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HomeLifestyleExpat & Retirement Living5 Ways to Become a Legal Resident of Costa Rica

5 Ways to Become a Legal Resident of Costa Rica

People often become enamored with Costa Rica after visiting and seeing its unparalleled beauty and natural wonders, and meeting its friendly people.

A good number of those who have come here on vacation decide that they eventually want to relocate to the country.

Some of those who move here choose to be “perpetual tourists” and leave the country every 90 days to re-enter on a tourist visa. This can become tedious and expensive when taking into account that it has to be done four times yearly and involves spending money on transportation and often lodging. One way to avoid this hassle is to become a legal resident of the country.

This process can be difficult if you try to do it on your own, especially if you do not speak Spanish and are an impatient type. So, it is best to hire a reliable and reputable professional to assist with the complicated process of maneuvering through Costa Rica’s bureau-crazy.

Beware: There are many lawyers who claim that they are familiar with this process, but in reality they are not. So, do your due diligence, and don’t waste your time and money by putting yourself in the wrong hands.

For more than 20 years I have been affiliate with the Association of Residents of Costa Rica (ARCR). All of the clients on my monthly relocation tours attend a two-day seminar sponsored by the ARCR.  In my opinion, it is the best and most informative seminar available.

The ARCR provides a helping hand for those who want to relocate the right way. Their specialty is helping people obtain their legal residency. Below is a brief description of the main residency categories from the ARCR’s website.

Ways to obtain Costa Rican Residency

1. Pensionado

  • Requires proof of US $1,000 per month income from permanent pension source or retirement fund.
  • Must visit Costa Rica at least once a year.
  • Can claim spouse and dependents under 18 years of age.
  • Cannot work as an employee.
  • Can own a company and receive dividends.

2. Rentista Residency in Costa Rica

  • Requires proof of US $2,500 per month income for at least two years, guaranteed by a banking institution, OR a US $60,000 deposit in an approved Costa Rican bank. One amount covers the family.
  • Must visit Costa Rica at least once a year.
  • Can claim spouse and dependents under 18 years of age.
  • Cannot work as an employee.
  • Can own a company and receive dividends.

3. Investor

  • Investment of US $200,000 in a business or property.
  • Must visit Costa Rica at least once a year.
  • Can claim spouse and dependents under 18 years of age.
  • Income allowed from the project.
  • Can own a company and receive dividends.

4. Representante Residency Program – Costa Rica

  • Applicant must be director of a company meeting certain requirements, such as employing a minimum number of local workers as established by the labor law, with financial statements certified by a Public Accountant.
  • Must visit Costa Rica at least once a year.
  • Can claim spouse and dependents under 18 years of age.
  • Can earn an income from the company.
  • Can own a company and receive income.

5. Permanent Residency Costa Rica

  • First-degree relative status with a Costa Rican Citizen (through marriage to citizen or having a Costa Rican child) OR may apply after three years in another status.
  • Must visit Costa Rica at least once a year.
  • Can claim spouse and dependents under 18 years of age.
  • Can work.
  • Can own a company and receive income.

NOTE: Costa Rica has passed the Law with new incentives to Attract Investors, Rentistas and Pensionados.    However, it has not gone into effect yet.

Here are the benefits:

  1. Import duty exemption on the import of your household items.
  1. Import of up to two vehicles for land transportation, air or sea. The original version of the law provided for the duty-free import of one automobile. The legislators expanded this exemption to now include two of them and they can be an automobile, boat, plane or helicopter.  The regulations that will follow will provide more details of how this will work in practice.
  2. The income that you report as the basis for the application will be exempt from any Costa Rican income taxes. At the moment Costa Rica only applies territorial taxation so most foreign income is exempt anyway but this provides the added protection that should that change those that retired will protected from any tax on that income.
  3. Exemption of 20% of the total real estate transfer tax when you purchase real estate.

For the category of investors, this law has reduced the required investment from US$200,000 to $150,000.  This means that to apply for Investor Residency you can invest in any of the methods authorized by the law with a minimum of $150,000 and you would qualify for this category.

Required Costa Rica Residency Documents

The first three documents are required for all types of residency in Costa Rica (valid six months from issued date).

1.An FBI report  of Good Conduct from your last place of residency. Valid for 6 months. In the past only a police report was required.

The Association of Residents of Costa Rica (ARCR) can help you obtain this report. If not check out these links:

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 a prior divorce is not needed.

4. Income Certificate for Pensionado and Rentista Residency (required for only the applicant, valid six months).

  • Pensionados — proof of a pension of at least US $1000/month stating that it is for life, and that it will be paid in Costa Rica.
  • For pensions from the U.S. Social Security or Canada Pension, it is easier to obtain the certification at the U.S. 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.
  • Married Couple Pension Income: A married couple needs to show proof of only one (1) monthly pension of at least $1,000 US for both husband and wife to qualify to apply for residency. The pension recipient can be either spouse.
  • Rentista Residency – contact the ARCR for wording of documents.

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

  • Notarized by a local public notary 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 or an organization like the ARCR.
  • In the USA (and most countries) they must then pass through the Secretary of State (or other body) to be Apostilled.
  • If Apostilles are not available in your country, they must be Consularized (authenticated) by the Costa Rica Consulate in the country where the document was issued.

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

Apostilles: Cost varies from country to country, as does the authority who issues them.  Contact organizations like the ARCR for specifics.

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. There is now a $250 application fee in Costa Rica.

Other requirements for both Pensionado and Rentista Residency

  1. Income must be proven to continue at each renewal.
    1. Pensionado: US $12,000 per year
    2. Rentista: US $30,000 per yer
  2. Visit Costa Rica once a year for at least three days.
  3. Renewal of residency identification card 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.

Inversionista Residency Status

  1. Invest at least US$200,000 in an operating business or another amount in a government approved sector.  $200,000 in ownership or property &/or vehicles, stocks, etc.
  2. Visit Costa Rica at least six months per year.

Translations of Documents for Residency 

Translations from other languages to Spanish have to be done either 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.

About the Author 

Christopher Howard has been conducting monthly relocation/retirement tours and writing retirement guidebooks for more than 30 years. See He has a relocation/retirement blog at: and  is also the author of the one-of-a-kind bestselling e-book, “Guide to Costa Rican Spanish,” that can be purchased through Amazon.

This article first appeared in 2019 and has been updated

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