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And What if I Have a Criminal Record?

If you've ever considered retiring in Costa Rica or applying for residency as an Investor, Rentista, Self-Employed, etc. this information might be of your interest. Costa Rican immigration law cites a recent, duly apostilled/legalized background check


If you’ve ever considered retiring in Costa Rica or applying for residency as an Investor, Rentista, Self-Employed, etc. this information might be of your interest.

Costa Rican immigration law cites a recent, duly apostilled/legalized background check certificate as one of the requirements to apply for Residency. Immmigration has confirmed that only national-coverage background check such as an FBI report for US nationals, RCMP for Canadians, ACRO for UK nationals, so on and so forth, will be accepted. If you are a Florida resident, for example, and intend on filing using a Florida background check, this will result in delays, exigencies, etc.

Upon receiving an application, Immigration Authorities in Costa Rica will look into every available database (national and international), in order to check if the applicant has a record. Therefore, a report such as the FBI will speed up the process as we would be basically doing that part of the research for them.

Now, if something does show up on your record, this may have two outcomes:

1- Depending on the nature of the crime and the date it was committed, you may not be eligible to apply for Residency.

2- However, if the transgression is rather old and not severe you may still apply and secure Residency in Costa Rica. Having a record, nonetheless, will surely have an impact on the duration of the process and the documents to file.

Costa Rican regulation on this matter states that: “A foreign national who has been convicted of a criminal offence duly established in Costa Rican law in the past ten years, in Costa Rica or abroad, shall not be authorized to lawfully remain in the country”.

Per the statement above, those who at some point committed a crime and served their sentence ten or more years ago should have nothing to worry about since Authorities will simply ignore this matter.

Sadly, this is not entirely true. Our Constitutional Authorities have confirmed that “the criminal record of a foreigner, even if it exceeds ten years, must be analysed according to criteria of reasonableness, proportionality and convenience and the admission or rejection of foreign citizens does not depend on temporal criteria regarding a hypothetical rehabilitation.”

This statement has certain nuances in legal practice, for example: in those cases where the applicant may have committed a crime considered by national policy or the culture of our country as mostly reprehensible or sensitive, regardless of when the crime was committed and sentence was completed, may result in a denial of Residency. Per our experience, some of these crimes include those against the life and integrity of a person, such as homicides or willfully committed injuries, drug trafficking, crimes against children and domestic violence. Bear in mind this is not an exhaustive list but it gives a general idea. This is all, ultimately, a matter of national security as Authorities will complete a technical study and consider criteria of opportunity and convenience to process each application.

There are other crimes such as DUIs or marihuana possession that, if the sentence was completed 10 or more years ago, may not hinder the possibilities of securing Residency. Nonetheless, these will result in a slower process. People with a record, regardless of how old and how minor, need to prepare for a longer procedure, as there are no legal tools available to push a process forward if the applicant or a dependent has a record. Additionally, per a recent Decree issued by Immigration, if anything shows up on your background check, you will be obliged to file recently issued and apostilled or legalized court or judicial documents addressing each and every item on your record. For example, if your FBI shows 4 DUIs, one Battery, etc. you will need to file documents for the 5 items on your report. The documents will need to be translated.

If your record is extremely old and there is a possibility of getting it expunged, that would be ideal prior to filing for Residency.

Evidently, we need to review each case independently but applicants need to know that the background check is not a simple formality but a pivotal aspect of the process. It may lead to a slower than usual process, it may even result in the denial of Residency.

María José González, Client Services at Outlier Legal collaborated with this post.



Attorney with more than 10 years of experience in customer service, team management and team building at an international level. Has worked immigration cases in various countries, including Costa Rica, Colombia and Panama.

Review overview
  • Dwayne March 19, 2021

    Can you enter as a tourist on a US passport with a felony drug conviction from 2011?

    • Stacey Jennings March 19, 2021

      That is up to the discretion of the Immigration Officer. Depends on the officer and the offence.