Immigration & Residency
In this article I will set forth a summary of the most current Costa Rica Immigration laws and regulations or Relocation which will guide you through the updated procedures for applying for residency in Costa Rica.
All information contained in this article is checked with the applicable Immigration Law and Immigration regulations and is up to date for 2015.
TRAVELING TO COSTA RICA AS A TOURIST
The requirements to enter Costa Rica depend on your country of nationality. Generally, citizens of the United States, Canada and the European Union countries do not require a visa to enter Costa Rica. Those citizens can enter Costa Rica with their valid passport and remain in the country for up to a maximum of 90 days.
Visa renewal. If you are under the 30 or 60 day category then the law allows you to apply for an extension of up to 90 days. If you have a 90 day visa the law does not allow you to apply for an extension in Costa Rica you must leave the country and re-enter to obtain another tourist visa.
The amount of time that a Tourist can remain in Costa Rica is based upon their country of origin. Costa Rica ranks countries for visa purposes into 4 categories set forth below:
GROUP ONE. Those countries designated as Group One may enter Costa Rica without an entry Visa and may remain in Costa Rica for up to 90 days.
Example: United States Canada, European Union, Australia, Brazil
GROUP TWO: Citizens of Group Two countries may enter Costa Rica without an entry Visa and may remain in Costa Rica for up to 30 days.
Example: Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Venezuela
GROUP THREE: If you are a citizen of a Group Three country you need to obtain an entry VISA from a Costa Rican Embassy or Consulate abroad before you enter Costa Rica. If granted it is for a period of 30 days.
Example: Colombia, Ecuador, India, Nicaragua, Peru
GROUP FOUR: This is the most restrictive category. This means that citizens of Category Three Countries must have an entry visa BEFORE they are allowed to enter Costa Rica. The visa must be reviewed by the Director of Immigration before it can be granted. If granted the visa is for a period of 30 days.
Example: Cuba, Jamaica, China, Iran, Iraq.
You can download the current visa list by clicking on the following link: Costa Rica Visa Entry Requirement List
Your Passport Entry Stamp: While you are in Costa Rica your passport and the immigration stamp that was placed in it when you entered the country is your proof of legal status. The Immigration Department allows you to carry a copy of your passport with the entry stamp so that you can keep your passport in a safe place.
RESIDENCY IN COSTA RICA
All residency applications are processed by the Costa Rican Department of Immigration (Direccion General de Migracion y Extranjeria) which in turn is overseen by the Ministry of Public Security and Police (Ministerio de Gobernacion, Policia y Seguridad Publica).
In the past the Department of Immigration required that applications be filed in your country of origin through the Costa Rican Consular Office in your country of origin. Under the current law the Department of Immigration will accept applications filed directly in Costa Rica with the Department of Immigration. However, if you file in Costa Rica as opposed to outside of Costa Rica then, in addition to the $50 application fee you will be charged an additional $200 fee for a change of status fee.
All the supporting documents that must accompany your residency application must be authenticated in your country of origin. If your country is a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Legalization of Foreign Documents then your certified documents should be “Apostilled” in your country of origin and may be used in Costa Rica without further authentication procedures in Costa Rica. If your country is not a member of Hague Convention on the Legalization of Foreign Documents then you will need to interact with the Costa Rican Embassy or Consular office in your home country in order to have your documents authenticated. See the following article on the Legalization of Documents for Countries that are members of the Hague Convention.
For list of Embassy and Consular Offices of Costa Rica around the world see the list on the Ministry of Foreign Relations site: Embassy and Consular List.
Be advised that the residency procedures change from time to time. Since Costa Rica has become an attractive destination for many persons the processing of immigration applications at time has overwhelmed the Immigration processing system. As such, there are considerable delays in processing new applications. Also, the approval of residency is a discretionary matter of the Department of Immigration. The Department of Immigration favors applicants that can demonstrate that they will provide a financial benefit for Costa Rica citizens either in the form of direct investment (investors, entrepreneurs) or indirect investment (Rentista and Pensionados) .
The Residency options available in Costa Rica under the Immigration Law ( Law # 8764) are discussed below:
The majority of application for Costa Rican residency will fall into the Temporary Residency category which is regulated by Article 79 of the Immigration Law and has the following subcategories:
- The Spouse of a Costa Rican citizen as set forth in Article 73 of the law.
- Those of religious orders for religions that have been accredited by the Ministry of Foreign Relations and Culture.
- Executives, Managers, Technical Personnel for Corporations which are established in the country. This may also include those specialized workers that are independent workers but whose technical expertise is required and the Department of Immigration as set forth the criteria to allow that specialty to work in Costa Rica.
- Scientific, Professional and Specialized persons.
- Sports figures recognized by the National Council on Sports and Recreation.
- International Press Correspondents
RETIREMENT OR INCOME BASED RESIDENCY IN COSTA RICA
Pensionado and Rentista Residency
Pensionado adn Rentista are the two most common Temporary Residency categories that are processed before the Department of Immigration. If you qualify for either of these two categories this is the route you should take to start your residency process in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica has had a Pensionado (Retiree) and Renitsta program for more than 40 years. This program continues to date as follows:
If you are planning to retire in Costa Rica and you have a pension or you receive investment income then you may qualify for either PENSIONADO RESIDENCY or RENTISTA RESIDENCY. I will go over the specifics of each program in more detail as follows:
- PENSION BASED RESIDENCY [Pensionado]
The Pensionado (Retiree) applicant must demonstrate a permanent fixed income from a pension or similar retirement income of at least US$1,000 per month. The typical applicant in this category has a government, private sector pension or social security retirement benefits. The legal basis for the pensionado category under the immigration law is Article 81 of Law 8764.
- INVESTMENT AND INCOME BASED RESIDENCY [Rentista]
To apply for residency under the Rentista portion the applicant must demonstrate a at leastUS$2,500 per month in a permanent and stable manner for at least 2 years. This amount includes the applicant, their spouse and all their children which are under the age of 25. The legal basis for the Rentista category under the new immigration is Article 82 of Law 8764.
Generally, those who seek the Rentista residency category do not have a pension source and instead have investment income. To apply for this category it is necessary to provide proof that you will receive the US$2,500 in a permanent and stable manner. This can be done by providing a letter from your bank or financial institution whereby they stipulate that you will receive $2,500 per month in Costa Rica. In some cases you will be able to deposit funds in a Costa Rican bank and have the local bank issue the letter for you.
I will emphasize that the ideal letter issued by the financial institution should state that the recipient will receive at least US$2,500 per month in Costa Rica in a stable and permanent manner for 2 years. Recently the Department of Immigration has been picky over the content of the letter. They want to see the key words mentioned in the Immigration Law to also appear in the letter. The key words they look for are “permaneng and stable” and that the amount of $2,500 will be “income” received. To avoid processing delays make sure your bank letter which will be the basis of your application contains those key words.
In both cases, Pensionado and Rentista the beneficiaries must comply with the following:
Prove that the funds were deposited in Costa Rica. This issue generally comes up when you are going to renew your residency category. When you renew your status you will be asked to provide proof that the funds have been sent to Costa Rica. As such keep records of all deposits until you complete your renewal of status. The easiest way to comply with this requirement is to ask your bank to issue a letter stating that you have an account with them and indicating that during the year you have exchanged the amount required by the immigration law i.e. $12,000 per year for Pensionado or $ 30,000 per year for Rentista.
Contribute to the Social Security System of Costa Rica. The Immigration Law (Law # 8764) requires that all those that have residency in Costa Rica contribute towards the Costa Rican Social Security and Medical System (C.C.S.S.) The easiest way to comply is to request a voluntary policy known as seguro voluntario. The amount you pay is based upon the amount of income you reported on the application and which was the basis of your residency process. The insurance is a percentage of the amount of income that you receive. For more information on Social Security registration read my article on Mandatory Registration with Social Security in Costa Rica,
A. The Rentista and Pensionado Application Process
The application for Rentista or Pensionado status can be filed directly in Costa Rica with the Department of Immigration or through the Costa Rican Embassy or Consular office in your country of origin. Before the application can be prepared the applicant must compile all the supporting documentation that is required for the application as follows:
NOTE: All documents must be Apostilled in your country of origin. If your country is a member of the Hague Convention on the Legalization of Foreign Documents that is all you will need to do. If your country is not a member then you will have to send it to the Costa Rican consulate for your jurisdiction for authentication.
- Birth Certificate: You must provide a certified copy of your birth certificate and that of your dependents.
- Marriage Certificate: If you are married and your spouse will be applying with you as well then you will also have to provide a certified copy of a marriage certificate.
- Proof of Income: If your source of income is a government pension then obtain a letter from your government certifying the income (US citizens on Social Security can obtain this letter from the United States Embassy -Consular Section in Costa Rica).If the income is from a Bank or Financial Institution then it must issue the letter. The letters must also be Apostilled or authenticated by a Costa Rican Consulate.
- Police Certificate of Good Conduct: This certification is obtained from the police department where you last resided. Note that this certificate is only valid for 6 months from the date they are issued. If this document expires while you are pulling together the rest of the documentation then you will have to obtain another one. If the document expires after you have submitted it to immigration and they have not processed your obligation you will NOT have to submit another one.
- Finger Prints for Interpol Background Check: This step is done in Costa Rica at the Ministry of Public Security. The applicant will be finger printed in Costa Rica and the prints will be checked with Interpol. You must take at least 3 photographs facing front. Note. The latest regulations require that the applicant first submit the residency application at immigration. Once the applicant has proof that they have filed for residency status then they will be allowed to proceed with fingerprinting.
- Photographs: The application requires two (2) photographs. However we recommend you have at least six (6) photographs during the various stages of processing.
- Photocopy of Your Entire Passport: With your application you will need to provide a complete copy of your passport. This means every single page from front cover to back. You will also require a very clear copy of the date of the immigration stamp where you entered the country.
- Translation of Documents: Once you have compiled all your documentation, all documents which are in English must be translated into Spanish. This procedure can generally be handled by the Attorney that you have retained to process your application.
- Power of Attorney for Representation: If you have hired an Attorney to process your application you will have to confer upon them a Power of Attorney to act on your behalf before the Department of Immigration.
- Background Information Sheet (Hoja de Filiacion): This form requests the personal background information of the applicant and must be attached to the application.
- Proof of Registration With Your Local Embassy: Your local Embassy in Costa Rica must provide you with a letter or certificate indicating that you have registered with them. This is now a pre-requisite to the approval of immigration residency status in Costa Rica. Many embassies have an online registration form so you can register online and then print the registration form out to include with your residency application.
As previously indicated all documents that are issued in your country of origin such as a birth certificate, police certificate, marriage certificate etc.. must go through the document legalization and authentication process. This means the documents you will use for the residency process must first be be obtained from your vital records office and then certified by your local authenticating government agent. In the United States that would be the Secretary of State of the state where the document was issued. In the case of Canadian documents they can be legalized at the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Office. In the case of European documents they must be legalized by the Foreign Relations office of the country where they were issued. If your country is a member of the Hague Convention on the Legalization of Foreign Documents then you can skip the Costa Rican Embassy / Consular authentication step.
Once you have all the documentation set forth above you are ready to submit your application to the Department of Immigration. The cost of the application is $50 which must be paid to the Department of Immigration by way of deposit to their account at the Banco de Costa Rica. If you apply in Costa Rica instead of via your Consular office you will have to pay an additional $200 with your application since they consider this a change of status from a “tourist” status to the new category you are applying for. Generally the Department of Immigration will only receive applications that are accompanied with ALL the supporting documentation. Keep in mind that all the original documents that you submit become the exclusive property of the Department of Immigration and will NOT be returned to you. We strongly recommend that you pay the $250 and apply within Costa Rica.
Within the application process you will be required to provide the Department of Immigration with the following information:
1. Full Name, 2. Nationality, 3. Occupation, 4. Name of your Father, 5. Name of your Mother, 6. Name of your Spouse, 7. Race, 8. Color of your Eyes, 9. Color of your hair, 10. Your height (in meters), 11. Your weight (in kilos), 12. Marital Status, 13. Place of Birth, 14. Date of Birth, 15. Original Entry Date into Costa Rica, 16. Point of Entry into Costa Rica, 17. Physical Address in Costa Rica, 18. Telephone number in Costa Rica.Once you application is received you will be given a receipt. This receipt is important since it is your proof that you have a pending residency application with the Department of Immigration.
Your application first goes to the Legal Department within Pensionado/Rentista Section of the Department of Immigration who will review all the documentation for compliance. If all your paperwork is in order the Legal Department will forward the application to the approval committee for final evaluation. If there are any defects in the application the Legal Department will notify your legal representative of the defect and request that it be corrected before it will submit the application for approval.
If your application is approved then the Department of Immigration will issue a formal resolution indicating the date on which the application was approved. You or your legal representative must appear at the Department of Immigration for formally retrieve the resolution. Once you have the final resolution and have registered with the Costa Rican Social Security System (CCSS) then you can request an appointment with the Department of Immigration to have them issue you a picture identification residency card.
B. Renewal of Pensionado/ Rentista
In order to renew you residency status under this category you must first must demonstrate that the income was received in Costa Rica. The renewal process has greatly improved since the Department of Immigration created an alliance with Banco de Costa Rica one of the largest banks in Costa Rica. As such residency holders can renew their residency status at some of the branch offices of Banco de Costa Rica. To do so you call their 900 number which is 900-00-34639 to request a renewal appointment. They have English speaking phone operators if you request it.
INVESTING IN COSTA RICA
THE INVESTOR PROGRAM [Inversionista]
The Investor Category requires an applicant to demonstrate to the Department of Immigration that they will be coming to Costa Rica to invest in the country. The current Immigration Law maintains the investor category which had existed in previous immigration laws. The category is found in Article 79 (4) of the law. It is also addressed in the Regulations to the Immigration Law in Article 87 of Decree No. 37112-G.
To qualify for investment status the applicant will have to demonstrate an investment of at least US$200,000 in Costa Rica. According to the regulations:
“The investment amount must be $200,000 United States dollars or more according to the official exchange rate which is established by the Central Bank of Costa Rica. The investment can be made in tangible property, shares, negotiable instruments, productive projects or projects which are deemed of national interest”
The investor category allows individuals that have purchased real estate in Costa Rica either directly or by way of a Costa Rican corporation with a value of US$200,000 or more to qualify for investor residency.
Be sure to properly document the value of the investment with official government records and a Costa Rican Certified Public Accountant (CPA) since the government will look at official documents to verify the investment.
The Investor category once approved includes the main applicant, spouse and children under the age of 25.
IMMEDIATE RELATIVE PETITION
This category of residency is available to foreigners who are immediate relatives of a Costa Rica citizen.
1. Who is an Immediate Relative for Purposes of the Law
Those who are related in the First Degree with a Costa Rican citizen.
The law recognizes the following to qualify:
- Parents of Costa Rican citizens.
- The minor children of a Costa Rican citizen.
- The children of a Costa Rican citizen that has a disability regardless of age.
- Minors which are siblings of a Costa Rican citizen or siblings that have a disability of any age.
2. The Spouse of a Costa Rican Citizen
The procedure by which a Spouse of a Costa Rican citizen may process residency is one of the significant changes in the new immigration law.
Under Article 73 and 79 (1) of the new immigration law the Spouse of a Costa Rican citizen is no longer allowed to apply for Permanent residency status. A Spouse must first apply under the Temporary residency category.This is a response to massive marriage fraud cases that have been uncovered whereby foreigners would pay Costa Rican citizens to marry them in order to obtain permanent residency.
Under the new law the spouse of a Costa Rica citizen will be given Temporary immigration status for one year and renewable for additional one year periods so long as the immigration authorities do not determine that the marriage is a sham. After 3 years of marriage and with Temporary Residency status then the spouse may apply for Permanent Residency
The applicant must provide the following supporting documentation:
- Birth Certificate: You must provide a certified copy of your birth certificate and that of your dependents. The certified copy must be sent to the Costa Rican consulate for your jurisdiction for authentication. The consulate charges US$40 for each document to be authenticated. Be advised that the Department of Immigration will not accept any supporting documentation which has not been authenticated by a Costa Rican Consul.
- Proof of Relationship to Costa Rican Citizen: If you are basing your petition on marriage then you must have a Certified copy of the marriage certificate issued by the Civil Registry. If you are a parent or sibling to a Costa Rica citizen then provide the Certified birth certificate of the relative. You must also provide a certified copy of the identification document of the Costa Rican relative.
- Police Certificate of Good Conduct: This certification is obtained from the police department where you last resided. This certification also needs to be authenticated by a Costa Rican Consulate. Note that this certificates is only valid for 6 months from the date they are issued. If this document expires while you are pulling together the rest of the documentation then you will have to obtain another one.
- Fingerprints for Interpol Background Check: This step is done in Costa Rica at the Ministry of Public Security. The applicant is finger printed and the fingerprints are run through the Interpol computer index. Under current regulations the applicant must first apply for residency and have proof of the application before they will be allowed to be fingerprinted.
- Photographs: The application must provide 4 photographs facing towards the front.
- Translation of Documents: Once you have compiled all your documentation, all documents which are not in Spanish must be translated to the Spanish language.
- Register with the Embassy of your Country of origin: You must register with your Embassy and provide proof to the Department of Immigration.
WORKING IN COSTA RICA
In order to work in Costa Rica you must either have Permanent Residency or have a work permit that allows you to work.
If you have a Temporary Residency category you may only “carry out remunerated work or business activities on your own which are authorized by the Department of Immigration”. The work authorization shall be based upon the criteria developed by the Ministry of Labor and Social Security along with other criteria of the Department of Immigration.
Article 18 section (20) of the Immigration law authorizes the Immigration police to investigate the immigration status of foreign workers and to that end they may “enter upon their place or work during business hours, check passports, residency status, work permits as well as any other identification document in order to determine any violations of the law.”
This article is copyrighted to Roger A. Petersen, CostaRicaLaw.com