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We recommend that anyone considering moving to Costa Rica, first come here as a tourist. It is important that in addition to knowing the logistics of establishing residency and making the move, you get a little taste of what life will be like.

Thinking of Moving to Costa Rica

Depending on your country of origin, you can remain in Costa Rica with a tourist visa for up to three months. With a driver's license from your home country and your passport, you can legally drive. During this time, try to get a feel for what day-to-day life will be like -- learn firsthand that a different culture means different responses to given situations. In the end, your ability to adapt and approach life with a relaxed attitude will probably govern your degree of happiness and satisfaction with Costa Rican life.

What is it like to live here? Only your own experience can answer that, since it is different for every person. But some basic information may help you in your investigation. At the present time, if you own a house and car and have no debts, you can live well on US$1,500 per month, including maid and gardener services. Foreign residents or tourists can buy or rent homes, condos, and property in Costa Rica.

Property taxes are generally lower in Costa Rica than in North America and many other countries. As a foreign resident, you will not pay income taxes on foreign pensions or income generated outside of Costa Rica, but you may have to pay taxes on income generated in Costa Rica. Businesses income, after expenses, is taxed, and there is a 13% sales tax on goods and services, including restaurants, hotels, entertainment, and so on.

For those considering retirement in Costa Rica, it may be unwise to expect to earn a living, or to supplement your income. Pensionados and rentistas are allowed to own and operate a business but are not permitted to work for wages for someone else.

Driving? Gasoline is now about $2 per gallon (the exchange rate as of July 2000 was about $US 1.00 for 310 colones, and you can expect a devaluation within a range of 10% - 20% annually). Most of the roads are poorly maintained with an ample supply of potholes.

Residency Status For Foreigners

There are several options if you are considering applying for residency in Costa Rica. If none of the options below apply to you, consult with the ARCR with your specific case. Pensionados, rentistas and inversionistas can claim their spouses and children under 18 as dependents. A child between 18 and 25 can be a dependent if he/she is enrolled in a university.

Pensionado Residency Source of Income - minimum income US$600 (or equivalent) per month from a qualified retirement plan or pension source, such as a government pension. The qualifying income must be for the applicant only - combined income is usually acceptable.

Rentista Residency Source of 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 in Costa Rica) must guarantee in writing that:

1. They 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 Costarricense de Turismo.

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

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

Form letters for the above conditions are available to members from the ARCR office. Approved banks in Costa Rica, for a deposit of $us 60,000, will satisfy all government requirements for this status of residency. Deposits in state owned banks are government guaranteed without limit and most bank interest in Costa Rica is tax free.

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

Inversionista Residency Status
1.  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. Ask ARCR for details.

2.  Visit Costa Rica at least once per year.

Permanent Residency Status

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

2. Citizens of Spain can apply for permanent residency right away.

3. Permanent residents must visit Costa Rica at least once each year.

4. $us 300 must be deposited with the Government of Costa Rica as a guarantee.

First Degree Relative Status

Permanent residency can also be applied for if you have first-degree family members (parents, siblings, spouses, children) who are citizens of Costa Rica. OR Marry a citizen of Costa Rica.

Required Documents

The first three documents are required for all types of residency in Costa Rica.

1. Police Certificate of Good Conduct from your last place of residency. Valid for 6 months. Required for applicant, spouse, and any children aged 18 to 25.

2. Birth Certificate. Required for applicant, spouse, and all dependent children (up to 18 years old or up to 25 if a university student - proof of enrollment is required).

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

4. Income Certificate for Pensionado and Rentista Residency (required for only the applicant).

Pensionados -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 or Canada Pension, it is easier to obtain the certification at the US or Canadian Embassy in Costa Rica. (You must provide them with 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.

Rentista Residency - contact the ARCR for wording of documents.

All The Above Residency Documents (other than those obtained in Costa Rica) MUST BE:

a) 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.

b) Authenticated by the Costa Rican consul in the country where the document was issued.

Notarization: Your signature must NOT appear in the notarization of the document.

Authentication: 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 Residency

1) Income must be changed into colones at a government bank or an approved private bank in Costa Rica



 US$7,200 per year

US$12,000 per year

2) Physical presence in Costa Rica for a minimum of 4 months each 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.

All pensionados and rentistas must submit proof of 1 and 2 above to the Costa Rican government each year. The ARCR assists members with all the above procedures.

Inversionista Residency Status

1). 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.

2). Visit Costa Rica at least six months per year.

Translations of Documents for Residency

We can arrange for the services of a translator at the cost of the member. Translations from other languages to Spanish have to be either done by the Costa Rican consulate (no one else) in the country where the document was issued or here in Costa Rica by an "official" translator for the specific language to Spanish. We can arrange for the service at the cost of the translator. Translation from the original language to English is not accepted by the Costa Rica government.

Sample Check List

What is required to obtain legal residency? Can I meet these requirements? What is the cost? How often does residency have to be renewed, what are the conditions of renewal and what is the cost?

What is required to visit, or while you are waiting for residency? (Visas, length of stay permitted, restrictions on residents on visa or in tourist or temporary resident categories)

What is the political situation? (Dictatorship, democracy, monarchy, etc.)

How stable is the country? (History of coups, potential for future unrest)

Weather (Do you like 4 seasons? Hot weather? Temperate all year? Snow?)

Income taxes (Are you taxed on income brought into the country? Are you allowed to earn income in the country? If yes, how is it taxed?)

Other taxes (Sales taxes, import duties, exit taxes, vehicle taxes, property taxes, etc.)

How much will it cost you in fees, duties and taxes to bring into the country your personal possessions? (Cars, boats, appliances, electronic equipment, personal effects, artwork, etc.)

Rental Property - rental rates, laws protecting tenants, lease laws, rental taxes

Purchase of Property - Property value, taxes, restrictions on foreign ownership, purchase taxes, legal and registration fees, laws about foreign property owners, history of government respect for these laws, expropriation laws, squatters rights. If you are going to build, building regulations, how are local construction companies, is there any guarantee on construction once finished, what are construction costs?

Communications - Are there reliable phone and fax lines, cellular phones, connections to Internet and other computer communication services, are there local newspapers - radio - TV in a language you understand? Is there cable vision or is satellite TV available?

Transportation - How are the roads? Are flights available to places you wish to go? How are the bus, train, ferry services? How costly is it to travel to and from your chosen country to frequent destinations? (To bring in or visit family, business interests, etc.)

What time zone is your proposed country of residence in compared to areas in which you may want to be in frequent telephone communication, such as where there are family or business interests.

Shopping - Would you have a choice of items which you wished to purchase to compare prices? In case of malfunction, are parts and service available locally? (Appliances, electronics, photographic equipment, computers, vehicles, furniture and fixtures, etc.) Is computer software support and repair service available?

Are the types of food to which you are accustomed readily available, both in restaurants and markets?

If you have hobbies, are clubs, supplies and assistance available?

What cultural activities are available? (Art, music, theater, etc.)

What entertainment is available? (Sports, cinemas, night clubs, dancing, fiestas, etc.)

What recreational facilities are available? (Golf courses, tennis, health clubs, recreation centers, other participatory sports)

Will your appliances, electronics and electrical equipment work on the available power supply?

If you like the beach are good beaches available? What is the water temperature?

What is the situation with poisonous growth, insects, snakes, dangerous animals?

What is the violent crime rate? Sneaky crime (theft, car and house break ins)? What support can be expected from the police department? How helpful are the police to local residents and foreign residents?

How do the local residents treat foreign visitors and residents?

What are the local investment opportunities? Is there any consumer or investment protection legislation for investors? What return can you expect on investments?

Is the banking system safe and reliable? Can they transfer funds and convert foreign currency cheques, drafts and transfers? Are checks, savings and other accounts you may need available to foreigners? Is there banking confidentiality? Exchange controls? Can money brought into the country be taken back out again?

Are good lawyers, accountants, investment advisors and other professionals available?

How is the health care system? Are there diseases which are dangerous to foreigners, and if so does the local health care system address the problem? What is the quality of hospitals, doctors, dentists? What is the availability of specialist? How is the ambulance service? Is dentistry up to standards you are used to?

How is sanitation? Can you drink the water? Do restaurants have good sanitation standards? Are pasteurized milk and dairy products available? Do meat, fish and vegetable markets have satisfactory sanitary standards?

How is the education system? If you have children, are good private schools available in the language in which you would like them educated? What is the school year?

If you are interested in having domestic staff, what is the cost of cooks, housekeepers, gardeners, etc.?

What legislation is there to protect foreign residents? What rights do foreign residents have in comparison to citizens? What is the government's past record in respecting the rights of foreign citizens?

What natural dangers are there? (Hurricanes, tornadoes, typhoons, volcanoes, earthquakes, droughts, floods)

Where does the country stand environmentally? What are the environmental issues? What is the history in dealing with environmental concerns?

Is there controlled growth and well managed development?

Can pets be brought to the country?

Criteria Information

1. Residency Requirements

$600 per month pension from an approved source - or
Investment income of $1,200 per month from an approved source - or

Invest between $50,000 and $200,000 in an approved sector of the economy.

Regular, unrestricted residency can be applied for after two years on one of the above plans

The cost to process residency is approximately $700 per family head plus $250 for spouse and $100 per child.

Residency renewals are usually every second year. General conditions for renewal are 4 months residence in Costa Rica, the required amount of monthly income was changed into Costa Rican currency or that the terms of the investor residency are met. Renewal cost is $150-$200.

2) North Americans can stay in Costa Rica legally for up to 3 months. They must then leave for a period of 72 hours, then can then return to the country for another three months. If the three month period is overstayed, a travel agency or ARCR can arrange payment of a small fine and prepare the travel documents required to leave the country for the required 72 hours. Tourists can own vehicles, property, businesses and generate income from self employment

3) Costa Rica is a very democratic republic, headed by a president who is in power for one 4 year term. He cannot run for a second term. Ministers are appointed and there is an elected congress. There has been no military since 1948 when it was banned constitutionally.

4) Costa Rica has a history of stable government which stretches back to when the country was founded. It had one brief civil war in 1948, when a president wanted a second term in power. At this time a new constitution was drawn to ensure such a situation could not occur again.

5) Weather in Costa Rica is largely a matter or choice, unless someone is looking for snow. There is none, even on the 13,000 foot high mountains. It varies from hot coastal lowlands, where rainfall varies according to location and season, to very cool mountainous regions. There are plains which go months without rain, and areas where it rains daily. The average temperature in the Central Valley is ideal, with evenings of 17 - 18 C and days averaging 25 - 28 C year round. The dry season is usually from the end of November until past Easter. The amount of rain in rainy season depends on the climate zone, with heaviest rains usually in October. Rainfall is usually in the afternoon, if it is going to rain.

6) There is no income tax on money earned outside of Costa Rica by residents. Personal income taxes are low compared to North America, with many personal expenses deductible from locally earned income. Corporate taxes are also low.

7) Other taxes:

Sales Tax - 13%

Import duties are being decreased in Costa Rica in compliance with the GATT agreements. The principal exception is new vehicles, on which duty is about 98%.

Tourists pay an exit duty of approximately $17, while residents pay more.

License plate fees are paid annually for vehicles, and depend upon the value. They are not excessive.

Property taxes are very low in comparison with North America.

8) New residents will be charged import duty on cars and boats at the same rate as would be paid by a resident bring them in. Personal effects and artwork are not taxed. Electronic equipment and appliances will be valued and a duty charged.

9) Rental rates depend on the area. Any rental agreement is assumed to be for three years, during which time the landlord may not raise the rent. Lease contracts are honored by the courts provided they are drawn according to the law of rentals. Landlords may not evict tenants for other than nonpayment of rent or illegal activities.

10) Property prices vary from area to area. There is a computerized central registry system similar to North America, and lawyers or others, such as the ARCR, who subscribe to the service can search title from their office computers. Foreign residents and nonresidents have the same property ownership rights as citizens, with the exception of leasing land from the municipality and purchasing land close to the frontiers. Registration, taxes and legal fees will be approximately 5.5% of the declared value of the land on purchase. The government has an excellent history of respecting foreign ownership of land. Construction is less costly than usually found in North America. A finished luxury house currently would cost about $350-400 per sq. meter ($35-40 per sq. ft.) to build.(1997) The contractor is responsible for defects in construction for 5 years.

11) Costa Rica has a state owned hydro/telephone company. Phone installation can be slow, but once installed they function well. Touch tone international dialing for phone and fax is in place, as is a well developed cellular system. Costs are competitive. Internet was introduced in 1995 and use is becoming widespread. There are several Spanish language and one English daily newspaper, two English and one German language weekly, and various magazines. Foreign newspapers can be purchased readily. There are several Spanish language television stations, and different cable TV companies offering English language channels. Satellite TV dishes and Direct TV are readily available.

12) Costa Rican roads are in generally poor condition. Potholes are common, and an endless chain of patching is underway. Air service from Costa Rica is well developed, with many direct flights daily to Mexico, USA, Central and South America, and also direct flights to Europe (Italy, Spain, Germany, England, Holland), Canada and Cuba. Average return airfare to a destination in the USA would be $550. Bus service is excellent, frequent and inexpensive. Deluxe buses are operated on many runs with air conditioning and video movies. There is no passenger train service except for commuter trains near San Jose.

13) Costa Rica is within 2 hours of most North American cities for time zone. There is no daylight saving time, so it varies seasonally.

14) Most things are offered for sale in and around San Jose, much less so in the rest of the country. The central valley boasts many large, enclosed malls and there is little which one could want which is not readily available at competitive prices. There is a wide range of warrantee, service and repair companies to choose from. Computer software sales and service is common, as are hardware repair facilities. There is a duty free zone in Golfito in the South West of the country, where everyone is permitted to purchase up to $600 in goods from some 80 stores at low prices twice a year.

15) There are thousands of restaurants in the central valley offering cuisine from most countries of the world. Giant supermarkets offer most familiar items. Items imported from North America are more expensive usually, however many familiar name brands are manufactured in Central America and the prices are reasonable. Also, many items will be available inexpensively from local manufactures with as good or better quality than the brand name you are used to.

16) Almost all hobbies are represented by clubs and suppliers locally.

17) There is an excellent symphony orchestra, several live theaters, and many local or visiting musical, dance and entertainment groups. There is an active art community and several galleries.

18) Football (soccer) is the most popular local sport. Every region, no matter how small, has a football field. There are dozens of cinemas, and most films are in English with Spanish subtitles. San Jose never sleeps, with a large number of night clubs, discos, bars, casinos and dance halls. Fiestas are popular and frequent throughout Costa Rica.

19) There are many recreation and health centers, private and public, and 18 and 9 hole golf courses. Many courses are under construction by various resort developers. Tennis and basketball are popular. Whitewater rafting, kayaking, horseback riding, water sports, hiking, bicycling and many other sports are popular and well provided for.

20) Costa Rica has 110-115 Volt electricity and the NTSA television system as in North America.

21) There are hundreds of miles of world class sand beaches in various colors. The ocean temperature is warm - well over 80 F - year round. Surfing is world famous.

22) There are few dangerous animals. There are several varieties of poisonous snakes, but are not usually seen. Insects are few in the central valley, more on the coast and in rain forest.

23) Violent crime is low. In the San Jose area break-ins of unoccupied cars and buildings are common, and care is necessary. The police do not differ in their treatment of foreigners or citizens. Generally the police will not come to a break-in until the victim goes to their office and files a report.

24) Costa Ricans are a very welcoming and friendly people who welcome foreigners.

25) There are two stock markets in Costa Rica, and all banks issue Certificates of Investment (as do many private companies and licensed finance companies). OPAB's are available (similar to money market funds) and yield about 5% annually. Private and national banks have savings accounts with interest rates in the 2-4% range. Mortgages, investments in private companies and investments in stock, bond and commodity markets outside of Costa Rica are easily arranged through local investment brokers. There is no consumer protection legislation.

26) There are 4 national (government owned) and about 23 private banks operating in Costa Rica, including Citibank from the USA and the 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, although 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.

27) There are a wide variety of professional people available in all fields. Lawyer-client relations are protected by confidentiality laws. Many of the major international accounting firms have offices in Costa Rica.

28) The health care system is excellent. There is a plan for citizens and residents who have work permits covering medical care, hospitalization and prescription drugs. Citizens are also covered for dental care. This is funded by employers contributing 22% of wages paid, and the employee contributing 9%. There is also private medical insurance, through the state owned insurance monopoly, which is inexpensive and covers 80% of medical costs. For those who wish, medical services and hospitals are available on a "pay as you go" system for those without medical insurance. Medical care costs are very low compared to North America. Hospitals regularly do high tech operations such as heart & organ transplants. There are many specialists in Costa Rica, and doctors have their home phone numbers in the yellow pages for emergencies. There is an ambulance service in almost every town in the country, operated by the Red Cross. There is also a wide choice in dental care. No special shots are required to come to Costa Rica.

29) Water can be drunk from the tap throughout Costa Rica. Sanitary standards are very high for a third world country. Pasteurized milk and dairy products are normal everywhere.

30) There is a free education system for all, through high school. The official literacy rate is over 93%. There are many universities and technical training schools. Many university students have their tuition paid by grants. English is taught in the public school system but the main language is Spanish. There are excellent bilingual and trilingual schools available with a principal language of English, French or German. Some schools are on the North American school year.

31) The current cost for domestic staff is $1.00 per hour. This will vary if second language ability is required, and may be dependent upon specific conditions, such as whether room and board area provided.

32) Foreign residents are protected by the constitution, and have most of the rights of citizens. The record of the government historically has been excellent in honoring these rights. They do not have the right to:

Vote or participate in political activities

Work for wages without a permit

Own land close to national borders

33) Costa Rica is in an earthquake zone. While there are many recorded earthquakes per year, only about half a dozen can be felt. There are no hurricanes, but heavy rains may cause flooding. There are several active volcanoes, the most active of which is Arenal. It erupts almost continuously, without causing damage. There have been loss of life and damage caused by volcanic eruptions in the past.

34) Costa Rica, in comparison with other third world countries, is very environmentally conscious. 27% of the area of the country is in national park or protected reserve, the 50 meters above high tide is public property and cannot be privately owned or developed and the next 150 meters inland in approximately 85% of the country is owned by the local municipality and cannot be sold. This land can be leased from the municipality for approved projects or residence. There are strict environmental guidelines in place for all developments and mining activity. Logging is closely monitored. Most international ecological groups are represented in Costa Rica, so even where the government overlooks an infringement of the environmental laws, the legal mechanisms are in place for concerned organizations or individuals to halt development with cause. Coastal construction is limited to low rise buildings. Attempts are being made to address pollution in rivers and streams, and vehicle emissions are now being tested to keep them within set standards. There are many privately funded research facilities, as may be expected in a country with more bird and insect species than all of North America, over 200 types of hardwood tree, over 1,500 varieties of orchids and so on.

35) Development is planned to a certain extent, although in much of the country private land can be used as the owner wishes. Subdivisions must meet government standards, including paved roads, power, water and park land and they must be maintained by the developer for several years after being sold out. Free zones and industrial areas are well defined, and government policy has been to encourage business to take job providing factories to the villages to allow people to travel short distances to work and to slow the spread of large cities. All construction must meet strict earthquake standards. Most industry in Costa Rica is of a nonpolluting type. Examples would be electronics, pharmaceuticals and clothing manufacturing. Agriculture is still the largest export sector, led by traditional bananas and coffee, but with nontraditional items such as ferns, flowers and tropical plants gaining rapidly. Huge refrigerated facilities are in place to encourage new agricultural exports.

36) Pets can be brought to Costa Rica. A veterinary certificate is required. Ask the ARCR office for more details on how we can assist you.

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