How to Get your Residency in Costa Rica

Thermal springs and waterfall at Tabacon in Costa Rica
Gerrie Summers

Unless you have a big multi-national pushing your paperwork through, getting residency in Costa Rica is a time-consuming and bureaucratic process.

Immigration officials say you shouldn’t need a lawyer and that the process takes a mere 90 days, but the reality is much different.

Without a good command of the Spanish language and a lot of time on your hands, filing paperwork on your own is nearly impossible. As far as the 90 days? Most applications gather dust in the offices of Migracion for two or three years before someone pulls it out for review.    

But, if you are determined to stay in Costa Rica for a long time and want to move forward with the residency process, here’s how to do it.

Qualifying for Residency in Costa Rica

There are many ways to qualify for residency, whether as a retiree, family member, investor or through a work visa. Some of the most common avenues are:

  • Family: An applicant can gain residency through an immediate family member. To get residency through a spouse, the applicant must be able to prove cohabitation and continue to prove this on an annual basis for a period of three years.
  • Retirees (or pensionados): the Costa Rican government is trying to make it easy for foreigners in North America or Europe to retire here and, therefore, has opened a special category for retirees. Retirees looking to gain permanent residency in Costa Rica must show they receive a monthly pension of no less than $1,000.
  • Self-employed businessmen (rentistas): This category was created for wealthy businessmen and women who receive a foreign income (traditionally investors). Rentistas must prove a monthly income of no less than $2,500 to gain residency.
  • Investors: Previously, this category existed only for those who invested more than $200,000 in a project that had a social benefit (such as generating employment.) Now, applicants in this category can also gain residency through homeownership, provided that the home is worth more than $200,000.
  • Work Visa: Obtaining a work visa in Costa Rica is not easy, as you need to prove that you are filling a position that a Costa Rican does not have the technical expertise or knowledge to fill. You also need an employer to sponsor you in this endeavor.

There are separate categories for residency for the foreign press corps, missionaries, athletes, and technicians.

Starting Your Application

To begin the application process, you’ll need the following documents:

  1. A letter addressed to the head of immigration with 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.
  2. Birth certificate of the applicant, which is notarized, certified by the consulate in the applicants’ home country and stamped by the foreign ministry in Costa Rica.
  3. A letter from a local police department in the applicants’ home country certifying no criminal record in the last three years, which is notarized, certified by the home country government and the local consulate and stamped by the foreign ministry in Costa Rica.
  4. Fingerprints from the Public Security Ministry in Desamparados.
  5. Three recent passport photos.
  6. A photocopy of all the pages in one’s passport and the original in hand when documents are presented before the Immigration Department.
  7. Certification of registration with the home embassy.
  8. Receipt proving the applicant has applied for insurance with the public health system.
  9. A deposit slip proving deposit of tax for this process (125 colones per application and 2.5 colones per sheet in application packet) in the Immigration Department bank account Banco de Costa Rica, account number 242480-0. 
  10. A deposit slip proving deposit of application fee for $50 in United States currency ($200 if the application process was undertaken from Costa Rica) in  Banco de Costa Rica, account number 242480-0.
  11. If the above documents are in a language other than Spanish, they must come with a translation done by an official translator.

It’s important to note that the process is slightly different for each category of application (whether you are applying as an investor, retiree, etc.)

Help With Residency Applications

The Association of Residents of Costa Rica (Tel: 2233-8068;, which is part of Casa Canada, helps foreigners through the residency application process, along with providing other Expat services such as insurance and relocation.

There are dozens of private individuals offering their services and many can be found by doing a simple internet search. Many lawyers can help you through the process, though fees and quality of services vary widely. The United States Embassy provides this list of English-speaking attorneys.

More information can also be found on The Real Costa Rica. ​​

Living in Costa Rica Without Being a Resident

A large percentage of foreigners never apply for residency, choosing to leave the country every 90 days to renew their tourist visa. However, immigration officials are increasingly cracking down on the ‘perpetual tourist.’ They are becoming more vigilant about fining foreigners $100 for every month in the country illegally and are asking for a return ticket proving exit from the country within 90 days. (Sometimes they aren’t stamping tourists from North America and Europe with authorization to be here for a full 90 days).

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