EXPAT FOCUS – There reasons, why someone would want to become an expat and work in Costa Rica, are many and very personal. It could be the weather, the adventures, and the reasonable cost of living.
However, you cannot simply arrive, bags in hand, and start working legally. To legally work in Costa Rica, you need to either be a citizen, legal permanent resident or legal status of refugee.
As a foreigner, you can start a business in Costa Rica, you can oversee the business, but cannot work as an employee and get a paycheck.
With any other residency, ie temporary, rentista (investor), pensionado (retired), your role is limited to the management of your business or must have a work permit.
Some expats work or operate a business that is based outside of the country. As long as you don’t have a physical location in Costa Rica, the income comes from outside of Costa Rica, you should be safe.
Obtaining a work visa in Costa Rica is not an easy task, as the country continues to protect jobs that can be filled by nationals residents. Applying for a work permit with a high skill in an area of work that cannot be filled locally, then the chances of obtaining a work visa is much greater.
In the article “Immigration for Entrepreneurs“, Rafale Valverde of Ourlier Legal who is dedicated to assisting expats, describes that while people focus on categories such as marriage or parent of a Costa Rican, pensionado, rentista, and investor, there are over thirty different categories available.
Among them is the “Temporary Residency for Self Employed Skilled Worker”, available for people who are self-employed and possess some sort of skill that the person has acquired either through education or experience.
However, in November 2018, to protect the local workforce, Costa Rica’s Ministry of Labor issued a resolution suggesting Immigration refrains from approving certain Temporary Residencies under the Self-Employed Category. The Ministry issues a list of professions that will not be approved early in the year and reviews it by the end.
Other categories include:
- College Graduates, people who have obtained a degree from a university. Some professions that require obtaining a license, such as attorneys, accountants, physicians, psychologists, so on and so forth. People in these fields are eligible for residency, however, they need to obtain the license from the corresponding professional association, which are called Colegios Profesionales.
- Special Category for Self Employed People with a Registered Business. This is NOT the investor category. You are not required to invest US$200,000, you are not required to hire Costa Rica and you can work in your own business and to receive a salary. Any business can qualify for this category as long as it is a legitimate registered business, and complies by being incorporated, obtain a Tax ID, obtain a business license from the Municipality that can include health and zoning permits, and Caja (Social Security) registration, among others.
Is it worth applying for a work visa?
Armed with reliable information and have done your due diligence, you can decide to apply for a work visa. Or not.
If you decide to move forward with obtaining a work visa, keep in mind that approval takes months, from as few as a few to almost a year.
The average salary in Costa Rica is about US$600 a month. This can work in most parts of the country, but many foreigners live differently than their Tico neighbors or in pricier areas, the Greater Metropolitan Areas (GAM), Central Valley, tourist areas, beach towns and so on, where you may need triple the monthly average salary to live comfortably.
- People who can work in Costa Rica without citizenship or permanent residence*: Home-based businesses over the internet such as Freelance writer, web or graphic design, trader – no physical location in Costa Rica, no employees and income comes from outside the country.
- Business owners (assuming you only have a form of temporary residence) may oversee business operations as a shareholder, but cannot perform daily job functions as an employee or have a paycheck.
People who can’t work in Costa Rica without citizenship or permanent residence:
- Service provider or self-employed: Think jobs such as a realtor, contractor, property manager or restaurant manager, among others.
- An employee working for a salary or set wage from a Costa Rican business: This would be seen as taking a job from a Costa Rican with the same skills.
* Permanent residence or citizenship are the only two immigration statuses that carry no restrictions. Generally, to obtain permanent residence you must have held temporary residence for at least three years before applying.
The foregoing is not to be construed as legal advice.
- Minister of Labor (Ministerio de Trabajo y Seguridad Social – MTSS)
- Costa Rica Immigration (Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería – DGME)
- Outlier Legal Services