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Navigating Costa Rica's Foreign Visa Process

Are you planning on doing business or living in Costa Rica? Before packing your bags, familiarize yourself with the visa process. The good news is that the process is pretty straight-forward. And you shouldn’t have trouble getting a visa approved if you have reliable income and pass a background check.

The bad news is that there are serious consequences if you fail to go through the proper channels. Don’t take the chance of violating immigration laws.

Here's a quick primer to get you started.

Contact Your Local Embassy

Visa fees and required documents vary by nationality and are subject to change. Speak with your local embassy for more specific information; however, the details outlined here are a good starting place.

Decide How Long You Will be in Costa Rica

The visa process varies depending on how long you intend to stay in the country and whether you plan to work. Here are some details you need to know depending on the duration of your stay.

Staying Less Than 90 Days

If you’re staying less than 90 days, you may not need a visa at all. You aren't required to have a visa if you are a citizen of one of the countries listed below:

  • United States

  • Australia

  • United Kingdom

  • Canada

  • Any member of the European Union

However, you’ll still need an active passport before you enter the country. After your passport is stamped, you’ll automatically be issued a temporary tourist visa.

Visits Exceeding 90 Days

Staying in Costa Rica beyond the 90-day period can complicate the process. While you can visit your embassy to renew your tourist visa for another 90 days if you’re a student, Costa Rica tends to frown on this option if you’re actually planning on working or living in Costa Rica for an undetermined period of time.

There are rumors that you can leave Costa Rica after your visa expires and return after three days. Unfortunately, these rumors are not true. Be aware that the Costa Rican government is taking punitive action against people that try to skirt such laws.

Visitors trying to renew their visa excessively are often ordered to leave the country within 15 days, and face a fine if they fail to do so. If the government feels you’re abusing your visa, they can also suspend your right to visit Costa Rica for up to 12 years.

Don’t risk getting banned from Costa Rica or racking up massive fines. If you’re planning on staying longer than 90 days, apply for a temporary visa or permanent residency.

Planning to Work in Costa Rica

If you plan to work while staying in Costa Rica - even if you plan to stay less than 90 days - your best best is to establish a temporary residency, as Costa Rica businesses are forbidden from employing foreigners that don’t have a temporary residence.

It may also be necessary to secure a temporary residence if you’re self-employed, though the specific requirements depend on your form of self-employment. Check with your embassy if you need more details. Don’t roll the dice and hope you aren’t caught operating a business without a valid visa or temporary residence.

Seeking a Temporary Residence

Costa Rica enforces strict requirements for citizens seeking a temporary residence. However, most people who are financially stable won’t have trouble getting approved. Review an outline of the general requirements below:

Present the Necessary Paperwork

Be prepared to present a birth certificate to prove your identity. You’ll also need to show proof of income, as the Costa Rican government doesn’t want to end up financially supporting you with their public funds.

Before moving to Costa Rica, you’ll need to show proof that you have generated at least $2,500 a month over the past five years.

Provide Personal Details About Yourself

The Director General of Immigration and Nationality will want to learn as much about you as possible. Here are some details you will need to present, as outlined on their website:

  • Your full name

  • Nationality

  • Occupation

  • Your purpose while staying in Costa Rica

  • Expected duration of your stay

  • Contact information for follow-up questions

Most of these details are a formality, but it’s still important to be as upfront as possible.

Pass a Criminal Background Check

The consulate will also conduct a criminal background check. Speak with the consulate in advance if you have been convicted of any crimes to find it if they may interfere with your application.

Establish Financing for Your Living Situation

Next up, Costa Rica wants to know you’ll be financially stable when staying for an extended period of time, as they don’t want to risk anyone trying to defraud their welfare system or commit crimes out of financial desperation.

There are a number of ways that you can show you have the financial means to get a temporary residency.

Access to Steady Income

If you have a steady stream of income, arrange for housing accommodations as a rentista. Typically, you need to show an income of $2,500 per month to get approved as a rentista, but there are exceptions for retirees, as listed below. In any case, you’ll need to show documented proof of your income.

Make a Deposit

You can also satisfy the rentista requirement by making a $60,000 deposit to a Costa Rican bank. If you choose this path, you’ll be paid a $2,500 stipend from your deposit until it is depleted. After that point, you’ll need to make another $60,000 deposit.

It may seem odd to receive a stipend with your own money, but the policy is in place for a reason. The government doesn’t want temporary residents with money issues relying on Costa Rica for assistance or resorting to desperate measures.

Pensioner or Retiree

If you’re relocating to Costa Rica as a retiree, you may be able to get approved with a lower income by applying for a pensionado visa and showing that you receive Social Security, a state or military pension, or a long-term annuity. The minimum annuity to meet this requirement is $1,000 a month.

While the income threshold is lower, there are additional requirements that a pensionado must meet. First, you must show that you’ll continue to receive your annuity every time your visa needs to be renewed. You’ll also need to stay in Costa Rica for at least four months out of the year while your visa is valid.

You may want to consider this option if you’re planning on investing in real estate in Costa Rica for your retirement. However, it’s still important to speak with the local consulate to find out if your visa actually allows you to purchase properties as a retiree. Policies can vary throughout Costa Rica.

Exceptions to these Requirements

The Costa Rica government makes some exceptions to these requirements. If you have invested at least $200,000 in Costa Rica, then you can get a visa as an investor instead of a rentista. And you may be able to avoid these requirements if you are working with a foreign government or international nonprofit.

Pay the Necessary Fees

If you’ve been approved for a temporary residency in Costa Rica, then you’ll need to pay fees (though, because they’re subject to change, the Costa Rican government doesn’t typically publish the fees).

Fees are usually paid directly to the Consular Cashier. However, some application fees require payment to the Banco Nacional branches. Your consulate will let you know where to send the payment, though, keep in mind that all payments must be made in cash.

Have you ever needed to get a visa to live or work in Costa Rica? Please share your experiences in the comments below: