Immigration

Immigrating To Costa Rica

What are the requirements to enter Costa Rica? 

Tourists may enter Costa Rica without a visa depending on their country of origin. Visitors from the United States, Canada and most European countries are permitted a 90-day stay. Other requirements include having a minimum of US$100 (or the equivalent) per month and a round trip air ticket or proof of onward travel. Lastly, a yellow fever vaccine is required if arriving from South America and/or sub-Saharan Africa.

If a foreign citizen enters as a tourist and decides to stay longer, can he/she request an extension? 

Visitor extensions are considered on stays granted for an initial period of less than 90 days. If an extension is requested and accepted, it will be for the period necessary to complete the 90-day term. Visitor extensions beyond a 90-day term are not permitted.

What happens if a tourist stays beyond their 90-day term? 

An unlawful stay in Costa Rica is subject to an immigration fine equivalent to US$100 for each month of unlawful stay in the country. Failure to pay the fine may result in being barred from entering the country in the future, for a period equivalent to three times the length of the unlawful stay. 

If a foreign citizen wishes to stay in Costa Rica for longer than 90 days, they must leave the country and return again for each 90-day stay, or they may present an application for residency status. The applicant (and any dependents also applying) must be within their 90-day tourism visa term at the time of application. This means that applicants can enter the country, sign the necessary papers, get fingerprinted and then leave, as long as the application is formally filed before the term of the tourist visa expires. Once a residency application has been presented, an applicant has the option to remain in Costa Rica until a resolution has been made. If the applicant has to leave Costa Rica before a resolution is made, the person will need to comply with the tourism entry requirements and re-enter as a tourist. If the person has been outside of Costa Rica for more than 6 months, it can be possible that a new criminal records certificate will be asked for his residency file. 

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What documents are required when applying for residency? 

The General Directorate of Immigration requires a standard set of documents from the country of origin, including a birth certificate, marriage certificates and criminal records. These documents must be apostilled and must have been issued within six months of the filing date. For countries that do not issue apostilles, documents must be legalized by the competent government authority and authenticated by the nearest Costa Rican consulate. For US citizens, the criminal record must be issued by the Federal Bureau of Investigation out of Washington D.C., and apostilled by the respective Secretary of State. Police records issued by country or local authorities will be rejected by the Directorate of Immigration. For Canadian citizens, police records must be issued by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Canada is not a signatory to the Hague Convention and, as such, the apostille is not available in Canadian territory. Legalization and authentication of documents must be done through Global Affairs Canada and the Costa Rican Consulate in Canada. All documents from abroad must be translated into Spanish in Costa Rica by an official translator authorized by the Costa Rican Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

What are the different residency options foreigners can apply for in Costa Rica? 

There are two main residency types that foreigners can apply for, temporary and permanent. The most common residency applications filed by foreign nationals are temporary. Temporary residencies must be renewed periodically and prohibit the applicant from working or performing any remunerated physical or intellectual activity. The three most popular temporary residencies are the following: Pensioner, Rentista (fixed income) and Investor. 

The general requirements for any of the residency applications described above are:

  1. Completed immigration form 

  2. Application request letter and special power of attorney 

  3. “Change of status” fee payment of US$200 with the applicant’s full name at Banco de Costa Rica (BCR) 

  4. The Directorate of Immigration information consent letter 

  5. Four passport size photos

  6. Birth certificate, apostilled within six months prior to application

  7. Fingerprints taken at Costa Rica’s Ministry of Public Security submitted with the corresponding form. Appointments at various locations can be made online. See Question 13 for more information. 

  8. Consular registration with the consulate of the applicant’s country 

    1. US citizens use step.state.gov 

    2. Canadian citizens use travel.gc.ca

  9. Criminal record from the country of residence, apostilled within six months prior to application. 

    1. US citizens must have records issued by the FBI in Washington D.C. 

    2. Canadian citizens must have records issued by the RCMP 

    3. UK citizens must have records issued by ACRO Criminal Records Office 

  10. Immigration fee payment of US$50 at Banco de Costa Rica (BCR) including the applicant’s full name 

  11. Processing fee payment of 1,000 colones including the applicant’s full name at BCR

What do I need to know about the Pensionado (Pensioner) temporary residency? 

Pensionado temporary residency is available to any person who is already retired and is receiving income derived from a pension. The applicant must prove a permanent fixed monthly income from either a pension or other form of retirement income of at least US$1,000. Status extends to the applicant’s spouse. The applicant must agree to live in Costa Rica for at least one day per year and entitles the applicant to file for permanent residency after three consecutive years of holding temporary residency as a pensionado. A pensionado temporary resident is not allowed to work or perform remunerated activities in Costa Rica until the residency becomes permanent. To file for this category, all requirements specified in Question 5 must be met in addition to the following: 

  1. Original or certified copy of the pension confirmation letter issued by the corresponding entity in an amount of at least US$1,000. The document must be apostilled if coming from abroad or legalized according to the terms and conditions applicable to countries that are not signatories to the Hague Convention.

What do I need to know about the Rentista (Fixed Income) temporary residency? 

Rentista temporary residency is applicable to any person who has a fixed, guaranteed income of at least US$2,500 from any source, such as investments or savings, for a term of at least two years. The applicant must provide proof of such income in the form of a letter or document issued by a financial institution which states that the applicant holds at least US$60,000 in a long-term investment account or certificate from which US$2,500 per month may be withdrawn over a two-year period. Dependents including a spouse and children under 25 (or older with disabilities) are included in this amount. If additional dependents are included in the application, a higher amount may be required. The applicant must agree to live in Costa Rica for at least one day per year. Applicants must renew their application every two years and provide continued proof of investment and income. An application for permanent residency may be made after three consecutive years. A Rentista temporary resident is not allowed to work or perform remunerated activities in Costa Rica until his or her residency becomes permanent. However, he/she may own a company, be an employer and receive dividends. Note that a letter or document confirming income from salary or wages or any form of employment with a foreign entity is not eligible proof for Rentista status. To file for this category, all requirements specified in Question 5 must be met along with the following: 

  1. Original or certified copy of the confirmation letter issued by a Costa Rican or foreign bank or financial institution attesting that the applicant has made an investment and/or has available funds in the sum of US$60,000 and will receive or is able to withdraw a monthly allowance of US$2,500 over a two-year period. The documents must be apostilled if issued abroad or legalized according to the terms and conditions applicable to countries that are not signatories to the Hague Convention. 

What do I need to know about the Inversionista (Investor) temporary residency? 

Inversionista is a type of residency applicable to any person that has made a direct investment of at least US$150,000 into a Costa Rican industry, business, real estate, project, etc. The applicant must prove the amount invested has a current and verifiable value of at least US$150,000. This investment amount is inclusive of the spouse and dependent children of the applicant. The applicant must agree to live in Costa Rica for at least one day per year. To file for this category, all requirements in Question 5 must be met in addition to the investment-specific requirements described above. The applicant is entitled to file for permanent residency after three consecutive years. An Inversionista is not allowed to work or perform remunerated activities in Costa Rica until his or her residency becomes permanent. However, he/she may own a company, be an employer and receive dividends. Costa Rica’s Immigration Act contains four types of investments that qualify an individual or family to apply for temporary residency as an investor: 

  1. Investment in lucrative projects or projects of national interest – The applicant must submit a description of all investments, lucrative projects or projects of national interest developed or to be developed in Costa Rica, including a certified copy of the project’s feasibility study prepared by a certified public accountant (CPA). 

  2. Investment in real estate and personal property registered in Costa Rica – The applicant must submit a description and proof of all investments in real estate and personal property registered in Costa Rica. In the case of real estate, the assets cannot be mortgaged or carry loans of any kind. These will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

  3. Investment in shares or securities – The applicant must submit proof of an investment in shares or securities duly certified by a public notary. 

  4. Investment in reforestation plantations – The applicant must submit a certification issued by a certified public accountant indicating an initial investment of at least US$100,000 in reforestation projects and demonstrate the total value of the investment according to the Forest Management Plan (Article 70 of Forest Law No. 7575).

To file for this category, all requirements in Question 5 must be met in addition to the investment-specific requirements described above.

What benefits are available for Investors, Pensioners and Rentistas? 

Law 9996, enacted in July of 2021, was created to attract new temporary and permanent residents into Costa Rica to help with the country’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery. The law reduces the minimum investment amount for the Investors category to US$150,000 in any form of real estate, registered assets, stock, securities, economic projects or projects of national interest. The benefits of applying for Costa Rican residency within 5 years of the enactment of Law 9996 are valid for ten years from the point at which these tax benefits are granted. The law delineates incentives for new residents including: 

  1. A one-time exemption of import fees on household goods to cover personal and family needs, including new and used items such as furniture, appliances, decor, kitchen and bathroom accessories and linens

  2. An exemption of import fees on up to two air, land and/or sea vehicles and any replacement vehicle in case of the destruction, loss or theft of a vehicle

  3. Funds declared to obtain these benefits are exempt from income tax 

  4. An exemption of 20% of the transfer fees on all real estate acquired during the law’s effective period if the applicant is the recorded owner of the asset

  5. An exemption of import fees on all materials and instruments directly related to the applicant’s profession or economic activity

Residency applicants and temporary residents are not automatically considered fiscal residents, therefore tax is not owed on income earned outside of Costa Rica. If the immigration status is surrendered by a temporary resident or the status is canceled by the General Directorate of Immigration on legal grounds, all exempted taxes will become due.

What immigration statuses allow foreign citizens to work in Costa Rica? 

Foreign nationals with tourist visas cannot legally work or perform remunerated activities in Costa Rica. The same is true for foreign citizens with temporary residency status as an investor, pensioner or Rentista. Work authorizations or permits are granted under Legal Stay status, or “Estancias” in Spanish, and Executive Residency status (Residencia para Ejecutivos).

Legal Stay is an immigration status in which foreign workers or volunteers may stay in the country and work for a “sponsor company,” either foreign or national. A Legal Stay or “estancias” is a non-residency category that covers business agents, travelers, commercial delegates, medical treatment beneficiaries and persons of scientific, professional, religious, economic, political, cultural and/or sporting relevance. Foreign citizens under the Legal Stay category may not receive a salary as a normal “unrestricted” employee would. Foreign companies may apply for a Legal Stay status; however, their foreign workers must continue to receive their benefits and salary in their home country. Sponsor companies are required to cover all living and lodging expenses for the entire duration of their workers’ stay in the country. 

Digital Nomad is an immigration status created in June 2021 to attract remote workers and remote services providers and to establish an incentive for longer stays in Costa Rica. This immigration category is a non-resident, Legal Stay sub-category known as “Remote Worker or Services Providers.” The law defines it as any person who is employed or who renders independent services using any form of technology to third parties located abroad and for which a salary or compensation is received. The immigration benefit is granted for a one-year period and can be extended for an additional year. The beneficiary must stay in the country at least 180 days per year. The General Directorate of Immigration oversees the law’s enforcement and processes all applications digitally, along with the legal requirements. The General Directorate of Immigration has 15 days to process these applications. The applicant must demonstrate a stable monthly income of at least US$3,000 over the course of at least one year prior to application. If the application includes the applicant’s family, the income requirement increases to US$4,000. A medical insurance policy is required for the duration of the applicant’s stay in Costa Rica. The law defines the immediate family as the spouse, any children under 25 years of age, children with disabilities regardless of age and elderly family members under their care. The benefits created for Digital Nomad status individuals by the law are the following: 

  1. Exemption of income taxes

  2. Exemption of import fees on any personal computer equipment or technology required to meet legal obligations

  3. Authorization to drive with a foreign license for the duration of the stay

  4. Ability to open a bank account under specific simplified regulations

Executive Residency is an immigration status in which foreign workers in executive or director positions may reside in the country and work for a company under the premise that they hold directorships with representative powers and are placed on the Costa Rican company’s payroll. The company and the applicant are required to comply with all Costa Rican labor and social security requirements and must report a salary that is 25% higher than Costa Ricans in similar positions.

What residencies are granted through marriage or relationship with a Costa Rican (Por vínculo con costarricense)? 

Temporary residencies through marriage or relationship with a Costa Rican are residency categories applicable to any person who is married or who has a relationship with a Costa Rican citizen, whether it be a parent, child, sibling or spouse, or when the applicant has lived in the country under temporary residency for over ten years. The status does not apply with extended family members such as grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. If an application is filed for residency through marriage, the marriage must be duly registered with the Costa Rican Civil Registry and a certification must be obtained as part of the requirements. For marriages under two years, the General Directorate of Immigration will require an interview with each spouse as part of the application process to demonstrate the legitimacy of the marriage. The applicant must agree to live in Costa Rica for at least one day per year and the applicant is entitled to apply for permanent residency after three consecutive years. A married temporary resident may work or perform remunerated activities in Costa Rica. If an application is filed for residency due to the existence of a child, the General Directorate of Immigration may require an interview as part of the application process to corroborate the parents’ commitment to support and take care of their child. This type of residency is issued as permanent and allows the applicant to work or perform remunerated activities in Costa Rica.

What is the apostille required for immigration documents to be valid in Costa Rica? 

The apostille is an international seal that validates documents for use abroad. It can be obtained in all countries that are signatories of the Hague Convention. Documents from countries that are not signatories of this international instrument must comply with specific legalization requirements in their home countries and in coordination with the nearest Costa Rican Consulate.

How and where are your fingerprints taken to comply with the filing requirement? 

Fingerprints are taken by Costa Rica’s “Ministerio de Seguridad Pública” or Ministry of Public Security. The requirements for having your fingerprints taken by the Ministry of Public Security are as follows:

  1. Original passport

  2. Be at least 12 years of age

  3. Submit the completed Fingerprints Form provided by the Ministry of Public Security in Spanish. 

Appointments with the Ministry of Public Security can be made online, subject to availability, at offices in San José, Cartago, Heredia, Liberia, Puntarenas (Chacarita), Limón, San Carlos, Ciudad Neily (Corredores), Upala, Perez Zeledón, Sarapiquí (Río Frío) or Guápiles. Fingerprints can be taken at any time, from 6 months prior to application through to the date of approval resolution.

What happens if a required document(s) cannot be obtained or does not exist due to material or political reasons? 

The General Directorate of Immigration has a list of countries from which it is impossible to obtain certain documents. In these cases, birth certificate requirements can usually be waived with an affidavit stating the reason(s) why one cannot be obtained. For criminal records, the applicant must submit criminal records from their country of residence if they fled their country of birth due to political reasons. 

My residency application has been approved. What are the next steps after receiving the approval resolution? 

Once residency has been approved by the General Directorate of Immigration and the applicant has been notified, the applicant has 90 days to register with both the Social Security Administration (CCSS) and the local EBAIS. Once registered, applicants may obtain their residency card (DIMEX).

Foreign citizens who obtain residency in Costa Rica must register with the Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social “CCSS” or “Caja” (Social Security Administration) as voluntary payers. Applicants must go to the nearest CCSS office to be interviewed by an officer and file the necessary forms. The applicant’s dependents (underage children and spouse) can be included in the CCSS insurance coverage at no additional cost. The requirements for registering with CCSS are the following:

  1. A copy of each family member’s passport

  2. A copy of each family member’s residency resolution issued by the General Directorate of Immigration 

  3. Certification of income issued by a CPA

  4. If applicable, certification of the company owning the investment

  5. In the case of a real estate investment, certification of the property’s title

  6. A copy of an existing utility bill (electric or water)

  7. Interview conducted by the CCSS officer

Since pensioner and investor residents are not permitted to work or perform remunerated activities in Costa Rica, CCSS presumes they do not generate income in the country. Based on the information provided, CCSS will set the base income for the insurance and the amount will be charged as a percentage of the income the foreign national declared in his/her residency application. Each application will be analyzed on a case-by-case basis.

Once the applicant has registered with CCSS, they and their dependents must register at the nearest EBAIS. EBAIS are basic medical centers that provide the first line of medical care.

The requirements for registering at the EBAIS are as follows:

  1. A copy of each family member’s passport

  2. A copy of each family member’s residency resolution issued by the General Directorate of Immigration

  3. A copy of the children’s birth certificates

  4. A copy of an existing utility bill (electric or water) 

  5. If applicable, a sworn statement ratifying the validity of the marriage license

  6. Completion of voluntary insurance forms provided by CCSS, including the sworn statement

CCSS and EBAIS offices are located around the country and each has its own scheduling policies. As such, scheduling an appointment will depend on the policies of the local office.

Once registration with CCSS and EBAIS is complete, applicants may receive their residency card, also known as a DIMEX card, at BCR branches. To obtain their DIMEX cards, applicants need to take the following steps: 

  1. Schedule an appointment (subject to availability) at BCR by registering online 

  2. On your appointment date, pay the fees indicated in your approval resolution at BCR to have your DIMEX card issued

If your residency expires, what do you need to renew it? 

The renewal process must be completed three months prior to expiration. A fine of US$3 is charged for every month the renewal is delayed. If a residency term has expired for more than three months at the time of renewal, in addition to the requirements mentioned below, a letter justifying the delay must be submitted. A lawyer must authenticate this letter. The steps to renew residency are the following:

  1. Schedule an appointment at the General Directorate of Immigration by calling either 1311 or 900-0034639 

  2. At the appointment, submit the following documents: expired residency card, certification of enrollment in CCSS, proof of payment of the renewal fees (these fees are subject to change so confirm the amount prior to your appointment) and a valid passport. 

Do foreign-born minors with temporary or permanent residency status require a permit to exit Costa Rica? 

Yes. A travel permit must be obtained at the central offices of the General Directorate of Immigration located in La Uruca, San José. This permit can be permanent or temporary. The requirements are the following: 

  1. A copy of both the minor’s and his/her parents’ residency cards

  2. A certified copy of the minor’s birth certificate

  3. Two recent passport-sized photographs of the minor

  4. The completed form provided by the General Directorate of Immigration

Can you drive in Costa Rica on your foreign driver’s license? 

Foreign driver’s licenses are valid in Costa Rica for the duration of the tourist entry stamp. When driving, foreign nationals must carry their passport or a copy of their passport ID page and the entry stamp page showing proof of legal status in the country.

How long can you drive on your foreign driver’s license in Costa Rica? 

You can drive on your foreign driver’s license for the same period as your legal stay in Costa Rica, usually for 90 days as a tourist.

Can a foreign citizen obtain a Costa Rican driver’s license? What is the process and what is required?

A foreign driver’s license can be validated for use in Costa Rica, but the foreign citizen must have either a work permit or legal immigration status, such as resident, refugee or diplomat. They must complete the validation process at the Acreditation Department of COSEVI (Departamento de Acreditacion del Conductor de la Direccion General de Educacion Vial) and request an appointment at servicios.educacionvial.go.cr. Foreigners under a tourist visa are not eligible. Appointments are granted on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 7:00 am to 11:00 at all local offices in Alajuela, San Ramón, Liberia, Rio Claro, Puntarenas and Limon. The e-mail address for consultation is acreditacion@mopt.go.cr. The following requirements apply: 

  1. The foreign license must be valid (not expired)

  2. If the foreign license is in a language other than Spanish, it must be translated by an official translator

  3. The applicant must have stayed in Costa Rica for 3 months and 1 consecutive day

  4. A medical certificate confirming the faculties necessary to drive

  5. Payment of the validation fee, currently around US$10

What does the residency application process with a lawyer look like?

There are several firms that specialize in assisting foreigners with residency and immigration. Most of these service providers will take clients through the following process, which typically takes 8-12 months:

  1. Conduct a preliminary interview to address which residency to apply for, what the requirements are and how long it takes

  2. Provide a list of services and a pricing quote to help with budgeting for expenses, fees and taxes

  3. Setting up an appointment with the immigration directorate 

  4. Dealing with paperwork and documents such as power of attorney, information consent, request letter as well as specific documents for your application you must obtain abroad

  5. Setting an appointment before the Ministry of Security for fingerprinting and preparing associated forms 

  6. Filing residency and follow up until approval

  7. Facilitating enrollment with social security and healthcare; registration with CCSS (Caja) and closest EBAIS 

  8. Setting up an appointment with Banco de Costa Rica (BCR) and prepare documents to get your residency (DIMEX) cards

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