Visa, Residency, and Citizenship Options for Expats Moving to Costa Rica

Costa Rica is an extremely attractive destination for expats moving abroad because every lifestyle is available at affordable rates

Visa Options for Expats Moving to Costa Rica

Costa Rica has implemented visa options to attract foreigners. There are eight main visa options in Costa Rica:

  • (NEW!) Digital Nomad Visa - Available to people who work remotely or operate a business online and make $3000+/month

  • Residency for Retired People (Pensionados) - Available to people who are currently retired and receive retirement income of at least $1,000 per month

  • Residency for People on a Fixed Income (Rentistas) - Available to those who receive at least $2,500 per month (or $30,000 USD per year) over two years

  • Residency for Investors (Inversionistas) - Available for people who invest at least $200k ($150k after new law is implemented). The investment can be in a business or in assets such as real estate.

  • Residency under Marriage - Available to foreign nationals who marry a Costa Rican after two years

  • Residency for Parents - Available to foreign nationals who have children born in Costa Rica

  • Residency for Self-employed People or Entrepreneurs - Available for people who desire to work for themselves or to open their own business in Costa Rica. Proof of business ownership is required.

  • Residency for Foreign Workers - Available to foreign workers who are hired by a company doing business in Costa Rica, whether the company is foreign or domestic

The New Digital Nomad Visa

Requirements
  • Digital nomads seeking to live and work in Costa Rica must have a stable income of at least US $3,000 a month if traveling alone and over US $4,000 a month if they bring family along.

  • The income these digital nomads receive must be from outside the country, and the company they work for or own must be registered outside of Costa Rica.

  • Visa applicants must provide proof of health insurance for the duration of their stay. 

Benefits
  • Providing your income is from outside Costa Rica, you will be fully exempt from Costa Rica's income tax. 

  • There are no import taxes on personal equipment such as personal computers, tablets, cameras, phones, and so on. This import tax exemption also applies to vehicles, as digital nomads can bring up to 2 vehicles free of import tax (this aspect of the new law is yet to be implemented - we hope to learn how to import vehicles duty-free soon).

  • The initial duration of the digital nomad visa is 12 months. However, this can be extended by another 12 months, provided the visa applicant can provide proof of residence in Costa Rica for at least 180 days of the previous year.

Fees & Process
  • Digital nomads can digitally submit their visa application on the "Tramite Ya" platform. Application costs include a $100 government fee and a $90 processing fee. The government will have two weeks to accept or deny your application upon submission, although in practice you could expect to wait several weeks longer. 

  • Once in Costa Rica, visa holders have up to three months to acquire a 'migratory accreditation document', which involves attending an appointment in Costa Rica with an immigration officer.

  • Visit Costa Rica, the official government tourism site, provides detailed information about all you need to know to obtain this visa.

  • Busy? Want someone to handle this for you? Get in touch and we'll take care of it on your behalf! 

Overview of the Pensionado, Rentista, and Inversionista Visas

Although there are 8 visa options, by far the most popular residency routes are the Pensionado, Rentista, and Inversionista visas.

Pensionado Visa

Two year visa available to people who are currently retired and receive retirement income of at least $1,000 per month

Basic requirements

  • Requires proof of US $1,000 per month income from permanent pension source or retirement fund

  • People who retired from the military may also qualify as long as they meet income requirement

  • Must visit Costa Rica at least once a year

  • Cannot work as an employee

Rentista Visa

Two year visa available to people who can deposit $2,500 per month in a Costa Rican bank account for 24 months

Basic Requirements

  • Requires proof of US $2,500 per month income for at least two years, guaranteed by a banking institution, OR a US $60,000 deposit in an approved Costa Rican bank. One amount covers an entire family.

  • Must visit Costa Rica at least once a year

Inversionista Visa

Two year visa available to people who have invested $150k+ in qualifying projects, or $100,000 in forestry projects.

Basic requirements

  • Requires a US $200,000 investment (soon to be US $150,000) in Costa Rica. Investment may be in any combination of:

    • New business

    • Existing business

    • Real estate

    • Vehicles

    • Or invest US $100,000 in Costa Rican forestry projects

Benefits of the Pensionado, Rentistsa, and Inversionista Visas

 

  • Can include spouse and children as dependents

  • Can renew for two additional years (for inversionista, must maintain initial investment)

  • Eligible for permanent residency after three years

  • Eligible for citizenship after 7 years

  • Can own a company in Costa Rica and receive dividends

Important note about working on temporary visas in Costa Rica

 

In an effort to protect Costa Ricans' jobs, these visas do not permit a foreigner to draw a salary from a Costa Rican company. If you work online, and/or do not make any revenue within Costa Rica, you likely will be fine. If you intend to be in Costa Rica for a shorter period of time, you could consider pursuing a Digital Nomad/Remote Work Visa instead. You will be legally permitted to draw a salary within Costa Rica once you have permanent residency. You can apply for permanent residency after three years on a temporary visa.

Pensionado, Rentista, and Inversionista Visas in Detail

The Pensionado Visa

  • is...

    • available to foreign nationals who are currently receiving a pension or retirement income of at least $1,000 USD per month. The pension or income can come from a government retirement program such as U.S. Social Security, or from an independent retirement program such as workers’ union, or a pension program from a private company. 

    • In addition to the above criteria, you will be eligible for the Pensionado Visa under the following circumstances:

      • Your income comes from various sources, as long as your total income adds up to at $1000 per month

      • You retired because of a disability, as long as you meet the income requirement

      • You retired from the military, as long as you meet the income requirement

    • To file for a Pensionado Visa, you will need a letter issued by the applicable pension provider stating that the you receive a lifetime monthly pension above US $1000

  • could be right for you if...

    • you have a retirement income over $1000 per month

    • you are retired because of a disability 

    • you are retired from the military

The Rentista Visa

  • is...

    • available to you if you can transfer at least US $2,500 per month into a Costa Rican bank account, for at least two years (total of US $60,000).

    • To successfully apply for the Rentista Visa you will need to demonstrate to the Costa Rican government that you have $60,000, which is considered sufficient funds to cover the two-year term of the visa. The money must be held in a U.S. or Costa Rican account and you must deposit monthly $2,500 withdrawals into an approved Costa Rican account. If you will draw the funds from the U.S. you will need a signed letter from your U.S. bank verifying you have the funds, and that the requisite monthly transfer will be made for a period of two years

  • could be right for you if...

    • you have an income of at least $2,500, or an account with $60,000 or more

The Inversionista Visa

  • is...

    • available to people who have invested $150,000 USD in qualifying projects, or $100,000 in forestry projects

    • There are four different categories of projects that qualify:

      • New Business – Invest $150,000 in a new business. Note this can be a more challenging route

      • Existing Business - Invest $150,000 to purchase an entire business or part of an existing business

      • Real Estate / Vehicles - Invest $150,000 in real estate or vehicles. You can aggregate the purchase price of multiple homes and/or vehicles

      • Forestry Projects - Invest $100,000 in SETENA (environmental agency) and local municipality qualifying forestry projects.

  • could be right for you if...

    • You are able to invest at least $150,000 in a qualifying investment in Costa Rica

    • If you plan to buy real-estate and/or build a home in Costa Rica

Additional Costa Rica Visa Information

Expected Timeline
  • Total - 12-15 months 

    • Document procurement - 2-3 months 

    • Filing visa application - 1 week 

    • Processing by Immigration Department (9 months) 

    • Approval - 1 week 

    • Pay Guarantee Deposit - 1 day 

    • Social Security and ID registration - 4-6 weeks 

    • ID card delivery - 2 weeks 

    • Renewal - after 2 years

Expected Fees
  • Approximately $2500 per main applicant, + $1500-2000 per dependent 

  • Approximately $3000 per renewal + $2000-$2500 per dependent (can apply for permanent residency after 3 years)

Additional Costs to Anticipate

​Besides professional and government fees, there are a few common costs to be aware of when applying for Costa Rican residency. 

  • Costa Rican Social Security (CAJA) payment - between 7% and 11% of your monthly income 

  • "Assurety" Bond, which is essentially the cost of a plane ticket back to your home country. For Americans, it is currently $361 

  • Voluntary gift to the Costa Rican government - $25 

  • Issuance of DIMEX ID card - ~$123

Getting a Work Permit in Costa Rica

You are technically not permitted to work in Costa Rica as a temporary resident. In order to work at a Costa Rican company as a temporary resident, you will need to prove that the position could not have been filled by a Costa Rican. After three years of temporary residency you may apply for permanent residency, and this status allows you to work in Costa Rica. Practically, if you work online or have your own online business, the authorities generally will overlook this.

The Tourist Option

If you are unsure of whether you or not you will ultimately pursue permanent residency, one option is to stay on tourist visas. On tourist visas, you will be required to leave the country every three months. Many digital nomads and shorter-term residents don't mind making "visa" runs to visit nearby countries or visit family in the US. This option though does have added risk -- you could be denied entry at the border by an agent he thinks you've come and gone one to many times.

Changes to the Investor Visa

Note that the Costa Rican government will likely reduce investment amounts for the investor visa. The required investment for new business, existing business, and real estate/vehicles was $200,000 prior to 2021. With the implementation of the new law, this will be reduced to $150,000. It is unclear exactly when this will go into effect, but it will likely be implemented by the end of 2022.

Getting Citizenship in Costa Rica

A temporary resident can obtain permanent residency after three years, and citizenship after seven years. Note that every month you have spent out of the country will be subtracted from your seven year clock. Applicants for citizenship are required to pass a language and civics test, which can be quite difficult. Applicants above 65 are exempt from the test.