Sep 14 2015

In the Mailbag: Residency in Costa Rica and Buying a Car


Our newsletters and posts generate lots of discussion, on our website, in emails, and on facebook. Here’s a glimpse into our mailbag.

From Lynn T., a long-time reader of this newsletter:

Going through the residency application process can be a daunting endeavor, and I strongly recommend that anyone serious about getting their residency in CR consider hiring an attorney to guide you through the process. Spending the money to have someone who knows the process can save you a lot of time and frustration.

Residency in Costa Rica

Residency in Costa Rica

My husband John and I were very fortunate that we learned of Javier Zavaleta through this blog and from friends here in Costa Rica, and we are overwhelmingly pleased with his representation.

We hired Javier in September 2014 and received our CAJA and residency status today, in about a year. As of today we are legal residents of Costa Rica and have access to the CAJA, all with Javier’s help.

What’s even better is that Mayanaye, who is Javier’s sister and a para-legal, does all the legwork, and she’s a force to be reckoned with. She is well-known in Migración circles, and makes sure that even though things might not work with the Costa Rica laws, they work for the client – in other words, she cuts to the chase. No one is ever bribed and she never breaks any laws. She just works with rational thinking, and in that, she is a master. She’s also a spot-on diplomat. It also helps to have someone who is bi-lingual to help with the process.

We are totally delighted to have had Javier and Mayanaye represent us through the many steps we has to traverse to become residents of CR.

Thanks Lynn! We also used Residency in Costa Rica highly recommend them. To read about our experience, and get your “Retire for Less Discount,” click here.

And from John L. comes a question about buying a car and residency:

We are new to your site but love it so far, especially the weather info and the gardening tips. My wife and I will be making our second trip to Costa Rica next week and will be doing some comparison house hunting in advance for our planned retirement there in 2 years. The plan is to rent for about 6 months before buying a house. We plan on applying for one of the residency programs as soon as we get there but I have a question that I haven’t seen addressed before.

I heard that you can not buy a car or get it insured until you have residency. Is there an alternative to renting and paying the high mandatory insurance on a rental? We have 2 years to figure this out but it is one of the many questions we have to find an answer to. Thanks for any help you can give and look forward to your reply.

Our response:

Hi John,

Thanks for getting in touch and for your kind words. We are glad that you are finding our website helpful.
First off, I have never heard that you can’t BUY a car until you are a legal resident and I highly doubt that it is accurate. But to be sure, I am copying our residency expert, Javier Zavaleta, with Residency in Costa Rica and hopefully he can supply a definitive answer. What IS accurate is that you can’t get a Costa Rica driver’s license until you become a legal resident and are in the country at for least 91 days afterwards. That means you would have to leave the country to get a new tourist visa in order to stay valid driving on your current drivers license. Crazy law, I know.
And the follow-up response from Javier Zavaleta with Residency in Costa Rica:

Hello, Gloria and Mr. Loesche. In response to Mr. Loesche’s concerns:

“I heard that you can not buy a car or get it insured until you have residency.”

Gloria’s answer is correct. There is NO residency requirement in order to purchase a vehicle in Costa Rica. In fact, there is no such requirement to purchase real estate or any other asset in Costa Rica.

A couple from California moved to Costa Rica last April, even before we filed their applications for residency. Within a week of their arrival they bought 2 vehicles and had them registered and insured that same afternoon.

“What IS accurate is that you can’t get a CR driver’s license until you become a legal resident.”

Gloria is, again, correct. You cannot get a driver’s license without a cedula.

“…and are in the country at least 91 days afterwards”

I would like to address the 91 days rule.  Let’s say you arrive in Costa Rica on October 1, 2015, your application was approved  January 1, 2016 (the application had been filed back in May 1, 2015, so the approval was issued about 8 months later but you arrived in Costa Rica on October 1 — 90 days before the approval).  Those 90 days count toward the 90 days of residency for the purpose of getting the driver’s license issued.

Some clients go to Migración on Monday, for example, and depending on their age and other circumstances, we may be able to get their cedulas issued that same day. And, if they have been in Costa Rica for at least 90 days, on Tuesday morning they go to the DMV and get their driver’s licenses.

The answer above also points out a question not specifically asked:  Can you file the applications prior to your moving to Costa Rica?  Yes, provided you have a qualifying pension in effect at the time the application is filed.

I hope these answers are of help. Feel free to request additional information.

Saludos cordiales,


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