Looking to Move to Beautiful Costa Rica? Meet Residency Expert Laura Gutierrez

Former tourists and foreign residents have chosen to live in Costa Rica for many good reasons, not the least of which is the breathtaking beauty, fantastic weather, and an idyllic lifestyle measurably better than those left behind. Most experience significant improvements to their health after living in Costa Rica only a year. Fewer pills, or none at all, tremendous stress and weight reductions. They are meeting agreeable, like-minded people. Single individuals encounter new romance and lasting love.

Through these life-enhancing encounters, there is an overriding chatter about Legal Residency as a means to enhance their lived experience. Realtors and other engaged professionals, neighbors, or experienced ex-pats in Costa Rica will all urge new arrivals to get started on residency. And for good reasons.

That then leads to these three key questions:

1) Why bother?
2) Can I/we do this alone, or is it best to retain legal representation?
3) How do I/we choose legal representation and credibly vet the many choices?

Why Bother?

Many fear of the complexity of the process and its costs. The prospect of engaging the bureaucracy also fuels procrastination. Especially in this time of covid and everything now done by appointment only. Those fears are often exaggerated.
If you plan to or have been living here more than seven months of the year, it’s a no-brainer.
The fact is that in Costa Rica, there is no other way to optimize your lived experience here and to access all the best of what you came here for in the first place.
Consider the following benefits of residency carefully:
o An end to annoying border runs.
o Avoidance of fines for overstaying your tourist visa.
o Easier to maintain a permanent domicile here.
o Obtain a valid Costa Rica driver’s license valid for 5 or 10 years.
o Access to affordable, world-class medical care.
o Secure banking with relative ease.
o Get a digital signature.
o Register a business.
o Employment – depending on the category.
o Quality private schools for the kids.
o Safely bring and keep your beloved pets.
o Returning to Costa Rica through the much shorter “Citizens” line at the airport.
o No need to purchase outward bound (return) air tickets.
o More straightforward clearance through security gates or roadside checks.
o Resident discounts on goods and services.
o The surprisingly important feeling like you belong.

But not having a residency card can put you in a state of permanent vacation, which leaves some people feeling like a permanent refugee.

If you live here less than six months per year, then residency benefits are negligible. Best to stick with the border runs and have outside medical insurance. (The Costa Rica government is considering a viable plan for those in this category. They are aware that there are many of you. Especially Canadians whose Canadian healthcare requires them to be in Canada at least six months of the year.) But due to the costs-benefits ratio dictated by current structure and requirements, residency is only ideal for those who stay in Costa Rica more than six months out of the year.

DON”T GO IT ALONE. (Ignore ALL blogs to the contrary.)

Overly thrifty types may be tempted to bypass the fees of any legal representation when considering the residency process. Perfectly understandable. After all, some people do their taxes, right? There are even some websites with lists of what you need to do and what documents are required. But each of those lists is missing crucial little details. Or they’re wrong. And if you get into difficulty, whom do you call to help you through that tight spot?

As tricky as that can be for some applicants, the document chase isn’t even the main issue.

You first need to understand that the Department of Immigration offices (DGME) are dramatically underfunded, understaffed, and constantly agitated with hopeful and nervous applicants who show up unprepared. Covid has made them even more autocratic and unsympathetic. Save your tears and pleading for “special consideration.”

This is code for “ensure your paperwork is perfect the first time.” If not, you will get to repeatedly endure the hostility of a staff member who learns that you’re the person who doesn’t want to cooperate with them.

They’re likely to return the favor. And don’t count on a translator app to get you through any tense exchange with them. Your poor understanding of the process or lack of Spanish does not translate into an emergency for them. Next, please!

The second is to understand that there’s no valet parking, express line, or separate queue for ex-pats. The same new appointment system constrains everyone equally. This makes for an onerous set of logistics and timing. Show up as little as one minute late, and depending on the mood that day of the intake staffer, you will be shown the door and start over. 80% of all hopefuls are declined due to incorrect, incomplete, or fraudulent paperwork. There’s no triage to filter that element out.

At the Department of Immigration offices here in San Jose (where ALL residency applications are processed), Laura often witnesses heated arguments between intake staff and do-it-yourselfers, followed by tantrums and tears on that long walk back to the parking lot. Including issues with the digital submission process.
Few understand that the same Department of Immigration that your application worms its way through, also handles all the thousands of applicants for refugee status. That makes for an overload of an underfunded system.

One only needs to walk up the street from the main DGME offices to see the daily throngs of hopefuls trying to claim refugee status crowded around the single entrance door to the makeshift processing “center” there. A heartbreaking sight to take in. Most come from Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Colombia. Inexplicably, Costa Rica is now also taking in refugees from Haiti.

Legal Representation a Must

You may have concerns about the general character or competence of those who offer Immigration services. Many horror stories bolster such fears. “Get the Gringo” is almost as popular as soccer in Latin America. There are 30,000 lawyers in Costa Rica alone. Many graduated from the less strenuous private schools that promoted enrolments driven strictly by profit. Bums in the seats. Lower standards for graduation. The public universities are far more brutal, with fewer successful graduates. This heavily implies differences in competency and ethics.
Most top lawyers refuse to handle residency because of its unique aspects. What are the odds of picking the right one for you from the few that do?

Most assuredly, there are reliable ways to check out anyone offering their services. High-quality websites with credible testimonials top such vetting methods. Such information sources should reflect the following attributes about any representative:

  • Has long experience and total focuson this business.
    • Knows Costa Rica Immigration Law and the immigration process cold.
    • Is professional in deportment and presentation.
    • Qualify you at the outset and understand your situation to the last detail. (no reckless promises.)
    • Be able to help you through obstacles that may arise with your document chase.
    • Understandably coach you with empathy for your particular circumstances.
    • Have all your documentation prepared perfectly.
    • Personally handles your precious documents (No delegating to 8-to-4 staff and messengers.)
    • Available after hours and weekends.
    • Knows every nuance of how things work at the Department of Immigration.
    • Works through the process face to face with Immigration staff with effective diplomacy.
    • Be able to communicate perfectly with you in distinct“North American” English and with Immigration staff in typical “Costa Rican” Spanish. Absolutely crucial.

Decide now to obtain residency with Laura Gutiérrez (or, if entitled – Citizenship),

  • Laura provides transparent and accurate advice on how you qualify.
    • She has excellent bi-lingual communication skills learned from being educated and working in the U.S. and Canada. (Dual Costa Rican and Canada citizenship.) If you ask a question, she’ll wait for you to finish, then answer in context and stay on point without talking over you.
    • She provides understandable guidance in a communication style familiar to you.
    • Laura is timely in her responses to your questions during the process.
    • She is very skilled at maneuvering through the unpredictable labyrinth of the Immigration Center. Her office is in San Jose, close to the Immigration Center.
    • No office assistants or messenger services in the communication chain of your application.
    • When you hire Laura – you GET Laura.
    • With her cheerful style and engaging personality, Laura will put you at ease at your first encounter. She has great empathy and has experienced it all from your side when she was a new immigrant to Canada.
    • She will never forget the nightmare that this process can be if handled with shoddiness.
    • Laura’s approval times are still well below the averages.
    • She knows how to make your case move as quickly as possible.

Immigration staff know Laura well and trust her to bring correct paperwork to avoid needless delays. 80% of all applications submitted to the Immigration Center are incorrect, missing documents, or fraudulent. So getting it right the first time through requires meticulous attention to detail and diplomatic dealings with Immigration staff.

While your application is processed, you can fully embrace the joy of Costa Rica worry-free with updates from Laura as to your status. However, if your case gets complicated, all the more reason to have Laura in your corner.
One of the most frequent phrases Laura hears after a client submission at the DGME is:

“Wow, Laura. This place is crazy. I could never have done this on my own.”

We expect a significant uptick in ex-pat migrations due to the optimal environment and post-covid flight from countries of origin. Not unlike how things went here in Costa Rica during past severe pandemics in 2003 and 2009 compared to other countries. So if you have been thinking about it, get the jump on your residency process as soon as possible. It is entirely possible to begin the process either from your originating country or from here in Costa Rica.
The splendor of Costa Rica lies just beyond the immigration line, as is the status of permanently happy rather than forever frustrated

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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