Costa Rica Cedula Renewal the Second Time Around - A Pleasant Surprise

 Update 2018: The first part of this post is about renewing temporary residency, which is what the vast majority of expats to Costa Rica must endure their first three years. Then, I discovered Residente Permanente status, which the post below covers. We recently went through our second PR renewal, which could not have gone smoother. Now I am in the process of seeking citizenship, which is a whole 'nother deal but has some interesting benefits.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Sometime around the end of 2013, I started to faintly hear a giant sucking sound, which I soon identified as an impending residency cedula renewal event fast approaching. 

Costa Rican Residency ID card
That giant sucking sound of cedula renewal
If you've followed this blog for long, you may recall that we had completed our first renewal the middle of last summer, which makes it appear that Dec. should have been way too early to fret about renewal again. For all the bloody details, read about that first renewal, but the takeaway was that it consumed far more time than it should have, turned out all-right in the end, but left us a short window to the next renewal.

The Very First Time Through the Maze

In hindsight, our first renewal difficulty was rooted in our out-of-the-mainstream initial residency application and the procedural swamp that characterized Costa Rica's immigration process back in 2008.
Retiring at age 54 without pension or Social Security meant that to achieve the $600/month income requirement, I needed to purchase a lifetime annuity. The problem, however, has always been getting documentation from the annuity provider that would pass muster with Costa Rica Migracion.

Cedulas Expiring One by One

Our other problem was that due to the indecipherable wisdom of Costa Rica's immigration department, once they approved our initial residency, they decided to dole out my cedula in November, my son's in February and my wife's in May even though they are dependents on my residency. The dates are such that if we want to renew them all together, at least one has to be in expiration or too early for renewal.
I have asked more than a couple of immigration attorneys if they could convince Migracion to consolidate these dates, but their answers are eerily equivalent to how Japanese businessmen indicate that some proposal is impossible: they slowly draw in their breath through clenched teeth and then say "it is very, very difficult" avoiding a flat out "no." 

Even though we attempted renewal the first time last year via the process at Banco de Costa Rica, it was a disaster due almost entirely to their incompetence. Despite that, this time around, based on encouragement from others who assured me things would be different this time, I decided to forgo a lawyer and again go through the process myself.

By this time, Sean's cedula had expired. 

They Are Certain It Is to Be Certified

I called the DIMEX 900 number to set an appointment and receive the documentary requirements. They insisted that I bring a "certified" letter stating the monthly amount and a statement that the pension was active. They could not explain what "certified" meant, however. Did I need it to have an apostille?, I asked. They simply repeated from their script that it needs to be certified with no additional elucidation. 

OK, whatever. The certification, whatever it was, seemed minor compared to actually getting the annuity company to issue such a notarized letter. Even though I'd obtained one for our initial residency and we were able to recycle it for our first renewal, I needed a fresh one this time. Trouble is, their policies had changed and obtaining the notarization was a huge lift for them. After six weeks, they approved an exception and sent it here by UPS.

By then, Tamara's cedula had expired. Mine is still good, because at our first renewal they had set my date a year ahead, who knows why, but that's neither here nor there.

Residencia Permanente to the Rescue!

Prudently, I decided before I sent the "pension active" letter to New Hampshire for an apostille that I'd check with a local attorney to see what the actual certification requirement is.

I was also going to have to draft two letters explaining why Sean and Tamara's cedula expiration had gone over the 90-day grace period. He took one look at the letter and essentially said "fuggedabouit!" 

You've been in the country over 5 years, he continued, so take advantage of the new law, which lets you apply for permanent residency.

I had been working under the assumption that even if I had wanted to go for permanent, which until that moment didn't seem all that attractive to me, I would have to get straight with Migración by completing our current renewal. Not so.

To apply for residencia permanente:
  • our expirations were irrelevant
  • we paid the equivalent of $204 times 3 at a local BCR branch to secure our place in line
  • gave the attorney copies of our cedulas
  • signed a power of attorney for him to represent us with Migración
  • paid him $150 times 3 as 50% down payment and to cover transaction fees
  • and ... that's it! There is no income proof required, no letter of explanation.
He started the process online and the tramitadora will go to San José on Monday to start the process, which he expects to take 3 months. At that time, we'll pay the remaining $150 times 3 that covers the remainder of his fee. 

My reaction was "Cuesta mucho creerlo." That is, it's hard to believe that in the area of immigration Costa Rica has done something right, really right.
The even better news in this is that in about 2 years, all of us will be able to apply for Costa Rican citizenship. Pura vida!!


  1. Did you give him a letter, in Spanish, requesting permanent residency?

  2. Nope. He does all of that stuff. We will have to make a trip to San Jose when it's been approved to get photos, but otherwise it's a hands-off package deal for us.

  3. Casey,

    Jana and I are doing ours in Limon this month without a lawyer so wish us luck!

    1. From my incomplete understanding, it should be a relatively simple process for which you really don't need a lawyer since there are no income req'ts, no police report, etc. Wish we had a migracion office closer to us and perhaps I would have forgone a lawyer too. Anyway, it's going to be much cheaper and faster than last time ... knock on wood.

  4. Leased a property in Naranjo but haven't moved yet. At this point I will have only a 90 day visa. Do I need a cedula before I begin the process you discussed above, or can I hire someone(your attorney) to take care of this at a reasonable cost. Thanks,I enjoy your blog

    1. In general, you need some type of temporary residency first, probably rentista or pensionado. Once your application is accepted and you are issued an expediente number, which indicates that everything seems to be in order and you are "in process", you no longer need to leave every 90 days. You can apply for residency on your own, many have done it, but you might find using an attorney more convenient. Good luck! :)


Thanks so much for your comment! - Casey