I have to admit, when more than 70 expat couples (among them, many of our friends) got married last Valentine’s Day in Atenas, I was mystified. I knew the mass wedding was to make legal matters in Costa Rica a bit easier, but I didn’t realize that we would soon need to do the same thing.
When my carnet (Caja membership card) was about to expire the end of July, we paid a visit to our local Area de Salud to renew. Officially, I am a dependent of Paul; we got our residency as Pensionados with his Social Security. I do not as yet collect Social Security and only have a small pension of $152.00. So, when my Caja came up for renewal, there was a lot of paperwork to complete to prove that I am still his dependent. We had to list our income and expenses, provide a copy of our cédulas (residency cards), a utility bill from where we are living. We also needed to present a current, apostiled copy of our marriage certificate. And, since apostiled documents were not required back in 2009 when we applied for residency, we couldn’t even try to get a copy from Migración.
“But, we are permanent residents in Costa Rica,” we explained to the lady at the renewal desk. “See, our cedulas say “libre condición” (free of conditions). Surely this doesn’t apply to us?” “It’s mandatory,” she told us in no uncertain terms. We had to have an apostiled copy of our marriage certificate.
A new certified copy of the original Marriage Certificate…has to be sent to the Secretary of State where they were married to obtain the Apostille guaranteeing it’s authenticity. When the certificate is presented as proof, it can’t be more than 30 days since it’s certification.”
Rafael Valverde, the attorney with Outlier Legal Services who set up the mass Valentine’s Day wedding ceremony, further explained on their website:
The CCSS (or CAJA as it is generally known) has a regulation called the Registration Handbook or Manual de Adscripción y Beneficio Familiar, as it is called in Spanish. The purpose of this regulation is to set forth the requirements and processes to register people with the system, whether it is a principal beneficiary or whether it is a dependent such as a spouse or children…Section 20.2 indicates that the marriage certificate (or birth certificate) must be no more than a month old. This requirement is not a problem for a Costa Rican. There are plenty of Registry offices around the country where they can obtain a marriage or a birth certificate for less than 50 colones…There are people from more than a hundred countries living in Costa Rica, and for every single one of them, it is a tremendous task to obtain a brand new marriage certificate, and in most cases, it is very expensive.
I looked into options for getting the document, none of which were easy or inexpensive. To get it done within 30 days, we probably would have needed to make a trip to Baltimore. I posted our dilemma on my facebook page and got a lot of responses and suggestions. Among them was brief message from our friend, Asdrúbal, asking us to stop in and see him where he works at our credit union, Coopenae. “Why don’t you just get married in Costa Rica,” he suggested. “I will make all of the arrangements; I’ll even pay for it. I would be happy to do this for you,” he told us. All of a sudden, a big problem turned into a huge blessing. Sure enough, he told us to be ready at our house on the 30th of July at 2:00 pm, only 10 days later.
We had a simple ceremony our patio, overlooking the mountains and the Gulf of Nicoya, with Asdrúbal and his wife as our witnesses, our other dear friend from Coopenae, Marco, and his wife, and the attorney. In an interesting twist, before the ceremony we first had to sign documents stating that we acknowledged that we were “single” in the eyes of Costa Rica so that we could be legally married here.
Before the legal part of the ceremony, Asdrúbal read some beautiful remarks he had written, in both English and Spanish. We got it all on video, just as we did our first wedding, and we plan to play it every year on our Costa Rica Wedding Anniversary.
Though we are did it to make renewing my Caja easier, it turned out to be a celebration of our love and marriage. Thank you so much to our friends Asdrúbal and Giselle who made it happen. We even had a “first dance,” right on our porch. It was definitely a memorable day!
- Tico Times article: Expats hold mass wedding to bypass Costa Rica’s ‘discriminatory’ paperwork requirement
- Pat Wegner’s blog article: The Great Atenas Wed-In
- Outlier Legal Services article: The Mass Wedding Ceremony