Aug 28 2014

Questions and Answers: Getting Residency in Costa Rica and Joining the Caja

Answer updated 9/9/16

Hi Paul and Gloria, I have a couple of what I think are simple questions I can’t find answers to. What do you do for insurance until you become a permanent resident? Can you get CAJA with a tourist or temporary resident visa? When do you apply for temporary residency? Can you renew a tourist visa? We will get travelers insurance for January. Thanks for your help. Learning a lot from your website. Best, Mary


Let’s take one question at a time. FYI, we consulted with residency expert, Javier Zavaleta, on these answers.

1) What do you do for insurance until you become a permanent resident?

When we first came down, we had COBRA insurance from the job I left behind but we never needed to use it. And once that expired, we just self-insured. It’s a scary prospect until you realize that you can actually AFFORD healthcare here, without insurance. If something major would happen and you needed to go to the emergency room, it is mandated by law that you will be treated, whether you can pay or not. Doctor visits, lab work, and many diagnostic tests are extremely affordable. Read some of the articles in our “healthcare” at this link for examples: There are a few things a person can do to bridge the coverage gap between U.S. coverage and Caja coverage:

  1. Purchase health insurance from INS (Instituto Nacional de Seguros), however you must be 70 years of age or younger; pre-existing conditions are excluded.
  2. Purchase international traveler’s insurance from a broker.
  3. If you are from the U.S. and qualify for Medicare, keep your Medicare B in case anything major happens and you have the option of returning to the States for treatment.
  4. Join MediSmart, a new program offered by Hospital Metropolitano in San Jose. MediSmart is basically a discount plan, offering 40% to 80% off of everything from appointments with specialists like dermatologists and gynecologists to X-Rays, lab work, and even hospital rooms and operating room time. There are no exclusions for age or pre-existing conditions. The best thing is the cost. For a single person, the cost is $10 per month. For a couple, the second person adds $5 for a total of $15 per month. You can read more in our full article about MediSmart at this link.

2) Can you get CAJA with a tourist or temporary resident visa?

No, not with a tourist visa, but you can (and in fact, must) join the Caja (Costa Rica’s national medical system) as a condition of legal residency.

costa-rica-residency-card3) When do you apply for temporary residency?

Whenever you feel certain enough that you want to live here and are willing to spend the money necessary to go through the process. You can apply for permanent residency after three years of temporary residency. A couple of benefits to permanent residency are that you can get a work permit and it can make it easier to apply for Costa Rican citizenship. But there are other benefits. (For more detailed information on the requirement for residency, we always recommend Javier Zavaleta with Residency in Costa Rica. You can read more, learn about the special “Retire for Less” discount, and contact him through this link.)

4) Can you renew a tourist visa?

You renew a tourist visa simply by leaving the country before your current visa expires — usually 90 days — and then re-entering and getting a new stamp for another 90 days. The Immigration Law says that a tourist who was originally issued a visa of less than 90 days can buy a visa extension of 30 days by paying $100 to Migracion. However, most visas granted to U.S. and Canadian citizens (as well as most Western Europeans) are valid for 90 days. Therefore, those tourists do not qualify to “buy” the extra 30 day extension and must, instead, exit and re-enter Costa Rica with another 90-day visa.

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