Moving to Costa Rica

Map of Costa Rica

Obtaining residency in Costa Rica is relatively easy, as compared to other countries

Moving to Costa Rica can be a wonderful adventure, rich with possibilities for a better life. However, in order to get the most out of your new chapter as an expatriate, it is important that you obtain legal Costa Rican residency as a part of your international moving process.

There are a lot of expats in Costa Rica who manage to avoid the process of getting legal residency by taking “perpetual tourist” route, which simply entails leaving the country every 3 months for a minimum of 72 hours.

However, one can never be certain when the Costa Rican government might crack down on perpetual tourism. While many expatriates have resided in Costa Rica for decades in this manner, it has become more difficult to live is Costa Rica without legal residency, given the restrictions that have recently been put in place by banks, utility companies, and government entities.

Obtaining legal residency in Costa Rica is relatively easy as compared to other popular expat destinations. The cost is minimal at around $2,000 per family member when all is said and done, but it does take a little bit of time, and there is no lack of “red tape” to cut through.

Requirements and fees (currently around $250) for obtaining residency in Costa Rica can change without notice, so it’s always a wise idea to do plenty of research and obtain the latest information about laws and regulations.

While is it possible to conduct the residency process on your own, it is advisable to hire an attorney who specializes in immigration. Typically, immigration lawyers charge between $800 to $1,200 per family member for handling all of the paperwork and managing all of the procedures at the immigration offices.

You will need to obtain and authenticate the following documentation:

  • Police certificate of good conduct from your country of origin dated within the last 6 months for the head of household, spouse, and children ages 15 to 25.
  • Birth certificates for the head of household, spouse, and dependent children under 18 or children 18 to 25 who are students. Proof of university enrollment is required for adult children.
  • Marriage certificate.
  • Income certification, such as a letter or other official verification of income, received from Social Security, pensions, or retirement accounts. For those who are not retired, financial statements or an employee wage verification statement that shows regular and permanent income is required.
  • If an attorney is handling your application, you will also need a power of attorney document that gives authorization for your attorney to act on your behalf.

Every notarized document must go to the U.S. State Department for apostilles. An “apostille” is a form of authentication issued to documents for use in countries that participate in the Hague Convention of 1961.

Once you’ve obtained all of the documentation needed and they have been authenticated by the US State Department, you must submit the notarized documents and apostilles for translation to the Costa Rica consulate in your region, or in Costa Rica. You can find your county, state, or region’s embassy by visiting the Costa Rican Embassy website. The fees for translation and authentication are $40 per document.

To qualify for residency, every family or single applicant must contribute to the Costa Rican social security and medical system called the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. The amount of this contribution is based on a percentage determined by your income.

All residency types are temporary, with the possibility to make them permanent after 3 years. The exception to this rule is immediate family members. There are several different types of residency:

  • Pensioned Retiree (Pensionado)

    The minimum income required to qualify as a Pensionado is $1,000 per month. This resident must live in Costa Rica at least four months out of the year. Rights to residence extend to spouses and children under 18. A Pensionado is ineligible to work, but may own a company and receive income from it.

  • Annuitant (Rentista)

    To qualify as a Rentista, you must prove that you have a minimum income of $2,500 per month for at least two years or $60,000 in a Costa Rican bank. Rentistas must live in Costa Rica for at least four months out of the year. This qualification also extends to spouses and children under 18. Rentistas may not work, but can own a company and receive dividends from it.

  • Investor (Inversionista)

    This residency type is available to investors in special government projects or to those who invest $200,000 in any other business, real estate, stocks, or other non-liquid assets. This qualification also extends to spouses and children under 18. An Inversionista may not work but can own a company and receive dividends from it.

  • Company Representative (Representante)

    This residency type is available to a business owner or director of a company incorporated in Costa Rica and employs a minimum number of local workers. This residency includes the same rights for his or her spouse and any children under 18. This resident may own a company and receive income from it.

  • Family member of a Costa Rican resident or national
    • This type of residency requires a first-degree relationship, either by marriage to a Costa Rican citizen, or through children that were born in Costa Rica. Children of Costa Rican nationals that are born abroad are eligible for citizenship and dual citizenship is allowed.
    • Foreign government, NGO employee, scientific or professional people, press correspondents, and sports figures who are recognized by the National Council on Sports and Recreation are also eligible for residency in Costa Rica.

The decision to move to Costa Rica and become a legal resident can be one of the most positive decisions of a lifetime. With its close proximity to the United States, beautiful weather, friendly locals, sound economy, low cost of living, stable government, and terrific investment opportunities, Costa Rica is at the top of the list for best places to move or retire abroad.

About the Author

Einat Mazafi is the owner of NY Shipping, an International moving company based in New York. She is also a specialist in providing the best relocation solutions to clients worldwide.