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The Different Types of Residency in Costa Rica

How to get your residency in Costa Rica – and Which one is the right one for you!

You visited Costa Rica, fell in love, and now want to live here permanently. And what a good idea this is, many have done it successfully, including myself.

There are many necessities and legal procedures to go through, of which, getting your residency, or cedula, your personal ID that will permit you to live here legally, and to work if this is the case. It is highly recommended to have someone to assist you as it will speed up the process and avoid mistakes. However, you will need to do your homework. Is this really a certified lawyer? What is his/her track record in regards to  the work done for other clients, etc. And what are his fees?

Learn more about properties in the area from Karen Real Estate.


The law changed recently and it is important to be aware of the changes, or else you will find yourself rejected, not without a lot of frustrations and wasted time. It goes as follows:

Caja Costarricense De Seguros:

You will need to join the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, in other words, the Social Security System. That includes those who are renewing their cedula. There is a bigger fine to pay if you overstayed your visa obtained on entering the country or renewed, and you will be denied entry for three times the period of time of the overstay.


A pensionado is someone who receives a guaranteed income from social security and who has been approved by the law. You must provide proof of a certified pension of a minimum of $1,000 per month which is sufficient for yourself and your spouse if you are married. There is no deposit required. You will be expected to be a minimum of 4 months per year in the country. You may own a company and receive an income from it if you are a pensionado.


If you are a rentista, someone who wants to live here legally but who doesn’t qualify for the social security,  you will have to provide proof of an income of a minimum of $2,500 with a monthly deposit of that sum whether you are single, married or married with children. You will be expected to be a minimum of 4 months per year in the country.

Hotel operators of any kind:

Hotel operators of any kind will need to keep a registry of all the people who are staying in their facility, just as it is done in Europe They must be prepared should the Immigration Police pays a visit.  You can learn more about hotel properties in the area here.


Getting a residency through marriage will still work. After all, you may fall in love and wish to get married with a Costa Rican person. However, this will not be as easy going as it used to be, although not as extreme as in the U.S. for example. The matter will be kept under close scrutiny, making marriages of convenience a lot harder to get away with. In other words, couples will now have to prove that they are indeed a couple! Application of the spouse of a Costa Rican under the Vinculo Program will no longer be automatic, and it will not be given permanent residency if the marriage took place less than two years following the date of the application. After three years of living in Costa Rica, the spouse can apply for a permanent residency, but you will need to prove that you are living full time in Costa Rica. After 7 years of living in the country as a permanent resident, two if you are married, you may then apply for citizenship. This, however, is a different matter altogether.


Under the new immigration law if you intend to come here as an investor you will need to prove to the Department of Immigration that you will invest a minimum of $200,000 in Costa Rica and this investment must provide an economic and social benefit to Costa Rica.  Note that the law specifically excludes personal investments, such as purchase of home, lots buildings, or any other Costa Rica Real Estate that’s not for business to qualify for this category.   The granting of this category is at the discretion of the Department of Immigration.  You will need to find a Certified Public Accountant who will audit a financial statement in order to document the financial investment plan proposed. You will be allowed to earn an income from the investment.


You are the director of a company and you need to employ a certain number of workers, as established by the labor law. You will need to provide statements that are certified by a Public Accountant. Your spouse or dependents under 18 years of age will have to apply independently for this. You will be allowed to earn an income from the company, and will be expected to prove that you are living a minimum of 6 months per year in the country.

Applications can now be filed in your country of origin, thus speeding up the process.  By the time you arrive on Costa Rican soil the procedure will at least be underway However, the applications filed under the Vinculo program can only be made in Costa Rica.

The fees are now higher, that is $140 together with the required documents, which you will find listed down below.

Some good news: Costa Rica is taking stronger and tougher measures to fight against human trafficking. Containers full of people in various states of shock, dehydration and poor health were recently discovered in the port of Puntarenas, shocking Costa Ricans and the world alike. Trafficking is done for slavery, prostitution, illegally smuggling people in inhuman conditions in and out or through Costa Rica. The new police is also specially trained to deal with human trafficking in an aim to put a stop to it forever. There is now a new specialized police force composed of officers of the Public Force or Fuerza Publica who have been specially trained specially to deal with illegal immigrants more efficiently than in the past. The illegal immigrants are now actually tracked down and sent back home.

If you are a pensionado or a rentista, you will not have to pay taxes in Costa Rica, but you will have restrictions regarding the rights you have here. You can have your own business but you cannot be employed; for this you will need a permanent residence and obtain a work permit.

If you are unsure which type of residency applies to you, or you think you need a special type, such as a student visa, a work visa, specialized cases such as diplomatic or political status, please consult the ARCR at the following link: www.arcr.net.

Here is a list of documents you will need:

In order to apply for your residency, you will need to have a rather large amount of documents ready. Unfortunately, there is no way around this:

The first three documents listed below are mandatory for all types of residency, and are valid for a period of 6 months following their issue.

1. Police Certificate of Good Conduct:

This certification is obtained from the police department where you last resided. This certification also needs to be authenticated by a Costa Rican Consulate. This is required for the applicant, spouse, and any children aged 15 to 25.

2. Birth Certificate:

Required for the applicant, spouse, and all dependent children up to 18 years old or up to 25 if a university student, in which case a proof of enrollment will be required.

3. Marriage Certificate:

This is if your spouse also wants residency. A proof of divorce however is not necessary.

4. Income Certificate for Pensionado and Rentista:

This is required for only the applicant, and it is valid for 6 months. Pensionados -proof of a pension of at least US$1000/month stating that it is for life, and that it will be paid on Costa Rican soil.

For pensions from the U.S. If you get Social Security or Canada Pension, it is far easier to obtain these certifications at the U.S. or Canadian Embassy in Costa Rica. You will need to give them proof of that pension. If you are earning pension from any other country you need to have a letter stating that your government is paying you that pension, or if it is from any kind of institution then this institution must give you a statement saying that they are paying you.

5. Interpol Background Check:

The Ministry of Public Security will do that for you. You will need to fill an application form which is addressed to the Department of Public Security and signed by the Department of Immigration. You will get fingerprinted and note that this can take up to one month;s time.

6. Photographs:

Make sure you have at least 4 passport size photographs ready.

7. Translation of Documents:

All these documents must be translated into Spanish. This procedure can generally be handled by the attorney chosen by you. They will also need to be notarized by a public if they do not already have a seal. Your signature must never appear in notarized documents.

8. Sworn Statement:

You will be required to appear before a Costa Rican Notary Public in order to issue a sworn statement stating that you agree to abide by the pensionado or rentista law.

Note that the Department of Migration will only accept your application if you have all the required documents ready.

Authentication: The Costa Rican consulate will charge US$40 for authentication of the documents, to which they will put on stamps. There is also an application fee of $30.

Good luck, don’t despair and above all, patience. We all got there in the end!


Karen Ebanks

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