San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Residency Renewal and Change of Status

If you are among the lucky ones covered by the executive decrees that, in the past, automatically renewed your residency, the time has come to go back to Immigration. All automatically renewed residencies expired in December, and must now be renewed by going through the regular renewal process.

In order to renew, you need to formally request an appointment at Immigration. Whether you do this through an attorney or without one can make a big difference. To get the appointment, if you are not an attorney, you need to call (900) 123-4567. Appointments are usually scheduled approximately 10 months from the time you make the call. When the date finally arrives, you will have to wait in line for many hours, sometimes for a whole day or even two, if you are among the unlucky ones sent home because your file cannot be found. When you make the call, you should have at hand all applicable information, such as file number, residency card number and date of birth, as this will guarantee correct entering of your appointment and can save you from losing a whole day at Immigration afterwards.

On the other hand, if you are being assisted by a knowledgeable attorney who has the right to use a special appointment system instead of the 900 number, it will take approximately three months for the appointment date to be set, and the wait time will be much more manageable.

On the day of the appointment, you will need to bring a certified copy of your passport on which the date of your last entry to the country can be easily read. The original will also be required and may sometimes suffice for renewal purposes, without the certified copy; however, the copy is often requested, so the rule of thumb is to bring it anyway and avoid the hassle. This requirement is used by Immigration to confirm that you have complied with the minimum yearly stay in the country, which is essential for maintaining your residency status.

You will also need to bring your old residency card. This is not an actual regulatory requirement, but from time to time it becomes one, depending on the clerk that handles your case. So, again, the best way to proceed is to bring all the documents you might need – the more, the better.

Proof of payment for the new card will also be required at Immigration. You may be required to pay for not only the time for which you are being renewed (usually one to two years), but also the years for which you were automatically renewed in the past. The cost is $48 for a one-year renewal, plus $10 for each additional year, as well as for past years in which renewal was automatic. This payment must be made prior to your appointment at any Banco de Costa Rica branch and deposited in the account designated by Immigration.

If you do not retain an attorney to handle the process for you, on the appointment date you will need to go to Immigration and wait until you are called. Once you are, you  will hand all the documents to the clerk, who will check that the requirements are complete, get you photographed and scan your fingerprints.

Your residency card will be available within a month from the appointment date, and you will have to pick it up at Immigration on or after the date shown on a document they will give you. If you want, it can also be sent via courier, at your expense, to your nearest post office in Costa Rica; you should receive your document about a week earlier this way.

Switching to ‘No Strings

Attached’ Residency Status

Many residents do not know that if you have been a legal temporary resident of Costa Rica for more than three years, you may be able to change your status to residente permanente libre de condición, literally translated as “permanent resident free of conditions,” but which we like to more familiarly call “no strings attached” status. To make this change, an application is required. Although this filing usually involves simple documentation, good guidance and skill are  required to guarantee its success.

Once your status is changed, if you are a resident annuitant or resident pensioner, you will no longer be subject to the currency exchange requirement and to periodically renewing your bank letter. In all cases after this change, you will be able to legally work in Costa Rica for any employer. In general terms, you will have most of the rights enjoyed by Costa Rican citizens, with a few exceptions, such as the right to vote and protection from extradition, and your tax status will not change.

For more legal advice, contact Lang & Asociados at 2204-7871 or visit


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