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Popular Terms Used When Talking About Residency

An immigration process can be described as an adventure. It can be intimidating; it can be hard to comprehend, but it isn´t entirely devoid of fun moments. Every country has an idiom and certain keywords which

An immigration process can be described as an adventure. It can be intimidating; it can be hard to comprehend, but it isn´t entirely devoid of fun moments.

Every country has an idiom and certain keywords which expats are not familiar with and which, if explained properly, can make the process simpler and less daunting.

Costa Rican immigration processes have multiple keywords which we will review here to make your lives easier!

You may have heard that Immigration offers various categories. The category is the label used by the Immigration Department, per the current law and ruling, to determine the sort of application they are about to review. Our law contemplates numerous immigration categories, including the Temporary Residencies where one finds Pensionado, Investor, Rentista, etc. and the Permanent Residency. The category will depend on the applicant’s characteristics, possibilities, and intentions.  You must qualify for one of the categories to be able to apply.

Once you have gathered all the requirements and your application is filed before Immigration, you will receive a “plantilla” which is a paper showing your name, your parent’s names, the immigration category you have applied for, a list of the requirements and your “expediente” number. The “expediente” number is the file number given by the Authority, like an ID for the process itself.

If along the analysis of your application Immigration raises an exigency or you must add documents to an already existing file, you may add the document as a “previo”, which roughly translates to prevention.

You may also have heard of the “cita de abogados” which refers to the special appointments attorneys are granted at Immigration to review a case file. “Citas de abogados” can solely be requested on Fridays and it currently takes the Authority a couple of months to grant them.

After patiently waiting for the approval of your Residency, Immigration will issue a “resolución”, meaning a resolution or a final decision. The “resolución” will feature your name, the category, the “expediente” number, it will state that Residency is either approved or denied and the next steps. It is generally a few pages long (perhaps 3 or 4).

A “resolución” of approval will also ask the now Resident to pay the “depósito de garantía” which refers to the guarantee or security deposit all foreign nationals must pay upon approval of an immigration category. The “depósito de garantía” is equivalent (approximately, at least) to what a ticket back to your home country should cost. You can read further on such matters here.

Once a “resolución de aprobación” is issued, meaning approval for the desired status, then we need to complete the final in-country steps to conclude the process: registering before CAJA and securing your DIMEX.

CAJA is the “Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social”, sometimes abbreviated as CCSS. CAJA and CCSS are the same. CAJA, as Ticos refer to it, is the Costa Rican Social Security Fund. Per law, every Resident must register in CAJA, entity that will determine the monthly fee the expat must pay for healthcare. Hence the term CAJA fee. You can read further on the craziness that is the CAJA here.

Once CAJA registration is complete, you are ready to request your DIMEX or “Documento de Identidad Migratoria para Extranjeros”, foreigner’s ID card. The DIMEX is also popularly referred to as “cedula”. Your “cedula” is the document that validates your legal status in the country.

We normally see the terms visa and Residency used as synonyms. In Costa Rica, they are not. Visas are, for example, the entry visas certain nationalities need to secure abroad to enter the country. A visa is not tantamount to Residency. When you secure a visa, it is stamped on your passport. When you secure Residency, you receive a DIMEX.

Whilst this is only a short summary, it proves that immigration lingo is as vast as it is complex. Hopefully, we have managed to shed some light on the most popular terms used when referring to Residency processes in Costa Rica. If you have a term you are not familiar with and need clarification, please let us know. We will be delighted to help!


Randall Benavides Immigration Assistant from 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.

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