Costa Rican Residency: 4 Options + 1 New Non-Residency Opportunity

pensionado retiree residency Costa Rica

If you’re considering a life in Costa Rica, then you’re likely also considering residency in Costa Rica. They kind of go hand in hand, right? 

Right. Because residency affords you a ton of legal protections and benefits, which are essential if you plan to live here (rather than just visit). The question is, what kind of residency is right for you? Which category best fits your life and lifestyle? 

Don’t worry, it’s not as complicated as it sounds. (It’s rather straightforward, even.) So let’s get into it: 

Perpetual Tourism: A Common Start

Most people, when they arrive in Costa Rica, do a try-before-you-buy kind of informal residency. It’s called perpetual tourism and, essentially, it allows you to stay, live, and enjoy Costa Rica for up to 90-day periods. No visa, no legal residency, no paperwork required. All you’ll need is your passport.

There are many pros and cons to perpetual residency – and I go into each of them, in depth, here – but, in a nutshell, perpetual tourism allows you to try out life in Costa Rica without making any major legal, financial, or other requirements or commitments.

That said it’s a short-term solution, because perpetual tourism does not afford you any right to reside, to return, or really to make your life here on any sort of permanent basis. So, once you’ve decided that you’re here to stay, I would recommend pursuing one of the formalized residency categories. To wit:

Residency in Costa Rica: The Top 4 Options

Once you’ve decided that Costa Rica is the home for you, then legal residency is your path to all the rights that you would expect and require to make your life anywhere.

By this, I mean that residency in Costa Rica affords expats with almost full rights in Costa Rica. You’ll be able to do everything from opening a bank account and getting a driver’s license to setting up a corporation and entering/departing Costa Rica as often as you please. Legal residency also sets you down the path to permanent residency, which in turn can lead to citizenship, if you so desire.

So, what are the most common residency options? Well, for the expats who I work with, there are four primary paths to residency in Costa Rica: fixed income (rentistaresidency, retiree (pensionado),investor (inversionistaresidency,  and temporary or permanent residency for spouses and parents of Costa Ricans.

Option #1: Rentista Residency

Becky Clower moved to Costa Rica

To qualify for rentista, or fixed income, residency, you must prove a guaranteed income source that does not include a salaried job, freelance income, or any other type of income that could be stopped or canceled. This sounds ambiguous, but the easiest and most straightforward way to qualify for this type of residency is simply to deposit a lump sum, via a Costa Rican bank account or trust back home, which will cover part or all of your living expenses in Costa Rica.

So, what are the details? Rentista residency Requires foreigners to demonstrate a monthly income source of $2,500 per month, for the duration of your residency period. In this case, it’s two years, which equates to a total $60,000 ($2,500 x 24 months) for the duration of your residency.

At a Glance:

  • Temporary residency
  • 2-year residency, renewable for additional 2-year periods
  • Apply for permanent residency after 3 years
  • spouse and dependents can be included in the primary applicant’s residency
  • You cannot work, neither remotely or here in Costa Rica, until you have permanent residency or a work permit.

Option #2: Pensionado Residency

If you are old enough to be retired and/or draw a pension, then you may qualify for pensionado, or pensioner residency. 

the only requirement? A guaranteed, lifetime pension of $1,000/month. This can be drawn on Social Security, private company pensions, independent retirement programs, annuities, and other permanent pension sources.

The only major hiccup to this type of residency is that you must prove the minimum $1,000 per month from a single pension source. Because, while pensioner residency extends to a spouse or dependents, two spouses cannot combine <$1,000/month pensions to reach the minimum. It must come from a single source, no exceptions. 

At a Glance:

  • Temporary residency
  • 2-year residency, renewable for additional 2-year periods
  • Apply for permanent residency after 3 years
  • spouse and dependents can be included in the primary applicant’s residency
  • You cannot work, neither remotely or here in Costa Rica, until you have permanent residency or a work permit.

Option #3: Inversionista Residency

For investors, including real estate buyers, Costa Rica extends its inversionista, or investor residency category. 

In a nutshell, this type of residency in Costa Rica is available to anyone who invests a minimum some into a local business, a forestry or reforestation process, or real estate investment. Notably, real estate investment does include the purchase of a primary or secondary home, even if you plan to reside there, rather than use it as a business.

The minimum amount for investor residency has long been $200,000. However, in mid- 2021, Bill of Law N. 22156 reduced this amount to $150,000.

At a Glance:

  • Temporary residency
  • 2-year residency, renewable for additional 2-year periods
  • Apply for permanent residency after 3 years
  • spouse and dependents can be included in the primary applicant’s residency
  • You cannot work, neither remotely or here in Costa Rica, until you have permanent residency or a work permit. You may earn income from your Costa Rican investment.

Option #4: Residency via a First-Degree Relationship with a Costa Rican

This is, perhaps, the most interesting and flexible option for residency in Costa Rica. That’s because it offers several paths to both temporary and permanent residency

I know – it sounds a little confusing. That’s because Costa Rican law distinguishes between the type of first-degree relationship with a Costa Rican: There’s a difference between being the child of a Costa Rican; being parent to a Costa Rica; and marrying a Costa Rica.

Without going into the nitty gritty details, know that parents and children (under age 26) of Costa Ricansmay take a direct route to permanent residency, while spouses are granted temporary residency with one huge caveat: spousal residency is libre de condición, which means that you’ll be eligible to work in Costa Rica, even though you’re only a temporary resident. 

Note that all children born in Costa Rica are automatically Costa Rican, so if you give birth in Costa Rica, you will have a path to residency. 

At a Glance:

  • Parents and Children (< age 26): Permanent residency
  • Spouses: Temporary residency (1 year), renewable for additional 1-year periods and upgradable to permanent residency after 3 years
  • spouse and dependents can be included in the primary applicant’s residency
  • You can work, either as a permanent resident or a temporary resident libre de condición

New Opportunity: Digital Nomad Estancia

Costa Rica Digital Nomad

I won’t go into this new option in detail, because it hasn’t yet entered into effect

That said, in December 2021, Costa Rica approved efforts to welcome digital nomads – that is, anyone who works remotely and earns an income abroad – via a new law. The application of that law has not yet been hammered out, so we’re still in a waiting period, but the law states that digital nomads with a minimum $3,000-$4,000 (individuals/families) in monthly income will qualify. 

Note that this is not a residency category but rather an estancia, which is essentially a right to reside. Kind of like a short-term temporary residency: It’s good for a year with an additional renewal period of one more year. After that – well, no one knows (yet)!

The Benefits of Residency in Costa Rica

All this talk of how and not enough about why, right? So, let’s get into it. 

There are many, many benefits to Costa Rican residency. So many that I’ll probably dedicate an entire future post to the topic. For now, let’s hit on the highlight reel and, if you have any specific questions or clarifications, get in touch and we can chat details!

For now: 

The Right to Reside

Because residency is a legally protected status, you’ll never be turned away (or given just a one-week stay) at the border.

This is the biggest benefit, in my opinion, if you’re making a life in Costa Rica. Because, if you live here, you want to know that you can come and go as you please – and stay for as long as you like, whenever you’re coming rather than going. 

Costa Rican Driver’s License

You’re legally allowed to drive on your home driver’s license only for the duration of your passport stamp (up to 90 days). After that, you’d be required to leave the country to “renew” your driver’s privileges. 

Residency in Costa Rica solves that problem: You can have your license “homologated” – essentially, your foreign license is migrated to a Costa Rican license. No tests required. And that’s a huge benefit, when it comes to ease of life in Costa Rica!

Utilities, Banking, Etc.

Speaking of ease of life, residency affords you a lot of these shortcuts to fewer headaches and greater services. For example, you can use your resident ID number (known as a DIMEX number) to open a bank account, get a cell phone or land line phone, get a digital signature (firma digital, used to sign legal documents online), and so much more. 

Costa Rican Healthcare (CCSS)

CCSS public healthcare Costa Rica

Only residents can pay into Costa Rica’s public healthcare system. And, yes, there are lots of pros and cons to Costa Rican healthcare (again, a long topic for another post!) but it’s often excellent for emergency healthcarespecialized healthcarecertain prescriptions, and even coverage for preexisting conditions (which cannot be denied).

Permanent Residency

As we mentioned above, temporary residency provides a smooth and easy path to permanent residency, the right to work in Costa Rica, and even a path to citizenship.

Tax Breaks & Benefits

These are always evolving but a new law approved in mid-2021 (still pending implementation, though, as of mid-2022) provides a bevy of tax benefits to certain new residents. These benefits will include major savings, including no import duties on a household goods containerno import duties on two vehicle, and more. 

As I said, if you’re here to make a home, then it’s very much worth pursuing residency in Costa Rica!

Want to Talk about Residency and Life in Costa Rica? 

Rebecca Clower Costa Rica relocation expert

Moving to Costa Rica is the dream of many but the reality of only a lucky few. A relocation professional can make your success more likely.

So, talk to us. Learn who you can trust. Discover who makes you feel comfortable. See whose skill sets best align with your needs and priorities. 

And with that, I’ll introduce myself. Hi, I’m Rebecca Clower. (My friends call me Becky.) In 2006, I did what you’re preparing to do: I followed my heart and moved to Costa Rica. 

Over the years, I’ve set down roots here. I’ve given birth to my two boys and raised them here in Costa Rica. I’ve founded a wildly successful business. I’ve been on TV. I’ve given back to my community. I’ve taken on major positions of responsibility and authority. 

In other words, I’ve made Costa Rica my home. Not my sometimes-home or my home-away-from-home or even my second home, but my only home. I am a dual citizen and have completely integrated into Costa Rica and my community. This is it for me. I’ve made my transition. 

Along the way, I’ve become an expert on Costa Rica relocation. And so, for years, I’ve made it my job to help other people make their own successful transitions to Costa Rica life and living. I offer real, honest advice and expertise to my clients. I promise not to sugar-coat the hard truths or gloss over the tough parts. I will tell you the whole truth, the full truth, and even the hard truths.

I hope that you’ll find the beautiful truths to outweigh them all. So, sign up for updates, download my free eBook, check out my relocation services, and feel free to get in touch. Let’s get started!

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