Making the move to a new country is never easy, so one of the first things you should do is find a good source of information to keep you safe and assist you in navigating all the unique requirements and laws the country has in its legal, tax, real estate, and migratory systems. There are several good sources available, but naturally I would recommend ARCR, which has over 25 years experience in such matters. Regardless of who you choose, there are several key things to be taken into account from the very beginning.
If you are going to apply for residency, you should bring the following documents from your home country:
BIRTH CERTIFICATE: This document should be newly issued, that is not older than six months at the date of its presentation to Immigration here. And, it will be required to have been apostilled (certified accurate by the Foreign Affairs Office or the Office of the Secretary of State of the state/country in which it was issued.)
POLICE CRIMINAL HISTORY BACKGROUND CHECK: This document is sometimes slow to be processed so you should start obtaining it well before your departure. For US citizens, the only acceptable background check Costa Rican Imigracion will accept is one issued by the U.S. FBI. It too must be no more than six months old to be valid.
MARRIAGE CERTIFICATE: If you are coming with your legal spouse, you need to be able to demonstrate your official marital status. To do that you will need the marriage certificate. And remember, it too cannot be older than six months and must be apostilled.
(If your country does not apostille documents because they are not a member of the Hague Convention, then you will need to go a different route. That is, to have the documents certified by the Foreign Affairs Office in your country, and then by the Costa Rican Embassy or Consulate located in that country. An example of the need for this alternate process is Canada, which does not apostille documents.)
These three documents are essential and will be required for any type of residency procedure you decide on. But be aware, there are more documents which will be required. They vary depending on the type residency being sought. Thorough knowledge of the requirements is why your first step should be to identify an experienced and qualified person or organization to assist and guide you through the residency application process.
If you intend to bring money into Costa Rica, to buy property or build a home, for instance, there are some requirements that you must meet:
You will need a LETTER OF GOOD STANDING, issued by your home bank. This letter is a certification of the history of your financial activities with your bank over the years.
You will also have to provide additional documentation (also apostilled) regarding the origin of the funds that you are going to move to Costa Rica. (The use of an escrow account for real estate proceedings may be a good idea; they take care of all the documentation for a relatively small fee.)
Remember that even if you are successful in opening your Costa Rican bank account, as long as you are not a resident you will not be able to make wire transfers from that account to any other accounts, including utilities, or to another service to which you would like to transfer money. Also, no one will be able to transfer money to into your account. You will only be able to deposit the maximum allowed amount in that account ($1,000 USD per person per month – a couple can make two, separate $1,000 deposits) for money to withdraw for cash to pay daily expenses. Those withdrawals can only be made via a live teller or ATM machine. (It is also a good idea to maintain a foreign bank account which allows you to make international cash withdrawals via local ATM machines until your residency has been granted.)
When you have applied for your residency, but it has not been approved, and you need to go out of the country, remember that you will be treated just as any other tourist; you will be able to go and come as you please but you must always be able to present a valid ticket out of Costa Rica upon your return.
Be aware that when you buy property of any type, you will need the services of a Notary Public. Notaries in Costa Rica are used differently than you may be familiar with in your home country. In Costa Rica, Notaries are the key link in a complex registration system that guarantees the ownership of real estate, cars, motorcycles, boats, corporations, intellectual property, liens, mortgages, and such. The Costa Rica system depends on the registration of ownership in the National Registration System be accomplished only through a Notary Public, therefore a Notary is required for any transaction.