Residency Laws in Costa Rica

2009 Costa Rica Residency Law

Current Costa Rican Residency and Immigration law: status, requirements and procedures.

  1. Residency Statuses: The Law maintains the same known statuses of the previous laws with higher sums for retirees (Pensionado) and self-retired (Rentista) programs. A new subcategory is created for purchasers of real estate households.
    1. Pensionado: under this status an individual receiving a monthly pension, from a permanent and stable source abroad, in the sum of one thousand American dollars (USD(1,000). Example social security pension.
    2. Rentista: an individual receiving a monthly income of two thousand five hundred dollars (usd2,500), from a permanent and stable source abroad or from a prime order Costa Rican bank. Ex. a certified deposit of one hundred fifty thousand dollars (usd150,000) in a local bank, from which usd2,500 are reimbursed to the Rentista during a five-year period.
    3. Real Estate household owner: This special subcategory was introduced by an internal resolution of the Immigration Council in August 2009, in order to create an incentive for purchasers of real estate units intended for the proprietor’s personal household. A foreign individual purchasing a house, apartment or condominium, either in their personal name or under a closely held entity (corporation or LLC), with a price of two hundred thousand American dollars (usd200,000), qualifies as a real estate property owner-investor. The real estate unit value has to be verifiable in the property transfer tax, Municipal real estate tax and Luxury House tax forms. The real estate transfer tax is 2,5% of purchase value and is paid only one time upon property purchase, the Municipal and Luxury House taxes are .25% or 1 / 4 of a point each, and are due every year. Ex. on a usd200,000 dollars house, the property transfer tax is usd5,000, and the Municipal and Luxury house taxes are usd500 each, on a yearly basis. The real estate purchased unit has to be intended for the personal household of the  applicant, therefore commercial property or farm land does not qualify for this status.
    4. Business Owner: An individual owning 100% of a business operating with all licenses and employing at least five Costa Rican citizens, verifiable in the social security payroll tax (CCSS). Example a hotel, restaurant or store owner.
    5. Other Statuses: Family link to a Costa Rican citizen like a spouse, child or parent. If a married individual qualifies, the spouse and children under 18 may obtain residency as members of the family unit.
  2. Requirements:
    1. The same documents as in previous laws are required: birth certificate, police or criminal records letter, marriage certificate, fingerprints from the Costa Rican Police Archive, passport copies, five photographs passport size, application and power of attorney to a Lawyer to follow up the process, access the file and receive notifications.
    2. The following documents are now required under the new Law: registration with the applicant’s Consulate or Embassy in Costa Rica, criminal records clearance from the Costa Rican Judicial Archive, a notarized affidavit stating the applicant has no criminal records anywhere in the world, registration with the Costa Rican social security system (CCSS) and local CCSS medical unit (EBAIS).
    3. All documents issued abroad must be notarized, authenticated by the State or Province Secretary, the nearest Consul of Costa Rica and the Costa Rican Ministry of Foreign Affairs in San Jose. All documents must be translated to the Spanish language by an official translator. All documents issued abroad expire after five months (5) from date of issue.
  3. Procedures: The application has to be submitted with a cover letter, the power of attorney, original documents, the bank receipts for application fees of USD330 approximately which include: a usd200 guarantee deposit, a social fund, and a service fee. The filing can be done either with the Consulate of Costa Rica abroad or at the Immigration offices in La Uruca, San Jose. Immigration will issue an official receipt with the applicant’s name, case number and outline of documents presented. If the application is made in Costa Rica the applicant has to be under a legal status in the territory. Example inside the tourist visa period allowed at the moment of entry into the country. The average term for Immigration to resolve the petition is six months to one year. Some useful websites are: (birth and marriage certificates) (CR immigration).

Costa Rican Immigration Prior Law: 2005

Costa Rican immigration laws.  If you would like to purchase real estate here or own other assets here, you may qualify for a residency permit.  Here the different categories are explained. The immigration law was updated in 2010, please see the newer article for new information and additions to the law.

Costa Rican Immigration Laws & Citizenship Program
Status, Application Procedures and Costs

Disclaimer: This document contains generic information only and is not intended as a substitute for professional counseling; if you have a decision to make consult a dependable professional. The information hereunder is intended but not promised to be exact and updated.

Costa Rica Laws

1. The categories and subcategories for permanent and temporary residency in Costa Rica, and their procedures, requirements, and conditions, are established by the Immigration Law No. 7033 of April 8th, 1986 (Ley General de Migración y Extranjería), Law of Retiree and Annuitant Residents Law N?4812 of July 28th 1971 (Ley de Pensionados Rentistas), their respective Regulations, and several jurisprudence (court cases) about interpretation aspects of the law, issued on a case basis from time to time.

2. Applications for residency, once completed, are to be filed by the applicant in her home country, or his country of legal residency, through the nearest Consul of Costa Rica, personally or through a person with a Special Power of Attorney to file (a Proxy). The applicant has to designate another Proxy residing in Costa Rica (ideally a dependable attorney at law) with a designated office and means to receive notifications, to represent the applicant's rights and interests and push forward the file in Costa Rica. A list of the consulates of Costa Rica can be accessed on the website: The Consul of Costa Rica issues a receipt and is responsible for forwarding the documents for further processing, to the immigration authority Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería, in La Uruca, San José, Costa Rica. The official website of Migración is This government agency is a branch of the Ministry of Public Security and it exercises administrative jurisdiction over the migratory rights and obligations of foreigners in Costa Rica. Applicants qualifying as relatives of Costa Ricans and as Retirees can file applications directly at Migración's headquarters in San José.

2.1 Once filed, the application undergoes a process of examination, correction and approval or rejection, depending on the particular case, by the Residency Department and the Immigration Council respectively. The documents are assigned a preliminary file number known as "previo" and then a definite number after they are completed for processing. The Technical Department makes a "check in the box" examination of the application, its documents, and requirements and returns the file to the Residency Department for either: i. further consideration by the Residency Department for recommendation to the Immigration Council, in this case, the file lines up in the busy agenda of the Council together with other items and files, or ii. notification to the applicant of necessary corrections or additions to complete the file for reprocessing. The applicant, or her representative (Proxy), needs to check periodically the Residency Department window (currently gate No. 3), to verify the status, be notified of any requirement or resolution and push forward the file. Upon approval by the Council, a refundable deportation fund deposit order is issued by the Residency Department, the deposit has to be made into Immigration?s bank account at the Banco de Costa Rica, and the slip has to be returned to the window. At this time the applicant will be given a slip with a date on it, this is the day she must show up personally to pick up the residency card (usually a yellow or green booklet with several pages). It has become common practice that Immigration sets dates and terms that are never met.

3. The Residency Department processes applications for permanent and temporary residency, renewals and voluntary cancellations of residencies granted, deportation fund deposits control, disbursement and reimbursements, deportation procedures, open and restricted visa procedures, communications to and from Consuls of Costa Rica overseas and with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, temporary permits, official resident status certifications, revoke and appeals procedures and some other related matters. These tasks add up to tens of thousands of files processed yearly, by a handful of Immigration clerks with obviously limited resources. It has been stated, quite objectively, that the process is very cumbersome and bureaucratic. Other factors are the internal directives, decrees or binding court rulings that from time to time change the rules of procedure or of contents. Even though this process can be done by the applicant without a lawyer, it is strongly recommended that you retain the services of a reliable professional, given the context into which the process develops.

4. The practical benefits of attaining residency in Costa Rica as a foreigner are very tangible, unlike in some other countries:

  • Access to social security continued care
  • Access to checking accounts and credit service from some banks
  • Permission to engage in labor relationships
  • Exclusion from the one dollar a month fine for extended stay beyond tourist visa term
  • Freedom from worries about immigration checkpoints and possible deportation
  • Qualification to own personally beachfront concession land after a minimum term of five years of residency in the country
  • Possibility to qualify for citizenship once requirements are met
  • Right to purchase telephone lines from ICE (Costa Rican state-owned telecommunications company).

5. The most common categories acknowledged by the Law are:

5.1 Retired Status (Pensionado): A foreign citizen earning a Pension from their former employer or income from a personal pension program (IRA, ERISA or PERS for example) of US$600 per month. The applicant must live at least 4 months of the year in Costa Rica once the residency is granted. Theoretically, the funds must be exchanged into colones every year. Retirees cannot work for a salary but may earn income earned by a Costa Rican corporation. In most cases Immigration will require a letter from the Embassy of the Retiree's country, verifying the pension source.

5.2 Annuitant Income Status (Rentista): A foreign citizen receiving a monthly income of US$1,000, from a legal, self-generated source or a financial investment source, for at least five years. The applicant must live at least 4 months of the year in Costa Rica once the residency is granted. The funds must be exchanged into colones as well. A widely used alternative has been, to deposit a certain sum of money with a regulated and acknowledged financial institution, (a CD for example) that will generate the $1,000 monthly income. Monthly rental fee from the applicant's real estate at home is another recognized source if properly documented.

5.3 Investor Status (Inversionista): Qualified investments of US$50,000 in authorized tourism projects, $100,000 in authorized reforestation projects or $200,000 in other authorized local business, are categories recognized by the Law. It has been noted, that the applicant needs to be committed to the investment, because of the extensive documentation that Migraci?n requires, like an environmental impact study in many cases.

5.4 Entrepreneur Status (Empresario): This category is ideal for individuals planning to set up or already running a business operation in Costa Rica: import-export operation, hotel or bar and restaurant business, ranch or farm engaging employees, general store or any legal business. The applicant has to document the operation or business with copies of the respective licenses and government authorizations, social security payroll tax and workers' compensation insurance and its economic turnover like bank account statements, CPA certificate of income and similar documents. Immigration will issue a temporary residency permit, renewable every year. See, Setting up and running a business in Costa Rica (opens new window) in this website for further information.

5.5 Temporary Work Permit (Permiso Temporal de Trabajo): For professionals or technicians hired in Costa Rica by an authorized and recognized business company. A letter of sponsorship from the employer is necessary. The skills and/or qualifications of the applicant need to be documented (diplomas, licenses, certifications).

5.6 First Degree Relative (Vínculo Familiar de Primer Grado): The first-degree relationship with a Costa Rican: spouse, mother, father, brother or sister and child.

5.7 Other Temporary Residency Permits: Students, scientists, academic scholars, cultural and recognized international organization's officers.

5.8 'Selective Policy': As per special issues on the Costa Rican newspaper La Nación of December 21st 2003 ('Country Selects Immigrants'), March 1st 2004 ('Migración with Stiff Policy') and others, and recent feedback from Immigration, this institution considers that the migratory situation in Costa Rica has gotten 'out of control?' as their Director Marco Badilla stated, thus resulting in a 'very selective and stiff policy', meaning they are restricting residency approvals, by way of "interpretation" of the law, to the minimum. In our cases, Immigration applied an economic valuation criteria, as an argument to reject the applications of some of our clients, stating that the applicant's presence in the country 'does not add any input to the economy of Costa Rica or create employment for Costa Ricans'. Accordingly, it is our opinion, that the only feasible cases to apply for, given the current situation, are: 5.8.1 US$60,000 dollars deposit with a Costa Rican bank, for Rentista status. 5.8.2 Fully licensed business or investment, with at least three Costa Rican employees on the payroll, for Investor or Empresario Status.

6. Documents: All applications must be documented with the following documents:

6.1 An original Birth Certificate. The birth certificate must have the name of the applicant's parents in it. This document has to be authenticated* by the Consul of Costa Rica nearest to the issuer authority of the birth certificate. is the US government site for US citizens' official certifications of any type.

6.2 A Police Report from the applicant's home country revealing no criminal convictions. May this report be issued by the local Police in the applicant?s usual residence, if different from the applicant's home state. This document must be authenticated* by the nearest Consul of Costa Rica. Many US state and local law enforcement agencies have websites and special phone numbers to issue such reports, upon request by the applicant.

Note: The United States federal government has a website with information on the process of authentication of documents for use abroad, please visit:

6.3 Certified photocopies of all pages of the applicant?s valid passport.

6.4 A full set of applicant's fingerprints and proof of their registration at the Costa Rican Police Archive under the Ministry of Public Security.

6.5 Eight recent passport size photographs (for Migraci?n and the Police Archive).

6.6 Tax stamps and a Government Treasury Processing fee which average US$20 must be added to the application.

6.7 A 'deportation fund' deposit has to be paid once the Immigration Council approves the application. Currently, this deposit has been set at one hundred thousand colones, subject to change by Immigration. This sum is refundable upon cancellation of the residency.

6.8 A literal translation of all documents in a foreign language by an official translator, certified by the Costa Rican Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

6.9 An Income Statement by a Costa Rican Certified Public Accountant verifying the applicant's economic means for a living in Costa Rica or financial investments and/or proceeds, according to the particular case.


7.1 Even though, foreigners are granted the same rights that the Costa Rican citizens are given, naturalization has some strategically potential applications. Due to the universal and compulsory social security system, the impossibility of extradition of Costa Rican citizens, the mutual visa exemption agreements between Costa Rica and all the European Union countries, Scandinavia, Canada, Japan and Russia, and some low profile and tax policy considerations, many foreign residents of Costa Rica may benefit by obtaining the Costa Rican citizenship.

7.2 Naturalization (citizenship) applications are processed and granted by the Supreme Electoral and Civil Records Tribunal (Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones y del Registro Civil), the Costa Rican electoral and civil records institution with a constitutional rank that many specialists consider a "fourth power" of the Republic.

7.3 Similarly to residency application procedures, this is a rather accurate and very formal procedure that the interested resident does not want to expose to risk. Qualified and professional counsel is strongly advised for the same reasons stated in the earlier residency case. Average processing term ranges from 8 to 18 months depending on the case.

7.4 Applicants must have lived in Costa Rica, at least four months each year, for a term of seven years under a legal resident status. A Spanish language and a Costa Rican abridged history test have to be taken before the quality control department of the Ministry of Education, this exam is equivalent to a sixth-grade primary school exam. An exception exists for spouses of Costa Rican citizens, whose term of legal residency in the country is two years and they don't have to take the tests. The application has to be submitted together with: a certification from Immigration Council of Costa Rica about the applicant's legal resident status, a certification from Computer Department (Mecanizada) of Immigration about applicants' entrances and exits to and from the country, an affidavit, two Costa Rican witnesses who will testify about the applicant moral capacity to obtain citizenship, certified copies of the applicants' passport, residency card, birth certificate and some legal stamps.

C R LAW Ltd.

Our mission statement is to provide legal service solutions to international investors or inbound citizens doing business in or moving to Costa Rica.


C R Law Ltd. can deliver the necessary planning, coordination and legal services necessary to: assess the client's case and its feasibility to apply, work with client in producing and generating the necessary documents under the required format, coordinate with other professionals, entities and government agencies to obtain needed documents, prepare and complete the application paperwork, produce the filing of the application and its documents, follow it up and represent the client during the process, up to the completion phase.

Residency Costs:

Are mostly generic and vary little from case to case unless you have a complex application or documentation is extensive or there is a lot of courier mail involved to get the Consul signature.


$41 dollars each signature.


The base fee is $75 dollars for statements up to $1,000 dollars of income, for higher sums it will raise to a maximum of $500 in the case of a statement of $200,000 dollars investment.

Courier mail:

Normally $46 dollars one way within North America and Costa Rica.

Legal stamps:

Approximately $10 dollars.

Filing Deposit:

approximately $10 dollars.

Deportation Fund:

Maximum 100,000 colones, does not apply to retirees. This is done upon approval of the application and is refundable upon cancellation of Residency. The sum is subject to change without notice.


Courier mail for sending and receiving documents to and from the Costa Rican consulates abroad.


From experience we have concluded, that the best fee structure is to work with the client on an hourly retainer basis, with a base of ten professional hours @US$75 per hour plus US$250 dollars assistant fee, for a total of US$1,000 dollars. This is a non-refundable fee and must be paid in advance at the moment of filing. Please note the fee does not include all and any other expenses or costs such as courier mail (FEDEX, UPS, DHL), telecommunications, consular fees, certifications, and other documents. Feel free to contact us for further information.