How to Screw Up Royally in Costa Rica

At the risk of repeating myself, I STRONGLY advise against moving to Costa Rica unless you already have all the money (or income) you already need to live the rest of your life. I don’t say it is impossible to earn a living here for a gringo or gringa, but odds are heavily against you.

The ‘odds’ are due to a combination of things. The government here has made it quite clear that they do NOT want foreigners coming here except those who will ADD to the local economy, not subtract. This means you are free to come down and spend money as a tourist, or come down and spend your retirement money to live here, but they do NOT want people here who are looking for a job. The immigration and residency rules are quite clear on this, and those who claim ignorance as an excuse will find that it doesn’t get them anywhere.

But here is a story of just what NOT to do. A guy I know had some contacts in the States and was able to start a small telemarketing business along with a friend. The friend had residency and the right to work here, the ‘guy’ had neither. The ‘guy’ (let’s call him Gus) came to Costa Rica as a tourist with a 90 day stay allowed, and never left. I won’t go into why he came to Costa Rica but he was here and needed income. His telemarketing business was going okay until he got one of his ’employees’ angry at him and the ’employee’ reported him. I put ’employee’ in quotes because all the work was under the table, in order to avoid playing the Costa Rican equivalents of Social Security and withholding, etc. Also to avoid those pesky residency requirements.

So the ‘disgruntled employee’ calls the Immigration Department, and they do a raid. Most of the workers had the right to work there, but not Gus. That was bad enough. But to add a little gasoline to the fire, Gus had overstayed his tourist visa by THIRTEEN months. The upshot of it all is that as I type this, Gus is in the deportation center awaiting deportation.

This being Costa Rica, nothing happens too rapidly, and IF he will be allowed to just pay a fine, which is uncertain, the earliest fines will be considered will be over two months in the future. The deportation center is nicer than a Costa Rican jail, but not quite as nice as an Army basic training barracks. He has a lawyer working on his case, but the lawyer has been told that there’s nothing to be done, Gus will have to wait for the system to do its thing. Gus is unhappy, to say the least, but all the discontent he can ever feel won’t get him out of the detention center.

Some people think the American Embassy will bail you out of bad situations, but the plain fact is they will NOT. There is a very limited set of services the embassy will perform. If you want to check it out, you can click on the link below.

In any event, Gus is at the mercy of the system down here, and he has no just cause for complaint. If he was unaware that he would be ‘detained’ for his transgressions, he certainly was NOT unaware that he was breaking the law. It’s quite true that you can get away with a lot sometimes, and he did for quite a while, but if you get busted, don’t think for a minute that you won’t have to pay the price.

As Sammy Davis Jr. used to sing on the theme song to that old TV show, Baretta… “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.”

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  1. Too bad that you have to write such a post! But it seems everyday, I read of people who are breaking the laws of CR and don't expect to get caught… and then it seems they expect the "worst" is to be deported. Your experience is a good warning.

  2. All the big banks break laws daily, never admit guilt, pay fines, go back to "GO", start over.
    Let Gus pay his fine and be done with it.

  3. michael alan says:

    Really it sounds like it was not doing his 90 day visa runs that was problem. After all, the angry man called Immigration. It's not like you can't have a business here- I mean that's half the Gringo's here have a business without residency. But a good wake-up call nonetheless. nice article.

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