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San José: Residency Permit Categories

If, before moving to Costa Rica’s capital, you imagined a new life amidst tropical rainforests or beaches, we have bad news for you. However, what you will find is a busy, modern city in the center of Costa Rican life. Our guide on moving to San José has further info!
The pensionado permit allows for store ownership, but not for working in it.

You have various options of legally residing in Costa Rica. You should, however, be aware of the fact that most residency permits bar you from taking up employment in the country, or limit your employment options considerably.

Find the Right Residency Permit for You

Most of the following residency permits are based on your income or the sum you are willing to invest into a Costa Rican business. Having a solid amount of savings or being independently wealthy is highly recommended for anyone set on spending a few years in Costa Rica.

While four out of the five types of permits presented below are temporary, foreigners have the option of applying for permanent residency after three years. The permanent residency permit also comes with the added bonus of having no labor restrictions whatsoever.

  • Pensionado temporary residency: the preferred option of residency in Costa Rica for retirees, and specifically aimed at those people looking to spend their golden years in the tropical paradise that is Costa Rica. Anybody with a minimum pension of 1,000 USD per month can apply. Spouses and dependents under 18 years of age are automatically included. As a pensionado, you are allowed to own a business in Costa Rica, but you cannot actually work in it. You could, for example, set up a little bar and let the cash roll in, but not work as the barkeep or bouncer.
  • Rentista temporary residency: This is very similar to the pensionista permit described above, but more than twice as expensive. You must provide proof of monthly income in excess of 2,500 USD for five years. The source of this income is irrelevant. If you happen to have considerable savings, you can also deposit the full amount of 150,000 USD in an approved Costa Rican bank.
  • Inversionista temporary residency: Both the most expensive and most beneficial type of residency permit, the inversionista permit allows you to legally take up employment in Costa Rica. However, you must invest 200,000 USD in real estate or a Costa Rican business. Your employment permit is limited to work related to the investment. For example, you could set up a travel agency for ecotourism and work as its general manager.
  • Representante: This permit is tailored exclusively towards heads of companies. The respective company, which must have offices or subsidiaries in the country, must fulfill a catalogue of various requirements.
  • 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. Prior to 2010, foreigners could acquire a permanent residency permit through marriage; this has since been abolished, though.

Not Recommended: Perpetual Tourism

Anyone who has been backpacking in Costa Rica probably knows about another way of staying in the country indefinitely: perpetual tourism. Before we give you the gist of what to expect, we’d like to stress that we do not encourage anyone to actually try this!

In fact, there is very little reason for you as a future expat to even consider trying this method. Perpetual tourism may not be illegal and involve no bureaucracy at all, but it also leaves you with no actual rights or permits whatsoever.

As the name suggests, this is a method of renewing your Costa Rican tourist visa for an indefinite stretch of time. All you have to do is leave the country for at least three days every 90 days. Upon your return to Costa Rica, your visa will be renewed for another 90 days. Popular three-day destinations are adjacent Panama and Nicaragua, for example.

Yes, you will theoretically be able to stay in Costa Rica for as long as you wish (or can afford, as you cannot take up any kind of work), but obviously, this method is absolutely not suitable for expats, who have completely different motivations for relocating to Costa Rica.


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