FAQs on immigration to/residency in Costa Rica

The following are a few questions frequently asked by our foreign customers when preparing for moving to Costa Rica, filing a residency application.

We hope they are helpful to better understand the residency process in Costa Rica.

Do I need to apply for Costa Rican residency?

If you will be staying in the country for extended periods of time, and/or entering and leaving frequently, it is advisable to apply for Costa Rican residency.

Staying in the country under a tourist visa for longer than the term indicated in the stamp that Costa Rican Immigration affixed to your passport upon entering the country can create problems for you, which may include, among others, deportation, denial to re-enter the country and shorter stay terms authorized for future entries.  The more frequently you do this, the more risks for the consequences to be more serious.

Frequently leaving the country for a few days just before your tourist visa expires and then re-entering is not a recommended practice, especially in the long term.

On the other hand, if you will just come to the country for a few months per year, and will not exceed the term of your tourist visa, you may not need to apply for residency, although you could, if you want to.

What are the options to obtain residency in Costa Rica?

In general terms, you can obtain Costa Rican residency through the following regimes:

  • Resident Investor: which requires an investment, in real estate, for at least US$200.000.00. Your investment in real estate may qualify, as long as the purchase value is at least that amount. If the price for the land is lower, but you will reach such valuation once construction of your house has taken place, you can use such added value to reach the required minimum investment threshold, but the residency application must wait until such construction is completed and the property value has been updated, accordingly, at the Municipality. If you buy the lot with financing, what counts to establish the investment value is the purchase price of the lot, regardless of the balance due.
  • Resident annuitant or “rentista”: which requires a bank letter committing to give you US$2,500.00 per month, for 2 years, in a permanent, constant and irrevocable manner. The letter can come from a foreign or a local bank. Some local banks will issue the letter if the applicant establishes a US$60,000.00 certificate of deposit (CD) with them, provides sufficient “know your customer” and other documentation and is supported by a letter from Lang & Asociados as the law firm handling the application process indicating they have been retained for the process.
  • Resident pensioner: which requires a document showing a lifetime pension of at least US$1,000.00 per month.

All these alternatives will give you a temporary residency, which require proof of the original status (investment, bank letter, pension letter) each time they are renewed. After 3 years of being a legal temporary resident, you can apply for permanent residency, which does not require proof of the original status.

Regarding minimum stay in Costa Rica to maintain the status, you simply cannot be out of the country for more than one continuous year.

Who may I include in my residency application?

In any of the above residency regimes, the main applicant may also include applications for their spouse (if they are legally married) and children younger than 18 years old. There is an “education exemption for older children who are pursuing higher education.

What are the requirements for residency application?

Besides the bank letter, pension letter or proof of investment, per the applicable regimes indicated above, each applicant and its dependents included in the application must provide a certificate of having a clean criminal record, birth certificate and marriage certificate (when applicable). These documents must meet a series of formalities. If you are interested in residency application, we suggest you contact Lang & Asociados so you can go over your particular situation and establish a filing plan.

Does buying a lot and building a home automatically give me residency?

No. You will need to apply for residency using the normal channels and under the alternatives mentioned above. You will only obtain residency if the application meets the legal requirements.

How long does it typically take to obtain residency?

Once filed in a complete and correct form, residencies usually take, approximately, one year to be resolved; however, due to continuous interruptions of services during the COVID 19 pandemic and the consequent back log at Immigration, it is possible that these times will be longer. In order to be able to get your residency application approved in the shortest time possible, it is essential to retain knowledgeable legal counsel to guide you through the process, prepare all documents, file and constantly monitor the application; not doing so, can extend the time lines many years and jeopardize the outcome of the application.

Do I have to leave the country before my tourist visa expires while my residency is in process?

Once you have formally filed your residency application, you are permitted to stay in Costa Rica beyond the expiration date of your tourist visa (for Canadian and US citizens, this visa duration is usually 3 months, but the immigration authorities have the discretion to grant it for a shorter term).

Can I file for residency while out of Costa Rica?

A requirement for the residency filing is for the applicant (this includes the main applicant and all their dependents that are also applying for residency) to be within their tourism visa term. This means that you can enter the country, sign the application papers, get fingerprinted, and then leave, as long as your application is formally filed at Immigration before the term of expiration of your tourist visa.

Can I apply for Costa Rican citizenship/have a Costa Rican passport?

Only after you have been a legal resident for many years (7 years for most nationalities) and complied with a series of other requirements (including but not limited to Spanish and Costa Rican history test, minimum stay in the country) you will be able to apply for Costa Rican citizenship.

Can I work while living in Costa Rica?

Temporary residents under the investor, annuitant or pensioner regime can only work in Costa Rica in their own businesses. In order to work as an employee, you will first need to have attained permanent resident status, for which you can only apply after 3 years of being a legal temporary resident. If you work for a company abroad, you can continue doing so under the temporary residencies.

Should I buy a car when I arrive or bring my current car to Costa Rica?

Both are legally possible, but importing goods is a fairly complex process in Costa Rica and substantial taxes are usually applied. Furthermore, cars acquired abroad, even if they are the same brand and model of cars sold locally, often use different parts, which makes maintenance more complicated.

What are the options to bring personal belongings, furniture, etc. Does it make economic sense?

Before making a decision on this matter, we suggest you consult with a customs broker and calculate how much you will pay in shipping transport and import taxes.