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This just in: You used to need $200,000 to qualify for residency in Costa Rica as an investor, but under a newly approved law, all you need is $150,000. So what are you waiting for?
And please don’t say you’re still waiting for the other 149,000.
In recent years, new regulations imposed by the Costa Rican immigration authorities have made it bit more complicated to gain residency. But in a reversal of this trend, the Legislative Assembly has suddenly broadened the path to immigrating to Costa Rica and gaining legal status here.
There’s just one catch. You have to have $150,000, and you have to bring it to Costa Rica.
You might be thinking already that this story couldn’t possibly apply to you. But let’s remember that if you marry someone in Costa Rica, or have a baby here, you are virtually guaranteed to gain residency, so long as it’s not a fake marriage or a borrowed baby. So even if you don’t have $150,000, there’s always love!
In 2017 I went to a top immigration attorney in Playas del Coco, Marcela Gurdian, with my Costa Rican girlfriend, Guiselle, to restart a stalled process of trying to gain residency. After sketching out some potential if uncertain paths, Marcela helpfully mentioned that this would all be much easier if Guiselle and I were to get married.
Guiselle looked at me with searching brown eyes, and I said, “If I marry, I want to marry for love, not for the Department of Immigration.”
Amazingly, both Marcela and Guiselle seemed to think that was a pretty good answer.
What the new law says
But enough about me. What about you, with the $150,000 you know you’ve got stashed somewhere, dreaming of swooping into Costa Rica, rapidly gaining residency and living the rest of your life like a prince in paradise?
The Devil is always in the details. What do you need to do with your $150,000? First, let me explain what you can’t do with it — and that’s leave it in the bank back home.
Here is a translation of what La Nación, Costa Rica’s leading newspaper, published about this new law on June 9:
“This legal initiative states that, to opt for temporary residency as an investor, the foreigner must demonstrate to Immigration a minimum investment of $150,000 in real estate, other real property [“bienes inscribibles”] stocks, bonds [“acciones, valores”] and productive projects or projects of national interest.”
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This paragraph leaves out three key words: “IN COSTA RICA.” If you own $10 million worth of property in New Zealand or Texas, that doesn’t count. You have to invest in Costa Rica. You have to bring $150,000 into this country in one way or another. You can buy property, you can start a business, you can open a Costa Rican bank account with a briefcase full of cash. But the money has to come into the country somehow.
The aforementioned Marcela Gurdian, a top Costa Rica immigration attorney, cautions that the final, nitty-gritty details of this law won’t be known for at least two months until it’s formally published.
Yet judging from the way it’s currently described, just look at some of the carrots the new law dangles in front of your nose:
- You can bring two vehicles with you that provide transportation by land, sea or air (like your Maserati and your helicopter) and pay ZERO import taxes. This was previously unheard of in Costa Rica, which has long been infamous for exorbitant import duties on vehicles of any kind.
- You can also bring all your furniture, appliances, artwork, kitchen gadgets and bedding into the country tax-free.
- You will not be automatically considered a “fiscal resident,” which theoretically means that you won’t be taxed on income earned outside of Costa Rica.
What’s not to like? Let’s get this party started!
How to get Costa Rican residency: Who’s eligible?
The inversionista (investor) path to Costa Rica residency differs from most categories in that it requires a one-time commitment of cash, not a recurring obligation. Show us the money, welcome to Costa Rica, and here’s your cédula.
The cédula is the key to the kingdom, a little laminated card the size of a driver’s license that gives you almost all the rights of a Costa Rican native. The only exception is you can’t vote, unless and until you achieve the rare milestone of gaining full-fledged Costa Rica citizenship.
More common paths to residency here include those extended to pensionados (retired people) and rentistas (working people). If you’re retired from a job in Saskatchewan and can deposit a monthly pension of just 1,000 U.S. dollars a month into a Costa Rica bank, you’re golden. Welcome to Costa Rica, and here’s your cédula.
People sometimes ask, “How much money do I need to retire in Costa Rica?” That’s a different question that depends on whether you wish to buy a home and what kind of lifestyle you expect to live. But as far as the government is considered, a guaranteed pension of $1,000 a month is all you need to gain residency.
Rentistas are usually younger working people who can demonstrate a reliable income of $2,500 a month. You might be working remotely for some company in Silicon Valley, Switzerland or Swaziland. Your favorite aunt might send you a $2,500 check every month. Or you might have set up a trust with a bank back home that’s going to wire you $2,500 a month for the next 24 months. However you source the money, if you have the income for residency in Costa Rica, you should be approved. Welcome to Costa Rica, please don’t stumble on the red carpet, and here is your cédula.
The inversionista, however, leaps right over all these hurdles of monthly obligations. You just have to bring the money once, and you’re in. One and done. Money talks.
Another question commonly asked is: “How long does it take to get temporary residency in Costa Rica?” This question is impossible to answer with confidence, since everyone’s experience differs. According to Outlier Legal Services, it should take 12 to 15 months to gain residency as a pensionado in Costa Rica. But many expats in Costa Rica could tell you that they’ve been working on this for years.
For more information, consult the article of the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica on “Applying for residency in Costa Rica.” The Costa Rica Embassy in the U.S. also has information on “Permanent Residency for a Close Relative of a Costa Rican National.”
Advantages of residency in Costa Rica
What are the advantages of gaining residency in Costa Rica? First of all, you don’t have to make a border run to Nicaragua or Panama every 90 days to renew your tourist visa. Many thousands of expats in Costa Rica make this pilgrimage every three months, not because they want to but because they have to. Before COVID-19, everyone flocked to the border like lemmings four times a year.
Some foreigners can afford to fly out of the country every three months. But if you do that, you have to buy three plane tickets — one to get out, one to get back, and one to prove that you’re going to do this again in 90 days. You cannot enter Costa Rica on a tourist visa without an exit ticket.
And one other wrinkle: Do you like to drive your car? Despite the immigration authorities’ grace periods on renewing visas because COVID-19 closed the borders, the traffic cops have their own rules. Anyone with a tourist visa and a foreign driver’s license can drive legally in Costa Rica for 90 days — but not 91.
What if I drive my car in Costa Rica with an expired tourist visa? Go ahead and try, but if the police stop you, they’re not going to just write you a ticket. They’re going to pull out a screwdriver and remove the license plates from your car! Then, as you’re driving home, you can get in even more trouble for driving without license plates. Soon you’ll have to take a bus to Nicaragua to resolve your immigration status. Then you’ll have to take a bus to Liberia, show the authorities your new visa and pay a painful sum of money to get your license plates back.
Residency absolves you of all these obligations. Gone are the border runs, the frequent flights and the hassles from traffic cops. How much more pura could vida be?
Will this make a real difference?
The government’s decision to open the inversionista path to people with “only” $150,000 (but not $200,000) might be good news to you if you fall into this category. It’s a reduction of 25%, a not insignificant sum. And yet ultimately, it’s unlikely to make all that much difference in immigration to Costa Rica because the vast majority of people who never had $200,000 before probably still don’t have even $150,000.
Either way, the inversionista path is an avenue for the elite, a small but rich slice of the immigration pie. If you’ve got it, bring it, and you’re in.
Not counting marriage or a baby carriage, most of the residency requirements for Costa Rica are based on your finances, specifically on how much money you can provably deposit in a local bank. It’s a hard, cold calculus down here in the happiest country in the world.
But there’s always love!