Our country, located in Central America, is an isthmus where life seems to have created its roots. Covering only 0.03% of the surface of our planet, Costa Rica has approximately 6% of the world’s biodiversity.
In addition, Costa Rica is characterized by impressive scenic beauty, a consolidated system of protected areas, social and political stability, high educational levels, and efficient infrastructure and services. All of this offered in a territory of only 51 thousand square kilometers, surrounded by both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, at a distance from each other of only three to four hours by land or 45 minutes by air.
The country’s strategic position, in the heart of the western hemisphere, the Government’s positive attitude towards foreign investment, its infrastructure, access to international markets, and the quality and cost of labor, make Costa Rica an ideal place to establish commercial operations.
Ticos, as Costa Ricans are commonly known, are a fairly mixed bunch. Though the majority of the country’s 3.3 million inhabitants are the descendants of Spanish immigrants, many families originated from other parts of Europe, Asia, Africa and, of course, Central America.
Rugged highlands are found throughout most of the country, they range from approximately 1,000 to 2,000 meters (3,000 to 6,000 feet above sea level). The Cordillera de Guanacaste, Cordillera Central, and Cordillera de Talamanca are the principal mountain ranges extending the length of the country. There are several active volcanoes (Volcán Arenal, Volcán Irazú, Volcán Rincón de la Vieja and Volcán Turrialba) and the country’s highest mountain (Cerro Chirripó) which reaches a height of 3,819 m/12,530 ft. The country has a relatively long coastline in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as a number of rivers and streams that attract expert kayakers and rafters
You don’t have to drive very far in Costa Rica — past the coffee, pastures, bananas and other crops — to realize that agriculture is the basis of its economy. Coffee has historically been the country’s most important crop, and Costa Rica continues to produce some of the finest coffee in the world. However in recent years less traditional crops have been playing an increasingly important economic role. Bananas are the second most important export crop, then pineapples, sugar, oranges, rice, hardwoods and ornamental plants, as well as raising cattle for beef and dairy products
Though agriculture remains the basis of the national economy, tourism has earned more than any single export crop during the last few years, and the tourism industry continues to grow providing new employment opportunities, and stimulating the conservation of our complex biodiversity.
Government offices are generally open from 8 am to 4 pm, while banks close anytime between 3:00 and 6:00 pm . Most shops are open from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm.
Banks & Money
There is an ample selection of state owned and privately held banks in San Jose, and throughout the country. The official currency of Costa Rica is the colon, however US dollars are widely accepted. US dollars and traveler’s checks can be changed in banks and hotels. Most major credit cards are widely accepted, and cash advances can be obtained at banks around the country and a variety of places throughout San Jose.
In the Costa Rican system of government there are three branches of government: Executive, which consists of the president, two vice presidents and cabinet; the Legislative Assembly, with 57 individually elected deputies; and, the Judicial Branch, which consists of civil, criminal, appellate and constitutional courts. The President and members of the Legislative Assembly are elected for four-year terms and the president can’t run for reelection.
Our current President is Dr. Oscar Arias.
Health & Education
The Costa Rican government has long dedicated a significant portion of its national budget to education and other social services; a policy that has resulted in a healthy and educated populace. The country has a literacy rate and average life expectancy that are much closer to those of Western European nations than most Latin American countries. Costa Rica has had a socialized medical system for nearly half a century, and while schools and clinics are found throughout the country, the Central Valley has several public universities and dozens of private universities.
Travelers are more likely to encounter more educated people, and don’t have to worry about most of the diseases they would expect to encounter in a tropical country.
Tap water is safe to drink in most of the country, but bottled beverages are recommended in rural areas. For those few travelers that do become sick or injured while in Costa Rica, there are hospitals and private clinics in San Jose that offer a level of care comparable to what they would expect at home, and for considerably less money
Costa Rica ‘s year round climate is pleasant with naturally occurring breezes cooling down most of the coastal areas. Temperatures in the highlands and the mountains are warm by day and brisk at night giving an ‘eternal spring’ feeling. The average annual temperatures range from 31.7ºC (89ºF) on the coast to 16.7ºC (62ºF) inland. The rainy, or green, season lasts from May to December with noticeably drier days during the rest of the year.
Though government offices and most banks close on national holidays, this causes little inconvenience to travelers, since money and traveler’s checks can be changed at most hotels. We recommend that you do not change money on the street.
There are days when hardly anything will be open, such as Christmas, New Year’s and often a couple of days preceding, and during Holy Week from Wednesday to Easter Sunday.
Some holidays can be attractive for travelers, such as the last week of the year, when there are parades and many other activities in San Jose and throughout the country. On July 25 every year (the annexation of the province of Guanacaste), the main towns in this northwest province are overflowing with revelry and folklore. Carnival, which is celebrated in the Caribbean port of Limon during the week of October 12, is another colorful affair
Delta Airlines, American Airlines, Continental, Northwest, U.S. Airways, Air Canada and Sky Services offer direct flights from Atlanta, Miami, Dallas, Houston, Minneapolis, Charlotte and Toronto to Guanacaste several times per week.
A valid passport is required to enter Costa Rica. The Costa Rican government has recently made changes to their entry requirements and now require a valid passport for U.S. Citizens. In many metropolitan cities you can receive a passport within 48 hours if you have an airline ticket.
The loss or theft of a Passport should be reported to the local police and your country’s Embassy in Costa Rica. Tourists should carry a copy of their passport data page and leave the actual passport in the hotel safe or your room safe.
Not all persons wishing to travel to Costa Rica need a Visa. Your need for a Visa depends on your nationality, the purpose of the visit, and the length of your stay. Visa exemptions and requirements depend on current agreements and treaties that Costa Rica has with other nations
Costa Rican Law:
In the states, our legal system is based on Common Law whereas Civil Law is used in Costa Rica. This is an important distinction to make in regard to how judges make decisions and how contracts are written. Civil Law is more restricted with less interpretation by the judges. Precedent is not necessarily a factor and may be considered or viewed only for clarification purposes. The Supreme Court or Sala Cuarta, is the exception and will hear cases where the lower courts were restricted to rule only on provisions provided in the civil code.
Written contracts in Costa Rica are of a simpler form than their stateside counterparts. Contracts include only what the law does not already state. Under Common Law, contracts are more specific and detail oriented since they must allow for as little interpretation as possible.
Protection of Private Property:
You may ask, “Can the government take my property from me?” Yes, it is possible, but very difficult. One thing to understand is that there are similar conditions we find even in the United States and other countries where the government has and can expropriate private property for public interests, i.e. roads, easements, protected areas, etc. There have been cases in the past where the Costa Rican government has expropriated lands for national parks and protected areas, however these are the exception and not the rule. Especially today with new constitutional procedures where the government must legally demonstrate public interest and justly compensate the landowner. Article 45 of the Costa Rican Constitution guarantees equal rights and protection of private property, be it owned by nationals or foreigners.
Income Tax – Costa Rica is a “source” jurisdiction from an income point of view. Residents, non-residents and corporations generally are subject to tax only on their Costa Rican source income. For this reason, Costa Rica offers no credit for foreign taxes paid on foreign source income by Costa Rican residents or non-residents. Tax Rates – 30% on corporations / 30% catch-all rate on non-residents, and a graduated scale of 10% – 25% for nationals depending on the type of income source. There is no capital gains tax in Costa Rican unless the income is derived from “habitual” activities. National sales tax is 13%. Property taxes are 0.025% of the declared property value.
Under certain conditions, Costa Rica allows foreigners to gain residency status. This is not to be confused with citizenship. Being a Costa Rican resident allows certain benefits while you reside here but still maintain your foreign citizenship. Foreigners “living” in Costa Rica on a tourist visa do not necessarily qualify for residency as they must first meet certain requirements ( listed below). As a tourist, your visa must be renewed every 90 days (depending on the country of origin) by checking out of the country for 72 hours. Aside from not having to renew your tourist visa, benefits of residency include access and discounts on some public services like health care, insurance, and education.
In years past, Costa Rica was a haven for retirees, offering foreign residents certain incentives like importation of household goods and a vehicle exempt from import duties. These incentives were discontinue several years ago. Today, benefits are few unless you qualify through an investment scenario.
NOTE: You can own property as a foreigner and live here on tourist visa.
One of the confusing issues is gaining residency but also having the right to work. Working status is not part of your residency and is given only under special circumstances, like an investment scenario. This requires a lengthy and bureaucratic process so be sure this is something necessary to your plans or project.
Qualification categories are as follows:
1. Pensionado Status – You must demonstrate a permanent income from a retirement source such as a pension. The minimum amount is $600 per month and you must reside in the country for a at least 4 months each year.
2. Rentista Status – This is for individuals who do not have retirement income but can show income from other capital investments. You must provide documentation that you receive a minimum of $1,000 each month for a period of at least five years. You must also change a minimum of $12,000 per year into colones through the Costa Rican National Banking System.
3. Investor Status – Those making a minimum investment of $50,000 can qualify for residency if the investment is made in a priority industry such as non-traditional exports or tourism. Residency along with other incentives are offered with investments of $100,000 in reforestation projects or $200,000 in non-priority industries. Ask your attorney for further details.
4. Permanent Residency – is usually reserved for people who marry Costa Ricans, have a child born in Costa Rica, or are seeking political asylum.
5. Temporary Residency – is regularly awarded to people employed by international companies or students and teachers participating in official exchange programs with the Costa Rican Universities.
In all cases, you must provide a series of documentation from your home country such as certificate of birth, marital status, police report, photos, income certification, etc. All documents must be certified by the Costa Rican Embassy in your home country and then translated here in Costa Rica. Fingerprints and a written declaration are taken in Costa Rica at the immigration office. If you solicit for investor status, you will be required to provide a financial study of your project. If the project involves real property, you must provide proof of ownership. In theory, the process should only take a few months but this would be an exception. Some cases can take up to a year or more depending much on the efficiency of your lawyer.
Most attorneys will do immigration work but very few specialize in it. It is best to talk to an immigration specialist to see if you qualify before getting started.