Costa Rica Immigration and Residency Summary
In this article I will set forth a summary of the most current Costa Rica Immigration laws and regulations which will guide you through the updated procedures for applying for residency in Costa Rica.
All information contained in this article is current as of 2014
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.
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:
(1) The Spouse of a Costa Rican citizen as set forth in Article 73 of the law.
(2) Those of religious orders for religions that have been accredited by the Ministry of Foreign Relations and Culture
(5) Scientific, Professional and Specialized persons.
(6) Sports figures recognized by the National Council on Sports and Recreation
(7) International Press Correspondents
RETIREMENT OR INCOME BASED RESIDENCY IN COSTA RICA
Pensionado and Rentista Residency
These are the two most common Temporary Residency categories that are processed. 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:
1. 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.
2. INVESTMENT AND INCOME BASED RESIDENCY [Rentista]
To apply for residency under the Rentista portion the applicant must demonstrate a at least US$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.
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. Recently the Department of Immigration has been picky over the content of the letter so you will avoid delays if the content of the letter contains the words that they want to see.
In both cases, Pensionado and Rentista the beneficiaries must comply with the following:
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
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.
1. Birth Certificate: You must provide a certified copy of your birth certificate and that of your dependents.
2. 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.
3. 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.
5. 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.
6. Photographs: The application requires two (2) photographs. However we recommend you have at least six (6) photographs during the various stages of processing.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. Background Information Sheet (Hoja de Filiacion). This form requests the personal background information of the applicant and must be attached to the application.
You can download the form here: Formulario de Filiación in PDF or in image format Formulario de Filiacion
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.
The following is an example of a Secretary of State authentication. Since the United States is a member of the Hague Convention on the Legalization of Foreign Documents this document could be sent directly to Costa Rica for legalization.
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.
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
INVESTING IN COSTA RICA
THE INVESTOR PROGRAM [Inversionista]
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 to qualify for investor residency. The application will cover the applicant and their immediate family.
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:
i. Parents of Costa Rican citizens,
ii. The minor children of a Costa Rican citizen.
iii. The children of a Costa Rican citizen that has a disability regardless of age.
iv. 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.
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:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. Photographs: The application must provide 4 photographs facing towards the front.
6. Translation of Documents: Once you have compiled all your documentation, all documents which are not in Spanish must be translated to the Spanish language.
7. 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.
For more information on living, retiring or doing business in Costa Rica be sure you have a copy of the 2014 edition of The Legal Guide to Costa Rica now available from Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble