Immigration Categories

A brief description of corporate immigration categories by assignment type follows.  The appropriate immigration category or status for your employees will depend on their specific details and on your company.  The most common category for corporate transfers in our experience is the Temporary Residence application for companies registered with the Immigration Department in Costa Rica.  For details on non-typical categories not listed below (investors, special programs), please contact your representative.

  • Temporary Residence Permit: Post-arrival process – for companies registered with the Immigration Department in Costa Rica.  This permit is appropriate for individuals being placed on local payroll and where a labor contract will be in place between the employee and the local company.
  • Short-Term Work Permit (“Estancia”): Post-arrival process.  This permit is appropriate for short-term [less than one (1) year] temporary expatriate assignments where the employee will remain on home country payroll.


Typical Process Overview

The following process overview is applicable to the category “Temporary Residence”, sponsored by a Costa Rican company that has been duly registered with the Immigration Department.  Approximate overall processing time from the time the first step is submitted to the time the employee is legally authorized to work in Costa Rica is ten (10) to fourteen (14) weeks.  Please note that the processing times for applications sponsored by non-registered companies are significantly longer, ranging from ten (10) to eighteen (18) months.  Additionally, bear in mind that lead time for document gathering at the start of the process should be factored in, as should processing time for completion of post-approval formalities.  In Costa Rica, the document-gathering stage of the process is particularly labor-intensive, as many documents must be legalized and translated.  We can assist with this, if required.  See Application Materials section below for further details.  Processing time for each individual step is noted below.

Pre-Application:  Document Gathering and Conditioning
Processing Time:  Dependent on case, allow at least four (4) to six (6) weeks

Typical documents required include birth certificates, national-level background checks, application letters, a certificate of experience or university degree, and a signed labor contract, among others.

All foreign documents and those signed outside of Costa Rica must be legalized in the country of origin and officially translated into Spanish, as applicable, in preparation for Step One (1). This process should be started immediately in order to not delay the case.

Step One:  Entry to Costa Rica and In-Country Documentation Process
Processing Time:  Allow at least one (1) week in country

The applicant enters Costa Rica as a business visitor (family members enter as tourists). As soon as possible after arrival, the family (including all children) must register with the consulate for their country of citizenship.  The procedure varies from one consulate to the next and must be confirmed on a case-by-case basis. Typically, a personal appearance from each applicant (including children, if applicable) is required.   If there is no consular representation in Costa Rica, the consular registration requirement is waived.

Step Two:  Temporary Residence Application
Processing Time:  Ten (10) to fourteen (14) weeks

Once all documentation has been gathered and conditioned and the applicant has travelled to Costa Rica, we can submit the application for Temporary Residence to the Costa Rican Immigration Department. The employee may travel to Costa Rica as a business visitor, as needed, while the application is processing. Once the Temporary Residence application is approved, the assignee may start working in Costa Rica and be placed on Costa Rican payroll.

Step Three:  Fingerprinting and Cedula (ID Card) Appointment
Processing Time: One (1) to three (3) weeks

Every applicant over the age of twelve (12) must attend an appointment at the local fingerprinting agency to have their fingerprints taken (a same-day process). Once the fingerprints are taken and the Temporary Residence applications are approved, the applicants must attend an appointment at the Immigration Department to request their Temporary Residence ID cards (cedulas).  If not issued on the same day, the ID Cards are sent to the local post office for collection in person approximately one (1) to three (3) weeks after the appointment.

Step Four: Travel Permit for Minors Application (if applicable)
Processing Time: Same-day process

Upon securing Temporary Residence in Costa Rica, children require a travel permit in order to travel outside the country.  Travel permits are available with temporary validity [valid for thirty (30) days and applicable to a single trip] or permanent validity (valid until the minor becomes of age).  Both parents must attend an appointment at the Immigration Department to request the preferred travel permit.


Typical Documents Obtained

Following the category described above will result in the obtention of the following immigration documents. Typical validity is noted next to each document name. For details on the renewal process, please see the next section, Renewal.

  • Temporary Residence ID Card (Cédula de Residencia Temporal): Two (2) years

Renewal

  • Renewal is possible.
  • Renewal processes take four (4) to six (6) weeks; please allow four (4) to six (6) weeks’ lead time for document gathering.
  • Registration with the Costa Rican Social Security Office is required prior to renewal.

Permanent Residence may be available to some applicants after three (3) years with residence status or to some relatives of Costa Rican citizens.

Deregistration

To ensure that assignees leave Costa Rica upon the expiration of their residence authorization and to monitor the number of foreign workers in the country, the government of Costa Rica requires all applicants to complete the following deregistration process upon departing the country:

  1. Company requests cancellation of work / residence permits for the employee and any dependents by providing the required company request letter and other documentation.
  2. The employee must provide a signed letter and the original ID Card prior to departure.  Letters and ID Cards for each dependent must be provided as well.

Dependents

Dependent immigration status approval depends on the immigration status of the principal applicant. Where the principal applicant is in Costa Rica with a Temporary Residence permit, the following rules apply for dependents:

  • Minimum age (spouses): N/A
  • Maximum age (children): Eighteen (18); up to twenty-five (25) if enrolled in full-time education in Costa Rica and financially dependent on the employee.
  • Unmarried partners: Not permitted
  • Same-sex partners: Not permitted
  • Non-traditional dependents (e.g. parents): Depending on the relationship between the dependent and the principal visa holder and the available supporting documentation to prove the link, it may be possible to request a Temporary Residence permit through family reunification. Please note that this process is significantly lengthy, with processing times ranging from ten (10) to eighteen (18) months. Evaluation must be made on a case-by-case basis.
  • Work authorization granted? No

Application Materials

Application materials vary depending on the immigration category being requested and on the specifics of the case. We will advise you in detail for your specific case; however, general application materials for a Temporary Residence application are noted below.

  • A variety of personal and corporate documents will be needed to support the application.
  • Such documents include: diploma, birth and marriage certificates, national-level police clearance certificates, employment contract, current resume (C.V), and corporate registration certificates.
  • All documentation must be submitted in Spanish, and foreign documents must be legalized in the country of origin by Apostille or by the respective official Costa Rican consulate, as applicable. We can assist with the translation and legalization requirements.

Business Visitors

  • Name of status granted: Visitor; granted upon arrival.  Some nationalities may require a consular visa in order to enter the country. Please contact your representative for more details regarding your specific situation.
  • Duration of stay: Thirty (30) to ninety (90) days, depending on the nationality of the visitor.
  • General activities permitted: “business only,” generally defined as attending business meetings and seminars. If you are unsure whether your assignment may be considered business or not, please contact your representative.

Change of Status

Employees who are in Costa Rica with a Short-Term Work Permit, but whose assignments will be extended or whose companies decide to localize them, may apply for the change of their immigration category to Temporary Residence following the process outlined above.

Salary and Payroll

Salary and payroll requirements vary depending on the immigration category and on the specifics of the case.  In Costa Rica, there are minimum salary requirements in place. Additionally, payroll location will affect the immigration process. Please contact your representative for more details regarding your specific situation.

Qualifications

Qualification requirements will vary from case to case and will depend on the immigration category under which the application is made. However, in general, the immigration authorities do expect proof of educational and/or professional experience. Please contact your representative for more details.

Red Flags

In our experience, the following points are important to note at the start of the process. If any of the below situations apply to you, contact your representative for further detailed advice.

  • Absence of university degree.
  • Absence of relevant experience.
  • Insufficient compensation.
  • Domestic and same-sex partners cannot receive dependent status.
  • If the Costa Rican Sponsor Company is not registered with Immigration Department, the processing time for residence applications is significantly longer. Additionally, the ability to inquire about ongoing cases is limited. Emigra Worldwide can assist with registering a company, which takes approximately three (3) to four (4) months to complete.

Penalties for Non-Compliance

The Costa Rican government takes immigration non-compliance very seriously.  Penalties for non-compliance range from fines to deportation.

Employee Penalties:

Employees working in Costa Rica without the proper authorization may face possible detainment during verification of immigration status, confiscation of passport during verification period, ordered deportation, impact to ability to return to the country.

Employer Penalties:      

Employers may face fines from the Immigration Department, the Ministry of Labor, and the Social Security Office; and possible loss of benefits enjoyed by registration with Immigration Department.

For more details, please contact your representative.

Bilateral Agreements

  • N/A