Complete Immigration and Residency Update for Costa Rica: Where do you Stand?

By Laura Gutierrez of Immigration Help Costa Rica

Tensions are running high as we continue to endure COVID and its impact on tourists and those seeking legal residency in Costa Rica. Readers under stress are least capable of absorbing reams of information, so I will be as concise as possible in addressing or re-addressing some key issues.

March 2 visa expiry date:
Out of compassion for tourists and residency applicants in 2020, the Costa Rica government extended visa expiry dates several times throughout 2020. The final line in the sand was drawn for March 2, 2021. The history of and qualifications for this benefit was covered in previous articles, so I will only outline the responses required on your part for the sake of brevity. While the government has a habit of last-minute changes, this time, I would not count on any further extensions beyond March 2 and plan accordingly. If your visa was automatically extended between March and November 2020, you will not be able to apply for extensions. Depending on the category, some others can apply for extensions, but the process is arduous.

If you are applying for residency, proof of an appointment for submitting your applications to the DGME (Immigration) will get you past the March 2 visa expiry date. It is considered an act of good faith on your part, indicating your seriousness in pursuing legal status in Costa Rica. Once your application is actually submitted to the DGME (Immigration), you will be issued an Expdiente (proof of submission with case #). That then becomes the legal override of visa limits beyond that submission date and allows you to stay in Costa Rica indefinitely up to the date of your residency application approval. You will also be allowed to come and go – but – within COVID travel rules that include COVID insurance.

However, this visa override benefit does NOT apply to the validity of foreign driver’s licenses. Those remain tied to the visa stamp (duration) you receive upon your last entry into Costa Rica. Get caught driving without, and you are in for a terrible day: fines and license plates removal, just for starters.

Driver’s license validity:
I could fill this space with a lot of purple language I have heard about this infuriating situation. But as frustrating as this myopic policy remains, you will not be allowed to drive legally in Costa Rica past March 2 or any visa expiry beyond that date. There is a lot of pressure being brought to bear on the government from MANY quarters. Yet, no changes seem imminent as of this writing.

Land borders initially scheduled to open on February 1 have been delayed to March 1. That may also be delayed again. But assuming it holds, a run to the border on March 1 for a visa stamp might not be a good idea given the stampede likely on that day. And the place will plug up because many will not have complied with proper procedures. Though there is no required minimum stay of 72 hours, a border run will not be a simple in and out u-turn with a fresh visa stamp. All the COVID rules apply as outlined on the Costa Rica Tourism Board site: Best bets for refreshing visa stamps so you can drive: Flights out to Panama or Mexico or the U.S.

Canada has implemented overly draconian entry restrictions to the point that travel to there simply isn’t worth it before the end of April. The reason behind it is that last spring, there was a spike in COVID cases attributed to returning snowbirds and tourists from the Caribbean. These current entries or re-entry rules are designed to keep Canadians from leaving that country, given that their return will be so punitive. It will be a long winter. This will ease up by May 1. I mention this because some Canadian clients on tight budgets here in Costa Rica fear that they may not get back to see loved ones anytime soon in fear that these restrictions will hold throughout 2021. They will not.

Appointments for residency application submissions:
Pre COVID history regarding the Dactiloscopia (Fingerprinting Center) and the DGME (Immigration):

It used to be that we did not need to book appointments at either the Dactiloscopia (Fingerprinting Center) or the DGME (Immigration). It was a first-come, first-served situation at both venues, which allowed for same-day completion of procedures at each venue and done by 10 or 11 AM. Now appointments must be booked for both locations. This does not allow for same-day completion of both tasks. Applicants need to be as flexible as possible because this booking system and juggling client logistics and travel restrictions can get very complicated. Due to both these venues being closed most of 2020, there is still a backlog of applicants to be cleared who have been waiting since last March to have their application submitted. Most of those are now done.

Note: For those of you who wish to remain in Costa Rica but have just now begun your residency process or contemplating the same, be assured that in most cases, it is possible to obtain all required documentation while remaining in Costa Rica. And the cost of that added service is significantly less than you traveling back to do so yourself.

A white-hot issue. All incendiary comments to follow below aside, there is still a 50/50 split between those who desperately want the vaccine and those who seek to avoid it. Many U.S. clients have returned to the U.S. to get access to the vaccines. Those who remain here or are contemplating a move here are just as evenly split in their concerns. The emailed questions I get are evenly divided between: When can I get my shot? – and – Will it be mandatory?

I will answer the last question first. As of this writing, it will NOT be mandatory. But the official mandate is to vaccinate the entire adult population of Costa Rica. For ex-pat residents and those waiting on approvals or in the process of applying, it is going to be a long wait here in Costa Rica before access to it. The following is the prioritizing. (Not far off what I predicted in a previous article.)

Staff and residents at retirement or nursing homes.
First responders, including health personnel.
Costa Rica’s older population, defined here as those ages 58 and up.
People with risk factors, including hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, respiratory illness, kidney disease, and obesity.
Teachers and other staff within the Education Ministry (MEP).
Imprisoned people and judicial staff.
Workers for the 911 service.
Health science students and related technicians in clinical fields.
People ages 40-57 without any of the above risk factors but whose work puts them in contact with others. This will include Laborers in agriculture, construction, service industries, etc.

For those who wait anxiously, I remind you that you’re in Costa Rica. It is a unique living environment with abundant, nutrient-rich foods grown in the richest soils on the planet. Take advantage of all that implies. Your immune systems will thank you for it. Costa Rica has always had a very robust vaccine program to protect our citizens. My family and I received them all. But the big piece contributing to Ticos being counted as some of the healthiest people on earth (with the most extraordinary longevity) is the traditional diet and outdoor lifestyle. Imitate that and get similar outcomes.

If you are in need of immigration assistance Laura can be reached by clicking here, Toll free at 1-833-733-6337, Locally at or by sending an email to [email protected].

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