One expat, a business owner in
Costa Rica and self-proclaimed perpetual tourist for the
last seven years, said on a recent trip out of the country
to renew his 90-day visa via Panama, he spent one night
across the border and upon re-entry was only granted five
days permission to be in Costa Rica. He claimed to have had
a bus ticket signifying he would be leaving again within 90
days, a standard requirement made by some border agents, but
that he was unsuccessful in trying to persuade three
separate border agents to grant him the full 90-day stay.
The man acknowledged that he
had overstayed his previous 90-day permission in Costa Rica
by a week or so but complained that the decision by the
border agents was arbitrary and possibly done out of spite
against perpetual tourists like himself. Many other expats,
perpetual tourists, have reported similar treatment while
others have said they have had little to no problems
receiving the maximum 90 days for their North American
tourists visas. But most all agree that for years 90 days
has been the golden standard. That may not be so anymore.
[ED] The question must be
asked, how can the border guards be able to get away with
such arbitrary application of the law? The answer is
equally as simple... laws are written to be intentionally
ambiguous. If laws were written to be absolute and
required no interpretation, then there would be no doubt and
border crossing guards would not have this leeway.
People would know where they stand and the opportunity to
bribe border officials would be drastically reduced.
Mario Zamora Cordero is the
minister of Seguridad Pública and former director de
Dirección General de Migración y Extranjeria. He affirmed
that a 90-day stay in the country is not guaranteed. The
maximum is 90 days, he said. Agents are trying to close the
doors on the type of pseudo-residency many perpetual
tourists hold, he said, adding that, for whatever reason
expats are living in Costa Rica, whether because of an
investment in a business or for work, there is a legal
immigration status that exists for them.
“The problem is that people
have become accustomed to prolonging their status as
tourists,” Zamora said. “What we are trying to do now is
normalize the situation.”
[ED] Then please write laws that are clear and require ZERO
He claimed the loose practice
started years ago when the immigration agency didn't have
the capacity to attend to all the people who were coming to
the country seeking some sort of residency status. He said
now the process is easier, the laws are in English and it
does not require any legal assistance to make an appoint
with immigration and present documents for the purpose of
obtaining an upgraded status. He said most times the steps
are easy and simple.
[ED] While this might be true in theory, an experienced and
qualified immigration attorney knows all the shortcuts and
tricks that are needed to make it through Costa Rica's
quagmire of bureaucracy.
But while a perpetual tourist
with a passport full of entry and exit stamps for years on
end may raise the red flag for officials, other more
traditional visitors to the country report that the
unpredictable and sometimes arbitrary decisions of
immigration officers can make the country a drag to enter.
According to an informal survey of several travelers
entering the country, the results and requirements varied
with each person.
One young man flying to Costa
Rica with only a one-way ticket was allowed to enter without
problems and never was questioned about his intent to leave
by airline employees at his point of departure or
immigration officials at the airport. Meanwhile another
traveler with only a one-way ticket was told he could not
even board the flight leaving out of Chicago without proof
he was going to leave Costa Rica within 90 days. He said he
had to scramble to purchase a return ticket at the airport.
Another female traveler was
allowed to board a plane to Costa Rica with a one-way ticket
but was questioned about her departure date upon arrival in
Costa Rica. She returned to the airline desk at Juan
Santamaría airport and the attendant there printed her a
fake airline departure ticket to show to the immigration
[ED] This airport
person should be fired.
However the fake ticket was only dated 35 days
later, and the immigration agent only granted her permission
in the country for those 35 days despite her plans to spend
more time in the country.
[ED] Then based on the information
presented to the Immigration official, they appear to have
made the right decision.
A common complaint among those
living here as perpetual tourists is that it is difficult to
normalize their immigration status without jumping through
bureaucratic hoops. Furthermore there may be unforeseen
negative affects on the economy with more barriers in place
preventing tourists from entering.
Also, expats who have been
hassled at border crossings and airports when attempting to
re-enter the country have expressed frustration that several
undesirable people have been granted permission to enter the
country over the past several months. These include an Englishman
who was allowed in despite an INTERPOL alert deeming him
dangerous and violent, as well as a mafia boss who freely
crossed into the country past officials. The British visitor
is a suspect in a brutal murder. The Mafia figure was
Even using a highly qualified Immigration attorney, it took
us 18 months to gather all our papers, have them approved by
several Attorney's of State in multiple jurisdictions then
have multiple Costa Rican Consulates validate those various
State signatures. We found that the requirements for
applying for various levels of residency were fairly well
defined, the application of those requirements varied from
Immigration agent to agent. The best thing I can say
about the process is it is CONSISTENTLY INCONSISTENT.
Whether you decide to "file"your own immigration papers or use the
services of an attorney, bring patience and NEVER PAY AN
ATTORNEY IN FULL AND IN ADVANCE FOR THEIR SERVICES.
Work out a schedule predicated on deliverable such as... 33%
initial deposit; 33% when you receive your folio number and
34% when you are notified that you can return to San Jose
and get your Cedula. Without having some sort of
incentive plan for the attorney, you may find yourself just
"pissing in the wind!"