Do You Need to Get Residency to Live in Costa Rica?

You might call it a justification, or perhaps a deflection. And frankly, I agree. But, after living in Costa Rica for 10+ years I still did not have my residency. “How can that be?” you say. Well, you’re not alone. I got used to explaining it (ahem, read: justifying), by saying that it was what everyone did at the time. It seemed to be advantageous at that time to not get one’s residency.

I had a family, 2 kids, my wife and I, so the costs of getting residency, although considerably lower at that time, were a bit off-putting. But also, there was simply no real incentive here to go through the hassle of getting residency. No one was watching. I was even told at the time that the border computer systems were so primitive that half of the input got lost into the ether. Also, when you would leave the country, it was, and still is, cheaper to leave as a tourist when paying the airport exit-taxes.

Regarding that last point, I have now discovered that even expat-residents use their passports and leave as tourists, instead of using their resident cedulas, when they pay their airport tax.

It simply was not a big deal to live in Costa Rica as a perpetual tourist. You just had to leave the country every 90 days for a period of 72 hours.  Now it seems that things have changed a bit.  There has been a change to the 72 hour requirement, but I have heard enough differing amounts of time that I’m not clear on what that change is. It seems as though one almost just needs to cross the border to Panama or Nicaragua, walk about for a bit, maybe do a bit of shopping, and then return to Costa Rica a few hours later, and thus get both exit and entrance stamps in your passport.

Early on, the common practice was to pay someone to go to the border with your passport, where they would pay an official to stamp the passport with the exit, and then stamp the re-entry as though you had been gone for at least 3 days (72 hours). The fellow would then deliver your passport to you ready to go for the next 90 days. Lord knows what would have happened if your passport got viewed by an official during those 3 days when you were “out of the country”, but I never heard of that happening.

On my last return from the States (August 2012), I had two occasions when I needed to present my status as a resident in Costa Rica. Without it I would have needed to purchase a return ticket to the States. One of the occasions was at check in for my flight from Sacramento.  The second one was entering Costa Rica, at immigration.  The fellow there asked to see my return tickets – I couldn’t believe it. That was a first.

Little by little, Costa Rica is growing up.  It is transitioning from a third world country to a first world. I guess we can call it a second world country.

So, it would seem that the best way to live in Costa Rica nowadays is to go ahead and get residency.

I understand that this is not practical for everyone.  There are many that own a home here and migrate from “home” to Costa Rica for large parts of the year.  Or folks that don’t own a home here but who spend large parts, or even all, of the year here. These folks have, very much like I did for many years, found how to cohabitate with the perpetual tourism requirements of Costa Rica.

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