Getting Costa Rican Residency (Through Marriage)

Costa Rica is not the easiest country in the world to get residency, especially if you are not of retirement age. Even many retiree age individuals opt for the perpetual tourist route of making border runs every 90 days. By far the easiest path (to residency at least) is by having a first degree relationship to a Costa Rican citizen. This would almost always be through marriage or in less frequent cases for English speaking foreigners by having a child here.
Before I got married I realized that there was an utter lack of information about this topic available in English (or Spanish for that matter). It was a lot of research, headaches, and trying to consolidate information from a half dozen different sources. There are a few sites like ARCR (Association of Residents of Costa Rica) that are geared towards helping with residency, but there was no information about how to get residency by marriage on their site. As is a common theme throughout my series of articles that involve dealing with bureaucracy here, the instruction sheet from the government is unclear on many items. However it is a VERY helpful document in that it contains some vital information you will need for the process. You can download it from the department of immigration’s website by clicking here.

Why get residency?

Perhaps before we get into the actual residency process, it would be good to explain why this is of value. As I mentioned above many expats opt to just continue making border runs every 90 days. I know someone who has lived here since 2004 and still is making border runs every 90 days. While it’s certainly an option, in the long run getting residency if you have a Tico spouse is certainly the better option.

For one the perpetual tourist route is only semi-legal. It falls under the category of it’s illegal, but we’re not going to enforce it. That could change at some point, especially as illegal immigration is becoming a growing issue in this country. Plus there is never a guarantee they’ll give you 90 days, especially if they see a passport full of entry stamps to Costa Rica.

Another reason is that border runs are a hassle and get expensive. I figure that the whole residency process cost me under $1000 (and $300 of that will get returned to me later). Just the taxes and transportation costs of crossing the border at least four times a year will add up to that within the span of a couple years even if you do them on a shoestring budget.

Another advantage is that while the other residency classes require getting permanent residency (after three years of temporary residency) to work here, you can legally work here on the temporary residency that you get through marriage to a Costa Rican. Plus instead of waiting three years to get permanent residency, you can get citizenship after just two years of being married.

The Residency Process

As always I am not a lawyer, I just write about my experiences. As such consider the following guide to be merely a collection of my personal experiences that I wen through during the second half of 2015.

Key Terms

A couple key terms that you will need to understand before going forward:

Timbres

Timbres

  • Cédula: Costa Rican government issued photo ID that all citizens and residents possess and are required to have on them a all times.
  • Timbre: Stamps that are used to validate the legality of a document (it is essentially a tax they put on all legal documents).
  • Apostille: A certificate issued by the department of state of a government validating that they did indeed issue the document it is attached to.

Necessary Documents

  • Copy of all pages (even the blank ones) of your passport (will need to get timbres put on the copy)
  • Copy of both sides of your spouses cédula (will need timbres put on the copy)
  • Marriage Certificate from the Registro Civil
  • Your criminal history report from wherever you lived before moving to Costa Rica–even if you have lived here as a perpetual tourist for a while. This will need an Apostille from the Secretary of state of the state that issued it.
  • Your birth certificate with an Apostille from the Secretary of state of the state that issued it.
  • A few photos of your wedding (small size is fine like 4×6″). At least two or three photos are recommended.
  • A completed version of the immigration form. 
  • A letter in Spanish stating why you are trying to obtain residency. The letter should be addressed (in the header, you don’t mail it) to the director of immigration and you will want to put your name, profession, contact details, etc as well as those of your spouse in the letter. For reason you can explain that you want to live in Costa Rica with your Costa Rican spouse.
  • 3 copies of a passport size/style photo of yourself (passport size being the little photo in your passport, not the larger size that you have to use for passport applications in the US)
  • Receipts for deposits that are listed in the instruction document above. Make sure the deposits are in your name. You must deposit $50 and $200 into a Banco Costa Rica account listed in that PDF. Make sure to make (two separate deposits). It is recommended to do it very close to the time you are submitting the application, because (making no sense) the government only will accept payment in Colones even though the sum stipulated is in dollars. If the exchange rate changes you might have to return to the bank to pay more if you do it far in advance. (The $50 is the fee for submitting the application and the $200 is for a change of status from tourist to resident).
  • Consular Registration. Go here and register an account. After you’ve registered, print out a copy of your profile page.

Once you have the documents

  • Get everything (except the photo copy of your passport) that is in English translated by an official translator. Even though your spouse speaks Spanish, this must be done by a registered official translator. I recommend TecPlus CR who handled mine as well as several of my friends.
  • Once you have all the documents go to the nearest immigration office. They only start applications in the morning though, so go in the morning, the earlier the better. You can do this at the nearest regional delegation (click for a list of regional delegations).
  • When you arrive go to the information desk and tell them why you are there.
  • It is very important that you go through everything together.Your spouse should be with you when you present this as they will ask you questions about how you met, etc. to prove that the marriage is valid and not just a ‘green card marriage’.
  • After they confirm you have all the documents, they will send you to get finger printed by the police. They will give you instructions on where to get this done.
  • After that you take the finger printing record back, and they will send all your documents to San José for processing.

Time to Wait

After you submit all the documentation to immigration they will send it off to San José (unless you’re doing it in San José) to be processed. I was told to come back in three months. I later found out that you can check the status online here. Mine it turns out only took two months. When it says “Resolución firma” it means they’re waiting on a signature from someone. When you see that it says that go back to the immigration office. In my case it had been ready for nearly a month and they were just sitting around waiting for me to show up and request that it be sent from San José back to the regional office.

Once you do that it will probably take about two weeks for them to send it from San José to the regional offices. The good news is this means your residency has been approved! The bad news is you still have some work to do.

Post Approval Process

They will give you a document stating that your residency has been approved as well as a list of things you need to do. Before they give you the actual cédula you need to give them more money (of course) as well as get health insurance through the national social security system (La Caja de Seguro Social usually abbreviated to CCSS). They will write down an appointment date on your approval sheet to come back to get your picture taken. This appointment is irrelevant, you can come back earlier if you get the other stuff done (which doesn’t take long).

I’ll save how to get Social Security for another article, but the process isn’t too complicated and the instruction sheet (miracle of miracles) actually explains the whole process pretty clearly. The deposits are (as of when I went) $98 for the cédula and around $320 for a security deposit. This security deposit is the cost of an airplane ticket during peak season (minus taxes I assume as I’ve never seen $320 peak season tickets to the US) to deport you should you commit a crime. The bad news is that deposit is the largest payment you make through the whole process. The good news is it will be refunded to you if you ever decide not to renew your residency or you get citizenship (or so they tell you at least, who knows what it would be like actually trying to get it).

Once you have the documents from CCSS and the receipts for your deposit (again make sure the deposits are in your name as it appears in your passport) you can go back to immigration to get your picture taken. They will review that you have everything, take your picture, take a digital finger print, and give you a paper. The paper you are to take to the nearest Post Office to where you live and pay them around $7 to have your cédula delivered there (I believe mine took about 10 days for it to be printed and sent there).

There it is! Is it complicated? A little, but hopefully this step by step guide to the residency process will save you a lot of headaches and help you right along the way.

11 thoughts on “Getting Costa Rican Residency (Through Marriage)

  1. Sven

    Hello Tyler and thank you for sharing your infos.
    in case of getting citizenship through marriage after 2 years, should the couple live in costa rica mainly or could they live somewhere else (in my case europe) and just visit Costa rica once a while?
    Thank you and wish you all the best
    Sven

    1. Tyler Wenzel Post author

      Hi Sven,

      From what I can tell there is no requirement to live in Costa Rica, at least it isn’t listed on the list of requirements they gave me. Once I actually go through the process next year I’ll write about it since often the listed requirements on the paperwork are incomplete.

      1. Sven

        Hi Tyler,
        thank you for your reply. From your report above I thought, that you went through all the process to the end and have citizenship. Do you live yourself there or are you pendling around every now and then?

  2. Ahsan

    My first question is, how much need for Residency Process?
    But can you tell me, after married how many years later I can make costa rican passport?

    1. Tyler Wenzel Post author

      It all depends on how you add up the costs. For example are you factoring in your own time, how much you spend in traveling too and from the offices, etc. After two years of marriage you can get a Costa Rican Passport (or start the citizenship process to get a passport). I’d say that the residency process costs around $1000 when you factor in all the fees, documents you need to get, etc.

  3. Diana B.

    Hi, I am Costa Rican and both Colombian. I plan on marrying my boyfriend who is colombian eventually, but it’s not clear to me when he will have a permanent residency or atleast permission to work there in Costa Rica. We both live in Colombia at the moment and Im wondering if I get married here, should we do all the paper work there and eventually live there in two years or how does that work? It’s not clear to me. Thank you

  4. Kat

    Since you are suggesting that we go through the process together, would it be suggested that I go to CR on a tourist visa and go through the process there? Or would it be ok for me to start the process here in the US with him still in CR?

    I am from the US and my fiancé is a tico, living in CR. Due to financial struggle, getting a tourist visa for him to come to the US is a little out of our range.

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