Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Immigration and Residency in Costa Rica

This is a broad topic that covers a large amount of subject matter and will require a concerted effort with seeking professional advice (attorneys, accountants etc.). We will cover the basics and discuss our personal decisions, why we made those decisions and if those decisions worked or failed. Moving to a foreign country with or without children is an enormous endeavor and should not be taken lightly because failure can be devastating. 
First you need to decide whether you should make the move at all. If you are bored with your life and heard that Costa Rica is the happiest, cheapest, greatest place to live on the planet – this is not a good enough reason to make the move. We very simply wanted a less expensive, less complicated, better quality of life for our family, and after two years of research, visits to Costa Rica, as well as a private, 2 day tour, Costa Rica was our choice. A lot of other factors were important as well. We only had one blood immediate family member left in Texas. If that was the opposite and we had a huge close family network we might not have make the move because if you think your family will come to visit all the time that will not happen because it is unrealistic. Our children were small and not entrenched in a school with inseparable friendships. We were unsatisfied with our careers and young enough to make the change with the means to do so. Serious evaluation of your life circumstance needs to take place to make sure there are no deal breakers. After that, devise a plan and don’t let anyone stand in your way because there will be plenty of naysayers.
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Living in Costa Rica during our first year, we encountered some self-inflected blunders along the way, but it has been everything we hoped for. We are living on half the monthly expenses with the same size home (information on how to keep your cost down is explained in our Lifestyle and Budget blog, life is less complicated and our quality of life is through the roof. At this point, I don’t think we will ever leave so stay tuned and we will let you know how it goes. Ok, so there are no deal breakers. You have a plan, and you are ready to move. Where do you live and what do you bring? Costa Rica has it all: beach, country, city, mountain…. yes more research. If you desire a lot of infrastructure like restaurants, the movies, etc., then the central valley would be best, as close to San Jose as you can get. If you or your children have health conditions that may require an emergency visit to state of the art hospitals like CIMA, the finest hospital in Central America, is in Escazu, a suburb of San Jose. We love the beach, but face it; the beach is hot, loaded with mosquitoes, with little or no schools or hospitals! In addition, the beach life is made up of tourists and weekenders, so there is no sense of community. We zeroed in on Atenas because it is half way between the beach and San Jose with a great climate, fantastic mountain views, and we heard it was a family oriented town with the benefit of incorporating a healthy lifestyle. Just try to walk up or down the street. The population, steadily growing, is just over 7,500 people which is similar in size to our little Texas town. The infrastructure in Atenas is adequate for us, boasting 2 private schools, plenty of doctors and dentists, 3 supermarkets, a local feria (farmers market) and a new highway that connects us to the beach or San Jose within 20 minutes. Are you empty nesters or retirees? Do you have a family? Figure out your necessities and make a decision based on your wants and needs. And most importantly, rent first, and then buy. The laws in this country are favorable to renters, so you can move to a different town after you have traveled a bit your first year or so. 
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What do you bring? Boy, we struggled with this one. Most of the advice that you will hear is to sell everything before moving, but there are a lot of things to consider. How do we bring our dog? We paid about $350 to United Airlines, $100 to our vet for an International Certificate of Vaccination and another $200 to the customs receiver in Costa Rica. Get it right or you don’t get your dog. Some items are extremely expensive to purchase in Costa Rica, like vehicles, appliances, and electronics. There are plenty of options for furnished homes and know that unfurnished means, usually, no appliances. The bus system is excellent in Costa Rica so you might not need a vehicle. Having 2 small children, we decided a vehicle was a necessity so we weighed our options of buying a vehicle upon arrival or shipping the truck we owned. In addition we had family heirlooms and many tools that we considered to be irreplaceable. Since we owned an older truck, the taxes, shipping, and duties were less expensive than purchasing the same vehicle in Costa Rica. So that was an easy decision. Along with the other items we wanted to bring, it just made sense to get the full 40 foot container: half truck, half stuff. Our shipper was fantastic. Charles Zeller of Ship to Costa Rica under promised and over delivered. He kept us informed and the price he quoted was the price we paid. It was nice to rely on an experienced company to oversee the customs bureaucracy and deliver our shipment to our front door. It was like Christmas in July. So whether you sell everything or bring it all, only you can make the decision. 
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So now you are here. One of the most important things to consider before your move is Residency – how to obtain it and what type of residency is best for you? Applying for residency before you move or as soon as you arrive might not be the wisest decision, because how do you know if you will like it here or not? When you arrive at the airport, the Costa Rican official will stamp your passport for 90 days or less, depending on his mood. So if you plan to stay the full 3 months allowed, please disclose it when asked! Our customs official said, “How long do you plan to stay here?” and we said, “about 3 months” and he wrote 80 days. I suggest you say, 90 days to be clear. You can renew this visa for another 90 days by simply taking a weekend trip to Panama or Nicaragua while you are making your residency decisions. But you can’t just border jump forever. Perpetual tourism is not the solution either so be prepared to apply for residency if you plan to stay. Below is a chart that explains the different type of residencies but the laws do change so for an update on residency requirements, please check the official website: http://costarica.usembassy.gov/cr-residency.html or for the official website in Spanish: http://migracion.go.cr/extranjeros/residencias.html. ​You can apply for residency on your own, which will save you money, but you will need knowledge of perfect Spanish and the system, as well as plenty of patience. We have little of the above, so we opted for an Attorney (Abogado) to help us with our process. We recommend hiring an attorney to facilitate most business matters, such as obtaining residency, forming a corporation and obtaining permits. We hear 2 huge complaints in this country – attorneys and builders, so do your due diligence when choosing. You can join the ARCR for a fee and get a network of referrals that are trusted through experience or go off recommendations from people you trust. Our residency plans changed upon arrival after a few nights of drinking too much tequila at the beach. We were delighted to have an unexpected pregnancy so our residency options changed from rentista to permanent status by having a Costa Rican born child. 
Learn Spanish! Pura Vida :)

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