What you should know about the immigration law

March 16th, 2010

What you should know about the immigration law
By Chrissie Long
Tico Times Staff | clong@ticotimes.net

A new immigration law will enter into effect on Monday, March 1, which will bring information relevant to every foreigner residing in Costa Rica. According to Immigration Administration Director Mario Zamora, the intent of the law is to move the approximately 600,000 foreigners living in Costa Rica into a status that reflects their situation.

We’ve compiled a short list of “Things You Should Know,” which follows. We are in the process of updating this list to answer more questions in greater depth that our readers might have.

Please keep in mind we can only offer general information; we cannot provide advice regarding individual situations.

Q: Regarding the “perpetual tourist,” who enters on a tourist visa and leaves the country every 90 days, I heard that after two times renewing tourist status by remaining outside of the country for 72 hours, you must remain out of the country for 15 days. Is that true?

A: No. It’s not true. The situation of the perpetual tourist will remain as it has been. Under current rules, tourists are allowed to stay 90 days in Costa Rica, at which point they must leave for 72 hours. If they don’t leave, they are here illegally.

I also heard you must go to a different country to renew visa status. If you went to Nicaragua for 72 hours the first time, you must go to a different country the next time. Did I get that right?

No. As long as you remain outside the country for 72 hours, it doesn’t matter where you spend it.

What if I don’t want to leave Costa Rica ?

Under the new immigration law, there is an option for you. Beginning March 1, you can submit a petition at the Immigration Administration in La Uruca, which is to the west of San José, pay $100 and you can remain another 90 days.

Is this a complicated process?

According to the director of the Immigration Administration, it is not. You must submit a copy of your passport, a letter addressed to the head of the Immigration Administration explaining your situation and proof that you have financial solvency. You must also pay $100.

Is the immigration administration the only place I can renew my tourist status?

For the moment, the immigration administration is the only place you can renew your tourist status. In six weeks, the Immigration Administration hopes to make the process available in post offices throughout the country. Renewing status at the Immigration Administration is permitted only two times, at which point you must leave Costa Rica.

What if I miss this 90 day deadline?

If you miss the 90 day deadline, you have two options. You can pay $100 for every month you’ve remained in Costa Rica “irregularly” or you can leave the country. If you decide to leave Costa Rica without paying, immigrations officials can refuse re-admission to the country, or you will be allowed to return only after a period outside the country three times longer than the time you were illegal in Costa Rica.

I would like to upgrade my tourist status and become a resident. What do I need to know about this process?

Thanks to the new immigration law, you can initiate the process without leaving the country. Before, paperwork had to be submitted to consulate offices in the home country of the foreigner. Today, paperwork (such as the necessary birth certificate and police record) can be submitted and approved at the Costa Rican Immigration Administration. One of Immigration Director Mario Zamora’s objectives is to make the process possible without the need to hire a lawyer. Unfortunately, it will require a good command of the Spanish language, but Zamora is hoping that he’ll have all immigration material translated into English in the coming months. Lastly, you need to qualify for resident status as a retiree, investor, family member of a Costa Rican, or an employer-sponsored worker.

Is it possible to get residency as a homeowner?

Yes. You must demonstrate your home is valued at more than $200,000 in order to get investor status on your home.

I heard that I will need to show proof that I contribute to the Costa Rican Social Security system (Caja) in order to renew my residency. How do I contribute?

Under the new immigration law, foreigners must show evidence that they contribute to the social security system (public health care system) in order to renew his or her residency. You can do this at any of the Caja offices throughout the country, who will present you with a menu of options on how you can begin contributions. According to the immigration director Zamora, the Caja is prepared to receive foreigners in order to meet this requirement.

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