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I Tried to Apply For Residency In Costa Rica Without a Lawyer… It Was a Nightmare

Costa Rica: beautiful mountains, lush greenery, gorgeous beaches

Residency In Costa Rica Without a Lawyer

Costa Rica: beautiful mountains, lush greenery, gorgeous beaches… who wouldn’t want to live there? I’m one of the hundreds of visitors-turned-residents that were born in the United States, but now reside in Costa Rica. Everything was going great in my application to become a permanent resident… until it wasn’t. I am writing this as a cautionary tale based on my experience, not to discourage you from applying for residency in Costa Rica, but to encourage you to do it the right way.

I’m sure you have read several of the online blog posts by well-meaning couples that tout “We applied for residency and it was so easy, just follow these 10 steps!”. Or possibly, you are already a part of Facebook groups of fellow expats and have read many of the anecdotal tales of triumph. While I do not doubt these individuals have successfully applied for and obtained their residency in Costa Rica sans legal representation, please consider my story before choosing to navigate this lengthy and difficult process by yourself.

I have lived in Costa Rica for almost 6 years and I have been denied residency four times. You read that right. Four times.

Only after the fourth denial did I finally admit that I needed professional help with this tangled web of a process, and by this point, I needed help urgently. In the same Facebook groups I had seen so many success stories, I had seen the same law firm being suggested over and over, Outlier Legal Services. Before I reveal my own story, let me delve back into all the things that went wrong, and how you can prevent them.

Residency In Costa Rica Without a Lawyer

In January 2017, I boarded a plane with a carry-on and a backpack, ready for my new adventure to the land of “Pura Vida”. I was hired by a private school in the San José area as an assistant, and was eager to start my new job in just a few short weeks. I loved my new work environment – surrounded by the beautiful mountains of the valley, as well as people from all over the world.

The Human Resources department assured me I would quickly obtain a work visa, or permiso de trabajo, I just needed to provide a few legal documents like an FBI Background Check, fingerprints, birth certificate with Apostille, etc. I obtained all the documents on my own by flying back to my hometown, turned them in, and started the waiting game. Little did I know, this was the first taste I’d get of the widespread misinformation regarding immigration law.

During the two long years of waiting for an official response from immigration, my life changed drastically. I met my now husband, got married, and had a beautiful baby girl. As the saying goes, ‘good things come to those who wait’, but a work visa would not be one of those things, since my application was denied. I was hired by the employer under the assumption that I would be able to receive a work visa, but the category I had applied for no longer existed.

By way of karma, an act of god, or maybe just pure luck – I had a workaround. Because I had given birth to my baby in Costa Rica, I qualified to apply for Permanent Residency. I found this information on the official Immigration website of Costa Rica, about applying for Permanent Residency and it seemed straightforward enough. After running around San José to different government buildings, waiting in long lines, struggling to ask for the right paperwork in Spanish, and paying a few hundred dollars, I changed my application status from a work visa to a permanent residency. Easy, right? Wrong. I was denied again.

I won’t bore you with the details of the following two denials as they are basically the same – a struggle to find the right paperwork, long lines, fees, and ultimately a denial letter even someone with a degree in law would have difficulty understanding.

So, back to my story. I finally called Outlier Legal Services and asked for help. They met with me in person, explained all the details I didn’t understand, and even ordered the missing paperwork I needed by way of their sister company, OLS Documents. A wave of relief washed over me the moment I realized the lawyers knew exactly what I needed, and cared about me as a person. If you want to avoid both literal and metaphorical headaches, don’t apply for Residency in Costa Rica without a lawyer – it could end up an absolute nightmare.

Already a parent to a Costa Rican Citizen? Read this article to find out the steps to apply for Residency… the right way.



She serves as the Community Manager. Kathleen Bolton has a Bachelor's degree of Applied Technology in Medical and Health Services Management and an Associate's of Fine Arts in Dance. Most of her work experience has been in the educational field with children. She describes herself as caring and an extrovert.

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