Do I Need Residency to Live in Costa Rica?

The short answer to the question: “Do I need residency to live here?” is “no”.  Residency is not required to live in Costa Rica, even long term.  Most people who come to the country for vacation or short-term stays are here on a tourist visa (for many countries this is automatically granted when you land at the airport or cross the border).  And for those interested in potentially relocating to Costa Rica, you can live with a tourist visa as long as you:

  • Are ok leaving every 90 days and coming back in. (We call these border runs and literally as long as you cross the border and come back, the clock starts over.  Some make it a reason to travel back to their home country, or explore Central America.)
  • Understand that with the tourist visa classification, it is challenging to open bank accounts and many other day-to-day services.
  • And knowing that with a tourist visa, you cannot utilize the public health care system.

Once you have determined that living longer-term in Costa Rica is the plan – and you have made the leap to renting or purchasing a place to live – then it might be time to consider a temporary (or permanent) residency visa (also known as a permit).  

What are the differences between a permanent and temporary resident visa?

The difference between permanent and temporary Costa Rica residence permits include:

  • Temporary residency permits are available for retirees, rentiers, investors, students, digital nomads, and other classified groups. 
  • A temporary residency permit is valid for two years and is renewable. 
  • Depending on the type, a temporary residence permit does not automatically grant the holder rights to work – you would need to obtain a work permit as well.
  • A permanent residency permit grants the holder similar rights as a Costa Rican citizen, including employment rights.
  • Dependent family members, including spouses and children under 25, may be included in all categories of Costa Rica residence permits.

Temporary residency visa/permit options:

There are many types of temporary permits available, yet for simplicity let’s focus on the most common forms used by expats:

  • Costa Rica Temporary Residence Permit for retirees (Pensionado).  To qualify for this visa, you must receive a lifetime monthly pension of at least $1,000, which can come from a variety of sources including social security, annuities, retirement funds, military pensions, or other retirement benefits. Costa Rica has no minimum age requirement for pensioners.
  • Costa Rica Temporary Residence Permit for rentiers (Rentista).  The Rentista visa is designed for people who have a steady stream of income, but who are not necessarily retired. The monthly income requirement for the rentista visa is $2,500, and this income can come from a variety of sources, such as a pension, annuities, or investment income. With this visa, you can start a business or work as a freelancer in Costa Rica, but you cannot work as an employee for a company unless you obtain a work visa. 
  • Costa Rica Temporary Residence Permit for investors (Inversionista).  The Inversionista Visa is specifically designed for individuals who wish to invest in the country. To qualify for this visa, you must make an individual investment of at least $150,000.  The investment options for the Inversionista Visa are quite flexible and can include launching new businesses, investing in existing businesses, purchasing real estate properties (such as homes or investment properties), or even acquiring vehicles. This temporary residency can be renewed for additional two-year periods as long as you maintain your investment in the country.
  • Digital Nomad Temporary Residence Permit.  The Costa Rica digital nomad program is designed to attract remote workers to live and work in Costa Rica for an extended period of time. The program allows foreign nationals who are self-employed or work for a foreign company to obtain a special visa that allows them to stay in the country for up to one year. The visa can be renewed for an additional year. One of the main benefits of the digital nomad program is that participants are exempt from paying income tax in Costa Rica on income earned outside of the country. Additionally, digital nomads are able to open a national bank account, which can be helpful for managing finances while living in the country. They are also allowed to use their home country’s driver’s license and can waive customs taxes on telecommunications and electronic devices necessary for remote work.

Permanent residency visa/permit:

There is the potential for a permanent residency visa as well.  To qualify for these you must:

  • Have lived in Costa Rica on a temporary resident visa for at least three years, or
  • Have a Costa Rican family member that’s related to you by blood (parent, sibling, or child).
  • Permanent residency must be renewed every 5 years.
  • After 7 years of living legally with a temporary or permanent residency visa, a foreigner may apply for citizenship by naturalization. Citizenship by naturalization gives the right to obtain a Costa Rican passport.
  • Dual citizenship is allowed; naturalized citizens are not usually required to renounce previous citizenship.

Benefits of residency:

Even with temporary residency, there are benefits that might appeal to you, including:

  • Ability to obtain a Costa Rican driver’s license (under a tourist visa you need to carry your home country driver’s license AND your passport at all times while operating your vehicle).
  • Ability to utilize the public health care system
  • Eliminates the need to exit the country every 90 days.

Can I work on a temporary residency visa?

With a temporary residency permit in Costa Rica, you may own a business and receive income from it, but you cannot work for it as an employee. Costa Rica prioritizes its citizens for employment unless the position you are applying for does not have any citizens qualified for it.  Working for a company in another country while living in Costa Rica as a temporary resident is allowed as long as the work is done entirely outside of Costa Rica, and no income is generated in the country. However, it’s always best to consult with a trusted residency attorney to ensure you’re following all the necessary laws and regulations.

What now?

As mentioned at the top of this article, we do not recommend you do this process right away.  Yes, there are benefits, and yes it will take time.  But don’t listen to services that say you need to do this first and push residency on you.  Find a place you love, find a rhythm that works for you, and figure out what your life may look like before you commit to residency. Trust us, there is enough to figure out right away, which is why we created Your Pura Vida in the first place! And know that you will most likely change your thoughts on wanting vs. not wanting, as well as which type of permit to apply for – that is certainly the case for me!

During your research into moving here, you will undoubtedly find some horror stories about the residency process, including the sudden closing of one of the biggest residency companies.  Yes, these stories exist and the outcomes can be tragic.  But with tens of thousands of expats calling Costa Rica home, know that for most it is a process that works and works well. But you need to be willing to do the hard work and you understand that the process takes time.

While some will go through the residency process by themselves, know that it is long and cumbersome, with many steps, a lot of paperwork, and several agencies involved.  We highly recommend working with a trusted residency attorney on the process.  There are several we have worked with that we recommend, but we are also focused on helping you find the exact fit based on your individual needs and circumstances.  

Don’t stress about all this information.  That is why we’re here for you.  Reach out to us today!

And as always: Pura Vida!