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All You Need to Know About the Pensionado Category

One of the most popular Residencies in Costa Rica is the Residency as Pensionados, meaning Residency for Retired People. Our current law states that this category is reserved for people who receive a lifetime monthly pension

One of the most popular Residencies in Costa Rica is the Residency as Pensionados, meaning Residency for Retired People.

Our current law states that this category is reserved for people who receive a lifetime monthly pension of at least $1,000 USD. The $1,000 USD will cover the family (spouse and children under the age of 25). That means that if I receive a lifetime monthly pension of $1,500, my spouse and children would be included as my dependents when applying for Residency. Many people believe that its $1,000 per applicant, so for a family of 4 the pension should at least add up to $4,000, but that is incorrect.

Pensionados is, therefore, a very attractive option.

However, as with all things Immigration in Costa Rica, things can get a little tricky.

Just as with all other categories, the applicant must prove that they meet the eligibility criteria. Hence, a letter stating that the applicant receives a lifetime monthly pension of X where X must be equal to or greater than $1,000 USD is mandatory to file.

Sounds simple right? The problem is that not every pension provider uses the words lifetime or for life. For example, in our experience with Canadian public pensions, the letter they issue do not include the words lifetime or for life. When you go online and visit the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) webpage, it explains that the “Canada Pension Plan (CPP) retirement pension is a monthly, taxable benefit that replaces part of your income when you retire. If you qualify, you’ll receive the CPP retirement pension for the rest of your life.” However, the letter they give you, stating your name, pension plan, etc. lacks those magic words.

We have had many Canadian clients and we have managed to ensure that they receive their Pensionado status, but it is essential that if you are thinking of applying for this category, you keep those words, lifetime or for life, in mind.

The basic requirements to file for Pensionado are identical to those of all other categories. The common denominator are the vital records: birth, marriage, and background check certificates. To that you must add passport copies, Consular Registrations, fees, etc. The pension letters complete the application.

Pensionado tends to be a little easier to process than categories such as Rentistas or Investors. It is a little more, dare we say, user-friendly. The reason for this is that the main requirement, the pension letter, is simple to read and comprehend. Unlike Rentistas or Investors that tend to entail more paperwork and are much more complex, it is easy for any lawyer at Immigration to conclude if an applicant qualifies or not.

This, however, does not mean that Pensionado is processed quickly. Quickly is a foreign concept when it comes to processing applications at the Immigration Department. Hence, Pensionados, as Rentistas, Investors, Parents of Costa Rican nationals, etc. shall brace themselves for a lengthy process. We generally give our clients a 9-month estimated approval time. This, of course, is an estimate, but people would be wrong to believe that an application for Pensionado can be approved in 3 months (even though our law does state that Immigration has 90 days to analyse an application and issue a resolution).

Once approved, Pensionados do tend to pay less into CAJA than other categories. The reason for that is that CAJA uses your income to calculate the monthly fee to pay, per family. Income, for Pensionados, is equal to what the pension letter states. That means that if I receive a pension of $1,500 a month, me and my family of 4 (spouse and 2 children) will end up paying very little into CAJA.

Compared to Rentistas, where the income is automatically assumed as $2,500, historically Pensionados tend to pay less into CAJA. Obviously, if you receive a pension of $10,000, then your CAJA fees will be high. You can read a little more on CAJA matters here.

Now, three months prior to the expiration date, Pensionados must renew and here is were things get funny.

Even though one of the main requirements to file the original Residency was a letter stating that you receive a lifetime monthly pension of X, when it comes time to renew Immigration demands a recently issued (and apostilled/legalized, if issued abroad) letter stating that you still receive this pension. As if their demands for an original letter including the words for life or lifetime where not sufficient the first time around!

Many expats ask us if it is true that Pensionados must deposit their pension in Costa Rica. The answer is no; that was a requirement featured in our old law. The current law does not mention any of this.

In conclusion, Pensionado is a fan-favourite and rightfully so. It allows applicants to receive a 2-year Residency, with a (generally) comfortable CAJA monthly fee. If you are thinking of pursuing this category, we would certainly be happy to help. Just keep the words lifetime or for life (obnoxiously repeated in this article) in the back of your mind and remember that when it comes time to renew, Immigration will ask you for a new letter, as if a lifetime commitment the first time around meant nothing to them!



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
  • JC CUBERO September 9, 2021

    My wife is from Venezuela, I am from Costa Rica, We both are US citizens and will be moving to Costa Rica in 2023 *(plan*) I know already that I don’t qualify due to been a Tico, this law is only for foreigners, *(She is)* Are they going to take in consideration both of our social security benefit amounts or just hers? When the time come, does she applies by herself? There will be the two of us only, retiring at 62+. What tips and guides can you give us *(besides using your services)*

    • Stacey Jennings September 16, 2021

      Under this category, the principal applicant is allowed to obtain residency for a spouse and children as dependents. While the $1,000 USD will cover the family, you cannot combine the spouse’s pensions to reach the minimum $1,000 USD.