Obtaining Residency in Costa Rica
The Tourist Visa
The basic Tourist Visa generally allows nonresidents to stay in Costa Rica for up to 90 days. Those on a Tourist Visa are not legally able to work or earn an income as an employee of a Costa Rican business or person. While the Tourist Visa is not a type of residency, a significant percentage of foreigners living in Costa Rica use only the Tourist Visa, choosing to renew the visa by leaving the country every 90 days. This is known as “perpetual tourism” and while once thought of as acceptable, the Costa Rican government has cracked down heavily on foreigners’ perpetual use of the Tourist Visa.
In essence, the government has made perpetual tourism a more time consuming and expensive ordeal by (1) raising departure taxes and fees, instituting same-day re-entry fees, and increasing border-crossing vehicle fees; (2) imposing stricter requirements upon those leaving and returning to the country (in the form of detailed paperwork and proof of departure within 90 days); and (3) in extreme cases, giving as few as 15 days on the newly-issued visa when the tourists return to Costa Rica. All of these hassles and risks have led more and more foreigners to apply for legal residency status.
Types of Residency
A. Pensionado Residency
A Pensionado residency status is available for those persons receiving a “lifetime pension” (defined as state or federal retirement benefits, social security, a military pension, or a lifetime annuity) that guarantees an income for life of at least $1,000 per month. This residency status is usually used by retirees, but there is no age requirement to obtain a Pensionado status. Pensionados usually must live in Costa Rica for at least four months out of the year (although exceptions apply to limit the time spent in Costa Rica to as little as one day per year) and must enroll in—and can accept the benefits of being enrolled in—the local CCSS Government Health program (the “Caja”). The Pensionado residency status is temporary, not permanent, meaning it must be renewed every two to three years. After three years, the Pensionado has the right to apply for permanent residency.
The Pensionado cannot work as an employee of a Costa Rica entity, but can own his or her own business in Costa Rica and receive income from that business.
B. Rentista Residency
A Rentista residency status is available for those who can either (1) show a guaranteed unearned income stream (in the form of interest or dividends) or (2) who makes a deposit of $60,000.00 into a Costa Rica or other acceptable bank. With regard to the latter option of making a $60,000.00 deposit, the Rentista’s money is paid out to him or her at a rate of $2,500 per month for 24 months. Rentista residency lasts for two years, after which either (1) the person leaves the country or (2) the residency status is renewed and another $60,000.00 is deposited so that the process can start again. Similar to the Pensionado, the Rentista must live in Costa Rica for at least four months out of the year (exceptions may apply), must enroll in and can accept the benefits of the local CCSS Government Health program known as the Caja, has the right to apply for permanent residency after three years, and cannot work as an employee of a Costa Rican entity, but he or she can own a business in Costa Rica and receive income from that business.
C. Inversionista Residency
Inversionista Residency (or Investor Residency) is available for those who have invested at least $200,000.00 in a Costa Rica business or in certain “government approved” sectors, including but not limited to real property, the tourism business, and certain stocks. In 2012, the Costa Rica Government passed regulations also allowing an investment of at least $100,000.00 in a qualified reforestation program. The Inversionista generally must live in Costa Rica for six months out of the year, is allowed to collect the income from any underlying project in Costa Rica, and can own and earn income from their own businesses in Costa Rica. The investor may apply for permanent residency after three years.
D. Permanent Residency
Permanent residency can be granted to (1) those that have held Pensionado, Rentista, or Inversionista status for at least three years, or (2) any person who is a first-degree relative (meaning a mother, father, spouse, sister, or brother) of a Costa Rica citizen. Thus, those couples who give birth to their child in Costa Rica often apply for permanent residency based on their first-degree relative status with their child, a Costa Rica Citizen. This process of obtaining permanent residency is also known as the “Vínculo Program.”
Permanent residents are required to enroll in and can accept the benefits of the Caja and must visit Costa Rica once per year. Permanent residents can legally work as an employee of a Costa Rica entity, and have every right available to Costa Rica citizens except for the right to vote.
E. Other Types of Residency
While rarely applied for, there are other, highly specialized types of residency statuses, including those for students, temporary workers, politicians or diplomats, executive or directors of companies that have a minimum number of local workers in Costa Rica, and refugees. KRAIN is happy to answer questions about these types of residencies and has a trusted network of residency attorneys capable of handling these types of applications.
Assistance in Filing Applications
Please note that the rules for residency are ever changing as Costa Rica’s immigration department continues to make adjustments in order to better deal with the continuing interest in foreigners moving to the country. Further, applying for residency can be a long and bureaucratic process. For these reasons, KRAIN highly recommends that persons seeking legal residency hire competent counsel to assist them in filing their applications. Read more about Residency Attorneys, Organizations, and Approximate Costs and Fees.
*The above information is to be used for informational purposes only, is not to be construed or taken as legal advice, and should not and cannot take the place of the advice of legal counsel.
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