Sunday 1 August 2021


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When I moved from Canada to live in Costa Rica sixteen years ago, Costa Rica was a different kind of Country. Day-to-day regulation of one’s personal affairs and the general intrusiveness of Government in the lives of private citizens was at a much lower level than it is today.

The impetus for such a move remains the same for many expats seeking a pleasant climate, adequate personal security, and at least a sense that Big Brother is not watching at the same level as exists in First World Countries such as the U.S. and Canada.

I believe that to a certain extent, Costa Rica remains a valid choice for those expats seeking these options. There is still a notion that, “ if you keep your head down and your nose clean”, in other words mind your own business, you will largely be left alone by the powers that be. Although the existence of laws and regulations is rampant in Costa Rica, there is still a distinct lack of will by the Costa Ricans to enforce such with the same efficiency and heavy-handedness of their North American counterparts.

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If I stopped with my analysis here, the phrase “Free At Last”, although originally attributable to Dr. King in the 60’s as it related to Negroes being free from slavery, might also be applicable to Costa Rica as it concerns the motivation of expats to move and live here.

The interest shown by expat Americans and Canadians to retire, or just plain move away from their home countries in the 1990’s, did not go unnoticed by in particular, the U.S. Government. An enormous amount of baby-boomer wealth was being transferred offshore. Then came 911, followed by the Patriot Act, and various related pieces of legislation supposedly designed to combat terrorism and money laundering in support of terrorism and drug trafficking. SUGEF, the Costa Rican Banking Regulatory Authority was born, significantly influenced in its formation by the U.S. Government supposedly created to combat money laundering.

Now the average expat retiree opening a bank account in Costa Rica is subjected to endless inquiries as to the source of any funds deposited, followed by a banking procedure involving both an Account Application and supporting documentation that takes on-average two weeks to open a basic account at any Costa Rican bank.

It is a known fact, that money laundering carries-on unabated in Costa Rica, but not by the expat retiree moving a few thousands of dollars to Costa Rica from their home jurisdiction.

If from Canada, or the U.S., there certainly exists a more efficient and effectively regulated banking systems to thwart money laundering, than that which currently exists in Costa Rica. Why all the additional red tape for opening a bank account in Costa Rica, that still only takes thirty minutes to do in a bank in Canada, or the U.S.?

In my opinion the answer is that the U.S. Government in particular wants to create as unattractive a climate as is possible for expats to move personal wealth offshore. On July 1, 2014, FATCA will come into enforcement in Costa Rica adding additional leverage to the unfriendly offshore investment climate for expats and additional red tape associated with the banking sector.

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Essentially, Costa Rica has become a pawn of the U.S. in such matters.

This is but one of a number of examples that could be offered as to how increased regulation in Costa Rica has diminished the aspect of freedom that one experienced in Costa Rica in years past.

I believe that Costa Rica still offers many of the attributes mentioned that attract the expat community, but with a creeping level of Government regulation and surveillance which will diminish the attractive nature of Costa Rica to expats over time.

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Richard Philps
Attorney Richard (Rick) Philps is a Canadian citizen, naturalized as a citizen of Costa Rica. Rick practiced law in Victoria, B.C., Canada as a member of the Law Society of British Columbia, for fourteen years, prior to moving to Costa Rica in 1998. Rick then earned his Bachelor of Laws and Licensing Degrees (Civil Law), with Honours, and a Post-Graduate Degree in Notary and Registry Law, from the Metropolitana Castro Carazo and Escuela Libre de Derecho Universities, in San Jose. Rick is a member of the Costa Rica College of Lawyers, and practices law in Costa Rica in the areas of real estate and development, corporate, commercial, contract, immigration, and banking. To contact Attorney Rick Philps about hiring him as your Costa Rican Attorney; Email:, Website:

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