Citizenship and Permanent Residency
Once you start your new life in Costa Rica, your friends back home will be so impressed when you tell them that you live in the beautiful land of pura vida. You might even want to apply for citizenship (or permanent residency) in Costa Rica to make it official!
While citizenship is a viable and smart option for many expats, it isn’t a decision to take lightly. In fact, applying for residency in Costa Rica can actually be a very long, arduous, and frustrating (not to mention expensive!) process for foreigners.
For some, like retirees, people who know they want to live there permanently and open a business, or foreigners who wish to marry a Tico or Tica and start a family, residency will be the best path. But for others, I’ve also seen it’s nothing more than a very entailed way to legitimize their move to Costa Rica, wasting a lot of time and money in the process.
Therefore, do your research, talk to other expats that live there, and consider the pros and cons of all your options before jumping into the citizenship process.
Here are some tips to help you:
• First off, it’s important to understand that there’s a big difference between citizenship and residency in Costa Rica
• Most people from North America/Europe will not qualify for citizenship
• For those wanting to live the normal expat lifestyle having residency is sufficient under the law
• However, that also depends on what category of residency you fall into when you apply (different categories place different restrictions)
• You can stay perpetually in Costa Rica on a tourist visa, but the government is increasingly cracking down on re-entry/exits for North Americans and Europeans, and you can be fined for not having your paperwork in order
• It’s also critical to understand that you can keep your United States citizenship, so you don’t have to renounce the U.S or give up all the benefits of possibilities of living there again. (This is probably the case for Canada and other countries, but check first to confirm before you decide anything)
Permanent residency allows you to:
• Apply if you marry a Costa Rican citizen, or if you have a Costa Rican child
• If not, you can apply after three years for non-permanent residency status, which will take at least a year to process
• Costa Rican officials will say that you do not need to hire a lawyer, but the reality is that navigating the process alone is near impossible, especially for those who are not fluent in Spanish
Here are the various ways to go about getting your residency:
You can apply for residency through a family member or spouse, but you have to be willing to prove cohabitation once a year for a period of three years.
If you are a retiree, you are free to get residency in Costa Rica if you’re able to prove a pension of at least $1,000 USD per month.
Self-employed business people: in order to qualify for this category you have to prove an income of at least $2,500 USD per month.
In order to qualify for this category you need to either:
• Have invested at least $200,000 USD in a project that has a social benefit (this includes something that generates employment)
• Own a home that is worth at least $200,000 USD
• These can be difficult to qualify for
• You must prove that you are filling a position that a Costa Rican is not qualified for or incapable of doing
• An employer must sponsor you
• There are separate residency categories for foreign press, athletes, and technicians
Here is what you need to begin the application process:
• Write a letter addressed to the head of the immigration
department stating the reasons you are applying for residency, complete name, nationality, profession (if applicable), name and nationality of parents, a fax number to receive notifications from the Immigration Department, date and signature
• Notarized birth certificate stamped by the Costa Rican foreign ministry
• Letter from the (home country) police department stating that you have no criminal record for the last three years, stamped by the Costa Rican foreign ministry
• Fingerprints are taken by the Public Security Ministry in Desamparados
• Three recent passport photos
• Passport, and also a photocopy of each page
• Certification of registration with the embassy of the home country
• Receipt that proves you have applied for insurance from the Costa Rica public health system
• Receipt showing you have paid all the necessary taxes for the application process
• If the above documents (letters, etc.) are done in another language, you must have them accompanied by Spanish translations from an official translator
Note: this varies slightly depending on which residency category you fall
• If you are a rentista (living off investment income), you can either provide proof of $2,500 monthly income
• Or you can deposit a minimum of $150,000 in a Costa Rican bank
Other notes on establishing residency in Costa Rica:
• Both retirees and self-employed businesspeople have to remain in the country at least four months per year
• They can claim a spouse and dependents under 18 years of age
• They cannot work as an employee (i.e. take a job away from a local), but they can own a company and receive dividends
• If you fall under the investor category by investing $200,000 in a business, you are entitled to income and dividends from that project
• Investors can NOT claim a spouse or dependents under 18
• If you use a work visa, (aka are a company director,) your company must employ a minimum number of locals in accordance with the labor laws
• This requires financial statements of proof certified by an accountant
• Worker must stay in Costa Rica for at least half the year, and may not claim a spouse or dependents but can collect income from the work
Getting citizenship as a foreigner (someone who was not born in Costa Rica):
There are only three ways to become a Costa Rican citizen:
• Descent: where at least one parent is a Costa Rican citizen
• Naturalization: if you are Spanish or Latin American you can apply
after 5 years of residence in Costa Rica
If you are any other nationality, you can apply after 7 years of residence
• Marriage: if you marry a Costa Rican citizen you can apply after 2
Resources for Assistance:
• Association of Residents of Costa Rica
• Private firms/individuals - the United States embassy lists some English-speaking attorney recommendations.
I’m sure you have a whole lot more questions, and all of them will be answered in The Official Expat’s Moving to Costa Rica Handbook.
Or you can start with the free guide, 50 Facts About Moving to Costa Rica.