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The Mass Wedding Ceremony

The CCSS (or CAJA as it is generally known) has a regulation called the Registration Handbook or Manual de Adscripción y Beneficio Familiar, as it is called in Spanish.

The purpose of this regulation is to set forth the requirements and processes to register people with the system, whether it is a principal beneficiary or whether it is a dependent such as a spouse or children. Under the dependent category, it is also possible to register dependent parents, as well as brothers and sisters.

Today, we are going to talk about the registration requirements for spouses, primarily the marriage certificate requirement. Section 20 of the handbook requires three documents from the spouse in order to achieve registration. Namely: a valid ID, a marriage certificate (or birth certificate to register a child), and proof of address which is generally demonstrated by a utility bill, title of the property or lease agreement. For the purpose of our conversation today, we will focus on the marriage certificate.

Section 20.2 indicates that the marriage certificate (or birth certificate) must be no more than a month old. This requirement is not a problem for a Costa Rican. There are plenty of Registry offices around the country where they can obtain a marriage or a birth certificate for less than 50 colones. This requirement for the certificate to be no more than a month old was certainly created keeping only Costa Ricans in mind. It is obvious that the drafters of the handbook were not thinking about foreigners. There are people from more than a hundred countries living in Costa Rica, and for every single one of them, it is a tremendous task to obtain a brand new marriage certificate, and in most cases, it is very expensive.

In some jurisdictions, it takes at least six weeks for the government agency to issue the birth certificate, such as is the case in Hawaii and Louisiana. In some countries, such as China, or Venezuela, obtaining a birth certificate or a marriage certificate is daunting task. Not to mention, that the CAJA clerks require the document to be authenticated, which can mean another month or two before the document arrives to Costa Rica. Therefore, for most people, it is literally impossible to comply with this requirement to produce a document no older than a month from the date of issuance. Therefore, the requirement is unfair and discriminatory as it did not contemplate the difficulty to obtain such document from abroad.

Interestingly enough, section 21 of the handbook, sets forth the requirement for same sex couples to get registered under CAJA. In my opinion, I think it is very progressive of CAJA to allow same sex couples to get a partner registered in a country where same sex marriage is not allowed.  The issue here is not whether same sex couples should be allowed to get married or not, however, I believe they should be allowed. But the issue is that while same sex couples are allowed to register their partners without producing a marriage certificate, then why would they require a legally married couple to produce a marriage certificate under such impossible circumstances?

Furthermore, section 21 allows couples living in common law marriage to complete registration for their common law spouses so long as they provide two witnesses and an affidavit. But section 21 only allows this option to Costa Ricans, foreigners are not allowed to register a partner under the common law provision of the handbook.

Obviously, the drafters of the handbook do not place a lot of significance on whether people are married as it allows common law partners including same sex partners to get registered as dependents.

As discussed, while we know that people married in Costa Rica can comply with marriage certificate requirement, foreigners cannot. Thus, we are bringing the case to the Supreme Court under the equal protection clause of Section 19 and Section 33 of the Costa Rican Constitution.

In addition, we will be celebrating a mass wedding ceremony for all foreigners who want to be able to obtain marriage certificate from Costa Rica. If you are married in Costa Rica, then you will be able to comply with the requirement to produce a marriage certificate not older than a month. Thus, avoiding the need to obtain a marriage certificate from abroad.

The wedding ceremony will be on February 14th, 2016 at 2pm in the central park of Atenas. The deadline to provide the required information for the wedding ceremony will be Sunday February 7th. You can provide the information by completing a form on this page.  You can also reach Pat Wagner who is coordinating the event. You can reach her by clicking here. If you do not want or need to get married, we will still be very thankful for your support. We would like to create awareness of the difficulties that foreigners have in Costa Rica, so your presence will be appreciated.


Thank you for your support.

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  1. Avatar
    February 1, 2016 at 8:26 pm — Reply

    Every time I renew, do I have to submit a fresh copy of my marriage certificate even though there is one on file? This article appears to be silent on renewals.

    • rafavalverde
      February 2, 2016 at 12:03 am — Reply


      Unfortunately, the CAJA offices around the country do not abide to the same rules. Most of the time, they require to produce a new marriage certificate in order to demonstrate that the couple is still married, and thus, eligible to be registered as a dependent.

  2. Avatar
    Walter Freeman
    February 1, 2016 at 8:40 pm — Reply

    What is the problem if a couple is already married and has residency?

    PS: You guys are the only firm that seems to be proactive about expats concerns. I have and will continue to recommend you for that reason.

    • rafavalverde
      February 1, 2016 at 11:59 pm — Reply


      Thank you for your support. It means a lot to us.

  3. Avatar
    Gisele Skelcher
    February 2, 2016 at 8:35 am — Reply

    Will there be a cost for this mass wedding?

    • rafavalverde
      February 3, 2016 at 12:43 pm — Reply

      The cost of the wedding ceremony is $400 which will be divided among all the participating couples. Currently, there are about 30 couples participating. Thus, the cost is less than $15 per couple.

  4. Avatar
    Kathy Hile.
    February 2, 2016 at 12:34 pm — Reply


    This wont pose a problem for us who already have permanent residency? Just seems like it could be a problem when we have multiple marriage licenses on file. My husband and I would love to do it to avoid the problem with CAJA in the future but I am concerned.

    • rafavalverde
      February 3, 2016 at 12:42 pm — Reply

      There is a disconnect between the practices of the DGME (immigration depatment) and the CCSS (Caja).The immigration department assumes that you are married, they do not request a new marriage certificate every time you renew. Getting married in Costa Rica does not mean that a new marriage license will automatically will appear at your file at the DGME. In order for your file to contain multiple marriage licenses, you will need to provide them.
      The purpose of getting married in Costa Rica is to be able to easily access a marriage certificate in order to provide it to the CCSS when applying for family registration and to renew the CCSS card, which will not affect your immigration status.

  5. Avatar
    Liane Gibbs
    February 3, 2016 at 3:16 am — Reply

    This is very cool and very considerate of you to do this! Way to go!

  6. Avatar
    February 3, 2016 at 10:08 am — Reply

    Is it legal to remarry people who are already married in the other country?

    • rafavalverde
      February 3, 2016 at 12:37 pm — Reply


      As long you remarry the same person, it is legal.

  7. Avatar
    Sylvie Boucher
    February 3, 2016 at 2:25 pm — Reply

    We could only provide a letter we receive on the 12th of February when we go to migraccion to submit our temporary residency application. So we’ll have no DIMEX cards at that point,
    Is it good enough to participate in your FABULOUS ceremony.?
    Dawn replied to me that I can use the address where we’ll be staying for 2 weeks.
    When will the original mariage certificate be available?
    Thank you so much for having us, expats, at heart.
    Saludos, Sylvie

    • rafavalverde
      February 3, 2016 at 3:43 pm — Reply


      If you to not currently have a DIMEX card, then we will need a copy of your passports. The marriage certificate will be available in one – two weeks.

  8. Avatar
    Allison Spencer
    February 3, 2016 at 3:25 pm — Reply

    Thank you for this information. Will there be separate legal fees per couple for filing as well?

    • rafavalverde
      February 3, 2016 at 3:42 pm — Reply


      There is no separate legal fee. It is $400 USD regardless of the amount of couples involved. The purpose of the group wedding is for everyone to share the costs. Please contact Pat Wegner in order to coordinate.

  9. Avatar
    Iain Dewar
    February 3, 2016 at 3:35 pm — Reply

    This is all good insurance to have the document when you arrive at the CAJA wicket for renewal. My question is if I get married (again) but this time in Costa Rica how do you get the document? Can I access the Registry Office (URL please) and print out the document or does it involve a trip to the correo?

    • rafavalverde
      February 3, 2016 at 3:40 pm — Reply


      You can request the marriage certificate at one of the regional offices around the country. You can also request it online, but you will need to go pick it up at the regional office.

  10. Avatar
    Allison Spencer
    February 3, 2016 at 3:42 pm — Reply

    Sorry, another question after looking at the link to the form. It asks for the woman’s first middle and last name. Are we to write our maiden names? (Those of us who took our husband’s names when we married won’t have current ID with our maiden names on them. A birth certificate would – so would that be the appropriate ID for women?) Thanks.

    • rafavalverde
      February 3, 2016 at 3:44 pm — Reply

      We will use the name as it appears in the ID, whether it is a DIMEX or a passport.

  11. Avatar
    Kim Marshall
    February 5, 2016 at 1:14 pm — Reply

    Thank you Rafael for all you do here in CR for us expats.

    • rafavalverde
      February 7, 2016 at 4:46 am — Reply

      Thank you Kim.
      We do what we can.

  12. […] Court, but many expats couldn’t wait because their access to the Caja is due for renewal. Rafael Valverde, an immigration attorney who is taking the case to the supreme court wrote on his […]

  13. Avatar
    Isabella De Din
    February 17, 2016 at 3:38 am — Reply

    Hi! Will you be performing another mass wedding soon?

  14. March 11, 2018 at 4:27 pm — Reply

    […] which must be abided. I already got into trouble for billing too little when marrying over 140 couples in Atenas, Lake Arenal and Playas del Coco to solve the issue for the marriage certificates for CAJA. The board of notary publics (DNN) did […]

  15. […] 2015, we did the Mass Wedding Ceremony in Atenas, Tilarán, Playas del Coco, and Grecia with the intention to help expats with obtaining a local […]

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