Perpetual Tourists Beware!

Like every other country in the world, Costa Rica has its rules and laws regarding foreigners. In my own case, I have a ‘temporary’ legal residency, meaning it has to be renewed (every 5 years, as things stand now). There is a sizable number of people who enter the country as Perpetual Tourists and set up housekeeping.

They are supposed to leave every 90 days, and spend 3 days outside the country. This boils down to leaving the country about 4 times a year. Some go to Nicaragua, others prefer Panama. Some just go back to the States or even Canada. Those who have a place to stay Florida have it easy, with a short, cheap flights.

But the law is about to change, and as it stands now it will make life a lot harder on the perpetual tourists. Among the changes said to be in the works, a tourist will not be able to visit the same country twice to renew the tourist visa and after two trips will have to stay out of Costa Rica for at least 15 days. Ouch.

Another new wrinkle is that a ‘tourist’ can renew his visa by paying $100 for an extension of 90 more days. In order to gain this extension, the ‘tourist’ will have to demonstrate his ability to financially support himself during the coming 90 days. With impeccable Costarican logic, the $100 fee for the visa extension may be waived for those who don’t have the money. Ah! Got ya!

Other upcoming changes include the raising of amounts of pensions and income required to get residency. For those with a pension, the amount goes from $600 to $1000 a month, and for those without a certified pension, the amount goes from $1000 to $2500 a month.

There are numerous other changes, but rather than try to itemize everything, let’s just take a closer look at the two items mentioned above. The question that came to my mind when I first read of the changes was: What are they REALLY trying to accomplish? The new visa regulations would seem to want the perpetual tourists to become legal residents. Just how this benefits anybody is hard for me to understand, but we’ll let that slide for now. So as they are ‘encouraging’ perpetual tourists to become residents, they make it harder to become a legal resident by raising the income requirements.

As I write this, it occurs to me that I am taking a very Gringo-centric point of view. I have read and heard that the real targets of the new immigration law are not Gringos but other Latin Americans. In the mind of the public, and much of the government as far as I can tell, Colombians, Dominicans, Jamaicans and Nicaraguans are the cause of the recent upsurge in crime. It’s a rare week that goes by without some seizure of hundreds of kilos of cocaine. Colombians get the blame for this. Looking at the situation in Colombia, where the power of drug lords threatens that of the elected government, it is understandable that Costa Rica does not want to end up like Colombia. The other groups are blamed for a lot of the street crime, justly or unjustly.

Certainly it is true that immigrants from poorer countries help drive wages down and unemployment up. As President George W. Bush said,

First, let me make it very clear, poor people aren’t necessarily killers. Just because you happen to be not rich doesn’t mean you’re willing to kill.

Even so, there does seem to be some statistical correlation between crime and poverty.

Costa Rica has traditionally been very liberal in its policies towards ‘refugees’ from other countries, be they from El Salvador, Nicaragua or Colombia. To quote Clare Booth Luce, “No good deed goes unpunished.” Along with may deserving refugees have come drug runners and assorted other ‘undesirables.’ So there is a problem… what to do?

To get back to the original topic, we have some new immigration rules and regulations coming down the pike. Perhaps the new perpetual tourist regulations will help keep foreign drug lords and their minions from living in Costa Rica. As far as raising the residency income requirements, I rather doubt there are may drug lords (or minions) on pensions or living here as on rentista status. I also doubt that any halfway successful drug lord will have a problem coming up with the cash. Ah, but we Gringos… There is no question in my mind that the new, higher residency money requirements will discourage people considering retiring in Costa Rica. I had to put $60,000 in a CD with Banco National to prove I was financially able to maintain myself in order to satisfy the old requirements. By the time that expires, I will be able to qualify as ‘pensionado.’ If someone in my identical circumstances wanted to do the same thing now, he would have to put $150,000 in a similar CD. Even those who can afford it may be leery of tying up such a large amount of money in a Costa Rican bank, and not being able to use it for any other purpose.

I truly do wonder if the intent of the law is to discourage middle income Gringos from moving here. If not, that still may very well be the effect. I speak only for myself, but I know I am adding to Costa Rica’s tax revenues and GDP, in my modest way. I will stay, but I do wonder if those who didn’t get in under the old rules will look at other options. Housing is very cheap in Detroit, they say.

For more information on immigration issues, check out our other articles:

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  1. I see no advantage what so ever of living in Cost Rica, I live in south Florida and it is much cheaper for me to fly to Miami for a couple a days than make a cross country trip to Niguragra or Panama just to maintain a resident that has no advantage. I would never allow a third world bank to hold $60,000 0r $150,000 of mine.

  2. I made 16 trips to Costa Rica in 2009 had a great time made many friends, stayed in a nice place, I was always excited to get there but knowing I had a home in Key West, gave me the security of knowing I could leave whenever I wanted, and not worry about what some third world government was coming up with next.

  3. I have met many Gringos who have moved to Costa Rica, and for the most part they are very disappointed, all they talk about is how stupid the government is how, how backward the people are, the horns, the crackheads, the traffic, the crime, the corrupt police, I hear it all, that’s why I only visit have fun then go back to civilization.

  4. Well 11 years from now I hope to sell my house in the USA cause my kid will be out of school and move to CR. However, I do not think the Government is stable enough to do so. Articles like this make me worry about investing in CR. 🙁

  5. Housing is very cheap in Detroit! LOL

  6. Does the $60,000 devalue with the colones?

  7. No. Cal. Refugee says:

    Hank, the deal is you put $60,000 in a CD in a Costa Rica bank. It is in dollars and stays in dollars except for $1000 worth each month that is changed into Colones at whatever the current exchange rate is. You are free to whatever you like with the money, even change it back into dollars if that’s what you want to do. The interest rate you earn on the dollars is better than you’ll get in a US bank, by the way. It’s not a bad deal, except if you want to use the money for a down payment or to buy a house or whatever.

    • Mickey says:

      Keep in mind there is no FDIC in Costa Rica….the bank goes under and you lose your money.

  8. Mickey, I don't know how well informed you might be, but while your basic statement is true (the is no FDIC), you should know that there are only certain financial institutions acceptable to immigration for this money being set aside, as in National banks only, and Costa Rica does have an agency called SUGEF, which is very much like the FDIC. More over, that amount referred to by No. Cal. Refugee is the amount that was required under the old law. The new law requires more than double. I have heard reports that this money (put into laddered CD's, or whatever) rarely earns any interest for the rentista.

  9. rasool says:

    Everyone's comments were very enlightening. I had planned to move to Costa Rica next year after I retire . Its best for me to take Mr, Cubadave's advice and just visit for now. Cubadave knows best about the happenings in CR.