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My Journey to Costa Rican Residency

Photo by Max Böttinger on Unsplash.

Establishing a Costa Rican residency was a recipe for both laughter and frustration. 

While it is true that you can “live” in Costa Rica as a perpetual tourist, this can be exhausting. Those on a tourist visa must venture to the border every 90-days to renew it. Many people receive these short-term tourist visas upon arrival, which are easily renewed by leaving the country for 72 hours. I’ve done so before — many times actually.

But now that I was married to a Costa Rican and have a two-year-old son, the push towards pursuing residency became an aspiration that I could no longer ignore. We were planning to establish ourselves in Costa Rica for an extended period of time. Residency finally made sense. 

Now that I was married to a Costa Rican and have a two-year-old son, the push towards pursuing residency became an aspiration that I could no longer ignore... residency finally made sense. 

Why become a Costa Rican resident?

People pursue residency by means of relationships, business investment, and retirement money. Costa Rica makes it relatively easy to become a temporary resident; this allows you to stay longer and own a business. To become a permanent resident, though, you need to maintain a temporary residency for three years.

I can skip a step, however, and apply for permanent residency because my son quickly became "Tico," a term for people from Costa Rica. This was a relief because being a permanent resident would allow me to officially work for local companies and receive other benefits of citizenship—excluding the right to vote. Merely avoiding visa renewal journeys and being able to acquire work more easily were my main reasons for initiating this process.

Planned process versus resulting reality

When planning our move from Montana, USA, to Costa Rica, my husband and I considered all the details concerning what we were going to bring to Costa Rica and what should stay behind. Some of the biggest hassles we faced when planning were retrieving simple papers and other proof needed to enable my son to become Tico, and to allow me to become a resident. We had it all square and sorted before we left — or so we thought.

Once here in Costa Rica, we didn’t initially bother with this paperwork, figuring we had 90 days to complete the process. That first month was mostly spent with family and getting my husband set up for work as an adventure and naturalist guide in La Fortuna. That narrow focus was probably an oversight.

Once we made it to Costa Rica's Directorate General of Migration and Immigration, (Migracion) a better picture of reality started taking shape. The office was closed for lunch when we arrived on our first visit, but thankfully we were able to speak with someone who provided us with a pamphlet, their reception hours, and off-handed news about updated requirements. We did a double take — what updated requirements? We had prepared everything for the process based on available information through the Migracion’s website.

We revisited the Migracion centre three times. Each subsequent visit offered us new insights into the bureaucracy and misguided information of Costa Rican public agencies. We were more frustrated than surprised, as we understood that accomplishing “official” tasks like these requires patience and perseverance.

One update we learned about mandates that criminal records checks must be completed by the federal government. Plus, we found out that all our final requirements would need to be presented within days, after an immigration attorney processed my file. Apparently, their file processing could take a month or years, but either way it would require a lengthy trip back to the States to complete the FBI fingerprinting process. We were shocked.  The people at the immigration agency suggested we file for a 60-day extension, which afforded us the time necessary to retrieve this requirement.

After all of this, we began questioning if it was worth it. But we had made it this far, and my tourist visa had expired. So yes, we submitted the paperwork, and I am now allowed to remain for six months with an extended tourist visa as I wait for my residency to be official. 

Make sure you meet the application requirements

Clearly, not all is as it seems when endeavouring in processes like obtaining a Costa Rican residency. One reason for all the confusion we faced is that aspects of the process are periodically revised — without being updated on readily available information sources like websites. As we were told, such updates are apparently too much of a hassle. Currently, some of the residency requirements include a solicitation letter, a filled-out application from Costa Rica immigration, proof of registration at your country's embassy in Costa Rica, passport photos, proof of fingerprinting by the Ministerio de Seguridad Publica (Costa Rica's ministry of public security), and a federal police record — but, as we discovered, the requirements can change.

Advice for anyone seeking residency in a foreign country

Imagining there are many similarities between my journey and that of others seeking to become residents of the countries they love, I want to share a few suggestions:

1. Do your research

Gather information from diverse sources, including the government, tourism companies, and expat websites; this will help you get an up-to-date and well-rounded picture of what the process should entail.

2. Prepare documents

Using this information, plan ahead in order to obtain documents prior to your departure. We needed to get birth certificates, a marriage license, and a criminal record authenticated, which was a new and lengthy process. When in doubt, bring different versions and extra copies.

3. Be patient and flexible 

As travellers learn in many situations, embarking on official processes abroad can sometimes feel impossible. Know that whoever assists you is likely doing their best given circumstances; keep this perspective and remain calm.

4. Ask questions 

I would even write them down before, during, and immediately after visits. This can help ensure you have the most complete and contextual information regarding your specific residency case.

5. Consider a service 

In Costa Rica, companies exist that specialize in supporting those interested in becoming residents. With more money and foresight, this could have been an option for us.

We still laugh about the way this whole residency process has turned out — or not turned out, as the case may be. I am grateful to have stayed here for six months now without departure; a simple fact that makes this country feel more like home. Let’s see where the next six months take us.

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Aisling Force

Aisling is an artist, ex-raft guide, and sustainability professional. Costa Rica is her ‘temporary’ home, where she’s reconnecting with her husband's family and supporting her son’s exploration and development. She is currently working as a freelance consultant in sustainable tourism.

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