Why Bother getting Costa Rican Residency?

Why Bother getting Costa Rican Residency?

You’ve chosen to live in Costa Rica for many good reasons, not the least of which being the breathtaking beauty, amazing weather, and an idyllic life measurably better than the one you left behind. By now, you have also heard a common refrain from your realtor or other engaged professionals, neighbors, or experienced ex-pats here in Costa Rica: Get your residency!


There simply is no other way to optimize your lived experience here in Costa Rica and experience all the best of what you came here for in the first place. For those who spend more than seven months per year here, you need to seriously consider the following life enhancements and benefits of residency:

    1. An end to border runs.
    2. Avoidance of fines for overstaying your tourist visa.
    3. Easier to maintain a permanent domicile here.
    4. Obtain a valid Costa Rica driver’s license good for 5 or 10 years.
    5. Access to affordable, world-class medical care.
    6. Secure banking with relative ease.
    7. Get a digital signature.
    8. Register a business.
    9. Employment – depending on the category.
    10. Quality private schools for the kids.
    11. Safely bringing and keeping your beloved pets.
    12. Returning to Costa Rica through the much shorter “Citizens” line at the airport.
    13. No need to purchase outward bound (return) air tickets.
    14. Easier clearance through security gates or roadside checks.
    15. Resident discounts on goods and services.
    16. The surprisingly important feeling like you belong.

But not having a residency card can put you in a state of permanent vacation, which leaves some people feeling like a permanent refugee.

Yet the prospect of engaging the bureaucracy required fuels procrastination. Chances are, your vague understanding of what is involved has created an exaggerated fear of the process. Or you may have concerns about the general character or competence of those who offer Immigration services. There are a lot of horror stories that bolster such fears. “Get the Gringo” is almost as popular a sport as soccer in Latin America. With 33,000 lawyers in Costa Rica, what are the odds of picking the right one? Most assuredly, there are reliable ways to check out anyone offering their services. Websites and word of mouth top such vetting methods.

You may be on the verge of going it alone. Perfectly understandable. After all, some people do their own taxes, right? There are even some websites with lists of what you need to do and what documents are required. But each of those lists are missing crucial little details. Or they’re wrong. And if you get into difficulty, who do you call to help you through that tight spot? The document chase, as tricky as that can be for some applicants, is not the main issue.

The first thing you need to understand is that the Department of Immigration offices (DGME) are dramatically underfunded, understaffed, often dysfunctional, and constantly overcrowded with hopeful and nervous applicants. This is code for “ensure your paperwork is perfect the first time.” If not, you will get to repeatedly endure the hostility of a staff member who learns that you’re the person who doesn’t want to cooperate with them.

They’re likely to return the favor. And don’t count on a translator app to get you through any tense exchange with them. Your poor understanding or planning does not translate into an emergency for them. Next please!

The second is to understand that there’s no valet parking, express line or separate queue for ex-pats. Everyone gets in the same long line as all others struggling to immigrate. You don’t really want to be in that line. 80% of all hopefuls in those long lines will be declined due to incorrect, incomplete, or fraudulent paperwork. No triage to filter that element out.

Ultimately, your representative has to:

  1. Know Costa Rica Immigration Law and the immigration process cold.
  2. Is professional in deportment and presentation.
  3. Qualify you at the outset and understand your situation to the last detail.
  4. Be able to help you through obstacles that may arise with your document chase.
  5. Have all your documentation prepared perfectly.
  6. Know every nuance of how things work at the Department of Immigration.
  7. Work through the process face to face with Immigration staff with effective diplomacy.
  8. Be able to perfectly navigate from you the client in North American English to Immigration staff in Costa Rican Spanish. Absolutely crucial.

Due to Covid-19, border closings may very well happen again if there is a new spike in C19. Lots of rumblings about increased lockdowns coming up later in 2021. So border running cannot be counted on. If you are able, the time is now to get the jump on your residency process. It is entirely possible to begin the process either from your originating country or from here in Costa Rica.

Once these Covid-19 travel bans are lifted and everything settles down, people are going to learn which countries endured the least infections and deaths per capita. What will be revealed about Costa Rica will be very positive on that score. That in turn will cause a very significant uptick in ex-pat migrations here due to the optimal environment. I know this from how things went here in Costa Rica during past serious pandemics in 2009 and 2003 compared to other countries.

The splendor of Costa Rica lies just beyond the immigration line, as is the status of permanently happy, rather than forever frustrated.

Decide now to obtain residency (or if entitled – Citizenship),

Laura B. Gutiérrez.