Costa Rica's New Immigration Law - A Quick English Overview Guide

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Costa Rica’s new immigration law (nueva ley migratoria) was published in the official government publication La Gaceta on September 1, 2009 ... meaning the new "Ley General de Migración y Extranjería" will be the Costa Rica immigration law of the land starting March 1, 2010.

Costa Rica is a world-wide destination for vacationers, travelers, those seeking investment opportunities and for persons considering second homes, a place to relocate and/or retire.

Costa Rica is also desirable to many seeking better living conditions, improved work opportunities, asylum and/or refugee status from other countries.

However, Costa Rica is a small country with limited resources. As but one example; Costa Rica‟s national healthcare system cannot continue to expand as needed when foreigners are allowed to flow across its borders unchecked and without having to contribute financially to the system – similar to uninsured or underinsured costs plaguing the United States and other worldwide health care systems.

To better address these concerns Costa Rica recently re-wrote its immigration laws, towards:

  • Setting-up official positions and commissions to pass rules, regulations and procedures under the directives of the new immigration laws.
  • Centralizing and modernizing the immigration process toward better efficiency and enforcement.
  • Allowing 'flexibility' in making administrative approvals on those seeking immigration statuses that may fall outside of written guidelines.
  • Criminalizing human trafficking and establishing human rights for immigrants.
  • 'Professionalizing' the Costa Rica Immigration Police force (la Policía Profesional de Migración y Extranjería).
  • Setting higher qualifications for residency - mainly to ensure foreigners come with adequate income to support themselves.
  • Attempting to close the “Marriage of Convenience” loophole that is a long standing business institution where attorneys document false marriages between Costa Rica citizens and foreigners for the sole purpose of obtaining Costa Rica residency and citizenship.
  • Requiring all temporary and permanent residents to contribute to Costa Rica's national social security and healthcare system (Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social –or- CCSS) … commonly referred to as, the “Caja”

Editors Note: The new Costa Rica Immigration Law (Ley General de Migración y Extranjería) was published in the official Costa Rica government newspaper La Gaceta on September 1st, 2009. The text of the law is in Spanish. The following simplified guide is the best information available to date but also relies on computer software for the English translations. Do Not Rely Solely on the Below Text for Costa Rica Immigration Laws – consult with a reliable Costa Rica attorney specializing in immigration matters for answers to all legal questions.

Visas designated for Local Transit, Delivery of Passengers & Goods, Cultural Events, Sports, Economic Purposes, Political Delegations, Media, Tourists, Students, Professional Workers and Medical Patients allow individuals to remain in Costa Rica for various periods of time … anywhere from 48 hours to 2 years depending on the reason.

The largest segment of Costa Rica visas issued is without question for Tourists:

  • Tourist visas given automatically to citizens of North America and Europe with few exceptions are granted at the time of entry for a period not to exceed 90 days.
    • Under both the current and new immigration law, renewing a tourist visa is as simple as leaving Costa Rica for a period of 72 hours. Upon re-entry a new 90 day Tourist visa is issued.
    • The new law does allow in-country tourists to petition for up to 90 day extensions at a cost of $100 USD. However, this request must be done in-person and proof of sustainable income will be required … which may negate any positives of this new provision.
    • The new law as published does not place any new limits on the number of consecutive Tourist visas a person may be issued. This will allow those that utilize the "perpetual tourist" method of remaining in Costa Rica to continue, until such time that a new regulation might be implemented.
Costa Rica new Immigration Law Residency Chart

Non-Permanent Residency (Temporary Residency)
Authorization to remain in Costa Rica for a specified period of time:

  • Pensionado - Proof of $1,000 USD or its equivalent per month income from permanent, stable foreign pension or retirement fund (previously $600). A Pensionado can include their spouse and children under 25 or older children with disabilities in their application. Restrictions: cannot work as an employee but can own business in supervisory capacity.

  • Rentista - Proof of $2,500 USD or its equivalent per month income guaranteed by a bank (previously $1,000). A Rentista can include their spouse and children under 25 or older children with disabilities in their application. Restrictions: cannot work as an employee but can own business in supervisory capacity.

  • Inversionista - $200,000 investment in any Costa Rica business OR a specified amount of investment in certain Costa Rica government approved sectors. Restrictions: income allowed from project only, cannot work as an employee for another company but can own another business in supervisory capacity.

  • Representante - Director, executives, representatives, managers and technical employees of companies meeting certain requirements. Qualifying income must exceed Costa Rica minimum wage for specified position by at least 25%. Restrictions: can only work for approved company as an employee but can own another business in supervisory capacity.

Important: The new income requirements are not retroactive. Any person that has applied for or been granted residency prior to implementation of the new law on March 1, 2010 will only be required to prove income at the previous levels for approval or renewal (ie: Pensionado/$600 mo., Rentista/$1,000 mo.)

Permanent Residency
Authorization to remain in Costa Rica indefinitely can be applied for under the following situations:

  • First degree kinship by blood of a Costa Rica citizen (ie: parent, child or sibling under 25 years of age or older if disabled and parents if elderly)

  • First degree relative status of a Costa Rica citizen (ie: marriage)

    • Important: The new CR immigration law allows for investigations of all marriages to determine they are legitimate. Immigration officials can now conduct interviews with both spouses as well as friends, family, neighbors and co-workers at both the time of application and for renewals.
  • After 3 consecutive years of another residency status (applies to the foreign person, their spouse and first degree kinship by blood)

All Permanent Residency statuses allow the individual to work and earn income within Costa Rica as an employee or business owner.

Exception to Residency
Individuals convicted of a crime within the preceding 10 years either in Costa Rica or in a foreign country where the crime is recognized by Costa Rica law will not be eligible for Costa Rica temporary or permanent residency.

Requirement of Residency
The new law obligates all residency types to participate in the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS) national social security and healthcare insurance system … commonly referred to as the “Caja”. Proof of participation and payments for the entire term of residency are a requirement for any renewals.

The new law establishes fees to users of the system to help fund the department and enforcement.

  • An "additional" $25 USD fee for all applications and renewals of residency status.
  • An annual $5 USD fee will be charged to non-residents with some exceptions, such as tourists.
  • Tourists can apply for a visa extension prior to the 90 expiration for a fee of $100 USD.
  • Non-residents can apply for a change of status while in-country for a fee of $200 USD.

Violating the terms of any visa or residency status now has the following penalties:

  • Overstaying in-country past the specified time allowed by visa or residency results in a fine of $100 USD per month of violation -or- expulsion of a period equal to triple the time of violation (ie: 3 month overstay violation = $300 USD fine -or- 9 month expulsion).


This is not a complete guide to Costa Rica’s new immigration laws … simply an overview for quick reference with many aspects subject to change via regulations by the new authority of Costa Rica's immigration management and commissions along with any court reviews and decisions. Consult with a reputable Costa Rica attorney specializing in immigration law for all legal questions.

Be sure to watch for upcoming administrative regulations that will further define what is required of those seeking visas, temporary residency and permanent residency in Costa Rica.

The above Costa Rica New Immigration Law overview is available in Adobe PDF format for sharing or printing by clicking the following 'Quick Guide' icon: 



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CR is not asking VIS from my country but how long can i stay in

So this mean CR is becoming just like the RACIST USA is that right ? USA thin k everyone is terorist and making their LAW is harder everyday for the immigration but why CR is making their LAW just similar to USA ? the bottom line is CR is not asking VISA fom my country iam a Turkish i can enter the CR without VISA but i still couldn't figure it out how ong do i need to stay in with my condition ? is there any gentleman can help me about my guestion ?

New Immigration Law Costa Rica

There is a lot of mis-information concerning Costa Rica’s new Immigration Law, please help me and others in understanding the facts. In answering my questions would you please reference your answer to where one can find it in the law? I thank you in advance for posting your reply. 1) How long does a person need to stay out of the country to renew his visa? On websites, travel guides and blogs I read both 72 hours and that one can leave and return in the same day. 2) How long does a passport have to be valid when a tourist enters the country? I read 6 months, 3 months and was told by an immigration officer working at the border that a passport only needs to be valid the day the person is entering. 3) Is a ‘pre-purchased international bus ticket’ sufficient proof of onward travel when entering Costa Rica? The ICT says yes, the US Embassy suggests that it depends on the airline and some websites state 'tourists need a roundtrip (airline) ticket to enter Costa Rica. 4) How much money (cash) does a person need in pocket to enter the country? 5) If a person wants to stay more than 90 days what documentation do they need to board their flight and enter the country? Again, the mis-information surrounding the new lay is causing havoc, especially for those entering the country. Not having the proper documentation, and in order, is causing tourists time, money and hassles.

what is the truth?

So does anyone know what the truth is regarding leaving the country every 90 days for 72 hours???? I have read numerous "laws" and blogs on this new (2010) law. We have been in CR for 3 years and have abided by all the laws that are required of us (and that we are aware of). One of them being leaving the country every 90 days for 72 hours. Now I am reading that we can have our passport stamped by paying 100.00 (I forget where we must go, but that's ok because I forget easily). Anyway, we spend as much money getting out of CR as we do in CR and that just seems crazy!!! So if anyone knows that truth about the payment of 100.00 to get our passport stamped, please please please respond. Thank you!!!!

NEW VERSION no renew Visa

Now they tell me at the CR border and immigration office, I'm no longer able to renew my visa by leaving to another country for the 3 days. GL to all finding the actual rule changes. As with everything else here no one seems to know anything, until there's a way to profit from you.

Wow! Sounds EXACTLY like the screwed up U.S. immigration policy

What are they doing, mirroring the failures of what the U.S. does to immigrants who arrive at our borders? The duplications and lost information....amazingly like what immigrants applying in our Customs offices have been enduring for years!

My heart goes out to you! I dealt with that when my husband was applying for asylum in the U.S. and it is not fun. The incompetence is disgusting!

laws change, system still broken

Just because the rules have changed, doesn’t mean the incompetency of Costa Rica’s immigration system have been fixed.

Last week I received a necessary document from CR Migracion that was supposed to accurately detail my personal history of entries and exits to/from Costa Rica.

In short, I have entered Costa Rica 11 times in 8 years and lived full-time here as a legal resident for the last 3+ years. All entries/exits were through the immigration lines at Juan Santamaria International Airport with their modern computers and serious looking agents.

However, my official Costa Rica migracion history shows 1 entry in 2004 and 3 exits – the last exit or “salida” being back in 2007.

This would mean officially I had snuck into Costa Rica illegally 2 times and left in full sight through the airport. It also means CR migracion did not know I entered the country 8 other times through their main airport.

This also means I am not here in Costa Rica – that I have been living here without their knowledge. Even though I am a member of the Caja national health system making monthly payments and receiving monthly medications + have a CR drivers license/car/active bank accounts at state owned banks/monthly bills through state owned utilities, etc., etc., etc., etc.

CR migracion will not take my passport with their own immigration stamps and substantial supporting documents on-hand as proof that I am here or for proof of my previous entries/exits.

Migracion requires I petition their legal department with a letter in Spanish that includes official travel itineraries from the airlines (4 different airlines in 8 years at a cost of $90 per history) for review … meaning foreign airline databases are the official records of Costa Rica immigration.

Perpetual Tourists shouldn’t worry too much about those border stamps every 90 days … Costa Rica has no clue as to whether your here, when or if you entered, when or if you left!

Unfortunately this is another Costa Rica example that only the law abiding are required to pay by the rules.

Gringa en CR


I believe it is time for the sala quarto to look into this new law. Double insured can lead to other problems. OK, if someone is not insured, fine, but if one can proof he/she has a health insurance he/she should be excluded. As someone said, it is a matter of Tax, fine, bit just tell all the foreigners that they haveto pay foreigner tax of $1000,00 per year instead of using fake reasons. Besides the trouble to go to the CAJA every month and stand in line.

perpetual tourist update

Immigration Administration Director Mario Zamora (Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería) explained what foreigners living in Costa Rica need to know about the new immigration law.

Q: Regarding the “perpetual tourist,” who enters on a tourist visa and leaves the country every 90 days, I heard that after two times renewing tourist status by remaining outside of the country for 72 hours, you must remain out of the country for 15 days. Is that true?

A: No. It’s not true. The situation of the perpetual tourist will remain as it has been. Under current rules, tourists are allowed to stay 90 days in Costa Rica, at which point they must leave for 72 hours. If they don’t leave, they are here illegally.

Q: I also heard you must go to a different country to renew visa status. If you went to Nicaragua for 72 hours the first time, you must go to a different country the next time. Did I get that right?

A: No. As long as you remain outside the country for 72 hours, it doesn’t matter where you spend it.

Q: What if I don’t want to leave Costa Rica ?

A: Under the new immigration law, there is an option for you. Beginning March 1, you can submit a petition at the Immigration Administration in La Uruca, which is to the west of San José, pay $100 and you can remain another 90 days.

full text available at The Costa Rica Frog | Costa Rica’s New Immigration Law Takes Effect March 1, 2010

boarder crossing

here is the latest from a friend in Costa Rica that is a perpetual tourest..going to Nicaragua ever three months for the required time out of country. 1. they are stamping the passport with the TIME and DATE, so you can not cut it short by a few hours.
2. you can not go throught the SAME boarder counrty twice in a row...I think that will put a hurt to the low pay workers coming from the north, 3. the third time out of counrty, you have to be gone for TWO WEEKS...Hope I got that info correct...take a look into it for yourself

You WERE lucky

Because DGME in these countries is not a fun experience when you have overstayed your Visa. Not only will you be arrested and held in a prison you may wonder is the next closest thing to hell, but you may be kept incommunicado, if the immigration officer decides to do so. My husband didn't get his Visa stamped along with everyone else on a King Quality bus that entered Nicaragua. And when he entered immigration there, during his 90 days, he was taken to DGME and held incommunicado for 9 days. It took ANCUR, UNHCR, his Salvadoran Embassy and a few other agencies to release him.

I wouldn't do anything to break their laws ever from that experience. And I'm told that Honduras can even be worse..

If you know your 90 days are coming to a finish, then by all means get your documents in order. You do NOT want to experience what he did! And your family doesn't want to go through what I did to get him released. And I'm one of the lucky ones that didn't have to pay $3000 to $5000 in bribes for his release, because I had a wonderful man who volunteers for UNHCR coaching me through the process.

Get to know DGME and immigration officials in C.A.

There is a reason this legislation was passed in Costa Rica, but it isn't only what you have represented.

Costa Rica (like El Salvador) has always been a puppet of the U.S. and these days the U.S. is on a rampage of fixing problems with some criminal elements...specifically, gang members and pedophiles. In the past, countries like Costa Rica have been a safe haven for gang members who are no longer safe in countries like Guatemala,Honduras, and El Salvador. So they go to places like Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama to feel safe and often spread their cancer there. The U.S. has organized with these countries to keep them contained inside their own countries, so they can keep the spread of their influence to a minimum.

Partnerships with U.S. law enforcement agencies are producing results. Intelligence on the super-gangs now flows between the U.S. and Central American countries. U.S.-sponsored initiatives on fingerprinting, police training and the handling of criminal deportees are working, and they provide a model for other countries. In many of these countries, the FBI and Brazil are working hand in hand to remove the ability of gang members and enforcing wire tap of ALL cell phone communications now. This is true in El Salvador and most likely it is being done in Costa Rica as well. They are identifying gang members, listing them, and categorizing them for a uniform database used by all law enforcement agencies.

Another reason Costa Rica has changed its laws has to do with the huge influx of pedophiles who use easy Costa Rican residency requirements to enter and practice sex tourism. The idea is to clean up this garbage from coming to these places and I think this is great. See this article entitled "Alleged U.S. pedophile arrested in Guatemala, deported" as an example of this:

It says:

"This arrest is the latest in a series of detentions of foreign sexual abusers of children in Central America in which Casa Alianza has been involved. The detention of sexual abusers of children -- especially abandoned children -- is part of the organization's ongoing efforts to combat what it sees as the growing problem of sex tourism in Mexico and Central America. Casa Alianza began to sound the alarm over the problem some two years ago."

And this article says it all:

"She also made the astonishing claim that 60 percent of the persons who solicit paid sex are from the United States. She did not cite her evidence, although prostitution is a Latin tradition, and girls as young as 12 can be seen soliciting customers at cantinas all over the country. In addition, San José has an extensive network of brothels that seldom are frequented by tourists or North American expats."

Unfortunately, the ex-pat communities are the worst of the worst in many cases. You may not even be aware that one of your neighbors is a child molester, but they have ex patriated in droves for years to places like Costa Rica. Homeland Security and local immigration specialists are working hand in hand to clean this up, and the new immigration laws will be helpful. IMO, if the ex-pats don't like that and leave,then I say, "See ya!" It's a disgrace they have brought their filthy perversions to Central America.

more ways to tax the "rich" foreigners

I've been a resident here in CR for going on 2 years now and I have to laugh at how CR is trying to "modernize" their immigration rules. First of all, the largest number of people, by far, who are violating the old laws (and will continue to under the new laws) are all the Panamanian and Nicaraguan illegals, hundreds of thousands. CR looks the other way on this, because the average Tico will not (just like their US counterparts) do the "dirty work" required of agriculture.

OK, next, they want to "crack down" on the so-called perpetual tourists. Why? Not a clue. These people, by far, bring nothing but economic benefit to CR, just as the legal residents do. They typically have more money than the average Tico, provide jobs (albeit mostly under the table) for locals, pay lots of fees and taxes, improve infrastructure locally, and draw very little on the resources of the country. The real reason, IMHO, that they are revising the rules is that CR wants a piece of that revenue that before went to the bus companies and Panama from these tourists who were crossing the border every 90 days. Now they get $100 a pop. For a small family of, say, three, that's an extra $100/month going into the pocket of Migracion (for what?).

Same with the CAJA requirement. They say it's so that they can get a better pool of uninsured, but in actuality it's another thinly veiled tax on foreigners. No one can use the CAJA unless they are a member, period, end of story. Few foreigners use it as there is a very good, inexpensive, private medical sector here. As soon as our cedulas are in our mitts we will sign up for CAJA (was always our plan), but it's only for backup not our first line of medical access. Foreigners don't use CAJA, therefore they are not a drain on it, therefore the new requirement is simply yet another way to extract more dollars from a captive sector of the population.

What CR misses in all this is that they are quickly and surely losing their competitive edge for the soon to be booming market of ex-pat retirees who are not stupid and will find the many other desirable places they can live at much lower cost economically (Uruguay, Panama, just to name a couple). But, then one would be hard-pressed to find many areas of the government here that really care about the state of the country as opposed to their revenue stream.

- Casey

YES, you are lucky!

don`t let the visa expire nextime and maybe get another passport. Those Ticos can add pretty good and might sting him upon returning .

The law goes in effect in

The law goes in effect in March 2010 that why he didnt have a problem

Did we get lucky?

So, my husband stayed in country for 13 months.... 10 months over his tourist allowance. It's a long story as to why, but in the process of working on his recidency, the lawyer told him that he needed to leave the country immeadiately. We were uncelar what could happen, being told several things, but more than likely he was going to be charged per month that he went over.


When approaching the counter to pay his exit tax, the man stamped his passport, and my husband left the country without a problem.  Did he just get lucky that the man didn't inspect his passport very well? Is this where you would run into problems with immigration anyhow?

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