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.
of Moving to Costa Rica
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Status For Foreigners
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.
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.
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:
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.
If the financial conditions above change the financial
institution agrees to notify the Instituto Costarricense
The monthly income will be sent to the rentista resident
in Costa Rica.
Qualifying funds are in the name of the applicant.
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.
residency, you must prove your continuing income every
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.
Visit Costa Rica at least once per year.
two years of pensionado, rentista, or inversionista
status, application can be made for permanent residency
in Costa Rica. This is usually unrestricted, and working
of Spain can apply for permanent residency right away.
residents must visit Costa Rica at least once each year.
300 must be deposited with the Government of Costa Rica
as a guarantee.
Degree Relative Status
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.
first three documents are required for all types of residency
in Costa Rica.
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.
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).
Marriage Certificate (if spouse wishes residency). Proof
of divorce is not needed.
Income Certificate for Pensionado and Rentista
Residency (required for only the applicant).
-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.
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.)
from other government agencies (all countries) must have
a letter stating that the pension is paid by the government.
from other institutions must have a statement verifying
the type of institution paying the pension.
Residency - contact the ARCR for wording of documents.
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
Authenticated by the Costa Rican consul in the country
where the document was issued.
Your signature must NOT appear in the notarization of
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.
requirements for both
and Rentista Residency
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
Physical presence in Costa Rica for a minimum of 4 months
Renewal of residency identification card (carnet) every
two years. The government of Costa Rica charges a US$100
tax for each renewed identification card.
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.
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
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 six months per year.
of Documents for Residency
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.
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?
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)
is the political situation? (Dictatorship, democracy, monarchy,
stable is the country? (History of coups, potential for future
(Do you like 4 seasons? Hot weather? Temperate all year? Snow?)
taxes (Are you taxed on income brought into the country? Are
you allowed to earn income in the country? If yes, how is
taxes (Sales taxes, import duties, exit taxes, vehicle taxes,
property taxes, etc.)
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.)
Property - rental rates, laws protecting tenants, lease laws,
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?
- 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?
- 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,
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
- 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?
the types of food to which you are accustomed readily available,
both in restaurants and markets?
you have hobbies, are clubs, supplies and assistance available?
cultural activities are available? (Art, music, theater, etc.)
entertainment is available? (Sports, cinemas, night clubs,
dancing, fiestas, etc.)
recreational facilities are available? (Golf courses, tennis,
health clubs, recreation centers, other participatory sports)
your appliances, electronics and electrical equipment work
on the available power supply?
you like the beach are good beaches available? What is the
is the situation with poisonous growth, insects, snakes, dangerous
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
do the local residents treat foreign visitors and residents?
are the local investment opportunities? Is there any consumer
or investment protection legislation for investors? What return
can you expect on investments?
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
good lawyers, accountants, investment advisors and other professionals
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
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?
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?
you are interested in having domestic staff, what is the cost
of cooks, housekeepers, gardeners, etc.?
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
natural dangers are there? (Hurricanes, tornadoes, typhoons,
volcanoes, earthquakes, droughts, floods)
does the country stand environmentally? What are the environmental
issues? What is the history in dealing with environmental
there controlled growth and well managed development?
pets be brought to the country?
per month pension from an approved source - or
Investment income of $1,200 per month from an approved source
between $50,000 and $200,000 in an approved sector of the
unrestricted residency can be applied for after two years
on one of the above plans
cost to process residency is approximately $700 per family
head plus $250 for spouse and $100 per child.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tax - 13%
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%.
pay an exit duty of approximately $17, while residents pay
plate fees are paid annually for vehicles, and depend upon
the value. They are not excessive.
taxes are very low in comparison with North America.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Costa Rica is within 2 hours of most North American cities
for time zone. There is no daylight saving time, so it varies
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.
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.
Almost all hobbies are represented by clubs and suppliers
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.
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.
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.
Costa Rica has 110-115 Volt electricity and the NTSA television
system as in North America.
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.
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.
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.
Costa Ricans are a very welcoming and friendly people who
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
or participate in political activities
for wages without a permit
land close to national borders
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.
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.
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.
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.