What Are the Legal Requirements For Residency in Costa Rica?

There are several options if you are considering applying for residency in Costa Rica. 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

Proof of a pension US$600 (or equivalent) per month from a qualified retirement plan or pension source, such as a government pension stating that it is for life, and that it will be paid in Costa Rica. The qualifying income must be for the applicant only – combined income is usually acceptable.

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 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.

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

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.

  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

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).

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

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

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 pensionado US$7,200 per year, rentistas 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.

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.

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.

Source: Association of Residents of Costa Rica

View Our Primer on Moving To and Living in Costa Rica