San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Caja Registration Required for Residents

As readers may know, a new immigration law has been in force in Costa Rica since March 1. This new law has created significant changes in several residency categories and procedures, to which the immigration authorities, in many cases, are still adjusting.

The one new requirement that imminently and substantially affects all residents in the country is that every person applying for or renewing their residency must be covered by the Costa Rican Social Security (Caja) medical insurance system. This requirement is obligatory and enforced even for persons with private, non-Caja local or international medical insurance coverage.

In cases of foreign residents currently employed by local companies (or international companies with a base of operations in Costa Rica), and assuming their employment status is reported, as the law mandates, affiliation with the Caja should be easy to prove to immigration authorities by presenting the orden patronal, the monthly slip from the employer indicating that the employee is registered with the Caja and that the monthly dues are up to date.

Regarding such an employee’s family, things get a little more time consuming: a social security registration card must be issued by the local health clinic (EBAIS) to which the family’s home is assigned. Obtaining the card from the EBAIS will involve one or more visits to the clinic to present specific documentation.

Things increase in complexity and the amount of time required in the case of residents who do not work for local companies. These individuals must start from scratch with their Caja registration.

Under this scenario, the first item is to determine the category under which the registration will be made. In general terms, if you are not a local employee, you would need to apply either as a trabajador independiente (independent worker) or as an asegurado voluntario (voluntarily insured worker).

Independent worker status applies to individuals who are self-employed and declare income in the country. The voluntary worker classification is used for anyone who lives in Costa Rica and does not generate and declare income locally.

In either of these cases, you need to meet with a Caja inspector who will determine your employment status and income in order to set a monthly fee. The meeting will take place at the Caja office with jurisdiction over the address indicated on your electric bill, which you must have with you for the meeting. The electric bill does not need to bear the applicant’s name; its sole purpose in this case is identifying the applicant’s place of domicile. No other type of bill is accepted.

You can usually have an advisor accompany you. The meeting most likely will be held in Spanish.

The monthly fee for independent workers is mainly based on income tax declarations for current periods. Usually, a fee will be based on a percentage of net income, using fee schedules applicable for different types of professions and occupations.

The monthly insurance payment for voluntarily insured workers is usually set according to the amount indicated to the inspector during the interview as an applicant’s average monthly expenses, or on the funds the applicant has available for living costs.

The dependents (minor children and spouse) of the applicant can be included in their Caja insurance coverage at no additional cost.

In most cases, once the monthly fee is determined, the applicant and any dependents would make the first monthly payment and then go to the EBAIS with jurisdiction over their domicile to obtain their social security registration cards. In some jurisdictions, for example for most Heredia addresses, a temporary CCSS identification card must be obtained before a Caja inspector meeting can be scheduled. After the meeting, an additional visit to the EBAIS for the permanent card will be necessary.

At the end of the day, if all administrative steps are taken and the correct information is provided, any applicant will be able to acquire Caja medical coverage and thus meet this requirement for residency. What is definitely advisable is to address this matter promptly, so that all is in place and in good order when the time comes to apply for residency or renewal of residency.

Furthermore, the Caja’s work load is heavy, and although its officials may have the best intentions, meeting the formal requirements, standing in long lines, heading to the correct offices with the appropriate paperwork and completing the steps, all in Spanish, could be challenging for some. If you are not willing or able to do this on your own, a professional with knowledge of the system, steps and requirements can save you many headaches and allow you to spend your time in a more pleasurable and productive manner.


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

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