How to register at your local embassy

June 2, 2011

Foreigners in Costa Rica are encouraged to register with their respective embassies when coming here to live. Even visitors should notify their embassy of their whereabouts. Many people, however, don’t bother.

Maybe it’s because they subscribe to the motto of a well-known bar in the western San José neighborhood of La Sabana, which claims Costa Rica to be the “Home of the Wanted and the Unwanted” and don’t want to be found. Or maybe it’s simply something they overlooked. Whatever the reason, registering with the embassy can be important and something every person living or traveling outside his or her home country should do.

The reason it is important for expats to register with embassies was sharply illustrated recently when the Costa Rican postal service accidentally delivered a letter to the home of another U.S. expat living in the suburb of Santa Ana, southwest of San José.  It was a fairly important letter awarding money to the addressee, who had given an address in the standard Costa Rican style: 300 meters west of the Cruz Roja, 100 meters north of the casa blanca, 20 meters west, in a casa amarilla, in Santa Ana, Costa Rica.

The mail carrier, however, delivered the letter to the home of a person other than the one to whom the award had been made. In fact, the mail carrier made two separate attempts to deliver the letter to two different expat homes. He struck out both times. 

The second recipient began a casual inquiry around the relatively small town, checking local watering holes and asking longtime residents if anyone had knowledge of the individual. No luck.

The U.S. Embassy was queried but had no record of the person. Several U.S. expat organizations operate in the Central Valley – including the Association of Residents of Costa Rica, Democrats Abroad and Republicans Abroad – so phone calls were made to these groups to inquire if anyone had heard of this person and knew how to contact him. Nothing.

At the time of this writing the person has still not been located, the letter has not been delivered and the money that is coming – not a small amount – is unclaimed.

Some people don’t want to be found and think that registering with an embassy will enable a government to track them. This is possibly true, but it is not the primary reason for embassies to establish registration programs. The information flow between expats and embassies runs both ways. Often, the relationship can be of great benefit to the expat. 

For instance, a member of the Escazú post of the American Legion says they frequently encounter situations where a U.S. citizen is either seriously ill or has died and the family back home needs to be notified. However, many times there is little or no information on them recorded at the embassy and therefore the next of kin can’t be contacted. 

Another example is when an expat has been involved in an accident here and the Costa Rican authorities need to get information to relatives back home.

Embassy information can be important for expats too. Embassies are charged with distributing information when, for example, a family in a home country needs to contact an expat during a personal or family crisis.

In all these cases, the first point of contact is always the individual’s embassy. Without registering with an embassy, the notification process can be very difficult, if not impossible.

For U.S. citizens, registering is easy; go to the U.S. Embassy website at: http://costarica.usembassy.gov/living.html, find the “Smart Traveler Enrollment Program” (STEP) and fill out the form. You don’t need to actually visit the embassy or speak with anyone.

Canadian citizens can also use the Internet to register at: http://canadaonline.about.com/od/travel/qt/registerabroad.htm. Other embassies may or may not have an Internet presence. If they don’t, a personal visit to the embassy is necessary. Call your embassy for more information.

In any case, registering is important. It’s quick and painless. And who knows, maybe one day someone will send you a letter with money in it. Wouldn’t you like to get it?

Embassy Contacts in Costa Rica

Canada: 2242-4400, behind La Contraloría, south Sabana Park, www.costarica.gc.ca

France: 2234-4167, Curridabat, 200 m. south, 25 m. west of Mitsubishi,  www.ambafrance-cr.org

UK: 2258-2025, Ca. 38/40, Paseo Colón, www.ukincostarica.fco.gov.uk

Germany: 2290-9091, north Sabana Park, 2 blocks west of ICE, Torre La Sabana Building, 8th floor, www.san-jose.diplo.de

Netherlands: 2296-9998, south Sabana Park, behind La Contraloría, Oficentro Ejecutivo La Sabana, Building 3, 3rd floor, www.holanda.cr

Switzerland: 2221-4829, Paseo Colón, Centro Colón, www.eda.admin.ch/sanjose

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