By Ivo Henfling
You should definitely get residency in Costa Rica when you plan to live here permanently. The law indicates that if you are a permanent resident as a pensionado or rentista (two different types of retiree), you should be in Costa Rica 4 months out of the year as a minimum. Many of you are snowbirds and will live in Costa Rica only for a certain amount of time and others live here permanently. Many of you do the 72 hour trip out of the country every 3 months to renew their tourist visa, so yo become a perpetual tourist. And that’s what I want to talk to you about today.
Let’s for a minute assume you want you live in Costa Rica and you want to do it legally. Everything starts with getting the right immigration information. There are different ways of getting residency. Just like in your own country, there are rules and you will have to stick to them. The Costarican immigration laws will allow you to stay in Costa Rica for 3 months and then you will have to leave the country, unless you renew your tourist visa for another 3 months, which you can do at the Costa Rica immigration office on the highway to the airport. Make sure you do this as for now you can get away with a fine but the day will come that they will kick you out of the country and you won’t be allowed back in.
When you buy Costa Rica real estate you do not need to be a resident. You can either buy a home in Costa Rica or a lot in Costa Rica and transfer the title into your own name or in a corporate name, without having legal residency. But to get the utilities into your name, you will need residency. So the best option if you don't have residency and you buy a property in Costa Rica, to transfer the title into a local LLC, called Sociedad Anónima, and give a special power of attorney to a local member of the board (use the attorney's messenger) to get the utilities in the corporation's name.
When you want to open a bank account in Costa Rica nowadays, they want you to have what they call “arraigo”, which means roots. By that they mean they want you to have either property in your name or in your corporations’ name, permanent residency or have family here. So just renting a home might give you trouble to get a bank account opened. The government owned banks like the Banco Nacional and the Banco de Costa Rica seem to be more lenient toward that rule. So the issue of getting permanent residency might become an issue soon.
Owning a home in Costa Rica is a very good reason for a bank to have a bank account. But if you are looking to buy a property in Costa Rica and getting a mortgage in Costa Rica, you will need Costarican residency to be able to apply for one. Before the crisis, you could just get an equity loan on your property back home. Those times are gone now.
Today, to be able to get a Costarican drivers’ license you need residency. You can get your drivers license by showing your up to date residency card and your driver’s license from back home (not expired) plus a medical test and blood test that you can get in minutes in many of the small offices surrounding CONAVI, which is the driver’s license office.
As you can see, if you really want to live in Costa Rica and make it easy on yourself, you should get your residency in Costa Rica. For information on what to do and what documents to bring from your home country, you will find too much wrong information online because much of it is old and laws change.
Costa Rican immigration services worries more about the illegal Nicaraguans jumping the border than US citizens or other nationalities doing so. We certainly hope we won't get too many foreigners coming illegaly into Costa Rica like in this video below, because I might soon be looking for a job. There are already too many illegals working real estate in Costa Rica. Check out the video below.
Please make sure you use an attorney who specializes in residency in Costa Rica and confirm with this attorney what documents you should get and how to manage this issue correctly.
For many years, I have been recommending immigration lawyer Rómulo Pacheco who is located in San Jose, speaks fluent English and Spanish and has been doing this for many years. I will give you more options but in the case of residency I wouldn’t know who. No matter if you want to become a resident in Costa Rica or a retiree in Costa Rica, make sure you do contact Romulo Pacheco.
Ivo Henfling, the realtor in Costa Rica with legal residency, as opposed to many realtors in Costa Rica.