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Costa Rica Visa & Residency > Costa Rica Immigration FAQ

FAQ about Immigration to Costa Rica

Mal Pais, Costa Rica

Frequently Asked Questions

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Do I need a return ticket?

One member asked, "We are planning to move to Costa Rica in October of this year. We’ve been reading about entering the country, however we’ve read where it says you need a return ticket. Does this have to do with visas or other documentation? Can you apply for residency before you actually move there?"

"Yes, a return flight is required by the airlines. Without one, chances are that you will not be allowed to board the plane. The return flight must be for less than 90 days. You can apply for residency before you actually move but it won't help you to get around this rule and you can expect your application to take up to a year or even more," said one expat.

"You can still do this, but when flying in, you need a return flight or at least a ticket out within 90 days...although traveling to Panama has more 'rules and requirements' ' than going to Nicaragua. Until you are a legal resident with a cedula 'in hand' , and you wish to continue driving, you are required to renew your 'drivers license, every 90 days, so you must exit the country," added another member.

"It is my understanding that although you need a return ticket, if you apply ahead of being here, or even not, once you have your "Expediente" which is proof of application for residency, you do NOT have to take border runs. We didn't. And received our cedula 8-1/2 months later. I did end up using my return ticket as had some banking issues that could not be solved from here. But my husband never did. Also, a one way ticket usually costs more than a round trip. Our travel agent recommended as it was about 3 times more otherwise. But like said, you need round trip until you have cedula. But some people we know bought a returnable round trip ticket which is really expensive, but then cancelled the return ticket and were refunded. But takes a month or so to get it," recounted one member.

Do I need to be living in Costa Rica to apply for residency?

One member asked, "I've been reading the responses on this topic and finding them very helpful. Just have one question. If someone starts the application process from the U.S., and say it gets approved in a year (or whenever), does anyone know the requirements at that point of having to move to CR? Is there a time limit there?"

"Not, to actually move, but you will have to be here to finalize the process. This means signing up for CAJA, the healthcare system and apply for your cedula, for which you will have to have so set an appointment," wrote one member in Costa Rica in a discussion about residency.

The initial posted asked, "Ok, so say I start the application process today. Fast forward 1 year and I am at the point where they are ready for me to make my appointment to finalize the application. Maybe I have some family commitments that mean I won't be able to go down for 6 months. How long will they keep it open before closing the file and requiring you to start the process all over again?"

"I think it is 3 months, but you would have to check that. Note that most lawyers require all the funds up front...as many applicants change their minds, and you won't get a refund. Visit a few time before starting the process. Sorry to say, that I don't think the type of business you mention that you're presently involved in, is something that would 'go down well' here," responded one member.

Do I need to hire an attorney to apply for residency?

Do I need to hire an attorney to apply for residency?

One member asked, "I am wanting to move to CR to retire in the next year. I have a limited income and would like to know if it is necessary to use an agency or attorney to apply for residency? I checked into one agency and the cost was $2800.00 per person. Is the application process to difficult to do for ones self? or is there any less expensive options?"

"Most of the cost you stated are government fees, which you will have to pay regardless. It is absolutely worth paying a representative to act on your behalf," responded one expat.

"I've just gone through the process on my own behalf because my lawyer wanted to charge too much and he kept making mistakes. I did everything myself for a lot less money. The big expenditure is paying the initial fee which if you're applying outside of Costa Rica is only about $50 but if you're applying inside Costa Rica it's $200, I think is what I paid. It's time consuming either way. There's no fast way. But it's just a question of submitting some documents i.e. birth certificate properly certified, background check properly certified (apostille), proof that your income is at $1000/month, etc. You'll have to resign yourself to making a few trips to the immigration offices and wait in line for an hour or two. There are seats to sit in and since you are 65 or over you have a legal right to go to the head of the line without waiting. It's exactly what your lawyer would have to do but you'd have to pay him at least $1000. If you do it yourself it's a lot cheaper. If you don't speak Spanish you'd probably need a translator to go with you however. Just paying a Tico 10,000colones ($20) would be a reasonable rate. Or you could pay someone $40 and just have them do it for you for the day. You don't need a lawyer," said another.

"I got my residency without a lawyer and had no problem. Spanish language skills would definitely help you understand and work through the bureaucracy. The CR Migracion website has instructions to get you started. Be patient and good luck," added another.

"I need to jump in with my thoughts or even questions. We do have our residency, and I got the documents together that were needed, and I did all of them correctly. Takes being detailed and thorough. But we did use a lawyer, and he did a good job and stuck fully to his quote. But without him, if I had to do it today and did not know Spanish, nor the area, I would today have a problem finding Immigration and where to get fingerprints. But there were umpteen buildings there, and trying to find the right line to get in and remembering which building. And then it was noisy, and even though at that point in time the lawyer was not with us, they would holler the instructions and it was a miracle we could even understand our name as mis-pronounced it so much barely could recognize. Years ago, I read that you could hire a runner that would guide you through to process there. Even though I speak Spanish well, to me, I wouldn't be able to find the fingerprint building or right line at Immigration. That is the problem I would have. I also read once, that if you don't have a lawyer or a 'runner' or whatever he was called, they kind of play their ignoring games or head games that they can at times do, and make it take a whole lot longer and difficult," wrote another expat.

How long does it take to receive my expediente?

"Once you have received your "Expediente" which is proof that your residency is in process, you do not have to leave the country every 90 days. We received our Expediente three weeks after giving the lawyer all correct documents. Then returned to CR and stayed until we received our cedula, which took a total of 9 months," explained one expat.

"Once you have received the "expediente" (file saying that your application is under consideration) you do not have to leave, UNLESS you wish to keep driving, as I previously mentioned," added another member in Costa Rica.

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What is the expediente?

"Once you have received your "Expediente" which is proof that your residency is in process, you do not have to leave the country every 90 days. We received our Expediente three weeks after giving the lawyer all correct documents. Then returned to CR and stayed until we received our cedula, which took a total of 9 months," explained one expat.

"Once you have received the "expediente" (file saying that your application is under consideration) you do not have to leave, UNLESS you wish to keep driving, as I previously mentioned," added another member in Costa Rica.

"We received our 'Expediente' in 3 weeks, and our cedulas in nine months," said one expat.

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Is a second deposit of $60,000 required for Rentista Residency?

Expats on the Costa Rica forum mentioned and confirmed that a second deposit is required. One member said, "Please be aware that a second US$60,000 will be needed to be deposited, 2 years later for Rentista residency."

Can I leave every couple of months without jeopardizing my residency application?

"Once you have received your "Expediente" which is proof that your residency is in process, you do not have to leave the country every 90 days. We received our Expediente three weeks after giving the lawyer all correct documents. Then returned to CR and stayed until we received our cedula, which took a total of 9 months," replied one expat.

"While you are waiting for your residency to be completed you only need to come when an appointment is made with immigration. Unfortunately, immigration may contact you at the last minute, when required," added another.

There is one important caveat, despite not having to leave the country once you have your expediente, if you and driving and have auto insurance, you are required to leave the country every ninety days until you have your cedula.

Does the type of residency you choose impact your monthly CAJA payment?

Yes, The type of residency you obtain in Costa Rica definitely impacts your monthly CAJA costs. "Investor and Rentista premiums are much higher than for a Pensionado, And even more so, if one is under 55. Unfortunately, you won't know what your premium will be until the final step of the application process," wrote one expat in a discussion about residency as an investor.

What is the DIMEX number?

DIMEX, Documento de Identificación Migratorio para Extranjeros, is the number used by the immigration and banking system in Costa Rica to keep track of the flow of money. If you have a DIMEX number, it is printed on the bottom right of your Cedula.

What is a Cedula?

The Cedula, or cédula de identidad, is the identity card that residents of Costa Rica receive. It is about the size of the credit card and includes the resident's photo, personal identification number, expediente number, nationality, the resident's DIMEX number (if they have one), other personal information and the resident's signature. If it says Documento de Identificación Migratorio para Extranjeros on the bottom right of your Cedula, that is your DIMEX number.

Where do expats deposit the USD $60,000 required for the Rentista Residency? Do those banks provide the required letter?

In a discussion on the Costa Rica forum about the $60k deposit for the Rentista Residency, one expat in Costa Rica asked, "We are in the process of applying for our Rentista Residency for Costa Rica. We are working with an attorney in San Jose, CR. The attorney tells us that we need to deposit $60K into a Bank Account either in CR or the US and the bank must provide a letter to CR immigration with the exact required wording. The problem is that NO US bank will sign the letter required due to US laws that don't allow US banks to act as guarantors of the $60K. So our attorney tells us that we can set up a trust with them and they can provide the letter or we can go to a bank in CR to get the exact letter that immigration requires. We do not want to set up a trust with the attorney and many people on this site have advised against doing so. So the question is which banks in CR will provide the required letter with the exact wording necessary for immigration where it will be safe to open a bank account and deposit our US $60K required for Rentista Residency? We are not yet residents of CR, but are in the process of applying for Rentistas Residency. Any guidance or advice from those who have successfully achieved residency through the Rentista category would be greatly appreciated."

One member replied, "You have to set up a trust with the attorney. There is risk in everything I suppose, but we had to do that for our Rentista application. We used Outlier Legal, who many on this blog trust. Outlier Legal is now working on a complete investment arm for these types of accounts since there are so many, which would allow for some actual returns on our 'investment.'" Another expat added, "Please be aware that a second US$60,000 will be needed to be deposited, 2 years later for Rentista residency."

One expat offered this helpful list. He said: So the steps are:

  1. 1. Get a bank letter from your home country, yes, it must be with that exact wording
  2. 2. Open a bank account in CR
  3. 3. Get your first cedula
  4. 4. Transfer 60k in 2.5k monthly transfers
  5. 5. Renew your temporary cedula
  6. 6. Apply for permanent cedula

Do I need to declare all of my income when applying for Pensionado Residency?

No, you are not required to declare all of your income when showing proof of US $1,000 income when apply for residency under the Pensionado program. "You are not required to inform immigration if you have multiple pensions/SS payments, only the one that you choose to use and is nearest to the $1000 minimum required. 7-10% should be in the ballpark of this declared amount, but unfortunately one never knows 'exactly' what it will be, until at the end of the game," wrote one expat in a discussion about Pensionado status.

The reason it is important to understand this is because the level of income you show proof of when applying for residency is used to calculate your CAJA payments. CAJA is calculated as a percentage of your declared income.

How difficult is it to attain Pensionado status?

"It's easy if you have no criminal record, have a 'guaranteed for life' pension of at least $1000 (in US dollars) a month. It will cost you approx. $2500 for your application using a lawyer. and it will take approx. 12 - 15 months. You will not be covered by the socialized medical system until then. In my opinion, $1000 is no longer enough to comfortably live on here', but LOCATION is key. I live in an area where there are hardly any other expats, only ever have lunch out if we are 'out of our town' doing business elsewhere, nor do I live near the beach and there is no way we could live on $1000 a month. If you own your home, don't maintain a car and seldom eat out, possibly you could," wrote one expat.

"Takes some knowledge that you get by reading a lot and then talking to lawyer to make sure current. Pull up ARCR (Association Residents of Costa Rica). Have list of what you need to do. It's kind of a hassle and takes some clear thinking to do in right order. They are not interested in original documents. You have to order on line certified copies of your marriage certificate and birth certificate. Then send them to have them 'apostiled'. You have to have local police record of good conduct. All has to be less than 6 months old and can't remember police record less than that. Fingerprints after papers are in the hat or when your lawyer says to. Not fun to do. But I did and I am no Einstein and I did it correctly for me and my husband. We received our 'Expediente' in 3 weeks, and our cedulas in nine months. Everyone has a different experience. Depending on your lawyer, how detail oriented you are, and patience. Some people bug the lawyer every week, and I personally believe that works against them. I didn't call once, and ours were approved in 8-1/2 months," added another expat.

How long does it take to get Pensionado Residency?

"Expect it to take up to a year...and you may be happily surprised. However, it could take longer. No real evidence that it will take longer or shorter time when including your dependents," wrote one expat.

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