What is the difference between a Costa Rican visa, a Costa Rican citizenship and Costa Rican residency?

by Quatro Legal Immigration Team | Jan. 2, 2024 | Article, Immigration

It is common to think that “citizenship” and “residency” are the same thing. They are not, they are different concepts and to pursue them, there are different requirements and steps to follow, plus, both applications are requested at different public government institutions in Costa Rica.

That being said, let’s get started on the different processes.

A citizenship is a process that will grant a person the nationality of Costa Rica, basically, become a tico or a tica. The citizenship process is requested at Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones, that translates to the Supreme Electorate Court. Once approved, the client will obtain a Costa Rican ID (translates to cédula in Spanish) and will be able to request a Costa Rican passport and handle all the affairs at public institutions with the ID (cédula) and not with the passport or a DIMEX card.


There are two types of citizenships that can be requested:

1. Through Marriage: the main requirement is to be married to a Costa Rican citizen for two years and to have lived in Costa Rica for two consecutive years as well. If you have been coming and going, the timeline will stop every time the applicant leaves Costa Rica and will restart upon return so that is something important to take into consideration when making the calculation.

2. Through Residency: after an applicant has been a Temporary/Permanent Resident for seven years (time required for applicants from English speaking countries) or five years (time required for applicants from Spanish speaking countries) it is possible to apply for a citizenship process. However, in this case, a Temporary Residency process will be required beforehand, the details for thar time of process will be discussed and explained later on in the article.

The general requirements for the citizenship are the following documents: a recently issued Birth Certificate with the Apostille/Legalization, a recently issued Background Check with the Apostille/Legalization with less than three months of issue date, passport size pictures, valid passport with a valid entry stamp, official translations to Spanish for the documents, Sworn Statements from two witnesses declaring the applicant has good conduct, a sworn statement from the applicant declaring he/she has never had issues with the law in Costa Rica and Special Power of Attorney. To apply for a citizenship process there are no government fees associated, this is an important difference with the Residency process.

Take note that there is an exclusive requirement for the citizenship process through residency, it will be required to take two written tests one for Spanish and one for Social Studies. Applicants who are older than sixty-five years old don’t have to take the tests. Each test has a cost of ₵10,000 (ten thousand colones), which is approximately $19. Both tests will be applied in Spanish, therefore, it is absolutely mandatory that the applicant prepares properly for the tests and has knowledge of the language before being able to even start the citizenship process. It is required to have both tests approved to apply for the process.

A citizenship process takes around ten to twelve months to be resolved and officially approved.

Now, let’s discuss the Residency process as well as the requirements and important aspects.

The residency process is requested directly at the Immigration Department, this process will grant the client a temporary residency that will eventually lead to permanent residency (after being a temporary resident for three years). The applicant will receive a DIMEX card as the local ID. There are multiple ways to apply for a temporary residency under different categories, however, the process will be the same despite the category that each applicant decides to go through.

The Temporary Residency is a restricted category, that means that applicants are not allowed to be employed by a Costa Rican based company and receive a salary in Costa Rica.

Applicants are allowed to leave Costa Rica whenever they want to, however, every time you come back, you will have to comply with tourist requirements: valid passport, return ticket and proof of solvency. It will be possible to enter Costa Rica through the National line at the airport until you hold a DIMEX card in hand. Before that, applicants will still be considered tourists for all purposes.

An appointment will be required to submit the applications. It is important to always schedule an appointment because it will grant extension to the vital documents and to the entry stamp. For example: if you have a Marriage Certificate or a Background Check that will expire in a week, the appointment will extend the validity of the documents even if the appointment is scheduled for December of next year. Another benefit is that the applicant is allowed to stay in the country through the process without having to leave the country every 180 days. Nonetheless, there is an important exception to take into consideration and that is if the applicant has a driver’s license.

You might wonder why do you have to do border runs if you have an appointment or if you are already going through the process? Because the Transport Department and the Immigration Department do not work together, therefore, to drive in Costa Rica and keep the validity of your driver’s license, a border run will be required every 90 days. If you drive with an expired driver’s license (which will be subject to the last entry stamp on your passport) you will receive a ticket of approximately sixty-five thousand colones, approximately $123. Once you have your DIMEX card in hand, you will be able to apply for the process called “homologation of the driver’s license”, it basically consists of doing a copy of your foreign driver’s license into a Costa Rican driver’s license and two appointments will be required.

The residency process allows the principal applicant to include dependent applicants such as spouse or children. Each applicant will have their own individual file number at the Immigration Department for their residency, however, all applicants will be under the same request. The dependent applicants will be approved until the principal applicant is approved.

As for the basic requirements for the Temporary Residency process, the following documents are required: recently issued Birth Certificates dully Apostilled/Legalized, Background Check recently issued dully Apostilled/Legalized, Marriage Certificate (if applicable) recently issued dully Apostilled/Legalized, Consul Registration, passport size pictures, government fee payments ($251 per applicant), official translation to Spanish for all the documents, valid entry stamp to Costa Rica, certified copy of passport, Power of Attorney and fingerprints at the local Police Station.

Keep in mind that the Background Checks are required for all applicants over 18 years of age and they need to have an issuance date of less than six months. In the case for the fingerprints at the local Police Station it is required for applicant over 12 years of age.

The residency process takes an estimated time between ten to twelve months to be resolved and officially approved. Once approved, it will be required to proceed with the Registration process: get enrolled in Caja (our Social Health System) and request the DIMEX card. For the registration in Caja, it will be required to pay a monthly fee, keep in mind that only the principal applicant must pay the monthly fee and that will cover the dependents with the medical insurance. It is mandatory to pay the monthly fee or else, it won’t be possible to renew your DIMEX card after two years. The monthly fee will depend on the Main Requirement of each category, but we will develop additional articles pertaining to that topic.

As for the DIMEX card, it must be requested at BCR Bank or at the post office (Correos de Costa Rica). The DIMEX card will be valid for two years, after that a renewal process will be required. Everything works with previously scheduled appointments, and we will assist during each of the appointments to ensure that you have a pleasant experience and to guarantee a successful outcome.

Once the applicants have been temporary residents for two years, we can request a change to Permanent Residency. The Permanent Residency will allow applicants to work in Costa Rica and the times for renewal on the DIMEX card will be extended for more than two years. On the other hand, as explained earlier on this article, being a Resident will lead to a Citizenship process afterwards and the timeline will depend on your country of origin being that if you come from an English-speaking country, you will need seven years as a resident and if you come from a Spanish-speaking country you will need five years of being a Resident here.

After going through all the details and information, we can see that both terms are very different from one another, and they are not the same thing. Both processes have different requirements and steps to follow. Depending on the circumstances and needs, one or the other will be a more suitable option for each client.

For more information please fill out the courtesy e-meeting form at the bottom. We will sure be happy to assist throughout the whole process!

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