Thinking of Moving to Costa Rica? — 3 Things to Know Right Now

The Different Areas of Costa Rica to Live, Getting Into and Around Costa Rica, and The Visas You Can Apply For

If you’re anything like me, you want to get out of wherever you’re living right now and head down south to the beaches or mountains of Costa Rica.

However, Costa Rica isn’t for everyone, and each country has different immigration and Visa regulations. Many Latin American countries close to the equator might be more suitable to your liking, such as Panama, Nicaragua, Mexico, Honduras, and more.

For me, my love affair with Latin America began when I first visited my sister at her home in Panama. I have visited Panama a few times and even lived there for a few months. Additionally, I lived in Chile in South America for a couple of years, further cementing my love for warm weather, the Spanish language, and Latin American culture.

Now, I have spent the last few years gearing up for a move to either Panama or Costa Rica shortly, with Costa Rica slightly ahead of Panama right now (although that may change in the next few months or years).

During this time, I researched and wrote about everything I had found about Costa Rica. This article is here for you to read what I have seen and decide if you want to make a plan to start moving from fantasizing about moving to do it.

Here are three quick things to know about Costa Rica to help you decide if you want to visit, invest in a part-time home, or make it your final destination.

Photo by Elizeu Dias on Unsplash

Places to Live

There are many beautiful places to make a home in Costa Rica. From what I can tell, the most pressing questions you need to ask yourself about where you want to live are:

Do you enjoy the beach or the mountains?

Do you want hotter or more mild?

Costa Rica has a diverse climate that can accommodate different preferences. Also, changing your elevation will change the amount of rainfall. So if you’re looking for less rain, you’ll need to be lower down the mountains.

If you prefer a home near the beach and don’t mind the heat, try one of these places:

If you are looking for something a little cooler and milder year-round, somewhere closer to the mountains and inland might be what you want:

Costa Rica is famous for its microclimates, meaning the weather can vary quite dramatically from place to place and in a short distance. It could be sunny and hot by the beach, and then you could drive a couple of hours inland, and it will be cool and raining.

For most people, knowing what the weather will be like is essential in deciding where to live. If you can handle the heat, the beaches are amazing. However, if you won’t be comfortable in hot weather for weeks (like the whole month of April), you need to consider that.

Photo by Caleb George on Unsplash

Getting Into and Around Costa Rica

Airports

Costa Rica has two main airports: Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO), near San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, and Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIB) in Guanacaste.

Both airports support Air Canada, Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, United Airlines, JetBlue Airways, and US Airways. However, SJO has a few more that fly into it: Spirit Air, Air Transat, Copa, and Avianca.

Getting Around

The easiest way to get around Costa Rica is by car. There are many paved roads but many unpaved roads, depending on where you are going. A 4x4 or sport utility vehicle (SUV) is recommended.

Buying a car in Costa Rica and importing vehicles to Costa Rica is expensive, as massive import taxes are imposed. The current tax rate for importing a vehicle made in the last three years is 52.29%. Import taxes for cars 4 to 5 years old are almost 64% and on cars older than five years, 79% import tax.

These high taxes prevent Costa Rica from being overrun with old, shoddy cars, as has happened in other Latin American countries, and curb overall car congestion. Check out this article from The Costa Rica Star for more information.

While many of us are dependent on vehicles, especially here in North America, Costa Rica attempts to discourage more cars on their roads. If you need a car in Costa Rica, be prepared to pay almost double its worth.

Other ways to get around Costa Rica include taxis, buses, shuttles, domestic flights, and even boats and ferries. Public transportation options need more planning and patience than a car but are reasonably reliable and more economical than a car.

Photo by Jaimie Harmsen on Unsplash

Visas, Residency, Citizenship

To stay in Costa Rica for any time, you will have to apply for temporary residency. After three years of living there under temporary residency, you may apply for permanent residency. After seven years of permanent residency, your can then apply for citizenship.

There are a few ways to get to permanent residency: stay as a tourist on 90-day stints — perpetually leaving and re-entering the country for three years, apply for a work or student visa through your embassy, apply for the Rentista, Pensionao, or Inversionista programs, the Representante Residency Program, or the Permanent Residency Program.

Tourist Visa/No Visa Required

Tourist visas are from most countries, but citizens from Canada, the US, Great Britain, and most European countries can stay visa-free for 90 days. Some countries (New Zealand, Australia, and Ireland) can stay for 30 days but can easily extend their stay. Check your country’s requirements here. You’ll also need to show proof of medical insurance for your stay, have an exit ticket booked, and fill out the Health Pass form. Here’s a more detailed list of everything you’ll need.

Some people who move down to Costa Rica do border runs every 90 days to renew their visas. Land crossings into neighbouring Panama and Nicaragua are common. You can leave on a mini-vacation for a few hours or days. Just ensure your passport is stamped on re-entry. Here’s an excellent page with tons of info. Or this one.

You can even book a spot on a bus of people doing border runs. You can usually find these on Facebook groups.

Abide by the 90-day rule because it could affect your getting residency after three years if you don’t.

*Note: You cannot legally earn income (work) when you are on a 90-day visit or a tourist visa.

Temporary Residency Permits (Until you acquire three years living in Costa Rica, where you can then apply for permanent residency)

Rentista (Person of Independent Means Visa)

Breakdown:

  • Remote workers, freelancers, people with rental income, and people with other stable remote income can use this Visa
  • You can work, but not as an employee in Costa Rica (you can do remote work based in North America, for example, but not as a server at a restaurant or an accountant in Costa Rica)
  • It takes about 12–15 months to process
  • Renewable after two years
  • Can own a Costa Rican corporation and receive dividends or work as an employee of its own company.
  • 0% tax
  • Four months of annual residency required

Here’s the key:

  • You need either a fixed income of at least US$2500 per month guaranteed by an employer or bank for two years, or
  • You can make a bank deposit in your home country of US$60,000, and your bank would provide a letter saying it will deposit $2,500 into your Costa Rican bank account every month for two years, or
  • The easiest option: you can make a bank deposit of US$60,000 at a Costa Rican bank and obtain a commitment letter saying that US$2,500 per month will be deposited into a second Costa Rican account every month for two years.
  • This amount includes dependents (spouse and minor children under 25 or older people with disabilities); a higher amount may be required for additional dependents.
  • The initial $60,000 minus subsequent monthly withdrawals will be earning interest in the account.
  • You can use the US$2500 money once it is deposited into the second account if you wish. Alternatively, you can hang onto it to apply for another rentista visa you will need to get you to the third year when you can apply for permanent residency.
  • If you’re not already in Costa Rica, this process can take 12–15 months and should be started in your home country well before you plan to move.
  • If you are already in Costa Rica, some legal services may be able to help you get all your documents ready and processed without leaving Costa Rica.

There are a lot of websites with different wording of this Visa. I used the website in the section title (residencies.io) and Outlier Legal Services for information. The rentista seems to be the most complicated of the visas. I recommend using a service or lawyer to go through this process.

Here is a good site for the step-by-step instructions for doing this process yourself.

Pensionado (Pensioner Visa)

Breakdown:

  • You must visit Costa Rica at least once a year.
  • Valid for two years.
  • Can be renewed for additional two-year periods.
  • It takes about nine months to process.
  • Your retirement income can come from various sources, as long as it totals over US$1000 per month.
  • You can claim a spouse and your dependents under 18 years of age.
  • You can own a company and receive dividends.

Here’s the key:

  • It requires proof (a letter from the primary pension provider) of US$1000 per month income from a permanent pension source or a retirement fund.
  • You cannot work as an employee in Costa Rica.

The pensionado is less complicated. Again, these figures come from the website in the section title (residencies.io) and Outlier Legal Services.

(Above) A screenshot of a checklist of what an American will need for a pensionado. Canadian citizens will need similar documents, except you’ll need a criminal record report from the RCMP instead of the FBI. Source

Inversionista (Investors Visa)

Breakdown:

  • You must visit Costa Rica at least once a year.
  • Valid for two years.
  • It can be renewed for additional two-year periods if you keep the investment.
  • You can claim your spouse and dependents under 18 years of age.
  • An income is allowed from the project.
  • You can own a company and receive dividends.

Here’s the key:

  • You need to make an investment of at least US$150,000 in a business or property. *Note: This number used to be US$200,000 but has recently been decreased.
  • You can also get an inversionista with a US$100,000 forestry investment.

Again, I used residencies.io in the section title and Outlier Legal Services.

Representante (Business Ownership Residency Program)

Breakdown:

  • You must visit Costa Rica at least once a year.
  • You can claim your spouse and any dependents under 18 years of age.
  • You can earn an income from the company.
  • You can own a company and receive payment.

Here’s the key:

  • You must be the company’s director and meet specific requirements, such as employing a minimum number of local workers as established by the labour law, with financial statements certified by a Public Accountant.

Vinculo (Marriage/Relation Residency Program)

Breakdown:

  • You must visit Costa Rica at least once a year.
  • Valid for one year.
  • Can be renewed for additional one-year periods.
  • It takes about nine months to complete.
  • You can claim spouse and dependents under 18 years of age.
  • You can work.
  • You can own a company and receive income.

Here’s the key:

  • This Visa is for when you have or achieve first-degree relative status with a Costa Rican Citizen (through marriage to a citizen or having a Costa Rican child)
  • You may apply for permanent residency after three years.
  • You must complete an interview with the Costa Rica Immigration Department to confirm the legitimacy of the marriage.

Digital Nomad Visa

Breakdown:

  • This is a one-year visa with an option to be renewed for a second if you stay in Costa Rica for at least 180 days.
  • You can open a bank account.
  • You can use your home country driver’s license.
  • If your business needs equipment, you can do so without import tax

Here’s the key:

  • You’ll need to show proof of an average monthly income of at least $3,000 or $36,000 annually.
  • A couple or family will need proof of a combined average monthly income of $4000 or $48,000 annually.
  • You’ll need proof of medical insurance that covers the applicant and family (if applicable) for the entire year (or two) while in Costa Rica.
  • You need to pay visa application and processing fees.

*Note: The government passed this Visa into law in late 2021, but they are still working out its language. Who knows how long this will take? Things move slowly with the Pura Vida lifestyle of Costa Rica, and especailly with regards to the governement. I’ll update this article when there is more information.

Key Takeaways of Visas

Immigration law is complex, especially if you don’t have a fixed income or US$150,000 to purchase land.

A lawyer could ensure this process will go a lot smoother but will probably cost between US$1000 and US$3000.

There are tons of law firms on the internet, but not all will be reliable or reputable. Do your due diligence. Here are some law firms I have heard of (I have not used any of these yet, so check them out yourself before using them) from the Facebook Groups I am in:

Photo by Atanas Malamov on Unsplash

Final Thoughts

Moving to a new country is a big decision, and if you’re hoping to move to Costa Rica, a lot of planning should go into this endeavour. It’s a lot more complicated than simply waking up one day and deciding to move to the beach. The legal process and the time they will take to process alone for some of these visas makes one pause and ask oneself if it’s really worth it. Only you can know for sure.

My advice is to dive into the details of this process and get a plan together. Before committing to anything, make sure you understand the process, have the money and genuinely want to go through this journey.

And remember, the application and document gathering, processing, and finalizing process takes 9–15 months, so you need to factor that timeframe into your plan. Costa Rica has also paused acceptance of residency applications until May 17, 2022 (which probably means far past that because of the Pura Vida lifestyle, perhaps until September) due to Covid-19, which will also need to be factored in.

When I started looking into moving to Costa Rica permanently, I had many questions. Hopefully, this article has answered some of yours. Keep an eye out for more articles on what to do in Costa Rica, the processes to get down there, and even some articles on Panama’s immigration and residency processes (which, if I am being honest, look A LOT more attractive than Costa Rica’s right now).

Keep beach dreaming!

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