Obtaining Residency in Costa Rica

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Obtaining residency in Costa Rica is not simple, cheap or fast, but for anyone planning on spending a few years in this country or more, it should be considered virtually essential.

Residency confers three huge advantages: You no longer have to leave the country every 90 days, you can get a Costa Rican driver’s license, and (usually) you can legally hold a job.

Here are the main paths to 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 it by leaving the country every 90 days. People who do this year after year are known as “perpetual tourists,” and the practice is frowned on by the government, though there is nothing in Costa Rican law that forbids it. 

In the past, the government has made perpetual tourism a more time-consuming and expensive ordeal by (1) raising departure taxes and 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

• Pensionado Residency

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 this status.  People who follow this path to residency 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 the national CCSS government health program (the “Caja”).  The pensionado residency status is at first temporary, and after three years can be made permanent. A person classified as a pensionado cannot work as an employee of a Costa Rica entity, but can own a business in Costa Rica and receive income from that business.

• Rentista Residency

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 into a Costa Rican bank.  With regard to the latter option of making a $60,000 deposit, the applicant'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 it can be renewed.  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 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 can own a business in Costa Rica and receive income from that business.

• Inversionista Residency

Inversionista (investor) residency is available for those who have invested at least $200,000 in a Costa Rica business or in certain “government approved” sectors, including 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 in a qualified reforestation program.  The inversionista generally must live in Costa Rica 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 a businesses in Costa Rica.  The investor may apply for permanent residency after three years.

• 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 (mother, father, spouse, sister, or brother) of a Costa Rica citizen.  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. People who obtain residency through marriage or childbirth are known as vinculados ("linked").

Permanent residents are required to enroll in 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 the right to vote. 

• Other Types of Residency

While rarely applied for, there are other, more specialized types of residency statuses, including those for students, temporary workers, politicians or diplomats, executives 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 makes adjustments to deal with the continuing interest of foreigners in moving to the country.  Bear in mind that applying for residency can be a long and bureaucratic process.  KRAIN highly recommends that anyone 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 cannot take the place of the advice of legal counsel.