Residency in Costa Rica

*** Please note that as of March 1, 2010, the government of Costa Rica revised the immigration laws. I have written extensively about these changes in the Real Costa Rica Blog. Click here to read the article. I would urge all readers to carefully review these changes. Further changes were made 17 May 2012. See my Blog and below for these changes.

Mini Menu:

Types of Residency
Comparison of Residencies
Required Documentation

Types of Legal Residency

To live in Costa Rica for an extended period of time (read that as longer than 90 days if from the US and many other countries), it is required that you qualify for and establish legal residency. Costa Rica is very open to new residents with most residencies only requiring that you prove sufficient resources to live here without mooching off the system

Perpetual Tourism –

Is defined as the practice of periodically leaving the country to “renew” a visa.

There is an urban legend that one may come here then leave the country every 90 days returning after 72 hours to “renew” their visa. This is not true. There is no such law that allows this. If you get caught, you can be expelled for a period not to exceed twelve years or you may simply be refused re-entry to the country after one of these trips. I urge my readers not to pay attention to those who advocate this practice. True, you might not get caught... but if you do?

Costa Rica is cracking down on this in different ways. For example, these scofflaws are now sometimes:

1. Not being allowed to re-enter Costa Rica

2. If allowed, they may be given 15 days and not a full 90 days forcing them to leave the country again in order to avoid the fines for overstaying a visa which go into effect in March-April 2013

In any case, it is not legal and shows no respect for this sovereign country and their laws.

If you also want to work in Costa Rica, you will need a form of residency that permits you to do so. Currently there are a few types of temporary residency that allow you to work here, but the most common form is Permanent Residency. You may generally not work here without the proper residency. If you don't pay attention to this, you may run afoul of immigration (migración). Again... If you are deported, you may not be able to re-enter Costa Rica for as long as twelve years. Stories abound of folks who felt they could ignore the system, some do and are not caught, others, do get caught with serious consequences.

Costa Rica offers many alternatives for legal residency. Here are the most common and those that affect the majority of people moving here:

• a pensionado is defined as a person receiving a lifetime pension such as social security, state retirement benefits, military pension. or someone who has purchased or owns a lifetime annuity guaranteeing an income (for life) of no less than $1,000 US per month. While this residency is most common for older folks, there is no age limit. We have many retired military retiring here who are in their forties and are qualified pensionados.

• a rentista is a foreigner with a guaranteed income stream (rare) or who makes a deposit to a Costa Rica bank) in the amount of $60,000 (more common).
This deposit is the rentista's money and is paid out to him at the rate of $2,500 per month for 24 months. This residency is for two years after which it must be renewed (another 60,000) or you must leave the country. This new residency allows people to learn if they really enjoy living here.

• an investor, who has at least $200,000 or more invested in Costa Rica

• if associated while doing a foreign government assignment or an international mission.

• representante a person who is an executive of a company doing business in Costa Rica. Many restrictions apply.

The pensionado and rentista programs are the easiest and most popular methods of establishing temporary residency in Costa Rica. They are called temporary because both have expiration dates and must be renewed in order to stay here. After three years of either you have the right to “upgrade” to permanent residence. This implies at least ONE renewal after two years. Some residents, especially rentistas, can and should convert to permanent residency after three years to avoid a third large deposit of $60,000. Permanent residency implies permanency... not true. Permanent residents must also regularly renew their residency.



To quality for the pensionado status, one must fulfill four basic requirements:

(1) prove that one receives at least $1,000.00 per month from a qualified pension such as social security, a state retirement pension, military pension. or someone who has purchased or owns a lifetime annuity guaranteeing an income (for life) of no less than $1,000 US per month
(2) Prove at each renewal that you still receive that pension, and
(3) Live in Costa Rica for at least four months out of the year and
(4) enroll in the local CCSS Government Health program known as CAJA . This is socialized medicine CR style.

To quality for the rentista status, one must fulfill four basic requirements:

(1) prove that one receives at least $2,500.00 per month from a guaranteed source. Most commonly, this is a deposit in a Costa Rica bank.
(2) Prove at each renewal that you still receive the monthly income, and
(3) Live in Costa Rica for at least four months out of the year
(4) enroll in the local CCSS Government Health program known as CAJA . This is socialized medicine CR style.

Check the RCR Blog for updates.


In 1992, the legislature revoked the tax exemption laws that allowed pensionados and rentistas to bring all of their possessions into the country duty free. Under the current law, these groups are no longer exempt and must pay import taxes on their belongings.

Neither pensionados nor rentistas pay Costa Rica taxes on money earned outside of Costa Rica.  Pensionados and rentistas have restrictions as well as rights in Costa Rica. While either may set up their own business, they may NOT work for anyone else. Individuals of either residency status must first become permanent residents in order to obtain a work permit.

Investor status is granted to those who invest at least $200,000 in a business or certain permitted types of investments in Costa Rica. The investor must also reside in Costa Rica for at least six months out of the year. If there are no problems, the investor may apply for permanent residency after three years.

Permanent residency is granted to a qualifying person who is a first-degree relative (spouse, father, mother, sister, brother) of a Costa Rica citizen or to any other person who has held another legal form of residency (i.e. rentista) for a period of three years. With permanent residency, you enjoy all the rights of a Costa Rica citizen, save the right to vote or obtain a Costa Rica passport.

Other methods is employment by a foreign government or an international mission.

One popular question is what happens if you marry a Costa Rican. It is really very simple. Once you marry a Costa Rican, you immediately qualify for TEMPORARY RESIDENCY. Sometimes Permanent Residency is given, but that seems to be not automatic.You may legally work in Costa Rica only after receiving your actual permanent residency ID card. The process takes about a year from time of filing. Due to abuse, the new immigration law requires that you and your spouse go in annually to Migración in order to renew the status.

Notice: If planning to work here, near fluent knowledge of Spanish will likely be required AND plan on a salary roughly 10-15% of the salary paid in the US or other major country.

After three years of living IN COUNTRY in Costa Rica as a legal resident, you may apply for Permanent Residency. You must also PROVE you lived here, not always simple. Once you apply for this form of residency, the process takes about a year.



(5) After seven years of living ACCUMULATED IN COUNTRY (as a legal resident!) (two years if married to a Costa Rica citizen or five years if you are from certain countries i.e. Spain and some Latin American countries), you may apply for citizenship.

You must also PROVE you lived here. You have any idea how hard it i to prove you lived somewhere? I do. They ran me ragged when I applied for citizenship. Once you apply for citizenship, the process takes about a year or two.  Dual citizenship is permitted for some countries including the USA and Canada. *

Citizenship can be very time consuming and unless you really want the right to vote, is probably not necessary for most ex-pats.

* Also, with the exception of applying for citizenship via marriage, you technically may have to renounce your US or Canadian citizenship. This has been in and out of the courts and from last info has been sustained. However... it seems to not be enforced via follow up... but be aware it is there on the books.

The interpretation and enforcement of residency laws is constantly changing, often as often as twice per year. I cannot stress enough the need to obtain proper counsel before starting this process! Probably the oldest organization specializing in this is the Association of Residents of Costa Rica (ARCR), but there are several others here in Costa Rica doing the same work. I am very diligent in keeping up this web site, especially so far a residency is concerned, but ARCR is a good backup source.

Residency Advice

When choosing someone to assist you, find out about their experience, if they are attorneys themselves or do they hire attorneys or have them on staff, years in business, etc. Get active in users groups to find out (independently) how they did with other clients. Are they physically located in Costa Rica?

Everyone wants a good deal! Costa Rican residency is like brain surgery... perhaps not best to shop for the best deal. There are HUNDREDS of stories of folks who got mired for years in the process simply because they tried to save 100 bucks.

The common types of residency are shown here. For specialized cases, such as student, work visas, temporary visas, diplomatic or political status, refugees or others, we suggest you consult ARCR ( .


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Residency In Costa Rica
Comparison of Types of Residency

Pensionado Rentista Inversionista Representante Permanent
Requires proof of US$1,000 per month income from permanent pension source or retirement fund. Requires absolute proof of US$2,500 per month for at least two years, guaranteed by a banking institution, OR a US$60,000 deposit in an approved Costa Rican bank.  $200,000 in any business OR a specified amount of investment in certain government approved sectors. Applicant must be director of a company meeting certain requirements, such as employing a minimum number of local workers as established by the labor law, with financial statements certified by a Public Accountant. First degree relative status with a Costa Rican Citizen (through marriage to citizen or having a Costa Rican child) OR may apply after 3 years in another residency
Must remain in country at least 4 months per year. Must remain in country at least 4 months per year. Must remain in country at least 6 months per year. Must remain in country at least 6 months per year. Must visit Costa Rica at least once per year.
Can claim spouse and dependants under 18 years of age. Can claim spouse and dependants under 18 years of age or over 18 if fully disabled Can claim spouse and dependants under 18 years of age Can claim spouse and dependants under 18 years of age Can claim spouse and dependants under 18 years of age
Cannot work as an employee. Cannot work as an employee. Income allowed from the project. Can earn an income from the company. Can work.
Can own a company and receive income. Can own a company and receive income. Can own a company and receive income. Can own a company and receive income. Can own a company and receive income.

Need More Information?

I suggest you contact the Association of Residents of Costa Rica

Residency rules and interpretation change all the time and
these people make it their business to keep current

* Pensionados and Rentistas can claim their spouses and children under 18 as dependants (or a child between 18 and 25 enrolled in University).  No further income is required.

** Entero is the fee charged by the government for identity cards each time residency is granted / renewed (each person)


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Documents Required:

The first three documents are required for all types of residency in Costa Rica. (Valid 6 months from issued date)

1. Police Certificate of Good Conduct from your last place of residency. Valid for 6 months. Required for applicant, spouse, and any children aged 15 to 25.

2. Birth Certificate. Required for applicant, spouse, and all dependent children up to 18 years old or up to 25 if a university student - proof of enrollment is required.

3. Marriage Certificate (if spouse wishes residency). Proof of divorce is not needed.

4. Income Certificate for Pensionado and Rentista Residency (required for only the applicant, valid 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 in Costa Rica. You can get this from Social Security in the USA or in the SS section of the US embassy in San José.

For pensions from the U.S. Social Security or Canada Pension, it is easier to obtain the certification at the U.S. or Canadian Embassy in Costa Rica. (You must provide them with proof of your pension.)

Pensions from other government agencies (all countries) must have a letter stating that the pension is paid by the government.

Pensions from other institutions must have a statement verifying the type of institution paying the pension.

Rentista Residency - contact the ARCR for wording of documents.

All The Above Residency Documents (other than those obtained in Costa Rica) MUST BE:

a) Notarized by a local notary public if they do not have an official government seal. If in doubt about the need to have it notarized, check with ARCR or the local Costa Rican consulate.

b) In the USA (and possibly some other countries) they must then pass through the Secretary of State (or other body) where they were issued.

c) Consularized (authenticated) by the Costa Rican consulate in the country where the document was issued. If in the USA, this is now no longer required. Instead, a process of apostilization is used. Apostiled documents must the be translated legally in Costa Rica. Your residency advisor can assist you with this.

Notarization: Your signature must NOT appear in the notarization of the document.

Authentication: A Costa Rican consulate will charge US$40 for authentication of each document. They must affix stamps worth that amount to collect the money. If they do not have the stamps, the ARCR can buy them in Costa Rica on your behalf. There is also a $30 application fee.

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