Newcomers to Costa Rica have lots of questions about obtaining residency in Costa Rica. Which type of residency is right for me? How much does it cost? Do I need a lawyer? Where should I open a bank account? What is a cedula? This article covers the 5 common types of residency and answers many of the most commonly asked questions. Plus, expats talk about their experiences obtaining residency in Costa Rica.
"If you choose to be a resident, you will need to qualify under one of five different categories. As an approved resident, you will not be required to leave the country every 90 days. Five of the categories to qualify for residency is as follows: Family relationship to a Costa Rican, pensioner, small investor, investor, or company work visa," wrote one expat living in Playa Hermosa.
The 5 Residency Options for Expats in Costa Rica
Here's an overview of the 5 main residency programs that expats living in Costa Rica pursue:
Pensionado Visa Requirements
The Pensionado Residency Program, or Pensioner Visa, is Costa Rica's retirement visa for people moving to Costa Rica who are 55 years of age and over. You must show proof of US $1,000 income for life. "One way is to come in as a pensioner. This only requires showing a minimum of $1000 a month income for life, as well as of course dealing with a lot of paperwork and paying fees. Those who can't or prefer not to show the $1000 a month income for life can obtain residency as either rentistas or investors," wrote one expat.
Rentista Visa Requirements
The Rentista Residency Program, or Small Investor Visa, requires proof of $2,500 per month in income for a 2-year period (must be guaranteed by a bank) or a $60,000 deposit in an approved Costa Rican bank. One member said, "Please be aware that a second US $60,000 will be needed to be deposited, 2 years later for Rentista residency," cautioned one expat in a discussion about depositing the $60k for the Rentista Visa in the bank.
Inversionista Visa Requirements
The Inversionista Residency Program, or Investor Visa, requires a $200,000 USD investment in a business or property. "If you want to start a business in Costa Rica, the minimum investment is US $200,000. You will be required to remain in the country at least six months per year, and you cannot claim a spouse or dependants under 18. You are entitled to income from the project, and can own a company and receive dividends," wrote Lic Giovanna Barrantes in his article, What you need to know to become a resident of Costa Rica.
"Inversionista status is the most difficult to achieve. You would have to present plans and documentation of how many workers etc you intend to employ. Plus, you have to have the property already in your possession, when you apply and there is no guarantee that it will be accepted by immigration. This is what happened to us, so then had to reapply for Rentista status. Also those with Inversionista status tend to pay the highest premium for the mandatory CAJA coverage. And if the principal applicant is under 55 you could find yourself paying over $450 monthly," wrote one expat.
Representante Visa Requirements
The Representante Residency Program, or Representative or Company Visa, is offered to company directors. "If you are a representative of a company (a Representante), the applicant must be a company director, and employ a minimum number of local workers as established by the labor law, with financial statements certified by a public accountant. The representative must remain in Costa Rica at least six months per year, cannot claim a spouse or dependants under 18, but can earn an income from the company, and can own a company and receive income," wrote Lic Giovanna Barrantes.
Permanent Residency Requirements
Permanent Residency is available to someone with a first-degree relative (via marriage or family).
Expat Health Insurance in Costa Rica
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Do I need to hire an attorney to apply for residency?
The answer to this question depends upon whom you talk with and their experience obtaining residency. Some expats are able to do the paperwork themselves and navigate the process. Others fully appreciate having the advice, language skills and assistance of an attorney. Others try it themselves and end up hiring an attorney. Here are a few expat responses to this question:
"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.
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.
Car Insurance & Border Crossings
If you are in the middle of the residency application process and have your expediente, you are not required to make border crossings every 90 days (for your residency); however, if you and driving and have auto insurance, you are required to leave the country every ninety days until you have your cedula.
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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. 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.
Type of Residency & CAJA Payments
CAJA is the common term for Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (abbreviated as CCSS). CAJA is Costa Rica's social security system which provides public healthcare. "You are required to be a legal resident of Costa Rica. Once the application process is almost complete, it is mandatory that you become affiliated with CAJA. This process may take a year or more."
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.
How do I register with my embassy?
To apply for residency in Costa Rica, the Costa Rican government requires applicants register with their home country's embassy.
For Americans, complete the following steps:
- Complete the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program process online and print the profile info page.
- Turn in the profile page to the Costa Rican immigration office where you are applying.
PLEASE NOTE: It is no longer a requirement to have the STEP profile or confirmation page notarized at the U.S.Embassy.
Smart Traveler Enrollment Program
How do I request a criminal history?
For Americans, you may request a criminal history, or "Identity History Summary", from the FBI. The FBI website states that: "Current processing time for Identity History Summary requests submitted via the mail is 2-4 weeks. Allow additional time for mail delivery." To be safe, you should request the criminal history 2+ months before the date you need it.
Apostille vs. Notary Requirements
According to the US State Department: Apostilles are federally-issued documents for use in countries that are members of the 1961 Hague Convention may need to be authenticated with an apostille issued by the U.S. Department of State. Documents signed by the following officials require an apostille issued by the U.S. Department of State:
- U.S. federal official
- U.S. consular officer
- A military notary, judge advocate (10 USC 1044a), or a foreign consul diplomatic official registered with the U.S. Department of State's Office of Protocol
Note: All certifications must include a legible signature of the official's name, title, and seal of the agency.
Here's a list of the members of the Hague Convention.