Residencies

Pension Based Retirement Residency [Pensionado]

Costa Rica was a pioneer in creating a retirement residency program which has been in effect now for more than 40 years.

The Pensionado (Retiree) applicant must demonstrate a lifetime pension source of 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. If you do not have a pension then the income based rentista program may be an option.

Income Based Residency [Rentista]

To apply for residency under the Rentista portion the applicant must demonstrate that they will receive at least US$2,500 per month of income in a permanent, stable and irrevocable 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 an investment source of income which will need to be verified by a financial or banking institution. 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 sent to you to Costa Rica. The letter must include the key words that immigration is looking for which are that the funds will be sent in an permanent, stable and irrevocable manner to you during a 2 year period. 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. To avoid processing delays make sure that the income letter which will be the basis of your application contains those key words.

If your home country bank cannot issue that letter then you have the option of working with a Costa Rican bank to do so. Several banks in Costa Rica will assist you in the rentista application process. To do so they will require that you deposit with them US$60,000 as a minimum and in turn they will issue you the rentista letter for immigration.

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 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. You can also combine investments to reach the investment threshold.

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.

How about my family Dependents

All of the categories mentioned above allow the applicant to include their family members as dependents. Dependents generally include your spouse and any children under the age of 25. If you have older children that are disabled then you can include them in the application by demonstrating the disability and the dependency.

The Residency Application Process

The first decision you need to make is if you are going to hire somebody to put together all the documentation and do all the filings for you or if you will go at it on your own. The decision should be based on how much time you are willing to spend going back and forth to immigration to check the status of your application and deal with any defects to your application. If the answer is none then hire somebody to do it for you.

Your application to the Department of Immigration must include within in the following information about each applicant. If you are claiming a dependent then that is treated by Immigration as separate application requiring the same information and documentation as the principal application:

- Full Name

- Nationality

- Occupation

- Name of your Father

- Name of your Mother

- Marital Status

- Place of Birth

- Date of Birth

- Original Entry Date into Costa Rica

- Point of Entry into Costa Rica

- Physical Address in Costa Rica

- Telephone number in Costa Rica.

The Supporting Documents to Your Residency Application.

When you apply for residency you must attach to your application the supporting documents to justify that application. Those documents that are required by law are the following. All documents issued in a foreign country must be authenticated for use in Costa Rica. The document authentication process is discussed in the next section. Also any document that is not in Spanish must be officially translated into Spanish before it will be accepted for immigration purposes.

When you apply for residency you must attach to your application the supporting documents to justify that application. Those documents that are required by law are the following. All documents issued in a foreign country must be authenticated for use in Costa Rica. The document authentication process is discussed in the next section. Also any document that is not in Spanish must be officially translated into Spanish before it will be accepted for immigration purposes.

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:

a. Pension Based Income. If your source of income is a government pension then obtain a letter from your government certifying the income.

Note for United States Citizens: U.S. citizens on Social Security can obtain this letter from the United States Embassy Federal Benefits Office located in San José. You must make an appointment online since they do not take walk ins.

b. Rentista Based Income: If the source of income is from a Bank or Financial Institution then the letter must be on official letterhead and the signature of the bank official must be notarized.

c. Investment in Costa Rica: If you are applying under the Inversionista (investment) category then you will need to document that investment by including: (i) A copy of the property deed. (ii) A certificate of property tax registration from your local municipal office. (iii) A C.P.A. certification of investment. More documents may be required if the property is owned by a Costa Rican corporation so consult with your Attorney on the specifics of this category before you apply.

4. Police (Background check) Certificate of Good Conduct: You must provide the Department of Immigration proof that you do not have any criminal history. To do so you must provide a certification from your local police authority where you last resided.

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.

5. 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 when you entered the country.

6. Photographs: The application requires two (2) photographs. However we recommend you have at least six (6) photographs during the various stages of processing since you will need them for over stages of the process.

7. 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.

8. Background Information Sheet (Hoja de Filiacion). This form requests the personal background information of the applicant and must be attached to the application.

9. Power of Attorney for Representation. If you have hired a local 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. 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 system so you can register online and then print the registration form out to include with your residency application.

For citizens of the United States the program is called the Smart Traveller Enrollment Program. Just register and print the form.

11. 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.

Under current regulations you can only be fingerprinted after you have filed your residency application. Once you have filed you will have a receipt of filing and with that document you can go to the fingerprinting office for processing.

How Do I Authenticate my Documents ?

All the supporting documents that must accompany your residency application must be authenticated in your country of origin.

Costa Rica is a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Legalization of Foreign Documents which recognizes foreign documents that are Apostille in their country of origin. If your country is also a member then have your certified documents certified in your country of origin by the government office in charge of handling the Apostille of documents. Once your document is Apostille then in your country of origin it 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 citizens from the United States the authority in charge of Apostles is the Secretary of State of the state of the particular state where the document was issued. To find your local Secretary of State you can visit the site of the National Association of Secretaries of State for that information.

If you are a Canadian citizen then your procedure is different because Canada is not a signatory to the Hague Convention. As such Canadian documents can be legalized at the Costa Rican Embassy in Ottawa Office.

Once that is done the documents will have to be sent to the for further authentication.

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 and Consular authentication step.

How Long Does The Residency Process Take?

Since Costa Rica has become an attractive destination for many persons the processing of immigration applications at time has overwhelmed the Immigration processing system. It can typically take anywhere from 7 to 15 months to have your application approved. It depends on many different factors. The best advice I can give you is to make sure that your application is filed with all supporting documents included. The biggest source of delay is filing with incorrect or missing documents.

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. I strongly recommend that you pay the $250 and apply directly at the Department of Immigration offices in Costa Rica.

Once you application is received you will be given a receipt of filing indicating your immigration file number. This receipt is important since it is your proof that you have a pending residency application with the Department of Immigration. The form below is a copy of the receipt that you will be issued.

The Department of Immigration will not even review your file during the first 3 months of filing. On the 91st day of having filed your application you can request an appointment to petition that your application be put before the immigration council for resolution.

Once that is done you or your legal representative has triggered the legal review process for your application. 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 Department of Immigration will notify you or your legal representative of the defect and request that it be corrected before it will submit the application for approval.

If there is a defect in your file that needs correction you should do that as quickly as possible since you have specific time limits that will be indicated in the resolution to complete the correction. Failure to comply could result in your application being rejected.

Assuming all your documentation was filed correctly then your application will be approved and the Department of Immigration will issue a formal resolution indicating the date on which the application was approved.

I have Been Approved Now What Do I Do ?

Once you have a resolution in hand indicating that you have been approved then you can start the final process to get your picture identification card known as the Cedula de Residencia.

1. Get Your Health Care Card

The Immigration Law (Law # 8764) requires that all foreigners with residency in Costa Rica contribute towards the Costa Rican Social Security Medical System (C.C.S.S. known as Caja) To do this once you have your immigration resolution approving residency you can then go to your local branch of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS) to register and pay your health insurance coverage. 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.

2. Pay your Post Approval Fees

Once approved you will have to pay a government guaranty bond of $300 and another $128 for residency processing fees. These amounts must be paid directly to the account of the Department of Immigration with Banco de Costa Rica. The details of those accounts are indicated in your residency approval resolution.

3. Make an Appointment to Get Your Residency Card

Once you have completed steps 1 and 2 above then you can call the Department of Immigration Call Center line at 1311 and request an appointment to process your identification card. This can be done directly at the Department of Immigration or certain branches of Banco de Costa Rica and certain branches of the Costa Rica Post Office (Correos de Costa Rica). Ask the call center operator for the nearest location to your place of residence.

How About Permanent Residency?

This category of residency is available to foreigners who are immediate relatives of a Costa Rica citizen.

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.

I Married a Costa Rican Can I Get Residency ?

In the past marriage to a Costa Rican citizen allowed the applicant to file for permanent residency under the immediate relative provision. However due to extensive abuses of this provision with fraudulent marriages the law was changes.

Under Article 73 and 79 (1) of the immigration law the spouse of a Costa Rican citizen must first apply under the Temporary residency category.

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

I have had Temporary Residency for 3 Years What Do I Do ?

Once you have had temporary residency for 3 years you are eligible to file a petition for change of status to permanent residency. It requires a signed petition to be filed with the Department of Immigration. They will then review the petition and if granted they will issue a resolution indicating that it is approved and changing your legal status to permanent resident.

How About Working in Costa Rica

In order to work in Costa Rica you must either have Permanent Residency or have an specific work permit that allows you to work while on Temporary Status. Generally under Temporary Status you are not permitted to work for remuneration.

Getting work authorization is 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 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.”