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Residency & What to Know in Costa Rica

If you are wondering if Pura Vida might be the right fit for you or your family, this article will help give you a clear picture on the options and impacts. So, you’re dreaming of life in paradise? So, you’ve decided that Costa Rica could be a good fit?

The Benefits of Residency in Costa Rica Before we jump into the what and the how, you may be wondering about the why – why should you (and why would you want to) obtain Costa Rica residency? There are a few really good reasons, most predicated on the desire for permanence: If you plan to make a home in Costa Rica, as opposed to just visiting, then you’ll eventually want to apply for residency.


A few of the more compelling reasons to pursue residency:


1. Legal Ability to Obtain Residency While you can live in Costa Rica as a “perpetual tourist” – stay for the permitted 90 days, then exit/re-enter the country for a new 90-day stamp – this residency limbo provides no legal rights. While it’s uncommon, as a tourist, it’s still possible that an Immigration official could give you less than 90 days – or refuse you entry entirely.

Residency, on the other hand, provides you with legal status in Costa Rica: You will never run the risk of being turned away at the border. And, if you live here, if you have a home here, if you have made a life here, then that’s important.

2. Driving Privileges The process of certifying your home driver’s license, or the homologación de licencia, is open only to residents. As a tourist, you must leave the country every 90 days (or however often your entry stamp requires), in order to continue driving on your foreign license.

3. Caja/CCSS Healthcare Systems You may have heard about Costa Rica’s strong public healthcare system, the Caja Costarricense de Salud Social, known alternately as the Caja or CCSS. As a resident, you will pay into the Caja (pronounce ka-ha) and can access all its services, no additional payment is required, ever. What’s more, preexisting conditions are covered. (There’s no such thing as ineligibility or denial of coverage.)

4. Lifestyle Impact Ratio

There’s quite a bit of bureaucracy to life in Costa Rica and that can be a huge hurdle, when you’re not a resident. Even the seemingly simple things, like opening a bank account, setting up utilities, or buying a cell phone line – they can all be harder, if not impossible, when you’re not a legal resident. Legal residents can also obtain a firma digital, or digital signature, which makes daily life even easier.

As a resident, you’ll have a DIMEX ID card, which will allow you to complete every process a citizen can (except vote). You won’t have to carry your passport around, either. Bonus: When you board a plane to Costa Rica, you’ll no longer have to show proof of onward travel.

5. The Ability to Work Most residency categories begin as temporary residency, which provides you with a one- or two-year right to reside, with the chance to renew. By the time you’ve held Costa Rica residency for three years, most categories allow you to upgrade to permanent residency, which allows for longer residency periods, the right to work, and a path to citizenship. In mid-2021, Bill of Law N. 22156 passed its second Congressional debate. A few months after the president sign the bill into law, new and even more advantageous regulations will apply to foreigners seeking residency:

  • Reduced $150,000 Investment Threshold: The investment threshold will be lowered from $200,000 (USD) to $150,000, to include $150,000+ real estate purchases.

  • Duty-Free Household Imports: Temporary residency holders – investors (inversionistas), renters (rentistas), and pensioners (pensionados) – will now enjoy


an exemption on import taxes for household items, including whole containers, on their first import. (Any following imports will be subject to standard import taxes.)

  • Duty-Free Vehicle Importation: Temporary residency holders – again, investors (inversionistas), rentors (rentistas), and pensioners (pensionados) – will now be exempt from taxes when importing up to two vehicles for personal use.

  • Other Tax Exemptions: These will include transfer tax exemptions, income tax exemptions, professional-use instruments and materials tax exemptions, and more. Residency Options Costa Rica residency laws allow real estate investors – in other words, anyone who purchase property worth $150,000+ – to become legal residents. There are many paths to living in Costa Rica, including the try-before-you-buy (aka “perpetual tourist”) status, in which new arrivals renew their 90-day stamps until they’re ready to commit. There’s also a new digital nomad estancia, which grants remote workers a 1-year stay (renewable for a second year). For everyone else, there’s residency. And while there are an additional many paths to residency, four are most common among English-speaking expats and immigrants. They include investor (inversionista) residency, retiree (pensionado) residency, fixed income (rentista) residency, and temporary or permanent residency for spouses and parents of Costa Ricans. As you’d expect, each residency category has its own requirements and benefits. Here’s a quick breakdown:

Category #1: Investor (Inversionista) Residency Costa Rica’s investor residency category, known as Inversionista residency, is a temporary residency category dedicated to anyone who invests in Costa Rica, be it in a business, a forestry/reforestation project or, yes, real estate investment. In order to qualify for Costa


Rican residency via your real estate purchase, you will need to buy a property – and your deed of purchase must reflect a purchase price of – for $200,000+. Per Bill of Law N. 22156, this amount will soon be reduced to $150,000. Inversionista Residency Benefits:

  • Two-year residency, renewable for additional two-year periods, for as long as you hold your investment

  • Upgrade to permanent residency after three years

  • A spouse and dependents will be included under the umbrella of the inversionista’s residency Note that, as an inversionista, you cannot work locally in Costa Rica. You can work remotely for companies located abroad. You may also earn income from your investment (but you cannot work in/provide labor for your business, if applicable).

Category #2: Retiree / Pensioner (Pensionado) Residency Retirees qualify for residency via a guaranteed lifetime monthly pension of $1,000/month, via sources including private company pensions, independent retirement programs, or Social Security. The one caveat is that, while a single $1,000 pension will cover the primary applicant and a spouse and/or dependents, two sub-$1,000 pensions cannot be combined to meet the requirement. A single source must meet the $1,000/month minimum.

Rentista Residency Benefits:

  • Two-year residency, renewable for additional two-year periods, for as long as you receive your pension

  • Upgrade to permanent residency after three years

  • A spouse and dependents will be included under the umbrella of the rentista’s residency Note that, as a pensionado/a, you cannot work locally in Costa Rica. You can work remotely for companies located abroad.

Category #3: Rentor / Fixed Income (Rentista) Residency For those too young to draw on Social Security or a pension, Rentista residency offers a fast track to temporary residency. In brief, you must receive a guaranteed income – this does not include a salaried job, as that is not guaranteed for the duration of your residency – of $2,500 per month, or $60,000 for a two-year period. The most common ways to meet this requirement are through either a trust in your home country or a funded bank account in Costa Rica. Rentista Residency Benefits:

  • Two-year residency, renewable for additional two-year periods, for as long as you have a guaranteed $2,500/month income

  • Upgrade to permanent residency after three years

  • A spouse and dependents will be included under the umbrella of the rentista’s residency


Note that, as a rentista, you cannot work locally in Costa Rica. You can work remotely for companies located abroad.

Category #4: Residency via a First-Degree Relationship with a Costa Rican There are two primary paths to residency via a first-degree relationship with a Costa Rican: temporary residency for spouses (of Costa Ricans) or permanent residency for parents (of Costa Ricans). Spouses of Costa Ricans will be granted temporary residency for one-year periods, renewable for as long as the marriage is valid. After three years, you will be eligible to apply for permanent residency. That said, even as a temporary resident, you will be eligible to work in Costa Rica.

Parents of Costa Ricans are eligible for permanent residency, no temporary residency required. Notably, any child born in Costa Rica is considered a citizen, so if you give birth in Costa Rica, your child will be a citizen and you will be eligible for permanent residency. (Learn more about raising kids in Costa Rica.) You will be eligible to work in Costa Rica.

Obtaining Residency Okay, so you now know that you’d like to become a resident of Costa Rica. You know how you could qualify. And you’re ready to take the next step – to see what it will cost (usually, anywhere from the cost of paperwork to about $ 2000 per person and 9-24 months.

Now, you want to know how: What’s the process for getting residency? There are two possibilities: Do it yourself, get an immigration specialist or hire a residency lawyer. Yes, you can do it yourself. You can collect all the paperwork, get all the required everything (including Apostille stamps, legal translations, and more), and submit all your

paperwork. If you choose to take this route, you can save thousands – but you must speak Spanish and you’ll need a very large dose of patience. We mentioned the bureaucracy, above, and almost nowhere is it greater than at Migración, or Immigration.

If you choose to go the professional route, look for immigration specialist. There are many offices throughout the country that specialize in just (and, sometimes, only) the residency process. Not only will a speacialist/lawyer handle all the headaches on your behalf, but they will be sure that things are done right. (There is nothing worse than getting to Immigration with your documents that expire in two weeks, only to be told that you don’t have a necessary piece of paperwork... and that it’ll take four weeks to get it.)

Friends, neighbors, and Facebook groups can be a great source of first-hand recommendations. If you don’t know who to ask, though, please get in touch! We’ll be happy to talk you through the process and provide a few recommendations.

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