Our First Costa Rican Residency Renewal – Part 1/3

 Thursday, we had an appointment to renew our residency cards (cédulas) in San José. I told Tamara that I had a “bad feeling” about the trip and I think you'll soon agree that there was good cause for that.

Whenever you attempt a new procedure, especially involving bureaucrats and lawyers, you're confidence level can't be 100% that things will go as you hope. Furthermore, when the interaction involves the government of a third-world country and a non-native language, that goes double. There were a number of other factors contributing to my dismal prognostication as well.

First of these was that as of Thursday my own cédula had officially expired nine months previously. That's not quite right, because you do get a 90 day grace period to renew, but still I was well past the deadline. Sean's cédula and Tamara's had expired about 6 months and 3 months previously, respectively. The long time between expiration and Thursday's renewal appointment wasn't due to sloth on my part since I'd started the ball rolling in August of last year. Residency renewal is supposed to be an easier process than obtaining it in the first place, so I thought I was being conscientious in beginning the task a couple of months early. The only requirements for us were to:
  • join Caja, Costa Rica's national health care system (see footnote)
  • obtain good conduct reports from the national police
  • re-certify my lifetime annuity income (in lieu of pension or SS)

Our lawyer was to take care of the income certification and police reports (expected to take 10 weeks) and we jumped through the hoops to join the Caja, which was relatively uneventful. We didn't get our carnets at the hospital because they didn't believe Tamara and I were married because we use our original last names, but that's another story. We didn't actually need those for the renewal.

BCR branch front
The renewal at BCR was not the slam-dunk we'd expected
The police report took much longer than 10 weeks and was further delayed by the arrival of Christmas holidays when everything shuts down for 2 weeks. Finally, though, we had an appointment in February at a local branch of Banco de Costa Rica. Residency renewal at a bank was a feature instigated last year, and it certainly was more appealing than a long trip to San José to visit the long lines and depressing atmosphere of the main office of Costa Rica Migración.

The first sign of trouble when we met with the clerk at BCR was that she wanted more than just the notarized, re-certified, proof of lifetime income in the proper amount. She wanted deposit/withdrawal statements, too (hold this in the back of your mind, it's important later). We didn't have them, but that could be overcome easily later. What was more difficult to overcome is her willful ignorance and that's what she put on display for us next.
Costa Rica migracion
We were hoping to avoid this mess at Migración

Because I obtained residency as Pensionado (retired), I could bring in as many immediate dependents under that umbrella as I wanted (i.e., Tamara and Sean). So each of our cédulas bear the word “Pensionado”.

So, the clerk's conclusion was that each of us needed to prove the monthly income requirement. I realized at that moment that I was dealing with someone with inadequate training (my diplomatic way of saying she was incompetent at her job) and politely asked her to double-check that. Her double-check was to ask another clerk who essentially shrugged his shoulders. What are you going to do? In the end, we left, no cédulas forthcoming.

Later, I relayed that story to our lawyer who was aghast at their stupidity. He recommended that we set up another appointment in San José where they actually know the rules. In the meantime, I prepared statements showing both my ongoing annuity payments and deposit/withdrawal records to prove said income was being converted into Costa Rica colones

Then the long, seemingly inexplicable, delay until last Thursday began.

Footnote: (The requirement to join Caja before residency is granted was a feature of the last renovation of the immigration laws, made after we obtained our initial residency, so it didn't apply to us until it came time for renewal.)


  1. Very nice post and interesting to read .... I love visiting this blog.

  2. You sound incredibly arrogant.

  3. Really? You sound incredibly anonymous.


Thanks so much for your comment! - Casey