Costa Rica is the #1 choice for people from the United States looking to move abroad. There has been a large expatriate crowd in this small country for decades, and people come from all corners of the globe looking to settle permanently in this nature lover’s paradise. In past decades, people viewed Costa Rica as a retirement destination. After a full career in the United States, people would pull their retirement savings and invest in a large house and more luxurious way of life than would be possible state-side. Now, however, people are moving to Costa Rica younger and younger. Not wanting to wait until retirement to enjoy themselves, young people come to Costa Rica to work or even start their own businesses. While it may be tempting to relocate your skills to a beach and rainforest filled paradise and manage your own business, it is a little bit trickier than it seems. Working and living in Costa Rica is an incredible experience and once your legal working permissions are sorted, you’ll begin to enjoy the beach life.
Working Legally in Costa Rica
As is true in any country, to work for a Costa Rican entity, you’ll need to have residency or a work visa. A work visa in this country is rather difficult to get as you need to prove you have skills which can’t be replaced by a local worker. Costa Rica being a highly educated and developed country, the chances that there are no locals apt in your trade are slim. The best way to go about working for a Costa Rican entity is by applying for residency. There are many different forms of residency, and chances are one will work for you. If you have doubts, legal help can be acquired in Costa Rica for an affordable price.
While working for a Costa Rican entity requires residency before any contract can be signed, opening your own business is somewhat easier. People from the United States are legally allowed to own property, real estate, and businesses in Costa Rica without any sort of residency visa. This is just one law that represents Costa Rica’s friendly stance toward US visitors. You will be required to have a local partner or lawyer to legally inscribe your business with the Ministry of Labor, but you can start your company and apply for residency as an investor or company representative.
Working online is a strange grey area. While you are technically not supposed to work without permission in any country, if you’re working online for a company that is based in your home country, chances are you’re fine. This also gives you flexibility to travel and see more of the country before settling down in one region.
Types of Visas
When you first enter Costa Rica, you will be granted a tourist visa. With this visa, you’ll be allowed to stay in the country for 90 days before you’re required to leave for at least 3 days. This 3-day rule is rarely checked, and many long-term visitors to Costa Rica make a “border run” every 3 months to either Nicaragua or Panama. They often stay one night and return. While this is far from ideal, as long as they keep granting you this tourist visa, you’ll be free to stay. Many people choose to remain on the tourist visa for the first couple years of their stay in Costa Rica as it allows them more freedom before they make a long-term decision.
A working visa, as mentioned above, gives someone of extraordinary skills the chance to work in Costa Rica if the job cannot be filled by a local. This is one of the more difficult visas to acquire as the Costa Rican Education system has produced many well-prepared professionals. If you do apply for this visa, however, your new employer will do most of the work for you in the application process.
A retiree’s visa gives you the right to stay in the country as long as you’d like, but you aren’t allowed to work. You must also prove a $1,000 monthly income from a pension source. A renter’s visa is similar. It’s easy to receive and gives you the right to stay in the country, but not work for a Costa Rican entity, so these two visa types are off the table for those looking to work.
The investor’s visa, company representative visa, and permanent visa are three types that give you the right to work for a Costa Rican company or inscribe your own company permanently with the Ministry of Labor. The permanent visa is the most popular among those living full time in Costa Rica. This can be a time-consuming process, but it will give you legal rights to everything you need to live and work in your new country.
How to Start your Work
If you want to start a physical business with a store front or physical space, you are free to start the process when you enter the country on a tourist’s visa. You will need to inscribe your business with a local counterpart, so choose your partner wisely. During this process, you can start to apply as an investor or permanent resident.
If you are starting an online business, you are free to work online without Costa Rican residency. Eventually, you’ll find it more convenient to apply for your residency rather than leaving the country every 3 months, but you’ll have time to get settled before you need to worry about that.
If you come to Costa Rica with the idea of working for a Costa Rican entity, like a school or restaurant, you will need permanent residency before you start the job. Typically, employers ask for proof of residency before they make a hire. You may want to ask any future employer about a work visa, although many companies will not want to go down that road.
Legal paperwork is difficult in any country, but Costa Rica has a strong pro-US stance that shows in a variety of ways. One of them is the encouragement of foreigners to start their own businesses and apply for residency. It may be a long and tedious process, but once you are working and living in this tropical paradise, it will all be worth it.