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16 Mar 2018
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Many people come to Costa Rica on vacation and fall so deeply in love with the country that they decide to buy property and become a permanent resident. In Costa Rica, the first step in becoming a legal resident is to apply for temporary residency. Unless you are closely related, or married to a Costa Rican, you’ll need 2 years before you can apply for permanent residence.

If you are detail-oriented and speak Spanish, it may be possible to apply without hiring an attorney. If you hire an attorney, ask people you trust to recommend one. 

Take note: whether you hire an attorney or do-it-yourself, the requirements for getting residency in Costa Rica are exacting. The government officials and employees processing your application and reviewing your documents have limited discretion to handle variables in your paperwork.

Finally, delays are inevitable; be patient.

Excluding attorney’s fees, expect to pay between US$500 and $1000 in application, translation, and other fees.

In most cases, you’ll apply for a pensionado or rentista permit. In the case of a pension-based residency, you’ll need to verify at least $1,000/month per person from retirement instruments—Social Security, 401Ks, or IRAs.

A rentista permit is based on a minimum of $2,500/month from investments. Your bank or other financial institution must verify investment income in writing. Written verification should include specific terms found in the relevant sections of immigration law. You’ll need to show that your investment income is permanent, stable, and irrevocable for at least 2 years.

Both types have an extensive list of required documents, as well as fingerprinting and background checks. All documents must be translated into Spanish, by a certified translator, and authenticated through a process known as apostille, as outlined in The Hague Convention on the Legalization of Foreign Documents. 

Other options include: 

  • Marriage to a Costa Rican national
  • Inversionista, for individuals investing in any combination of real property, shares, businesses or projects in Costa Rica, cumulatively valued at US$200,000 or more. The declared value must be documented in official records by a Costa Rican CPA.
  • Corporate executives, managers, or technical personnel
  • Individuals with scientific, professional, and specialized expertise

When your residency is officially approved, you must apply for the national health insurance, known as the Caja, within 30 days. You must pay your first month’s premium and take the receipt to your appointment to obtain your cedula (resident ID). Be sure to get a receipt when you make your first payment, it’s the only proof you’ll have of having applied and paid for your insurance. 

Before you apply, talk to friends and acquaintances about their experiences of obtaining residency, it’s worth the time spent and undoubtedly you’ll get some valuable advice and wisdom from the experience of others.