Q COSTA RICA – It’s December and it’s ‘Aguinaldo’ time, the year-end employee “holiday” bonus. For many not familiar with the ‘Aguinaldo’, the question of what is it and who must pay it quickly comes to mind.

The Aguinaldo is not a perk but a requirement underCosta Rica labour law.

The last day to pay the Aguinaldo is December 30

The short answer is, the Aguinaldo is the 13th month salary paid to every salaried employee in the country, paid by every employer, government or private.

The Aguinaldo is the holy grail of bonuses, even paid to ‘undocumented’ employees, example maids and gardeners living and working illegally in Costa Rica.

The Aguinaldo is so important that the Ministry of Labour will intervene on behalf of an employee, legal or illegal, in cases where employers do not pay by the due the December 20 due date. An employer who fail to pay or enter into some arrangement with an employee faces stiff sanctions.

A typical scenario for expats living in Costa Rica is hiring a maid (domestica) or handyman (peon) for chores around the house, maybe only part-time (a few times a week or month) or full-time. No matter the case, there is the obligation and expectation of the Aguinaldo.

Fair to say that, if you have hired anyone during the year, even for only a week or a day, good chance they may come around knocking on your door, expecting their Aguinaldo.

The process of the Aguinaldo all starts on December 1, that in simple terms is average one months salary between December 1 the previous year and November 30 the current year.

The Central Government is a leader in paying the Aguinaldo, doing so usually in the first week of December.

An article by Costa Rica tax expert Randall Zamora in Welovecostarica.com explains it.

Back in the 40’s, the Government of Costa Rica created a list of mandatory benefits and obligations for both, Employers and Employees, and among that list we can find the Aguinaldo (Christmas Bonus).

What is the Aguinaldo?

The Aguinaldo is an extra salary, also known as the 13th month, which has to be paid to all the regular employees, regardless of the performance or quality of the job, since is based on the paid gross salary.

The Aguinaldo was created as an aid for the employees to face the extra expenses of Christmas and New Year’s Seasons.

There is no way that employer can avoid the payment of this benefit, either the employee can quit to receive this benefit.

How to calculate the Aguinaldo?

For the calculation of the Aguinaldo you have to add all the paid gross salaries per employee, this includes over time, double time, commissions, maternity leave, etc; subtract absences, sickness licenses from December 1st of the previous year through November 30th of the current year, and divide it by twelve.

If the employee started to work after December 1st of the previous year, then you add all the gross salaries since the first day and also divide them by twelve, on other hand, if the employee leaves the company before November 30th then the Aguinaldo is calculated until the last day of work, see some scenarios below:

Scenario A: Pedro works for the Company since 2014, and he earns a monthly salary of $600, to calculate his Aguinaldo you take all the made salaries from December 1st 2015 through November 30th 2016:

600*12= $7,200 Total Salary 7,200/12= $600 Aguinaldo 2016.

Scenario B: Maria started working for the company in April 16th 2016, and she makes a monthly salary of $600, but in June she worked 1 extra day, to calculate her Aguinaldo you have to:

600/30*15= $300 Salary earned from April 16th to April 30th 600*7= $4,200 Salary from May to November. 300+4,200 = Total Salary for the year 4,500/12= $375 Aguinaldo 2016.

Keep in mind that no retention, withholding or tax has to be applied to the Aguinaldo.

When To Pay Aguinaldo?

You can pay the Aguinaldo any day between December 1st and December 20th, if by December you haven’t paid the Aguinaldo this is considered as illegal retention and the employee can complain at the Working Ministry Offices and an Inspection can be conducted, fines and they even have the power to shut down your company depending on each case depending on the amount retained and number of employees.

About the author. Randall Zamora is President and CEO of CostaRicaABC.com, former CFO and Head of Accounting Department of multinational companies like Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica, active member of the Interamerican Accounting Association, Pro Bono Local Partner of The World Bank and contributor to their yearly publication “Doing Business Report.”