Applying for Residency

The process to obtain residency status can be a lengthy process, typically 9 to 12 months, but we’ve heard of shorter and much longer waiting periods. Much of the time will be spent gathering and authenticating documents, and it is recommended that you start doing that at least six months prior to your move.

We obtained our Pensionado residency in September of 2015, about 9 months after our applications were submitted. We were concerned about complications due to my husband having been born in Canada and adopted and naturalized in the U.S., so we elected to employ an attorney. If your residency application is more straightforward, you may be able to handle the process on your own and save money on attorney fees. The following information has been updated based on our experience. Laws and processes change, so your mileage may vary. You should check Migracion’s website Migracion’s website for up-to-date residency requirements.

Step One: Required Documents

Document requirements vary depending on the type of residency for which you are applying. We’ve provided a list of required documents for the Pensionado and Rentista applications which you can use as a checklist. We recommend that you print the list and keep it in a folder with your documents to help you stay on track.

Step Two: Residency Application

Once you have gathered all of your documents, and you are familiar and comfortable with Costa Rican processes, you can get your documents officially translated into Spanish, then follow directions on the Immigration website to submit your application at the Immigration office in La Uruca. However, if handling your own residency application is scary to you as it was to us or you just find it too challenging to do it from afar, you can hire an attorney to be your boots on the ground. In either case, you will be given a number that you can use to look up the progress of your residency application online.

Step Three: Official Resolution

If your application is approved, the Department of Immigration will issue a formal resolution indicating the date on which the application was approved.

A resolution from the immigration department indicates that an applicant has been accepted for legal residency. Normally, the resolution follows within a year of presenting the residency application; however it is important to follow up with immigration once every three or four months. Asking questions about an active application may speed up the process; however, it is important to remain patient (as with day-to-day life in Costa Rica!). The resolution will be delivered to the fax number on the cover letter provided with the residency application, so it is very important to ensure that is correct.

Once you have received the resolution, there are a few more steps you must do:

  • You must pay a tax, the exact amount (in colones) and the respective account for the deposit of funds is indicated on the resolution. The deposit can be made at any branch of Banco de Costa Rica. Be sure to get a deposit receipt with the name of the residency applicant clearly indicated.
  • New residents are required to join the national health care and pension system or Caja. The amount due each month will be calculated based on your income. Applicants are generally required to bring a utility bill to their local Caja office in order to establish their address and a recent certified, apostilled copy of your marriage license to prove your marital status if one of you is a dependent.
  • You’ll need to make another trip to immigration with your resolution, deposit slip, and proof of Caja enrollment in hand. The purpose of this trip is to set up your cédula appointment which may be scheduled a few months out.
Step Four: Cédula Appointment

The appointment form that you received at your last visit to immigration will indicate the date of your appointment along with any additional requirements, including a fee that must be paid to receive your cedula. You’ll probably want to arrive early on the day of your appointment to pay the fee at the immigration branch of Banco de Costa Rica or the day before at any other branch. Paying the fee too far in advance can cause problems due to the variable exchange rate.

Upon arrival for your cédula appointment, you’ll give your appointment letter and deposit slip to the official at Area Three of the Immigration office. Then you’ll wait in a small area for your name to be called. Your wait may be several hours, and it is important to listen carefully for your name to be called over the loud speaker. When your name comes up, your picture and fingerprints will be taken and you’ll either be given a cédula receipt with a black and white proof of the photo at the top of the page or you will be told to wait for your cedula as we were.

If you are given a receipt instead of your actual cédula, you can make arrangements at the immigration post office (which is near the bank branch at the rear of the immigration complex) to have your cédula mailed to a post office in Costa Rica. We have heard that this usually takes about a month, but we don’t have personal experience with this since we left the office with our cedulas in hand.

Step Five: Renewal

Your first cédula is valid for two years, and arrangements for renewal must be made one month prior to renewal. Renewals are processed by the immigration offices in La Uruca and Paso Canoas (and possibly others. Please check with your nearest immigration office to find out if they handle renewals.) and select branches of the Banco de Costa Rica. All residents are required to remain current on their payments to the caja system. Additional requirements depend on the type of residency you are renewing. You an find the current requirements for your residency type on the immigration website. Migracion’s website. Renewal instructions are found under the Renovación tab. We renewed our residency in August of 2017 following the instructions on the immigration website. The most difficult part was obtaining a new, notarized and apostilled pension verification letter from the U.S. and getting it officially translated into Spanish. Once we had that, we paid our renewal fee of U.S. $123 (payable at BCR in colones at the current exchange rate). Then we took the required documents to the Paso Canoas office, and not counting travel time, it only took us about 30 minutes. We received receipts with our pictures on them which we then took to our nearest post office (correos) in San Isidro de el General to request that our cedulas be sent there. We had them in hand within a week.