Do your research!

Oh, how many times have I seen people move down here and have no idea what they are doing.  They have no idea of what paperwork is needed to immigrate here.  They think they can come down here and just get a job.  It doesn’t work like that.  It’s not like moving from one state to another; this is a completely different country.  There are different laws and regulations.  Know what type of residency you want.  Know that you are not going to be able to work right away, if at all.  Pay here for work is a fraction of what it is in the US.  Also, please note that Costa Rica is the most expensive country to live in in Central America.  If you want to continue the same lifestyle that you have in the US, you will probably find it more expensive to live here.  But if you want a more simple life, without all the “stuff”, it will be less expensive.

For us, it is cheaper to live here.  Our mortgage payment is around $265, depending on the exchange rate.  We don’t use A/C so our electric bill is around $32, we also use a gas stove.  Gas for the stove is about $11 ever couple of months, you have to buy the bottle like you do for your gas grill and exchange them out.  When I am not cooking, I actually turn the tank off.  I do this so if something happens it will not leak, cat breaks the line or an earthquake hits and the line gets knocked off.  Our internet is $32 a month, and our water goes between $6-8 a month.  Our mandatory insurance we have to pay for the public system is around $100 a month; this is based off of our income as pensioners.  We also have a car payment of around $330 a month, but we got a four year loan.  Cars down here are very expensive and hold their value for years.  I have seen some beaters that are over 10 years old going for $8,000, that is with four wheel drive though.  Our groceries for the week can go anywhere between $80-125 for the two of us.  We drink a lot of milk, which is about $2 a half gallon.  I noticed at the supermarket it was a little cheaper to buy a half gallon than a gallon of milk.  We also eat a lot of cereal!  Fruits and veggies are really cheap here, which helps.  I have also never seen carrots as big as what they are here.  I can get a pineapple straight from the farm for just over $1.  Now, these prices are just for the area that I live in.  Please keep that in mind.  I live in a small town, not even close to the beach, not a lot of tourists, and very few expats.  There are less than 10 expats that live in my area, including my husband and I.

About that immigration paperwork.  You will need your birth certificates, certified and apostille.  You will need a background check, certified and apostille.  If you are married you will need your marriage certificate, certified and apostille.  If you are a pensioner, you will need a letter from your company or from Social Security stating that it is a life time benefit of at least $1,000, certified and apostille.  You will need a copy of your entire passport, you will need passport photos, you will have to be finger printed down here.  You will also need a letter, written in Spanish on why you want to live here. You will have to have patience also.  We used a small office that is not very busy, I did all of our paperwork myself without an attorney, and we had our residency in six months.

You have to maintain temporary residency for at least three years before you can switch over to permanent residency.  While you are a temporary resident, you cannot work.  You can own and operate a business, but you cannot work for a wage.  So, don’t think that you are just going to go out and apply for a job.  You can, but it’s not legal.  If you work for a company that is sending you to Costa Rica for work, that is different.  They should do all of your paperwork for you and have your work visa with no problems.

There are other types of  residency that you can apply for other than the Pensionado status.  I have not personally dealt with those so I do not have a lot of information on them.  Google is your best friend when it comes to finding information about moving here.  There is a group called the ARCR that has a lot of great information, I would recommend checking them out.  But please, do your research.  I have had people message me asking me how to get their background check because they already moved here and didn’t know they needed one.  Or people come down here and not know that since they have not applied for residency that they have to leave the country every 90 days.  Also, that 90 days is not a guarantee either.  You may get to the border and the border guard is having a bad day and decide to only give you 14 days.  It happens.  Another thing, you can drive here on your US license but only for 90 days.  You can only get a Costa Rica drivers license once you have residency.  So, if you have submitted your paperwork to immigration and don’t need to leave the country but you are driving, you will still need to leave to keep your US license active here.  Once you hit that 90 day mark, you are no longer allowed to drive on a foreign drivers license.

Do your research.  Make sure you have all of your paperwork before coming here.  Once you are here, make it a top priority to get your paperwork in to immigration, don’t wait!  There may be something that you missed and will need to get before turning everything in.  Make copies of everything!  Immigration will need a copy of everything and keep copies for yourself.  Scan it all and put it on a flash drive in case you need it again.  You never know if something will get lost.  Make copies of all your receipts for your deposits, scan those too.

Until mañana, Pura Vida!

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changing residency status

Today was a day filled with getting things done.  For starters, we finally got all of our stickers for our car.  We got the inspection sticker and the INS sticker; the INS is like a government mandatory insurance.  For our car it’s about $130 a year.  It doesn’t really cover much, I don’t even know what it actually covers.  To me it is the equivalent of just getting your plates renewed every year.  You can purchase real coverage for very cheap here.   The inspection you have to have done once a year also.  They are very thorough with it too.  It’s not just an emissions check.  If you are old enough you may remember something from some states called the safety lane inspection.  It is very similar to those.  They check everything on your car.

So, about immigration today.  When we first got our residency we were told that we needed to pay separately for the medical insurance coverage.  This is not the case.  I am my husbands dependent and should be covered under him.  So, for three years I have been paying when I shouldn’t have been.  I am not going to complain about it though.  I had emergency surgery done and so did my daughter and we didn’t have to pay anything out of pocket for it.  I was in the hospital for 6 days and my daughter just overnight.  I am sure that if we would have been in the States it would have cost more just for my daughter than what I have paid over the past three years.  So I am not going to complain.  Turns out years ago there was a mis-communication about how immigrants were suppose to pay their insurance.  It is finally getting straightened out.  But for us to get this changed I had to get a copy of our marriage certificate from immigration with all the stamps and translations.

I had originally contacted an attorney about this.  He said he could do it for $50 with no problem.  I was thinking why not.  But for us $50 is a lot of money.  So today while we were in San Carlos we stopped by immigration.  This is the office we used to get our residency and they have always been super nice.  Just always be nice to them first.  I asked the gentlemen at the counter if I could get a copy of our marriage certificate and why.  He understood and knew what was going on and got it for me right away.  It is officially stamped from the office so all I have to do is take it to my local clinic and get a new card from them stating that I am a dependent and then take it to my local CAJA office and they change it in the system and we are all set.  Nothing is ever done in the same office, it is a lot of back and forth, but that is just the way it is done here.  If you want to live here and enjoy it, you either must be patient or learn patients.

My second question I asked at immigration was about changing our residency from temporary to permanent.  I had again asked an attorney about doing this for us, he was going to charge us over $1000 to do the paperwork.  There are only three things you need to change it over.

1) A letter stating why you want to be a permanent resident

2) Make a deposit in the bank for $200 per person

3) Submit copies of your cedula card that you already have (residency card)

That is it.  We still have to pay for our new cards which is about $125 per person.  With temporary residency we pay for a new card every two years.  With permanent we will have to get new cards every 5 years.  We are definitely going this route. So, that is all there is to it.  Saving us $1,000 and doing it myself.  I did our original paperwork for residency without an attorney too.  I figure why not try it again.

Immigration update for Costa Rica

I just found this out the other day for those wishing to come here from the US.  You no longer have to send in your documents to the Consulate of Costa Rica to be authenticated! It has to do with the Hague Convention and the United States is now apart of it.  This means that once your documents are apostilled by the state they will be accepted here in Costa Rica.  This actually went into affect in December of 2011.  I found out because my daughter is coming down here and I needed to get all of her paperwork together.  I did call the Consulate of Costa Rica in Washington, D.C. to be sure.  This saves a step, and in some cases a lot of money.  You no longer have to go to the yellow house now either to get everything stamped and signed before taking it to the immigration office.  Another step saved.  Two years ago I did all of mine and my husbands immigration paperwork.  I did not use an attorney.  We got our residency without any trouble.  Hopefully I can do the same for my daughter.  It may be a little more complicated for her, since her dad is in the states, but I will have all the court documents stating that she is to come here and live.   I do have a friend that is an attorney here, and he speaks English, he told me that should be all I need plus the other paperwork for her.  Standard birth certificate, background check, transcripts from her school, plus the court documents.  He said we should be ready to go once she gets here.  Praying that it all goes smoothly.

So, now the paperwork goes from city to state and then to here.  Translated all into Spanish, register with the Embassy of the United States, pay deposits and stamps and wait.  Registering with the Embassy is $50, translation of documents did run about 5 cents per word, that can add up quickly.   Deposit is still $250 per person for pensioner status.  Then I have to buy her school uniforms.  Lots to do here for her.

Citizenship

I hate to tell you this, but you will never be considered a citizen here in Costa Rica.  You will never have the right to vote.  These rights are strictly reserved for people who are born here.  When you get your residency the first time it will be what is called temporary residency.  You will have to renew this in two years.  After three years of being a temporary resident you can the apply for permanent residency.  Once you have your permanent residency you still cannot vote or be considered a citizen.  They are very strict about immigration and about hiring migrant workers.  As an immigrant you can open and operate a business and earn an income off that business, but you cannot work for a wage in that business.  This is mainly for the pensioner status.  They don’t want you to take the place of local workers.  Basically it is hire them and pay them, but don’t come down here and take jobs away from our people.  Feel free to spend your retirement money though.  I actually like the ideal of it.  It protects their people in the work force.

Everything you need to know about immigration

I came across this website the other day and love it.  I was looking up on how to renew our residency for when the time comes.  We were told to start the process of renewal about three months in advance.  But this site gives you everything you need to know and a step-by-step of retiring here.  If you come down as a pensioner, you don’t need an attorney.  My husband and I did it all ourselves.  Just make sure that you either speak Spanish or take an interpreter with you.  They don’t speak English.

http://www.costaricalaw.com

Go to immigration and residency then click.  Next go to number 8, residency-general information and click.  This will take you to everything you need to know.  Wish I would have had this last year when we came down here, it is so much easier to understand and follow.

Replacing your Cedula

This is no easy task to get done.  When they stole my purse they got my cedula, residency card, and my carnet, insurance card.  I have to get my carnet replaced in order to get my cedula replaced.

So, I had to go to the social security to get a document that shows I am paid up on the insurance, next I had to go to the bank to get a copy of the receipt for paying the insurance, then to the clinic to get my new carnet.  OK, now I have that.  Now I have to call a 900 number, yup you gotta pay to call them, and make an appointment to go to a different bank and pay another $98 to get a new copy of my cedula.  The copy that I have of my card is not that great, I don’t think I could read the numbers right and the guy couldn’t find me under my name.  He was probably spelling it wrong even though I spelled it out for him.  So I now need to find a better copy of my card so I can make sure I have the right number and call them back again just to make an appointment.  I am starting to get depressed.  It is just such a hassle.

The other hassle is trying to get a new bank card from my bank in the States, they won’t mail them internationally.  I had to change my address to my parents, the account has to have that address for at least 30 days before they will mail out a new card.  Then once my parents get the card they can then mail it to me.  This is going to take me about two months to get a new card.  The bank also will not do a wire transfer without me coming into the bank or sending them a notarized statement.  I need this money to really live off of.  But I came up with a way around it.  I can still send checks out of my bank through on-line banking.  Send my dad a check and then have him wire the money to me.  Problem solved.  Just out about $50 for the wire transfer, but it is cheaper than Western Union.  So that is my helpful advice to all of you if you find yourself in a situation where you have lost your bank card or had it stolen.  Use an on-line bank to send a check to a trusted family member or friend and then have them wire you the money.  Just make sure you send them enough money to cover the wire transfer.  Now I have to figure out how to get my driver’s license from the States.  Wish me luck with that one.

Getting your Cedual card

Now you are ready to receive your Cedula card, well almost.  You still have to make a couple of more deposits and start paying into the Social Security.  The Social Security for Costa Rica is your health insurance, it pretty much covers everything.  All of my x-rays have been covered, my doctors visits, prescriptions, physical theropy and chiropractic care.  If I have to have a surgery, it is covered.  There are no co-pays or deductables to meet.  The only thing I might have to pay for is $5-$10 for my frames for my glasses, I think I can handle that.  The insurance is based off of your income.  I pay $30 a month because I technically have no income, my husband pays $63 a month based off of his pension. This is a new law that was passed a couple of years ago that everyone must pay into the Social Security, before it was optional.  You need to pay that and make sure you keep your receipts and make copies of them as well.  Next you will have to go to the Bank of Costa Rica and make your deposits, ours was around $455 a person total.  There are a couple of different deposits that you have to make, keep your receipts and make copies.  Next you will take all of those receipts and the paper showing where you have paid into the Social Security to the immigration office.  You will have your picture taken and be given a form to take to the post office and a temporary copy of your Cedula card.  You will have to give the post office around $6 for them to send it off and for you to receive it back.  This takes about a week to get your card back.  Always keep copies of everything, I even made a copy of my temporary card just incase.  After one week, go back to the post office and pick up your card.  Now you are a temporary resident!  You have to be a temporary resident for at least 3 years before you can switch over to permant residency.  Good luck.

Copies and police registration

You will need copies of everything and usually in triplicate, this way you will have a copy for your records.  Also, you will need to be registared with the police department in Costa Rica.  For ths you will need a couple of passport size photos and they will finger print you.  You will also need another passport size photo for submitting your paperwork to immigration.  Get at least 4 photos, 6 just in case, this way you always have extra if you need it.  You will have to give your orginals to immigration and a copy of everything as well, including a copy of your complete passport.  The reason I say to have three copies is because you would be surprised of what can be lost.  Again, at the immigration office, at least the one I went to, they do not speak English.  I used the one in San Carlos AKA Ciudad Quesada, it was much quicker than using the main one in San Jose, and the people were super friendly there and really worked with us.  Once you get your paperwork submitted they will give you a paper showing that all your stuff has been submitted so you don’t need to leave the country.  But be prepared to put out more money when you go to get your actual card.

Submitting paperwork Part 1

After you get all your paperwork back from the consulate you still have to have everything translated into Spanish.  You can go to the Yellow House, Casa Amarilla, and find a translator there.  They have a complete list of them and phone numbers for you to call.  They lady that I used was very nice and had lived in the States for several years so she knew everyday English and not just text book.  Then go back to the Yellow House and they can tell you how many stamps you need to put on your papers.  After that, go to the INS building, which is just around the corner, go up to the second floor and to the Bank of Costa Rica.  You make your deposits there for the stamps and also for your deposits.  As of right now the deposits per person are $250 US.  After you have made your deposits you go back to the Yellow House.  You will give them your receipts and they will affix them to the papers and stamp them.  Make sure everything is signed where it is supposed to be.  You don’t want to have to make a trip back down there for one signature like I did.  Now your papers should be ready for the immigration office.  I know it sounds like a lot of back and forth, which it is, but you need to make sure on how much your deposits are before trying to submit your paperwork and plus you have to have the appropiate account numbers to make the deposits.  Also, they do not speak English at the Yellow House.  So if you are still learning Spanish I suggest you take a friend with you.

More immigration requirements

When it comes to paperwork, it can be a little tricky.  None of your paperwork can be more than 6 months old when submitting it to the consulate for authentication.  Everything must be notarized from where you received it from, then sent to the State it came from to have it authenticated, to make sure the notary is legit and then sent to the consulate of Costa Rica for the state you live in to have it authenticated that the state authentication is legit.  Sounds confusing but it really isn’t.  Just goes from the city to the state and then to the consulate.  There are fees also to have all of this done, city and state are very cheap.  The consulate charges are not that bad.  Then once you enter into the country, your paperwork is only good for 90 days.  So you better get it submitted within that time or you will have to start all over, and the mail system down here is something to be desired.  You will need a post office box if you want to receive any mail.  Also, you can’t get anything in your name until you have your residency card, so I recommend getting it as soon as possible.  After we submitted all of our paperwork it only took us 6 months to get our actual cards, which is not a long time.  I will post more about the process of getting your paperwork in later.