How to Stay in Costa Rica Long Term

Our Decision to Move

Three months ago my husband and I decided to sell our house in Vancouver and go live the Pura Vida in Costa Rica. The biggest concern for any want-to-be-expat is how to stay in the country long term. A tourist visa only allows you to stay in the country for 90 days and it can be challenging to get a Costa Rican work permit.

I’ve heard from many sources that Costa Rica isn’t very strict with tourists over-extending their stay and that its “easy” to cross the border to Nicaragua or Panama only to return in a couple hours. For us, it isn’t worth the risk of getting deported – not with the plans we have for ourselves!

Finding The Right Information

It was hard to weed through the mass amounts of information on the internet; so much of it is wrong, out-dated, incorrect, or incomplete. Also, all of the government documents are in Spanish, which we are not fluent in. We needed help.

Then one day, I was listening to a podcast called “This Week in Costa Rica”. There was a guest lawyer from Outlier Legal Services on the show explaining his efforts to lobby the government to get basic rights for expats in Costa Rica, such as being able to open a bank account. I was impressed with what I heard.

Naturally, I decided to touch base with this law firm. They were super responsive to my emails and incredibly helpful in answering all of our questions related to immigration, purchasing land in Nosara, and establishing a new Costa Rican corporation. They assisted us with buying our property and are continuing to provide us with guidance.

Temporary Residency: Simplified

All in all, it seems the Costa Rican government is in favor of allowing expats to remain in the country as long as they have money or specialized skills. They have taken many measures to ensure that jobs remain with the Ticos and that those welcomed into the country do not become a burden on the local economy.

There are multiple types of temporary residency that people can qualify for. The most straight-forward website I found that explains the options is residencyincostarica.com. While this isn’t the complete information, the most commonly known types are rentista, pensionado, inversionista, & vinculo. In simple terms:

  • a rentista agrees to deposit US$60,000 or more into a financial institution, which will then provide them with a monthly income of US$2,500 for 24 months. But, you cannot legally work in the country
  • a pensionado has to prove they receive a monthly pension or retirement income of at least US$1,000. But again, you are not able to work;
  • an inversionista has to invest a minimum of US$200,000 into the Costa Rican economy. And, there is a way to make an income;
  • a vinculo either has to be related to a Costa Rican or marry one then will be provided with a work permit.

Our Residency Status

We were lucky enough to purchase property in Vancouver when housing was somewhat affordable and then the real estate market exploded in our favor. This together with the hard work my husband and I put into building our last two homes has paid off. So we are cashing out of this expensive city to try our hand in Costa Rican real estate.

Between buying land in Nosara and the cost of building our home in Costa Rica, we will qualify for the inversionista status, ultimately getting us temporary residency. Once we determined we could qualify, we still needed to figure out how to make a living legally.

The further I dove into research on this type of temporary residency, I found out that as an inversionista you are permitted to make an income from your investment. This prompted us to start brainstorming viable options for a new company.

The Business Plan

The idea came to us relatively easy as it is part-in-parcel of our original goal: owning a vacation property in Costa Rica. We discovered that we can use the purchase price of our land toward the US$200,000 investment required for our residency. With this and our experience in property development, we have fostered a plan that we think is feasible.

We were already visualizing a new home and we know that tourism is a really big driver of the Costa Rican economy. Once we connected all this together it was a no-brainer: we should build our home into something bigger, like a boutique style B&B business on our property that we could manage. There is space on the property to do this, so why not?

Currently, my husband owns a custom residential construction business and I work as a project manager for an architectural consulting firm. We have the skillset to make this work, so why not use it to build something new?

We know that construction in a foreign country will be very different and that it will come with its challenges. Especially because we are managing it from afar and trusting that the companies we hire are professional.

Check out the below video of the land we are going to develop in Pelada, Nosara. It is facing south-west, is up on a hill, a 15-minute walk to the beach, and has a gorgeous ocean view.  Details to follow in future posts.

Right now, our focus is on configuring the property, making a list of requirements, looking at architectural designs, developing a business plan, and learning Spanish. So far, we have created an initial property layout, preliminary budgets, a marketing plan, and a competitive analysis. We are also looking for more professionals such as an accountant and a customs broker to assist us in launching the business.

Once we are a bit more established, we have many plans to expand the business into other avenues related to property management and property development. We just need to be in the country for a bit to get the lay of the land and speak better Spanish. Going through this process has made us realize that Costa Rica is full of opportunities if your business is targeted towards expats.

The Timeline

This grand plan of ours will likely take about 2 years before we relocate to Costa and get the business up and running. Our house in Vancouver needs to sell so we can fund our new venture. The property in Pelada still needs to be designed and built and we have to get our immigration process started.

We have booked a trip to Costa Rica in October for two weeks and the itinerary is already jam-packed. Our plans include meetings with our lawyers, whichever architect we hire, some potential accountants, builders, and customs brokers, in addition to finding a furniture supply store, looking at vehicles, and capturing lots of images for our website, social media and this blog.

Hopefully, by the time we get to Costa Rica in October, the initial set of building plans will be ready for us to review and tweak. If we meet this target, then we should be able to start building by early 2019, allowing us to start up the business at the beginning of 2020.

As we will be working in Costa Rican time where mañana (translation: tomorrow) actually means three weeks away, our time frame may be a little aggressive. But we can hope, can’t we?

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Do you have the travel bug or the dream to live abroad? Follow us along on our two year plan to move to Costa Rica, which started in early 2018. We are selling our house in Vancouver, closing down a business, applying for temporary residency, and launching a new Costa Rican corporation. We will share our progress, struggles, and any useful information we find along with way.

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