Costa Rican Residency

Costa Rican Residency Update: The Cristina Guerrini Interview

In a series of videos about Costa Rica real estate and expat life, travel agent Richard Bexon talks to those in the know about all things property-related. In this video, he talks to immigration lawyer Cristina Guerrini about the latest updates on immigration and Costa Rican residency news.

As a travel pro in Costa Rica, there’s a lot I need to learn about real estate. So I launched a series of YouTube videos where I chat to real estate professionals around Costa Rica, and other people from all walks of life who help out potential expats.

I’m trying to learn something myself about what’s going on in Costa Rican real estate, and if my videos can help you learn something as well, then that’s all good.

My latest podcast is an interview with Cristina Guerrini, an immigration attorney with Cribo, a boutique law firm based in Escazu, Costa Rica.

I first spoke to Cristina in February, where we discussed the legal aspects of immigration to Costa Rica.

In particular, we discussed the proposed remote worker visa which has been crawling through the Costa Rican legislature since last year.

Now, four months later, I wanted to catch up with her again to check in on the progress of the remote worker visa and see what else has been happening in the world of Costa Rican residency and immigration law.

In this article, you’ll find the highlights of our conversation. We’ve outlined the essence of what we were talking about, rather than providing an exact transcription. To see my chat with Cristina in full detail, watch the video below:

Since we last spoke in February, what’s surprised you in the world of Costa Rican residency?

Many things have surprised me! The first thing is that the law to attract investors, renters, and retirees has been approved in both the first and second debates in the legislature. That means it’s on and we’re expecting the law to be signed and published soon.

I thought they’d approve the digital nomad visa first, so that’s a surprise for me.

The other surprise is the length of the residency process now. It now takes twelve months to schedule an appointment to apply for residency… unless you use an attorney, because we have a special platform. But getting your appointment to submit your paperwork is severely backlogged.

What’s the status of people who’ve already applied for residency in Costa Rica, but don’t yet have it?

The first thing they should know is that they can remain in Costa Rica.

They’re allowed to do so from the moment they schedule their appointment, even if it’s a year out. There’s a lot of confusion here, so let me explain. People think they can only stay once they have their expediente number. That’s the number they give you after you submit your documents and file your residency. And it used to be like that, yes. But now, because the wait is so long, they can stay from the moment they schedule their appointment.

When they schedule their appointment, immigration sends them a confirmation of the appointment and they can stay until then. After that, they go to their appointment and submit their residency and get their expediente number… and they can continue to stay until the end of the process.

It’s important to know that if you’re waiting on your residency – whether before or after your appointment, you’re still a tourist.

That means you still need to buy the Covid insurance to enter Costa Rica, have a ticket out within 90 days, and fill in the health pass. As far as border control is concerned, you’re still a tourist, not a resident.

So if my immigration appointment is so far in the future, won’t my paperwork be out of date?

That’s a great question because in the past, all documents needed to be be valid for six months from receiving them to submitting them to Immigration.

Now they’ve changed that rule because it’s not possible with the wait times. So your documents only need to be valid at the time you schedule the appointment, or even after.

You can schedule your appointment and then work on your docs, knowing you have a long wait. And as long as your birth certificate is in good condition, they’ll accept it if it’s older than six months.

If I’ve scheduled my appointment and need to go back to my home country to sort out my documents, but can’t because of Covid restrictions or whatever, what can I do? Do I need to go back?

Well, it depend on the country. We’ve partnered up with a service called Getthedocs, and they help our clients get their documents abroad. But it’s important for people to understand that Covid has slowed everything down, including getting documents from abroad.

It’s also possible to submit your paperwork even if it isn’t complete.

Try to have everything, but don’t lose your appointment if you don’t have it all yet. Otherwise they’ll bump you down to the bottom of the queue and you’ll have an even longer wait.

It’s great to see Costa Rica being so flexible about all this, as they weren’t before. They were a lot more rigid. What’s the minimum amount required now for the new investor visa?

The new threshold for investors is no longer $200,000, it’s $150,000. This is great news and opens the doors for more people.

Let’s say you’re a couple and you buy a house for $200,000. Your attorney tells you to put it in a corporation showing you own half each, 50-50. That means you’ve both put in $100,000, which doesn’t make the current $200k threshold per person. So you’d need to buy something for $400k to make that threshold.

But now, as a couple, you can save $100,000 by meeting the $150,000 threshold each by buying something for $300,000. That’s life changing for some people.

People often say they don’t care about Costa Rican residency, but I always say it’s nice to have in your back pocket, especially after the past year when for a long time, nobody but citizens and residents could even enter Costa Rica.

Living as a tourist here is less feasible than it used to be. You have to leave every three months to keep your driving privileges (all the time having to buy the Covid insurance), you can’t open a bank account… or if you can, it’s restricted. Residency is easier.

Are they still extending the tourist visa?

No, they stopped that on June 1. Anyone who’d been staying in Costa Rica during the pandemic, getting extensions had to leave by then and do a border run. But as I said, anyone who’s scheduled an appointment with immigration can stay.

Also, anyone who’s scheduled an appointment to apply for residency can still drive in Costa Rica until the end of September.

Your foreign driving license lasts for 90 days if you’re a tourist. But if you’ve been in the country without residency, but started the residency process before your visa expired, you can drive until September 30. It’s possible they might extend that, we don’t yet.

Let’s talk about the digital nomad visa. What’s happening with that?

The Costa Rica remote worker visa bill was on the agenda to go through its first debate in the legislature on June 10, but that didn’t happen. But my guess it’ll happen soon, by the end of the year. Then it’ll need to go through a second debate, and if that passes, it gets signed into law.

But remember there are still practical hoops to jump through, even once it passes. Immigration will need to figure out to determine who’s eligible, how they can establish people’s digital nomad income. The law as it stands says to accept bank records, but they might change that. It’s still going to take a while to see how they play it.

A lot of people talk bad about Immigration but I have to say they’re doing a great job. They have a massive backlog to get through, they’re so behind, and now most of them are working from home, too. So we have to understand and be patient with them.

I hope you enjoyed my chat with Cristina.

If you have any questions for her, email her at cguerrini@cribo.cr or contact her through Cribo. You can follow Cribo on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram for more Costa Rican residency and immigration info. If you prefer a podcast audio format to a YouTube video, you can listen to our chat that way below:

Richard Bexon has lived in Costa Rica since 2002 and is a co-owner of the Namu Travel Group.