About Costa Rica Guide to San Jose Maps of Costa Rica Relocation Information

Costa Rica Relocation Information

Visiting Costa Rica

We recommend that you come to Costa Rica as a tourist before you make a commitment to buy Costa Rica real estate property and move here. Spending a couple of weeks in Costa Rica is a good way to see whether you could imagine yourself living here before you make a Costa Rica real estate investment. North Americans can stay in Costa Rica on a tourist visa for up to three months. Following the three-month period, they must then leave the country for 72 hours and can then return to the country for another three months.


1. Residency Information


Foreigners planning on buying real estate in Costa Rica and moving here long-term will want to obtain residency, and there are several different options.

Three main types of residency obtained by foreigners are:

  • pensionado (pensioner)
  • rentista (renter) and
  • inversionista (investor)

Under these types of residency, you can claim spouses, children and dependents. Children between the ages of 18 and 25 can also be claimed as dependents if they are enrolled in a university.


These are the requirements for obtaining residency:


1. Prove a certain income (for pensionado and rentista residency)


Pensionado: Must prove minimum income US $600 (or equivalent) per month from a qualified retirement plan or pension source, such as a government pension.



Rentista: Must prove income from an investment such as a certificate of deposit or annuity that will generate income of at least US $1,000 per



month (US $ 12,000 per year). An approved financial institution in a foreign country or Costa Rica must guarantee in writing that:


1. You hold sufficient funds in a stable and permanent account to provide an income of $US 1,000 per month for at least five years of your residency.


2. If the financial conditions above change, the financial institution agrees to notify the Instituto Costarricence de Turismo (Costa Rican Tourism Institute).


3. The monthly income will be sent to the rentista resident in Costa Rica.


4. Qualifying funds are in the name of the applicant.






5. For rentista residency, you must prove your continuing income every five years.



  • Invest at least US $50,000 with an approved organization in a field such as tourism or export businesses; US $100,000 in a reforestation project; or US 200,000 in another type of business.
  • Visit Costa Rica at least once per year.

Permanent residency:


After two years of pensionada, rentista or inversionista status, application can be made for permanent residency in Costa Rica. This is usually unrestricted, and working is permitted.


To apply to become a permanent resident, the following rules apply:

  1. Citizens of Spain can apply for permanent residency right away.
  2. Permanent residents must visit Costa Rica at least once each year.
  3. $US 300 must be deposited with the government of Costa Rica as a guarantee.


First Degree Relative Status:

You may apply for permanent residency if you have first-degree family members who are Costa Rican citizens (parents, siblings, spouses, children) who are citizens of Costa Rica or if you marry a Costa Rican.


Required Documents


These documents are required to apply for all types of residency in Costa Rica:


1. Police certificate of Good Conduct from your last place of residency. Valid for six months. Required for applicant, spouse and any children ages 18-25.

2. Birth certificate. Required for applicant, spouse and all dependent children (up to 18 years old or up to 25 if he/she is a university student).

3. Marriage certificate (if spouse wishes residency). Proof of divorce is not needed.


For Pensionado residency, the following is required:


• Proof of a pension of at least US $600/month stating that it is for life, and that it will be paid in Costa Rica. For pensions from the US Social Security System or Canada Pension, it is easier to obtain the certification at the US or Canadian Embassy in Costa Rica. You must provide them proof of your pension. Pensions from other government agencies (all countries) must have a letter stating that the pension is paid by the government. Pensions from other institutions must have a statement verifying the type of institution paying the pension.


**All the above residency documents (other than those obtained in Costa Rica) must be:

•Notarized by a local notary public if they do not have an official government seal. If in doubt about the need to have it notarized, check with the local Costa Rican consulate. With notarization, your signature must not appear in the notarization of the document.

•Authenticated by the Costa Rican consul in the country where the document was issued. A Costa Rican consulate will charge US $40 for authentication of each document. They must affix stamps worth that amount to collect the money. If they do not have the stamps, the ARCR can buy them in Costa Rica on your behalf.


Other requirements for both Pensionado and Rentista types of residency:


1. Income must be changed into colones at a government bank or an approved private bank in Costa Rica. Pensionado: US $7,200 per year

Rentista: US %12,000 per year

Must submit proof once a year.


2. Must live in Costa Rica for a minimum of four months each year and submit proof once a year.


3. Renewal of residency identification card (carnet) every two years. The government of Costa Rica charges a US$100 tax for each renewed identification card.


4. You and your dependents cannot earn a salary or supplant a Costa Rican in a work situation. You can own and operate a business and pay yourself and/or make investments.



Translation of Documents for Residency


Translations from other languages into Spanish have to be either done by the Costa Rican consulate in the country where the document was issued or here in Costa Rica by an “official” translator for another language to Spanish. Translation from the original language to English is not accepted by the Costa Rican government.


2. Cost of Living


As in any country, how much you spend to live in Costa Rica depends on the type of lifestyle you lead. But whatever your lifestyle, it is cheaper to live in Costa Rica than in the U.S. For example, a couple who lives relatively frugally, taking buses and taxis instead of having a car, can live on $1,000 a month. Having a car or larger home will require more ($2,000 per month or more, depending on spending).


Fortunately, utilities such as power, water and telephone are relatively cheap in Costa Rica. For example, the monthly power bill for a family of four is only about $20 per month. Property taxes are also significantly less than in the U.S.


Having a car will up the cost of living, as gas prices have soared recently.


Locally-produced food, such as vegetables, fruits, rice and beans are very cheap. However, exported goods can get pricey. The same goes for household products and toiletries.


Restaurants, hotels and other entertainment venues are generally a good deal cheaper than in the States. A meal at a nice restaurant with wine runs around $10. Note that prices are higher in tourist areas.


3. Driving

You can legally drive in Costa Rica with your U.S. driver’s license and can also obtain a Costa Rican drivers license, which is necessary if you’re staying for an extended period of time.

In some areas, roads are poorly maintained and can be very narrow and windy, making getting around a slow process. On highways and secondary roads the speed limit is 60 kph., unless otherwise indicated. In urban areas, the speed limit is 40 kph, unless otherwise indicated.
The speed limit around school zones and in front of hospitals and clinics is 25 kph. Driving around San José can be hectic as there are many one-way streets and drivers don’t always follow traffic signs and lights. Parking can also be a hassle. It may be easier and less-stressful to get around San Jose by taxi and bus at first.

Driving out from San José to the coast, there are two-lane highways which are easier to navigate, though drivers should still beware of anything from slow-moving produce trucks to cows and horses in the road and always use caution.

To import a car, new residents will be charged an import duty.

License plate fees are paid annually for vehicles and depend on the car’s value.


4. Health Care


Costa Rica has great health care. In fact, a 1995 World Health Organization report placed Costa Rica third in life expectancy, behind Japan and France. Most of Costa Rica’s doctors trained outside of the country, and many are bilingual. Some people who move to Costa Rica find patient care even better than in the U.S. Doctors tend to take their time to provide more individualized care.


In terms of health insurance in Costa Rica, there are a few different options for foreigners. Those who have financial interest to protect will want to choose an international insurance company that can guarantee a minimum of $5,000,000 lifetime coverage available anywhere in the world. Look for a reputable company with a long history of protecting individuals without cancellation or restrictions on renewal.



The Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS) is Costa Rica’s social security system that provides health services to Costa Rican citizens and also applies to any foreign resident or visitor. CCSS has a government-sponsored network of 29 hospitals and more than 250 clinics throughout the country. Foreigners can join CCSS by paying a small monthly fee, based on income. Prices for treatments are generally way below those of the U.S. For example, a private office visit to almost any medical specialist costs around $30.


CCSS has some drawbacks, however. Costa Rican hospitals tend to be overburdened and backed up. CCSS only pays for public hospitals on their registry, leaving individuals to pay out of their own pockets if they go to a private hospital.


Health insurance can also be purchased from the State monopoly, Instituto de Seguro Nacional (INS). Their plans are valid with over 200 affiliated doctors, hospitals, labs and pharmacies in the private sector. Unfortunately, the largest INS Medical policy only provides $17,000 protection, which would fall short of protecting you in case of major illness.


5. Banks


There are four national, government-owned banks and about 23 private banks operating in Costa Rica, including Citibank, from the U.S. and Bank of Nova Scotia, from Canada. All deposits in national banks are guaranteed without limit by the government of Costa Rica. Banking is both safe and reliable; however, the national banks can be bureaucratic. Checking, savings and investment services are available from all of them.

It is also possible to operate accounts in the USA or elsewhere through Costa Rican private banks. Banking in Costa Rica is protected by secrecy legislation. Foreigners may have bank accounts. There are no exchange controls or restrictions on removing funds from the country.


6. Schools


If you’re planning to bring your children to Costa Rica when you relocate, you can rest assured that you will find quality schools for them. Foreigners are entitled to public schooling in Costa Rica. Compared to other Central American countries, Costa Rica has an excellent public education system; in fact, Costa Ricans pride themselves on their quality of public education. However, these schools may often be overcrowded. And for children who don’t write and speak Spanish fluently, public schooling is not an option, as classes are given completely in Spanish.

Fortunately, there are both bilingual and English, American-style schools to choose from. Country Day School, an American school in the Escazú neighborhood of San José, is popular among expatriate families and known for its high standards.

Tuition for Country Day School for the 2005-06 school year was as follows:

Registration fee: $1000

Tuition, Kindergarten: $6,221/year

Tuition, Grades 1-12: $8,426/year.


7. Crime in Costa Rica


Violent crime rates in Costa Rica are low, however, break-ins of cars and buildings and pick-pocketing is common, especially in the San José area. Extra caution should always be taken when securing your car and home and when walking around the city. If you are particularly worried about security or have valuable possessions, you may want to consider living in a gated community with a security guard who monitors the property.


8. Bringing Pets to Costa Rica


Pets can be brought into Costa Rica as long as they have a health certificate from a veterinarian showing that they are free of fleas, worms and rabies and that they have all necessary vaccinations. All airlines will also require this certificate, and it must be issued at least ten days before the departure date. There are many veterinarians in Costa Rica, especially in the San José area.

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