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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Living Legal in Costa Rica - PART I

Foreign nationals like ourselves who wish to live in Costa Rica without having to leave the country every 90 days - or sometimes less - are obliged to have (or to have completed an application for) a government issued ID card commonly referred to as a "cédula" or as a "DIMEX", the latter being an acronym for "Documento de Identidad Migratorio para Extranjeros".

With fanfare, I first wrote about receiving our cédulas in my blog post on July 23, 2012. They had been issued on July 20, 2012. Recently, they were renewed. As indicated in the above snapshot of my own cédula, the headline is "RESIDENTE PENSIONADO COND RESTRINGIDA". This means that our right to live in Costa Rica is subject to conditions. Being in the "pensionado" category, one condition is an assured monthly income of at least $1,000 U.S. Usually, the assurance is in the form of a letter from a competent authority verifying a government pension. Another condition is being able to prove year-to-year that at least $12,000 is being converted from U.S. dollars to Costa Rican colones. When the each year begins and ends is a bit of a mystery. We took it to begin on the date our cédulas were issued - and that seems to have worked.

Coming from Canada, the conversion process is a bit painful not by reason of the amount but because we have to first buy U.S. dollars from a Canadian bank then sell the dollars to a Costa Rican bank, each bank taking its pound of flesh along the way. We figure that we are losing 8‑10% to the banks on foreign exchange, whereas those from the U.S. might be losing half that amount. I suppose those from France, Germany, the U.K., etc., are in the same position as ourselves.

Another condition is to enroll in CAJA, Costa Rica's public medical care system and to make monthly payments to CAJA based on income. Even if one elects not to use the public system and to rely exclusively on private hospital and medical care services which are available, one is still obliged - and rightly so - to contribute to CAJA.

When we received our cédulas in 2012, we cheerfully assumed that they were good for two years from the date of issue - and then would have to be renewed. Two years is a number which we had heard several times. We had in mind that we had until July 20, 2014 to renew.

WRONG! They expired in February. So off we went to our lawyer who advised us we would each need an affidavit explaining why we were late. The affidavits are in Spanish. The cost was $50.00 each.

The actual expiry date of a cedula is indicated on the bottom right of the card - "Vence" - with a date beside it. We never noticed that!

Our lawyer also advised that I then needed to get a new pension letter from my Canadian federal government pension people stating my monthly net income. A phone call to Ottawa started this wheel turning, but it took about three weeks for the actual letter to get into my hands. We then took the letter to the Canadian Embassy in San José for an official translation - only to have it rejected because there was no written signature. Fortunately, however, we were dealing with Michelle in the Consular Section and she was very helpful. We ended up making a conference telephone call from the Embassy to a pension officer in Ottawa and I was able to authorize my pension information to be made available to Michelle. She was then able to prepare a Spanish language letter on Embassy letterhead verifying the pension amount. The Embassy charge for all of this was 22,400 colones (about $41.00 U.S.).

Neither the affidavits nor the new pension letter would have been required had we renewed our cédulas in a timely manner.

The next step was to phone Banco de Costa Rica (BCR) and make an appointment. Their phone number is 900-00-34639. They offer an option to speak to an English speaking employee. We opted to go to the BCR in San Jose because it is easy to get there on a bus. BCR told us to bring along the following:

  • Current passport and a copy of the information inside.
  • Current cédula and copies of the front and back.
  • A letter from our bank verifying the amount converted from U.S. dollars to Costa Rican colones. Special Note: We do not maintain bank accounts in Costa Rica because we have not sensed much need. All we have done is to keep bank teller receipts showing the conversions with my name and cédula number on them. They were organized with checklists for 2012, 2013 and 2014 so that they could be quickly inspected and checked off.
  • Copy of marriage certificate.
  • Current "Carné Asegurado Directo" and a copy. This is the card issued to you when you have joined the CAJA.
  • Current receipt from CAJA showing you are paid up to date.
  • We also had to bring our affidavits and the new pension letter.

The cost for renewal is $123 USD each and this can be paid in colones or U.S. dollars. We also had to pay 3,000 colones for each month we were overdue (for each of us). There was also a 3,500 colone charge (for each of us) for the correos (post office), which is where our new cédulas would be sent and, in our case, this was the correos in Atenas.

There was one glitch: Lance did not have his own carné from the CAJA and this caused some confusion with the BCR people. They seemed to suggest that it would be necessary to get some form of confirmation from CAJA that he was covered by CAJA and that it should be delivered directly to Immigracion and not via BCR. Necessary for what? At the end of our appointment with BCR, we were both told that our new cédulas would be available for pickup at the correos in two or three weeks - and so they were without any followup involving Immigracion.

In the meantime, we were a bit concerned about the situation with CAJA and took steps to obtain Lance’s own carné - but that is a different story.




Ron Perry said...

Hi Diana... I have followed your blog, but this entry about renewing the 2 year pensionado cedula is my current concern. We recently received ours, and I'm trying to be prepared for future renewal. Have you found any other way to prove the minimum monthly amount converted? What if you use the ATM to withdraw from your Canadian account? What if you mainly use your Canadian credit card? We have been assuming those methods were a little less expensive than converting our poor Canadian dollars to $US first. Any comments would be appreciated.

Diana Miskell said...

Hi Ron,

As we understand, pensionados are obliged to satisfy immigracion that they are converting at least USD $1000 per month. But, it does not have to be each and every month. If there are shortfalls in some months, then they can be picked up in later months. On the bottom line, we think but we are by no means certain that all immigration cares about is proof that the total for all months adds up to at least USD $1000 per month as of the time an application for renewal is filed.

Whether the U.S. dollars are obtained by a withdrawal using a Canadian bank debit card, a Canadian credit card or any other source is quite irrelevant.

That being said, there are only two ways we have imagined for providing sufficient proof. First, if you have a colones bank account in Costa Rica and all the U.S. dollars have been deposited with the bank after conversion to colones, then a letter from the bank should suffice. Second, if you do not have a bank account in Costa Rica (and for many there is no reason to have such an account), then what is needed is receipts from the bank or banks in Costa Rica where you have walked into the bank, presented U.S. dollars obtained from an ATM or wherever, and bought colones. Each receipt should reflect the purchase of colones using U.S. dollars and show the name of the person obliged to make the necessary conversions. In theory, the necessary proof might be provided by a combination of the first and second ways.

There is no way of getting around having to convert from CAD to USD to colones.

We don't know what your situation is, but it might be prudent to buy a half hour or so of time from a reputable Costa Rican lawyer familiar with the requirements of immigracion.

ab said...

You guys are using the old laws. YOU DO NOT...I REPEAT...DO NOT need to "convert" Dollars to colones with the new law. All you have to do is RECEIVE $1000 a month and prove that!

ab said...

PS: The regulations have been modified ("Reglamento de Extranjería" - Decreto No. 37112-G) and pensionados have it a little easier than before.

First let's look at the Ley No. 8764, Ley General de Migración y Extranjería. Article 81 establishes in simple terms that pensionados must show that they receive a monthly, permanent, and stable pension of no less than US $1000.00 or its equivalent.

Article 228 of the Reglamento de Extranjería lists the requirements for a pensionado to renew their status, and it consists of:
- Renewal fees
- Timely receipt from CCSS showing uninterrupted affiliation with the CCSS since having had legal residence in the country.
- Proof from the relevant authority indicating that the person continues to maintain the active pension.
- Passport, must be up to date and in good shape

There is no mention of having to get an hoja de delincuencia from OIJ, or having to convert the pension funds into colones. The currency conversion requirement was a thing of past regulations.

Diana Miskell said...

I wrote this post in 2014 - when these laws WERE in effect.

Diana Miskell said...

I wrote this post in 2014 so of course the information is not now current but thanks for the update for others who may be reading this. We renewed again this month (February, 2017) and I wrote a post about it. By the way, we renewed at Banco de Costa Rica and they insisted that we prove we had a bank account in this country.