Changing from one category to another

Being a tourist in Costa Rica, it’s all fun and games until you fall in love with the country and realize that this could be the home that you have dreamed of your whole life.

For a tourist in Costa Rica, this is not a problem, it’s not hard to realize that you are in the right place when you are surrounded by the most beautiful nature, beaches, and biodiversity in the whole world.

However, how do you become a legal resident in Costa Rica and stop being just a tourist? If you are interested in knowing what your possibilities are, just keep reading because you might have some different options to choose from.

You can become a temporary resident in our beautiful country through different categories, including:

  • Residency for Retired People. The main requirement is to receive a lifetime monthly pension of at least $1,000 USD per month.
  • Residency for Investment in Costa Rica. If you have invested $200,000 USD in qualifying projects, or $100,000 USD in forestry projects you could qualify for Temporary Residency as an Investor in Costa Rica.
  • Residency for ‘Rentista’ or Fixed Income. You can apply to this category if you receive an income of at least $2,500 per month (or $30,000 USD per year).
  • Residency through Marriage with a Costa Rican national. If you fell in love and got married to a Costa Rican citizen, this is your option.
  • With all of these options you can stop being a regular tourist in Costa Rica and obtain a legal status as a temporary resident. Nonetheless, and as per Section 89 of the ‘Ley General de Migración y Extranjería’ (Costa Rica’s Immigration Act), it is important to consider that every time you apply for a change of status in Costa Rica you will have to cover government fees of up to $200.

Changing your immigration status in Cost Rica can also occur when you change from one category to another; for example, you initially applied for Temporary Residency as a ‘Rentista’ and then you become the parent of a Costa Rican national. In this case, a change of status to become a Permanent Resident could be processed and the US$200 fee will have to be covered again. Also, you will have to comply with the necessary requirements depending on the category that you are changing to; for instance, to become a Permanent Resident as a parent of a Costa Rican child, you will need to have a Costa Rican child and submit a Costa Rican birth certificate.

Following are a couple of examples for your better understanding:

Example 1: Christine has an ongoing application before the Immigration Department because she applied for residency as an Investor for the reason that she bought a US$200,000 property in Costa Rica. However, she’s now retired and may like to proceed with a change of category; hence, in order to proceed with this matter, Christine will have to file an apostilled pension letter that states that she receives a lifetime monthly pension of at least US$1,000 per month and she will have to pay US$200 for the government fees.

Example 2: William is applying under the Rentista category, but he recently got married to a Costa Rican; hence, he may like to proceed with a change of category. William will have to comply with the main requirements of the new category and pay a government fee of US$200. 

You could also apply for a change of status to become a Permanent Resident if you accumulate 3 years of holding a Temporary Residency in Costa Rica. Beware, the following can betricky, you will need to complete the necessary renewals of the Temporary Residency and just then you will be eligible for the change of status. Many people believe that after three years of holding Temporary Residency, you can request Permanent status at ‘Correos’ or at Banco de Costa Rica in lieu of the renewal. That is not correct. Renewal and Permanent Residency applications are two completely different processes. To request Permanent Residency you need to file the corresponding paperwork at Immigration, including the $200 change of category fee. 

For Permanent Residency based on accumulated years as Temporary Resident, the 3-year term will be triggered by the issuance date of the first Temporary Residency approval resolution, not by the issuance date of the DIMEX. This means that if my Temporary Residency as a Rentista was issued on January 1st of 2020 I will become eligible to change my status to Permanent Resident by January 1st of 2023; but if my DIMEX is set to be expired by March of 2023 then I will need to complete two steps: proceed with the renewal of the DIMEX and, in parallel, apply for the change of status. 

Another tricky part: every time you want to process a change of status in Costa Rica, you will have to wait 90 days for the Authorities to issue a resolution; not only when you apply as a tourist, this will also happen when you want to change from one category to another. Evidently, Immigration rarely, if ever, issues resolutions within the 90 days established by law. It generally takes them around 9 months to conclude an analysis.

If you are not convinced yet of becoming a legal resident in Costa Rica, the following are some of the benefits that you would get by living in paradise as a resident:

• You can obtain medical care with our social security system.

• You do not have to keep doing the border runs.

• No more return tickets, you will be able to travel as a resident by showing your valid DIMEX.

• You can validate your foreign driver’s license.

• You will be in compliance with the legal requirements and will avoid any fines to be imposed for being a perpetual tourist who, even if by mistake, overstays their permitted stay.

• Opening a bank account will be easier.

• You can obtain a digital signature.

• Depending on the category, but you might be able to work.

To summarize, if you are a foreign national in Costa Rica, you want to stay in the country, and you meet any of the requirements mentioned in this article, don’t hesitate to contact OLS, we will be happy to assist you to become a legal resident in the land of Pura Vida.


Written by: Adriana Herrero and Mariela Silesky.

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Mariela Silesky

Mariela Silesky

Internationalist and Immigration Services Coordinator at Outlier Legal Services.

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