Disclosure: I obtained the information for this blog post from the websites for the Costa Rican Embassy, the Association of Costa Residents, advice we received from an immigration service in the US, and information from our children’s school. This information does not constitute legal advice, it is simply my opinion based on my experience and that of my co-expats. Please seek from an immigration lawyer before deciding which type of visa or residency to use to enter Costa Rica.
One of the most serious decisions we had to make when we decided to move to Costa Rica was how to enter the country. We debated several options before making our final choice. This was an especially touchy subject for me as the USA-born daughter of Mexican immigrants who crossed the border before their “legal” status was officially established. There are many types of “visas” or residency for expats in Costa Rica. The ones I listed below seem to be the most common. There are other very specific types of visas/permits/temporary residencies in Costa Rica which you can find here.
Most of the American and Canadian expats I know here in Monteverde, Costa Rica are here on “tourist visas”. This situation is actually a misnomer because US and Canadian citizens do not need an actual visa to enter Costa Rica. However, you do need a current, valid passport AND proof that you will exit the country within 90 days. Make sure the passport has more than 6 months before expiration to avoid a lot of hassle. The exit ticket can be to your home country or any other country via plane or bus or any other form of verifiable transport. If you buy a plane ticket that you never plan to use, make sure it is fully refundable! There are certain downsides to this type of visa. As a “perpetual tourist”, I cannot be an employee in Costa Rica. I cannot open a bank account. I also have to leave the country every 90 days for at least 72 hours. Nicaragua is the most popular “border hop” or “visa run” destination for many of us living in Monteverde. The cost of these trips can add up pretty quick though. This type of visa will certainly not work for someone who is moving to Costa Rica to find employment. On the upside, I did not have to fill out any paperwork or pay a lawyer to enter the country this way. I can open my own business in Costa Rica and hire Tico employees. The border hops also “force” us to have a vacation every 3 months, which can be a positive thing. We know people in Costa Rica who have been living here for years, even decades, on “tourist” visas. It is a risky way to live and I know that we may be denied re-entry during one of our border hops. For now, I will hope for the best!
The non-Tico teachers who work at Creativa, my children’s school, do not have to do these dreaded/fabulous “border hops” because they are here on work permits. The school takes care of all of the details for them, though they do need to go to San Jose to sign paperwork. If you want to come to Costa Rica on one of these “permits”, you need to have all the required documents as well as an academic institution certifying that you will be a student/teacher/volunteer with them. Looking at the pictures of the Creativa campus below, who wouldn’t want to come to Costa Rica to teach here?
There are 4 basic types of residency in Costa Rica that most expats can consider when moving here.
In addition to providing the necessary legal documents and fees, you must provide proof that you have a monthly income of at least $1,000 USD per month from a permanent pension or retirement fund. You can claim a spouse and dependents with this type of residency. You cannot be an employee in Costa Rica, but you can open a business and hire Ticos.
In addition to providing the necessary legal documents and fees, you must provide guaranteed proof of a monthly income of at least $2,500 USD for at least two years or a deposit of $60,000 USD in an approved Costa Rican bank. You can claim a spouse or dependents, and this amount covers your family. You cannot be an employee in Costa Rica, but you can open a business and hire Ticos.
In addition to providing the necessary legal documents and fees, you must invest a minimum of $200,000 USD in an approved business or property. You can claim a spouse or dependents. You may collect income from this project or business.
You can establish permanent residency in Costa Rica if you have ties with a Costa Rican national by marriage or birth. This only applies to first degree relatives such as a parent or sibling. Second degree relatives such as grandparents, cousins, aunts, or uncles are not included in this type of residency. If you have a baby born in Costa Rica you qualify for permanent residency. You can claim a spouse or dependents. You can work in Costa Rica! You can also open a business.
Expat Tip: One thing I will tell you, the residency process is long and expensive. I would recommend that you do not invest in the Costa Rican residency process which will cost you thousands of dollars, exhaustive amounts of paperwork, and a lot of time unless you have already lived in Costa Rica for at least one year and have a good idea of what you want to do. Try living here as a “perpetual tourist” first. If at the end of the year, you are ready to settle here, go for residency.
Another Expat Tip: Just because you are living in Costa Rica on a tourist “visa”, temporary residency, or even as a permanent resident, this does not mean you need to give up your US citizenship. Personally, I have travelled enough to understand the power and freedom of my US passport, so I have no plans to give up my US citizenship, even if I end up moving permanently to another country.
- Types of Residency in Costa Rica (therealcostarica.com)