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Living Legally in Costa Rica

by Ed Underwood, President
Central American Consulting Services, Inc.

There are several ways of obtaining legal residence in Costa Rica. The most important one for retirees, and one of the easiest, is under Costa Rican Law Number 4812 passed in July of 1971. The "Resident Annuitants and Resident Pensioners Law" allows people with guaranteed incomes to become legal residents of Costa Rica. For more information on this read my Cocori article "The Road to Retirement in Costa Rica."

If you're not yet ready to retire, you may be able to take advantage of Costa Rican Law Number 7033 passed in August, 1986. The "General Law of Immigration and Foreigners" provides guidelines for residency as an "investor" in the Costa Rican economy. Under this law an applicant must be able to demonstrate, through a feasibility study or other verifiable documentation, that an investment of US$200,000 (minimum) has been made or will be made in one of these areas:

  • ornamental plants or flowers
  • leather products or derivatives
  • spices and/or condiments
  • fruits
  • fresh vegetables
  • processed foods
  • wood or wood derivatives
  • agroindustrial projects that will utilize agriculture, cattle, fishing or forestry raw products and that require a procedure of industrial transformation
  • industrial mining projects
  • projects for the production of capital goods, consumption and consumer products for the support of exportation and investment in Costa Rica

If a project directly involves tourism or reforestation (or other special projects considered to be in the national interest under special regulations) the investment requirement is only US$50,000.

Documentation for application under this law is practically the same as for the law governing "rentistas" and "pensionados" except for the additional required documentation of the investment. Approval for application under the General Law of Immigration and Foreigners is through two separate agencies: the Center for Promotion of Exterior Commerce (PROCOMER) and the general immigration office. Final approval can take several months and is more uncertain and complicated than the law covering retirees.

Should a foreigner marry a Costa Rican citizen, the right to apply for residency accompanies the ceremony. Residency is not automatic; the non-Costa Rican spouse must apply to the Immigration and Naturalization office to become a resident. In this case, the necessary documents are: birth certificate (or certified copy), copy of passport, and an official copy of the marriage certificate. The wait for approval varies, but is usually quite short.

With somewhat more ambiguity, the case of documented blood ties, or consanguinity, to a Costa Rican citizen may entitle a foreigner to be considered for residency. The documentation required in this case is often complex and/or confusing and consultation with a qualified attorney is most important.

If a person is interested in obtaining his or her Costa Rican residency, regardless of under which law, the advice and assistance of an efficient and qualified attorney is strongly suggested. A list of such attorneys can be solicited from the American Embassy in Costa Rica.

Also, see these related articles in Cocori:
"On the Road to Retirement in Costa Rica," and
"Working Your Way Through Paradise."

Copyright © 1996 by Ed Underwood. All rights reserved.

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Updated on December 15, 1997 by M.L. Smith