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Haven’t You Waited Long Enough?

A question for ExPats without Residency  If the events of the last 16 months have taught us anything it is the cardinal rule: “Be Prepared”.  I consider myself to be a good Girl Scout.  I am the person

Lady in an airport wearing a mask and sitting in her luggage

A question for ExPats without Residency 

If the events of the last 16 months have taught us anything it is the cardinal rule: “Be Prepared”.  I consider myself to be a good Girl Scout.  I am the person you want to be on the quad ride with when the wasp attacks you.  But when we left our home in January of 2020, I was not at all prepared for what lie ahead.

On March 16 we traveled to Nosara with our Canadian friends.  A lunch stop at my favorite restaurant and then a stop for wine. Entering the grocery store there was an immediate shockwave. Everyone who was working in the store had on a mask. The news was getting grim.  There was an announcement that the borders would close midnight on March 18.  Immediately, I messaged my neighbor who had just touched down in the states,  “You need to get back or you will not be allowed back into Costa Rica.”

Our friends went back home to Tambor. The mood was serious.  They were worried they would not be able to leave to go back to Canada.  We made plans with other friends to do a border run to Nicaragua the next day because all of us were nearing the end of our Visa’s. We canceled a trip to San Juan del Sur that was planned for the end of March.  I went into town to find dollars so I could cross the border the next day.  We all finally decided it was too risky. What if we got into Nicaragua and we could not get back to Costa Rica?

The day the country shut down on March 18, 2020, I was at Franks in Samara with other Expats talking about who was staying and who was going to try to leave the country and go home.  The problem…closed borders equal no flights in or out.  It was risky to leave. We had no reservation to go home. I was able to book a flight for May 15.

Overnight our small hustling beach town became a ghost town. Bars on restaurant windows and doors, closed businesses, closed beaches, and more.  The entire coastline was surrounded in yellow police tape around and between every palm tree. Go to the beach and you will be arrested. Our condo pool was closed. We were all on lockdown.

Although, it may seem idyllic to be stranded in paradise during a pandemic, the uncertainty of if the grocery stores would still be open, if trucks could get in through the closed borders to deliver food, or when, if, and how we could leave the country was difficult.

My neighbor and I went to the grocery store about every other day. We stocked up on staples. Made sure we had what we needed to make bread. Wine was not in short supply, and it seemed every trip we each bought a bottle of gin and tonic to bring home.

Driving became a luxury because we could not drive daily. The pool being closed in the growing heat was a problem. Luckily, we were able to rent pools at homes that had no renters. Over Easter when the driving restrictions became more intense, we rented a home with a pool nearby and spent ten days there. We made the best of the situation thanks to the kindness of friends and strangers.  We watched movies under the moonlight.

Mostly, I worried. Our middle daughter was living in New York City and working at a hospital there. As a pediatrician her patient population was less likely to be positive for Covid, but there was talk of doctors having to cover other areas of the hospital.  Our youngest daughter called me in the night, and I watched as she was so sick in the Emergency Room. It was the middle of the night and it frightened me that this may be the last time I see her.  In the end she only had bad bronchitis.

Being stuck began to take its toll in early May.  The airlines were allowing passengers to book what I call phantom flights.  They collected money, but the flights never came or went.  Our May 15 tickets were cancelled.

It became apparent to us that we had taken this freedom to come and go as we please for granted as only those with residency or citizens were able to come into Costa Rica.  We had never given it a thought that it is a gift to be able to come into the country. As Americans we are used to being able to travel freely in the world with little constraints.  We were afraid if we left our home and our investment in Costa Rica, we would not soon be able to come back.

We had been on the fence about applying for residency for years. We have owned in Costa Rica ten years.  From time to time, we would look into applying, but were unsure of the process and would get conflicting information from the local attorney. There was the requirement to pay CAJA and we knew we were years away from ever being full time.

Suddenly the picture changed for us. We were in a country where we were granted a gift of being able to come and go as we wanted. Now it was clear that we had no legal standing to be there and an investment that if we left, we could not get back into the country to protect. By the end of May we contacted Outlier and started the process.

As an attorney in the United States, I was impressed with how professional Outlier Legal was and how much they cared about the Expat community. The company was very efficient and high tech. I quickly learned they are the Immigration experts in Costa Rica and are known for their honesty and compassion.

Have there been bumps? Yes, but we have applied for residency in a time when the country was shut down and the government stopped taking applications.  The government has changed just about everything they do in accepting the applications. I am so happy we finally started when we did because if you do not start you cannot finish.

There are some expats who tell me they will never get residency. It is not needed for them. These are the ones that were not in Costa Rica in 2020.  They have not had the same experience.  These people still do not understand the gift of being able to come and go to Costa Rica as you please. Hopefully, they will never have to learn.

The good news is we got back to the United States and to our family. Our residency is in process and hopefully during the time we are back to Costa Rica we will receive our temporary residency.  I have chosen to join the team at Outlier Legal to work to help other expats achieve their dreams in Costa Rica. I have observed first-hand how this company works hard every day to help those of us who have chosen a life in their homeland. I urge you not to take the gift of travel to this country for granted. Protect your investment in Costa Rica by gaining your residency status.

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ddavis@outlierlegal.com

She shares her time between Samara and Kentucky. She is a former nurse turned attorney, actress, writer and entrepreneur. Her greatest role is that of Bebe to her two Grands. While in Costa Rica she loves quadding with her husband and friends while exploring the country.

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