Jul 15 2008

Applying for Residency in Costa Rica as Pensionados

Paperwork for Application for Pensioner Residency Status in Costa Rica

By Louise Wittman, San Ramon de Alajuela

My husband and I moved to San Ramon in September 2007, we completed our immigration application in the US in July 2007. We are working with a competent immigration attorney and while all our processing is completed, we have not yet received our Cedulas, our residency numbers, from the Costa Rican Government.

Some laws have changed since we applied. Applications can be filed in Costa Rica, whereas in 2007, they had to originate from outside the country. We recommend that you obtain a competent immigration attorney for the latest legal advice. We also advise that you do not pay fees up front; this has been an on-going scam. Our attorney is asking that we pay all his fees at the time that the Cedulas are issued.
Basic Documents Required

  • Birth Certificate, with name of both parents, and mother’s maiden name.
  • Marriage License or Divorce Certification (if applicable).
  • Any other legal documents pertaining to your identity such as a legal change of name.
  • Proof of Social Security pension or other source(s) of pension.
  • Valid passport which does not expire within the next 6 months.
  • Police Report, must be clean, and no more than 1 month old prior to the formal application. If you are applying from the US, this document should be ordered from the police at the last minute, and then processed through the two required steps (see Processing the Documents below), all within 1 month of your appointment with the Consul General. If you are applying in Costa Rica, we understand that this step can be omitted as an Interpol search will be made. Please consult your attorney.
  • Passport photos. Photos are much cheaper in Costa Rica, so only get the exact number of poses and the quantity you need if filing in the US. If you are filing in Costa Rica and are here to take the photos, do them in Costa Rica.

It is recommended that you order new legal documents. These can be obtained from the Office of Vital Statistics, or some other similarly named office from your issuing state. Before ordering, it is best to establish the cost of the document and whether a stamped self-addressed envelope is required. This information is available on the state website or by telephone; some states allow you to order online. The Costa Rican Embassy and Consulate addresses are available on the Costa Rican website.

The Social Security document can be the formal form letter you received from the SS Administration stating what your monthly payment would be. The attorney that we work with wanted it notarized, but the question asked by our notary was: what am I attesting to, that I know you, that this is a valid form letter, etc? Our notary simply notarized it as a formality. You might also check with your consulate to see if they require that this document and the police report be notarized.

Don’t forget that you only have to prove $600.00 of income per month (per person or per couple). If you are basing your retirement funds on other sources of income, you will need a letter from your source(s) stating that you will receive $600.00 per month, or the actual amount, whichever is your preference.

Processing the Documents – Two Steps

  • Once you have received the new copies of your documents, they must be returned to the Secretary of State of the issuing state and LEGALIZED FOR FOREIGN USE for the Country of Costa Rica. It is recommended that you contact each state and ascertain the correct fee for this service and whether they require a stamped self-addressed envelope. Of course, a cover letter verbalizing your request is necessary.
  • The Legalized documents are then sent under a cover letter to the Consulate of Costa Rica which handles the issuing state for AUTHENTICATION of the Legalization. You must enclose a stamped self-addressed envelope with sufficient postage. If you do not send the envelope or sufficient postage, you will not receive any notification from the consulate as to why your document is not being returned. If you have sent the envelope and the postage and have not received your document within a reasonable period of time, be sure to telephone and inquire as to when you can expect to be receiving it.

And Finally, the Application

When all your documents have been returned, make copies for your files, and make an appointment with the Consul General of the Costa Rican Consulate which handles your state of residence. As many of the Consulates are very busy, contact your Consulate to see how far out they are scheduling appointments, especially if the Police Report is a problem. Ask the Consulate what they recommend about the Police Report, should you just not get one and wait for the Interpol report?

Or, you can turn in all your paperwork to your attorney in Costa Rica. We did not have this option in 2007; hopefully you have an attorney and have decided what you will do before you get to this point.

Either way, there are two more documents required to complete your application package: The formal Letter of Application for Pensioner Residency in Costa Rica, and the Power of Attorney Letter which assigns power of attorney to your attorney for immigration matters. Both of these letters are written in Spanish. In our case, the Consul General in Los Angeles wrote our Letter of Power of Attorney for our attorney in San Jose, fee $100, and several months later our attorney in San Jose wrote the Letter of Application. Ask your attorney to do these letters in advance; it is one more thing that is complete.

If you go to the Consul General handling your state in the US, you can pay all the filing fees at that time, the cost is based on the documents, so when making the appointment find out what the final total will be. Make sure they can type the Power of Attorney Letter if you have not gotten one from your attorney, make sure they include the Fed Ex shipping cost of about $80.00.

Whether you file in the US or in CR, obtaining the documents and having them legalized and authenticated will be much faster if you do them while you are in the US. There are companies here in Costa Rica which will handle the process from obtaining the documents to getting the Cedula but the charge is about $3500.

We hope this will be some help to you; it is not as daunting as it appears. Contact this website for our recommendation for an immigration attorney in San Jose.

Update #1:  Chris & Louise are now official residents in Costa Rica as Pensionados.  They received approval and finalized their residency in the fall of 2009.

Update #2:  Please note that the new immigration law went into effect on March 1, 2010 so many details have changed since this post was written.


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