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Residency in Costa Rica

Moving to Costa Rica and living among the “Ticos”, as Costa Ricans call themselves, is a vacation dream come true for many foreign assignees. Read the InterNations Guide on Costa Rica for information on expat destinations, permits, and more.
Most Costa Rican residency permits require proof of sufficient funds.

Costa Rican Residency Permits

Costa Rica offers various ways for foreigners to legally reside in the country. With the exception of a first-degree blood relation to a Costa Rican, most options are income-based. Some residency permits come with a limited permission of earning income, but as a general rule, a residency permit does not qualify foreigners to take up employment.

All residency permits are temporary. However, after three years of temporary residency, expats can apply for permanent residency. This type of residency does not have any labor restrictions whatsoever.

The different types of residency permits are:

  • Permanent residency: This residency type is available for first-degree relatives of Costa Rican citizens. This includes parents, children under 25, and minor siblings. Additionally, expats may apply for permanent residency after holding any type of temporary residency permit for three years. Prior to 2010, foreigners could acquire a permanent residency permit through marriage; this has since been abolished.
  • Pensionado temporary residency: This type is for individuals with a fixed lifetime income and thus mostly reserved for retirees looking to spend their autumn years in beautiful Costa Rica. The minimum required pension is 1,000 USD monthly, to be paid from a social security or retirement fund. Dependents under 18 years of age and spouses are also included in this permit. Pensionados are not allowed to take up employment, but they can own a company in Costa Rica and collect income. You could, for example, set up a little restaurant, but not work the cash register or be the chef.
  • Rentista temporary residency: This is basically the same as the Pensionado residency above, but with a higher income threshold. You must produce proof of income in excess of 2,500 USD monthly for five years, the source of which is irrelevant. 
  • Inversionista temporary residency: The most expensive way of acquiring a residency permit, the Inversionista permit comes with the added benefit of the holder being able to legally take up employment. This category requires an investment exceeding 200,000 USD in Costa Rican businesses or real estate. The work permit is limited to employment related to the investment.
  • Representante: The most exclusive category, this permit is for heads of companies only. The company must have offices and subsidiaries in Costa Rica and fulfill a number of other requirements.

“Perpetual Tourism” in Costa Rica

These are the official residency categories. But there is another way of indefinitely prolonging your stay in Costa Rica that requires zero bureaucracy, but which also leaves you with no actual permits or rights.

Costa Rican tourist visas are valid for 90 days at a time. These 90 days begin anew as soon as you leave the country for at least 3 days. Many foreigners on tourist visas make use of this by making short trips to adjacent Nicaragua or Panama, only to return and stay in Costa Rica for another three months. This practice, dubbed “perpetual tourism”, is not illegal, but it is obviously also not a feasible option for expats who have other reasons for coming to Costa Rica in the first place.


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