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After months of research, my wife Jasmine (Jas) and I have decided to pack up our lives in San Antonio, TX, and move to Costa Rica. Following this decision to live in Costa Rica long term, we had to determine how to legally live in that tropical country.
Can we simply do the perpetual tourist thing by making border runs to renew our visa, or should we go down the long road to Costa Rica residency?
After announcing our move to Costa Rica on social media, we decided to document our experience on our YouTube channel. So we started a series called Moving to Costa Rica Update. In addition, we are publishing monthly update videos detailing each step we’ve taken.
After posting one of the early videos, we received an intriguing comment from a viewer. He wrote that as an avid traveler, he does not recommend pursuing a permanent residency in Costa Rica. Instead, he said we should wait until we have lived in the country for at least a year and then decide.
But other than stating that “most expats only last about a year or two in any foreign county…” he didn’t explain why he felt this way about our situation.
Now, of course, his comment left us with some questions. Who is this guy? What does he know about moving to Costa Rica that we don’t know?
Did we miss something significant in our research about living in Costa Rica as expected? And what would living in Costa Rica on a 90-day renewable tourist visa be like for us?
Tourist Visa in Costa Rica
Costa Rica has a long-standing relationship with deep ties to the United States. Because of this strong relationship, U.S. citizens are not required to have a visa to enter Costa Rica.
So to get in, we only have to present our passports to immigration, along with an onward ticket to show that we will exit Costa Rica within 90 days. Once they stamp our passports, Jas and I will be legal tourists for the next three months.
But for us, this just isn’t enough time to get our “Pura Vida” fix. With a tourist visa, we must leave the country within 90 days, even if we plan to return immediately.
Our plan is to live in Costa Rica indefinitely. So we can drive to Panama or Nicaragua, bordering countries. Or fly to a neighboring country like Guatemala or Colombia every three months to meet these requirements. Then, once our passports have been stamped outside Costa Rica, we can return home.
But before immigration stamps our passports, they will require us to show them another onward ticket proving that we plan on leaving again within 90 days. There are a few additional requirements as well, so if you planning a border run from Costa Rica, check out one of our three broader run videos from our border run playlist on YouTube.
Theoretically, if we follow these rules, we could make border runs an infinite number of times. We can make the best of it and turn these border runs into mini vacations four times a year. Sounds exciting, right? So, what’s the catch?
For each trip, we’ll have to consider a few things. For example, we must think about the number of pages left on our passports and the cost of transportation and lodging. And not to mention the time spent on planning and travel.
After research, including reaching out to different people in the Costa Rica expat, I met plenty of happy people doing the perpetual tourist thing.
One YouTuber from Costa Rica Now had successfully crossed the border every 3 months for over ten years before applying for residency.
But relying on border runs seems like a temporary solution with a lot of drawn-out hassle. Our current plan is to put down roots in Costa Rica. So we have decided to reach out to a residency lawyer and start the process before our big move.
Applying for Residency in Costa Rica
After talking to our residency attorney, there doesn’t seem to be a downside to applying for residency before our move. Of course, there are some upfront costs like lawyer fees and time spent gathering all the required documents, but I think all that will be offset by not having the border run requirement.
We started preparing for this process months before our actual move, and our residency application has already been submitted. By submitting the application, we are officially Migration Applicants, and border runs are something we won’t have to worry about to legally stay in the country.
However, border runs are required if we want to continue driving past the 90-day stamp on our passports. Once we have permanent residency, we can apply for a Costa Rica driver’s license.
Any day now, when our application is processed by the Department of Immigration, we will be granted Temporary Residency under the category of Rentista Residency.
Once officially Temporary Residence, we will immediately be eligible for CAJA, Costa Rica’s top-notch social health care system. This system covers 100% of medical procedures and prescription drugs through public hospitals and health clinics. This system is funded through a monthly tax based on a percentage of our income. There are also many excellent private healthcare facilities available if we choose to use them.
Our next milestone should happen a few years from now. After we have held a Temporary Residency in Costa Rica for 3 years, we will be eligible to apply for Permanent Residency Status.
Permanent Residents have almost all the same rights as citizens, except that they can’t vote or run for office. After this, to maintain this status, all we have to do is visit the country once a year.
So, after questioning whether residency is the correct choice for us, we’re still confident that we are making the right decision. If we decide to leave Costa Rica early, we have nothing to lose except for some time and a little bit of money. For us, a little bit of money is always a fair trade for education and some life experience.