Should I Become a Costa Rican Citizen?

Many foreign nationals visit Costa Rica to enjoy its natural beauties such as its volcanoes, mountains, rivers, beaches, and the varied wildlife. It is a peaceful country full of many opportunities. Many of Costa Rica’s visitors end up living in here and building a new life. A few years down the line, these expats may get the chance to apply for citizenship. Acquiring Costa Rican citizenship is known as naturalization and is not very difficult provided you can meet some basic requirements.

Article 14 of the Costa Rican Constitution lays out these requirements for becoming a Costa Rican through naturalization. There are a number of criteria for eligibility for citizenship, however, the two most popular ways of applying are having residency for five or seven years, or obtaining citizenship after being married to a Costa Rican national for at least two years and having lived in Costa Rica for at least two years. In the first case, if you are a citizen of the U.S.A., U.K., or Canadian, you must have held residency for seven years in order to apply, whereas Central American, Spanish and Ibero-American nationals only need five years of residency in order to apply.

If you are applying based on having held residency, you will initially need to take and pass the two mandatory Spanish and Social Studies tests regardless of nationality. Applicants 65 years and older are exempt from this requirement as are those who will process citizenship based on marriage to a Costa Rican national. The Ministry of Education is responsible for these exams which are available three times a year.

As with residency, two of the main requirements in order to file for citizenship are a duly apostilled/legalized birth certificate and a duly apostilled/legalized background check that is has been issued no longer than three months prior to the application. Federal, nation-wide background checks such as an FBI check for U.S. nationals, RCMP checks for Canadians, and ACRO checks for U.K. nationals are the required options.

And just as with residency, this is approximately a 9-month process. However, the result is entirely different. Applicants will become Costa Rican citizens, bearers of a Costa Rican cedula (ID card), and may process a Costa Rican passport. As Costa Rican citizens, they will be allowed to work, vote, and hold any other benefit that a Costa Rican citizen receives. Obviously, a citizen also will not be required to renew their citizenship as this does not expire. The only thing to watch out for is the expiration of the cedula but obtaining a new one is a one day process at Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones.

Many expats fall in love with Costa Rica and realize, after living in the country on a permanent basis, that they too wish to become Tico. As active members of the community, affected by the political situation, our customs and idiosyncrasies, expats may be happy to become Costa Rican.

Becoming a Tico, as far as Costa Rica is concerned, does not threaten or impact your other citizenship status. You can continue to enjoy being a U.S., Canadian, or European national and, in addition, hold a Costa Rican passport. Whilst some countries may have rules against multiple nationalities, Costa Rica is not one of them.

In conclusion, if you wish to vote in the national or local elections, participate and be represented in the Congress regarding all tax and legal matters, get a Costa Rican cedula, and embrace the wonders of having multiple nationalities, then you may be interested in becoming a Costa Rican citizen.

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Irene Brenes

Irene Brenes


  1. Avatar
    January 26, 2020 at 1:01 am — Reply

    My son was born here and I’ve had unrestricted residency for 25 years. Would i be required to to the exams as well if I wanted citizenship?

    • Irene Brenes
      January 27, 2020 at 2:39 am — Reply

      Hello Denise, anybody who wishes to apply based on their years as Residents, regardless if they have a Costa Rican child, must sit and approve the exams. Only people 65 and over are not required to take the tests.

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