Becoming A Resident
Although the rules have become increasingly stringent in recent years, immigration to Costa Rica is still significantly liberal compared to most countries. Today, longer temporary stays are possible (a 90-day tourist visa may be extended to 180 days), making the necessity of acquiring legal status applicable only to those that wish to stay in the country for six months or more. With merely a tourist visa, foreigners can still own property or a business.
For those who wish to reside full-time in Cost Rica for more than 180 days and/or manage the business that they have established in the country, becoming a legal resident is a requirement. Currently, there are three categories of legal resident status recognized by the Costa Rican Tourist Board, or the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo (ITC):
1. Pensionado Residency: This category is for retired people and requires a minimum income of US$600 (or equivalent) per month from an accepted retirement plan or pension source. Proof of the deposit of this money into a Costa Rican bank must be presented to the government every year.
2. Rentista Residency: This type of residency status is generally obtained by younger people wanting to live in Costa Rica. This status requires that an approved financial institution (foreign or Costa Rican) guarantees that they hold sufficient funds in a stable account to provide the resident with a monthly income of US$1000 for at least five years of the applicant's residency.
3. Inversionista Residency: This option grants residency to those who are serious about investing in a business with a government-approved organization: US$50,000 invested in a field like tourism or export, US$100,000 in a reforestation project, or US$200,000 in another type of business.
Residents can claim their spouse and children under the age of 18 as dependents. Children between the age of 18 and 25 can be classified as a dependent if he/she is enrolled in a university.
Residents of all three categories share these basic requirements and benefits:
1. They acquire all of the same rights of citizenship, except that they are not allowed to vote.
2. They are allowed to own and manage their own business, but are prohibited from earning a salary from a Costa Rican employer.
3. Residents must reside in the country for a minimum of four consecutive or nonconsecutive months.
There are four major documents that are required to process an application for legal residency. These must be notarized and authenticated before an application is considered. The documents can be notarized by a local notary public, but the applicant's signature must not appear as a part of the notary's seal. Authentication of the notarization can be done by the Costa Rican Consulate in the applicant's country. A charge of US$40 will be required for each document.
1. Income Certification
This step applies only to the Pensionado and Rentista Residency, and is probably the most complicated document to produce. For Pensionado status, Social Security or other government pension is the easiest to document. For all pension sources, a statement confirming that the applicant will receive a monthly pension of at least US$600 should be notarized and authenticated at the Costa Rican Consulate. However, if the pension is generated from a non-governmental source, the applicant will have to produce notarized letters confirming that the pension is for life, and two letters from bank officials stating that the company that is issuing the pension is sound. For Rentista status, statements are required confirming that the applicant will receive a minimum payment of US$1000 for at least five years. Decisions regarding the qualifications of this income are made on a case by case basis, and assistance on this matter can be obtained at the Costa Rican Consulate.
2. Birth Certificate
This is required of the applicant and all dependents.
3. Marriage Certificate
This is required if the applicant's spouse desires to attain resident status. Proof of a previous divorce is not necessary.
4. Police Certificate of Good Conduct
The applicant should plan on having this be the last document to obtain because it is only good for six months from the time of certification, and it must be completed by the police department in the last place of residency. In addition, this document must be obtained for the applicant's spouse and dependents.
In order to attain Permanent Residency status, a few more requirements apply. Those applying for a permanent residency must first be of legal pensionado, rentista, or inversionista status for at least two years. Permanent residents must visit Costa Rica at least once a year. And lastly, a US$300 application deposit must be made to the Government of Costa Rica. An exception to these rules applies to the citizens of Spain. They are permitted to apply for permanent residency without residing in the country.