Applying for Residency
Before You Apply
From start to finish the residency process can take the better part of a year. Doing it yourself will save money, but working with a lawyer can save you time and make the process much easier. To file residency on your behalf, most lawyers charge $500-$1000 per person, plus authentication, procedural and translation fees.
As of 2012, documents that originate from participating countries in the Hague Convention can now be apostilled for use in Costa Rica. Now, U.S. citizens, (not Canadians, since Canada does not adhere to the apostille process), no longer need to send their documents through the Costa Rican Consulate or Ministry of Foreign Relations in Costa Rica for authentication.
Applying for Residency
All foreign nationals applying for temporary or permanent residency must complete the following steps. Your lawyer and power of attorney may also complete these steps.
1. Write a letter to the Director of Immigration that details:
- Why you are requesting residency and what you will be doing in Costa Rica
- Your complete name, nationality, date of birth, profession or office, intended address in Costa Rica, and the full names and nationalities of your parents
- An address within the San Jose city limits or a fax number
- The date and your signature. You must sign the letter in front of an Immigration officer, who will authenticate your signature. If you are filing for residency before moving to Costa Rica, your local Costa Rican Consulate will authenticate your signature.
2. Present your birth certificate:
- Issued and date stamped no more than six months from the date you submit your application and showing the last names of your parents. For U.S. citizens, this copy may be apostilled in the state of origin.
- For Canadians, your birth certificate must be authenticated by the local Costa Rican Consulate with jurisdiction over your state or province, and stamped by the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores (Ministry of Foreign Relations).
3. Provide your criminal record:
- Issued and date stamped no more than six months from the date you submit your application and showing that you have not been found guilty of any crimes in the last three years.
- U.S. citizens may get this certified copy apostilled in the state of origin.
- For Canadians, this criminal record must be authenticated by the local Costa Rican Consulate with jurisdiction over your state or province, and stamped by the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores (Ministry of Foreign Relations).
4. Present a copy of your passport:
- Legalized by your immigration lawyer OR
- A copy of your passport and the original, presented to the Immigration officer who receives your documents.
5. All applicants over the age of 12 must provide a current set of fingerprints:
- Taken by the Ministerio de Seguridad Publica. (Ministry of Public Safety)
6. Provide three recent passport-sized photos.
7. Show proof of payment of $250 or its equivalent in Costa Rican colones paid to the government’s Banco de Costa Rica account. Contact Immigration for current bank account information.
8. Obtain especies fiscales, a type of government stamp, issued by Immigration: 125 CRC per document and 2.50 CRC per page. Your total cost for stamps should be less than $1, and you can buy them at Immigration.
9. All documents not written in Spanish must be accompanied by a Spanish translation:
- All translations must be done by an official translator. Your lawyer, local Costa Rican Consulate, or country’s embassy in Costa Rica can recommend an official translator.
10. Complete the formulario de filiacion, or affiliation form.
- This may be downloaded from Immigration’s website or requested at Immigration.
11. Provide proof that you are insured with the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS), the public health system.
12. Give proof of inscripcion consular, a form of registration at your country’s embassy in Costa Rica.
- Immigrants from countries with no local embassy are exempt from this requirement.
If you are applying for permanent residency through first-degree relation (parent, child, or sibling) to a Costa Rican or your permanent resident spouse, you must provide:
- Official documentation to support that relationship. Accepted documents include birth certificates and marriage certificates. Others may be accepted; contact Immigration for more details.
Temporary Residency through marriage to a Costa Rican
To file for residency through marriage to a Costa Rican citizen, you must provide:
- A marriage certificate issued by the Registro Civil (Office of Vital Records)
- A copy of your spouse’s cedula, the government ID card.
Before your residency is approved, Immigration may request an interview with you and your spouse. Immigration is trying to determine that you live with your Costa Rican spouse and that your marriage is not one of convenience that was entered into with the sole goal of obtaining residency.
Rentista (Annuity Holder) Temporary Residency
To apply for Rentista residency, you must provide:
- An official document, legalized by the Department of Immigration that proves you will receive a permanent and stable monthly payment of at least $2,500, generated outside of Costa Rica or by the banks of the Sistema Bancario Nacional.
- You must also demonstrate that during a period of at least five years, you will receive payments of no less than $2,500 per month. This payment cannot be deducted from a deposit made in any bank outside of Costa Rica or the Sistema Bancario Nacional, unless it generates this amount in monthly interest.
Pensionado (Retiree) Temporary Residency
To file for Pensionado residency, you must present:
- An official document, legalized by Immigration that shows you will receive a lifetime monthly pension, generated outside of Costa Rica, for an amount of at least USD$1,000 or its equivalent in Costa Rican colones or other currencies accepted by the Costa Rican Central Bank.
Inversionista (Investor) Residency
To apply for Inversionista residency, you must provide:
- Proof of an investment project valued at more than $200,000, or the amount dictated by the Costa Rican government for specific investments.
- This project must be an investment that contributes to the country’s economic and/or social development; all investments that are for personal gain, such as real estate, are excluded.
- The document must describe in detail the project location as well as a timeline of current activities and the project’s critical path.
- Certification issued by a Certified Public Accountant that demonstrates your economic solvency and states that the company or project’s financial goals are within the parameters of the activity to which it is devoted.
- Reliable proof that the project is fully financed.
When you turn all your documents into Immigration, your application is deemed complete. The Immigration official will give you a comprobante de requisitos, in other words, official proof that your residency application is complete and under review. Though your residency has not yet been officially approved, you are no longer considered a tourist. You do not have to leave the country every 30-90 days or renew your tourist visa.
Depending on its caseload, Immigration may take from one to nine months to officially approve your residency application. When it does, official policy is to send notification to your provided fax number or via mail to your San Jose address. In fact, this policy is often overlooked and you or your legal representative must return in person to Immigration until they give word you’re approved.
The next step is to schedule an appointment with Immigration for your cedula, which is the government ID card. Immigration will make this appointment for you, usually within one to four months of your residency approval. At that appointment, you will take the photo for your government ID card. You will also be required to pay the equivalent of a one-way plane ticket from Costa Rica to your home country. This payment is required for all residents as insurance in the case of deportation.
Your ID card should be ready within a week. You can choose to pick it up at Immigration or, to save time, you may pay 2,500 CRC (less than $5 dollars) to have it sent to your nearest post office. Congratulations; you’re now an official resident of Costa Rica!
Tips for Visiting Immigration
Follow these tips for a low-stress visit to Migracion, Costa Rica’s Department of Immigration:
- Immigration opens at 8 a.m., but lines start forming around 6 a.m.
- When you arrive, you’ll see four lines: each is for a different procedure, so ask around to identify which line you should be in.
- Though Immigration closes at 4 p.m., walk-ins are not allowed after noon.
- San Jose’s main Immigration office, where all new residencies are processed, is closed every last Friday of the month.
- The air conditioning is set to about 70º F inside Immigration wait areas, so take a sweater if you chill easily.