Skip to main content

Visas for relocating to Costa Rica

Relocating to Costa Rica is easy, but making a living there comes with its challenges…

To legally work in Costa Rica, you need to be a resident or have a local employer sponsor you for one year. This can be hard, as an employer has to prove that you can do a job that no Costa Rican resident can.

Reports from the last few years have indicated that 46% of companies in Costa Rica struggle to find technical talent (2014 figures). So you may find it easier to find work and get sponsored in these roles more than, say, casual jobs like bar work.

Visa and permits

You can get a driver’s licence, buy property and even start a business in Costa Rica without a residency permit. This allows potential expats the chance to live in the country for extended periods without becoming resident to see if it really is the right fit for them.

Most people (depending on your nationality) travelling to Costa Rica will not need a tourist visa; this is called a ‘tourist visa waiver’. Visitors arriving in the country with a return ticket and a valid passport can stay for 90 days without one. People from visa-required countries should apply for a visa at a Costa Rican consulate; this is valid for six months.

Many foreigners living in Costa Rica do the ‘border shuffle’ or ‘border run’: crossing the border to renew their visa and reset the 90-day time window. Citizens of countries not on the 30-day or 90-day exemption list will need to leave the country and renew their visa at the Costa Rican embassy or consulate in their home country. While this is not condoned by the authorities, many cross the border into Nicaragua or Panama regularly for years. The immigration authorities are strict about foreigners who have over-stayed who can be charged $100 per week that they overstay.

One expat explained that the practice is so common that businesses have opened, offering to pick people up, take them over the border and put them up in a hotel for three days, before running them home again — picking up their new visa as they do. He acknowledged the contradiction: “[The government] want us to buy property and open businesses but they don’t want us to be residents”.

Becoming a Costa Rica resident

To emigrate to Costa Rica you can apply for residence, but this can be an expensive process with various requirements for legal representation and paperwork. While you don’t need residency to invest or visit Costa Rica, you do to work there — even in your own business!

There are a number of residency types, so choose the one that applies to you.

  • Pensionado. You cannot work and must have an income of USD $1,000 per month from a pension or similar.
  • Rentista. You cannot work and must have an income of $2,500 per month.
  • Inversionista. You can invest $200,000 in any new business OR a specified amount of investment in certain government approved sectors.
  • Representante. You must be a director of a company meeting certain requirements with financial statements certified by a Public Accountant.     
  • Permanent. You can work and have first-degree relative status with a Costa Rican citizen (i.e. by marriage/having a Costa Rican child) OR have had three years of another Costa Rican residency category.

The residency application fee is $50 from outside Costa Rica and $250 if applying within the country. You will need the following:

  • A completed application form available from the immigration office
  • A letter explaining why you are seeking residency, which includes:

o   Nationality
o   Occupation

  • A receipt showing you have deposited money for your application in the government account of the Banco de Costa Rica.
  • Two passport photos
  • Proof of fingerprinting by the Ministereo de Seguridad Publica (Ministry of Public Safety)
  • Proof of registration with your country’s embassy in Costa Rica
  • Birth certificate, with Apostille (a certificate from your own government that authenticates the legal status of the document)
  • Police record, with Apostille
  • Certified document showing you receive at least $1,000 from social security or other government guaranteed pension. This will vary depending on the type of residency you apply for, and further documents may be required.

If you have a Costa Rican family or are marrying a Costa Rican, you can apply for a visa via this route (this page can be viewed in English). Check here if you can apply.

Once you have gathered all your documentation you can submit your application through the official Costa Rica immigration site.

Giving birth in Costa Rica

Children born in Costa Rica are automatically considered to be Costa Rican citizens, even if you/the parents have other passports/citizenship. Notarised consent from both parents or a Costa Rican passport is required for the child to leave Costa Rica.

Learn more in our guide to finding work in Costa Rica

Aetna® is a trademark of Aetna Inc. and is protected throughout the world by trademark registrations and treaties.

We use cookies to give you the best possible online experience. See our cookie policy for more information on how we use cookies and how you can manage them. If you continue to use this website, you are consenting to our policy and for your web browser to receive cookies from our website.