Frequently Asked Questions about Immigration
The following is a list of commonly asked questions regarding obtaining residency in Costa Rica:
- Is it true that there are various residency categories?
That is correct. One cannot simply apply for residency; one must apply for one of the many distinct residency categories our law offers. An applicant must qualify for one category in order to apply. You can review the various residency options here.
- Do I need to be in Costa Rica to initiate my residency application?
Yes, the entry stamp showing the applicant is legally in the country is mandatory in order to file the application.
- Do I need a visa to enter Costa Rica?
The answer to that question will depend on your nationality. For example, US and Canadian nationals do not need a visa to enter the country. Whilst they do need Residency if they wish to live in the country, they will not be asked to process a Consular visa prior to arrival. You can review if you need a visa to enter the country and the exceptions to the rule here.
- Do I need to remain in the country while my residency application is being reviewed?
No, you may depart. Nonetheless, please be aware that upon approval of your residency, you will have 90 days to complete the last two in-country steps: 1) the CAJA registration, and 2) the DIMEX (ID) procurement.
- Do I have to complete border runs?
From the point of view of the Department of Immigration, you must complete border runs until your residency paperwork is filed. Once your residency has been filed, you can remain in the country past the 90-day visa which was granted at the port of entry.
That being said, if you plan on travelling while your application is in process there are some things to keep in mind. For instance, even if you have an application in process, if you wish to drive in Costa Rica using a foreign driver’s license, you must complete border runs until residency is approved, a DIMEX has been issued, and you secure a Costa Rican driver’s license. Transportation authorities currently require that foreign nationals have a valid entry stamp in order to legally drive in Costa Rica using a foreign driver’s license. If stopped by the transit police, failing to produce a valid entry stamp and a foreign driver’s license will result in the authorities taking the car’s plates and imposing a fine.
- Are my foreign documents valid in Costa Rica?
- Is it true that I need recently issued documents to file for residency or citizenship?
Yes, it is true. Immigration authorities demand that documents such as the background checks and marriage certificates be recently issued. According to the Department of Immigration, this means that the documents have been issued no more than six months prior to the application. Only birth certificates can be older than 6 months, however, these need to be in perfect condition even if they are old.
The Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones, which is the entity responsible for processing citizenship, demands that the background check be recently issued, meaning no older than three months for the time of its issuance.
- Is it true that all documents must be translated into Spanish?
Yes, all documents that are not in Spanish must be translated by an official translator who has been certified by the Costa Rican Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
- Can I work in Costa Rica with my residency?
Only certain residencies allow people to legally work in Costa Rica. This includes permanent residency, residency based on marriage to a Costa Rican national, and having a self-employed status. Upon approval, foreign nationals who are granted these residencies can legally work in the country.
Pensionados, Rentistas, and Investors cannot legally work in Costa Rica.
It is essential to state that securing a work permit in Costa Rica is not easy. The request is not only reviewed by Immigration, but by the Ministry of Labor. It is necessary to prove that you will perform a particular skill or profession that locals cannot provide.
Bear in mind that while some categories allow foreign nationals to legally work in the country, there are additional steps to take. For example, if you are interested in working in certain professions such as practicing law, medicine, performing as a veterinarian, etc., you must validate your degrees in Costa Rica along with having the correct immigration category. This means filing your apostilled or legalized school documents, taking certain exams, and registering with the local professional Boards in order to practice legally.
- Will my residency status include my family members?
Most residencies such as the Pensionado, Rentista, and Investor categories cover the family (known as dependents), meaning that it covers the principal applicant plus their legal spouse and children under the age of 25. Children 25 years old and over will need to process their own category, unless they are disabled. Parents, siblings, and mothers- or fathers-in-law generally do not qualify as dependents.
- Do I have to pay the Caja even if I purchase private insurance?
Yes, the Caja is mandatory for all residents. You cannot secure a DIMEX without registering with the Caja and paying the monthly fees. You can read further on the matter here.
- If I secure residency in Costa Rica, but decide to live elsewhere, will I lose my status?
You can read further on the requirements to ensure your residency remains valid here.
In summary, temporary residents cannot be out of the country for more than two years. Permanent residents cannot be out of the country for more than four years. However, to ensure a smooth renewal, we recommend visiting at least once a year.
- Am I required to provide proof of vaccinations to apply for residency?
No, currently proof of vaccination is not required to apply for residency. However, bear in mind that upon approval of residency, you and any dependent children will need to register in the Caja. Once registered, the Caja may demand that you provide proof of vaccination for the children, per Costa Rica’s vaccination protocol. Schools may ask for the vaccination booklet as well. While this is not an immigration issue, do bear in mind that the vaccination matter may come up for minors.
- Can I apply for residency or citizenship if I have a committed a crime or been arrested in the past?
You can, however, your residency or citizenship application may be denied depending on the record you may have. You can read further on the matter here.
Please be advised that you can only file for residency or citizenship using federal or nation-wide background checks such as FBI reports for US nationals, RCMPs for Canadians, or ACRO for UK nationals. If your background check shows that you have a record, duly apostilled court documents explaining the status of each charge will need to be filed.
While our immigration law states that authorities will only review recent matters on your background check as there is a 10-year statute of limitations, this is not applied. Our courts have mentioned that the Department of Immigration and TSE have the right to look beyond the 10 years when analyzing an application in an effort to protect national security. Therefore, even if you have a matter that occurred 30 years ago, this can impact your application.
- If I apply for citizenship, is it true that I must renounce my other nationalities?
No, while you may be asked to say that you renounce your nationalities when acquiring citizenship, this has no legal effect. Costa Rica cannot cancel your other nationalities. Nonetheless, you must check if acquiring the Costa Rican nationality can affect or negatively impact your other nationalities.
- When can I apply for citizenship?
You can apply for citizenship after meeting any of the following requirements:
- You have lived in Costa Rica for at least five years (for Central Americans, Ibero-Americans and Spanish nationals) or seven years (all other nationalities) as a resident (meaning holding either temporary or permanent residency). This is known as citizenship through residency. It entails taking two exams: Spanish and Social Studies. Applicants must pass the exams prior to applying for citizenship. Applicants 65 and older do not need to take the exams.
- You have been married to a Costa Rican national for at least two years and have lived in Costa Rica for two years. The marriage must be registered in Costa Rica.
About Permanent Residency
- When can I apply for permanent residency?
You can apply for permanent residency after holding temporary residency for three consecutive years.
- What is the Department of Immigration’s guarantee or security deposit?
Per Immigration’s Guarantee Deposit Regulation, the guarantee deposit is the “deposit of money that must be made by a foreign national who is authorized to enter the country.” This deposit is to be paid once the Immigration Authority issues an approval for a residency or visa request. It is (approximately) equivalent to what a ticket back to your home country should cost. The logic behind it is that if anything where to happen, the Department of Immigration would have enough funds to fly you back to your country of origin. You can read further on the security deposit here and here.
- What is the minor’s exit permit?
All Costa Rican and Resident children may only depart the country if a minor’s exit permit is processed beforehand. This applies to all Costa Rica (even with dual nationalities), Resident and children with Special Categories such as Student status. Parents must plan accordingly as they will not be allowed to travel with their children unless the permit is processed. These are requested directly at Immigration. For Costa Rican children, the minor’s exit permit can be processed the same day their first Costa Rican passport is requested at offices such as Banco de Costa Rica, Correos de Costa Rica and Immigration. An appointment is necessary.
- When should I renew my residency?
Residency should be renewed three months prior to its expiration date. To read more about how to process your renewal, you can read our article here.
If you do not renew your residency in time (i.e.– you let your residency expire), additional documentation will apply. For example, a $3 penalty per expired month will need to be paid, a letter explaining why you did not renew on time will need to be provided, and if you were out of the country for one year, a duly apostilled or legalized, recently issued and translated background check will be required.
Remember that after three months of expiration, Immigration may start cancellation proceedings, hence it is advisable to always renew on time.
NOTE: It is essential that to renew, you must prove that you still qualify for the same specific residency category.
- How long will my new DIMEX be valid for?
After renewing your DIMEX, it will be good for two years.
- Do I need to be physically present to request the renewal of my DIMEX?
Yes, this cannot be processed using a power of attorney. Also, you must be present since you need to take a new photo for the identification card.
- What do I need to do to renew my cedula?
Be up to date with the Caja. Pay the government fees to renew the DIMEX and prove you still qualify for the same category you originally applied for.
- Is it better to obtain the letter the Department of Immigration requires from a bank in my home country or in Costa Rica?
Based on our experience, it is easier to work with a Costa Rican bank since banks abroad may find the language required on the letter atypical and this may result in them refusing to create the letter.
- Do I have access to the US$60,000 deposited in a Costa Rican bank account?
Yes, you can withdraw the US$2500 deposited in a Costa Rican bank account monthly, however, in order to renew your Rentista status, you will need to have another US$60,000 amount available, so you can deposit this money and obtain a letter from the bank stating you have the money the law requires.
- What happens if I own a property through a corporation?
If you own property through a corporation, you can file as an Investor if you prove that you own sufficient shares of the corporation that equal to at least $200,000. For example, if you bought a property worth $300,000 through a corporation and you own 50% of the shares whilst your spouse owns the other 50%. In such a case, neither of you would qualify as Investors as, per Immigration, each of you invested solely $150,000. In such a case, a transfer of shares can be done so that one of the spouses owns enough shares that equal to $200,000.
- I requested a loan to buy my property, do I still qualify?
Unfortunately, no, this category is for applicants who have invested, meaning actually paid, the minimum $200,000.
- When I originally purchased the property, it was worth less than $200,000, however, now it is worth at least that. Do I still qualify?
In a strict sense, no.
- I am thinking on retiring in a few years from now. Can I apply for Pensionado with a projection of how much I will receive in pension?
No, to qualify for Pensionado you must currently receive a lifetime monthly pension of at least $1000USD.
- I have enough savings that can ensure that I receive at least $1000USD a month. Can I apply as Pensionado?
Unfortunately, no. One of the main requirements to apply as Pensionado is to file a letter, issued by your pension provider, stating that you receive a lifetime monthly pension of X where X must be equal to or greater than $1000.
- What happens if my pension letter does not say for life or lifetime?
In our experience, these words for life or lifetime are necessary.