How COVID-19 Changed The Residency Process in Costa Rica

By The Costa Rica Star – January 12, 2021

By Laura Gutierrez of Immigration Help Costa Rica

Happy New Years Everyone

Costa Rica Entry Requirements…

For entry requirements and recently announced new restrictions within Costa Rica, please click on the links below and also read part one “How COVID-19 Changed Costa Rica Immigration in the Eyes of Residency Expert Laura Gutierrez” a recently published article on December 29th.

You might also want to bookmark the U.S Embassy site ( Or your respective country)
https://cr.usembassy.gov/201223-travel-alert/ and even the Costa Rica Ministry of Tourism website https://www.visitcostarica.com/en/costa-rica/planning-your-trip/entry-requirements

Be sure to “Refresh” the site each visit to ensure you are reading the most current updates.

That leads me to the subject of residency processes, which have very much been impacted by COVID and the above entry requirements and insurance costs.

As a reminder, there are two parts to submissions of applications for Costa Rica residency. The first part is a required visit to the Dactiloscopia (Fingerprinting Center) in San Pedro (part of San Jose.) Before COVID, it was merely a first-come, first-served situation. In an out in 30 – 45 minutes for fingerprinting and an Interpol background check. (Nothing to do with FBI, RCMP, or EU background reports.)

The Dactiloscopia visit results in a signed & stamped background report in hand. That gets added to the Residency Application package to be submitted to the Department of Immigration. Those used to be presented the same day to the Department of Immigration, where it was also a first-come-first-served situation before noon Monday to Friday.

That first-come-first-served-practice at both the Dactiloscopia and Department of Immigration abruptly changed in March.

In March, both these entities were shut down. In late September of this year, it was announced that both would re-open on December 1, 2020, by appointment only. Those of us with clients we knew to be ready to go by December 1 began booking appointments a few days before October 19 as the system opened a few days earlier than scheduled.

There have since been changes and glitches to the systems at the Dactiloscopia and the Department of Immigration. Hawkers out on the street in front of the Department of Immigration are offering “…appointments for sale…” make it evident that abuses have also taken place in bookings.

The onsite staff has also told me that the current system at Immigration is not sustainable. The former 500 visitors per day capacities that have been drastically diminished for the sake of applicant and staff safely – have been overzealous, to put it mildly. There is enormous pressure being brought to bear on the Department Of Immigration to expand capacity significantly. We remain optimistic that those much needed changes with soon be forthcoming.

In the meantime, applicants will need to be as flexible as possible with their schedules for future appointments as they come up. Making any new appointments currently requires a great deal of persistence. The Call Center bookers are doing their best to accommodate.

What will make it difficult for some applicants, is that their planned stay in Costa Rica this “season” is much curtailed. The reason being that, in place of the automatic 90-day visa stamps usually received before COVID, those stamps are now limited to the duration of the amount of COVID insurance purchased. IE: If one only purchased 41 days of COVID insurance, they received a visa stamp for 41 days. Not 90. There are ways around this at the Department of Immigration, as there is the option of service representatives to submit applications digitally with no in-person requirements initially. Once the digitally submitted application has been reviewed and processed for a proposed approval (likely 12 – 18 months from the digital submission date) only then will the hard copies of all documentation be required to be submitted.

As for the Dactiloscopia (Fingerprinting Center), all applicants must appear in person will fill out applications and fingerprint submissions. The resulting Interpol report must be included in the residency application package submission to the Department of Immigration, whether those submissions are done in person or digitally.

Applicants aged 65 + may show up to the Department of Immigration without an appointment (with their representative), provided that they appear between 7:30 and 9 AM. The same goes for submitting applications for Permanent Residency or submitting previously requested additional documents from DGME earlier this year. So stay in close contact with your chosen service provider to coordinate things amid this challenging situation as the government struggles to deliver services while maintaining safe conditions for all concerned.

Approval Times you can realistically expect:

Since March 2020, when the front gates to the DGME were closed to the public and all legal professionals, the staff continued to work on clearing the backlog of overdue approvals. I received several approvals each month. One came through in an astounding seven months. Another took over 25 months. The average ranged between 13 and 16 months.

Based on work slowdowns throughout all governments in all countries, particularly in Costa Rica, I caution all new and future applicants to lower their expectations and adjust their plans accordingly. I strongly suspect approval times to lengthen out well past 24 months unless there is a significant increase in investment funds, staff, and computer systems at the Department of Immigration.

With the government recently announcing the acceptance of the $1.5 billion loan from the IMF, such resources may materialize. Tourism and retirement add very significantly to Costa Rica’s GDP, so there most certainly will be a lot of pressure brought to bear on just such initiatives. I know readers tire of hearing this, but trust that there is a lot of behind the scenes dialogue between the private business sector, the Congress, and the Presidency.

In the meantime, as I always suggest, stay positive, flexible, and resilient. I remain humbled by so many clients who exemplify those qualities. They brush aside criticisms by the doomsayers and remain fixed on their goal of a good retirement life here in Costa Rica.

With worldwide pressures on food supply and prices continuing to rise sharply, Costa Rica, with its unique environment, ability to grow food year-round in the most ideal conditions on the planet, remains one of the best places to live and stay healthy.

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