Q EXPAT FOCUS – March 2 is quickly approaching and many non-resident expats are looking at ways to be able to continue to live in Costa Rica without running afoul of immigration, the DGME.
More, they will lose their driving privileges come March 3.
Foreigners who entered the country prior to December 1 last year had their tourist visa automatically extended to March 2, 2021. The Ministry of Transport (MOPT) also extended driving privileges.
Due to the pandemic, this was the second extension by both the DGME and the MOPT. The basis for the extension was closed air borders to tourists.
The gradual reopening of air borders began on August 1, 2020, and by November 1, was opened to all.
Today, though nothing near pre-pandemic levels, flights into and out of Costa Rica’s two main airports, the Juan Santamaria (San Jose) and Daniel Oduber (Liberia), are daily, so it is quite to be expected that no further extensions will be given.
What to do? Where to go?
Before March of last year, land border runs to Nicaragua and Panama were common. Leaving Costa Rica for a day or few days and coming back reset the tourist visa and driving privileges for, in most cases, another 90 days.
Many have been doing this for years, becoming “perpetual tourists”. There is nothing wrong or illegal with that.
But covid changed all that.
Today, doing a border run is no easy feat, as it takes planning and costs. For the most part, the cost of the flight is the cheapest component: PCR tests, travel insurance, and depending on the time abroad, all add up.
For example, a border run today means flying out of Costa Rica to places like Panama, Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, or even the United States and then turning around. I mentioned these destinations as there are direct flights to and from Costa Rica.
In my opinion, Panama is the best option.
Let me explain.
While Mexico does not require a PCR test, Guatemala, the United States, as well as Panama does, however, Panama, being a hub, does not require actual entry (immigration check-in) into the country after you deplane.
You can fly into Panama, simply walk to your outbound gate….after shopping of course and get on a flight back to Costa Rica. Of course, without having to say it, carry on or less is a must.
With forward planning, you will have purchased or extended your insurance before leaving, for it will be required to get back into Costa Rica.
Since immigration is no longer (as of December 1) handing out automatic 90 day passes to most tourists, you need to purchase at least 90 days coverage to get (again not automatic, but up to the discretion of the immigration official at entry) 90 days of “legal stay” and driving.
Which airline is best? Copa to Panama. Volaris to Guatemala or Mexico. Aeromexico to Mexico. Avianca to Colombia. For the U.S., take your pick.
Border runs by land are out. While tourists can leave (check out) Costa Rica, and enter Nicaragua or Panama, getting back is still not an option. Until March 1st, 2021 (scroll down to Article 29), only nationals and legal residents, those who have a DIMEX card, can enter Costa Rica by way of Nicaragua or Panama.
But what of the 72 hours out of the country? Costa Rica immigration does not require you to stay out of the country for any specific period of time. The 72 hours rule is only applicable for customs if you want to declare goods. The aforementioned countries do not require a minimum stay before you can leave.
For now, unless things change, those who desire to “renew” their tourist visa must do so by air.