Friday 18 June 2021

Will Citizenship Add Coolness to My Already Astonishing Life in Costa Rica?

Q COSTA RICA – The following article in the ‘A Dull Roar’ answers questions face by many foriegners living in Costa Rica, especially from North America and Europe, who after living in Costa Rica for some time decided to trade in their ‘residency’ for ‘citizenship’.

The decision is a personal one.

The Costa Rica cedula issued by the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones is the official identification of citizenship. Naturalized citizens obtain the same cedula, with the only difference being the first digit of the ID number, it starts with an 8. Image for illustrative purposes

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From A Dull Roar –   I’ve been arguing with myself for over a year about pursuing citizenship here in Costa Rica. I’ve put in the time, which is 7 years, why not get something for it?

There are a lot of benefits, such as drastically lower health insurance premiums (like so low they fall into my budgetary noise), a free 10-year cedula, easier banking, ability to leave Costa Rica and return at will and return of my US$200 residency security deposit.

I’ve also been told by those who have gone this path before that many everyday transactions that involve use of ID become somehow easier because you are no longer a foreign contaminant in the eyes of Ticos, especially those that control various process gateways. Doors open that swung with difficulty before and the wheels of bureaucracy in general suddenly present less friction if you are perceived as “normal.” Those benefits are rather intangible to me at the moment.

And, of course, one mustn’t overly discount the “coolness” factor of having dual citizenship and that inoffensive passport when visiting certain places disagreeable to the latest U.S. meddling around the world.

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One drawback that I was hung up on for a while was the name change thing.

Here names have a set pattern and they want you to conform to the norm too, which is your first name (and optionally your “middle” name) followed by the surname of your father and mother in that order. So, forgoing my middle name, my new name would be Casey Bahr Lehman. That bothered me for quite a while because … well it’s your name!

I’m over that now, it’s fine, who cares. It doesn’t mean I change my U.S. name after all, but it does mean the hassle of several changes to various documents and minor IDs such as my Costa Rica driver’s license.

Another drawback is that transforming yourself from resident to citizen is, naturally, a bureaucratic hassle. The most painful of these magic documents to procure is my FBI background check, which if you are an ordinary citizen takes about 14 weeks plus or minus not counting transit time in the mail. Additionally, that doc has to carry an apostille from the U.S. Dept. of State, which takes another 3 weeks plus transit time.

In my case, those transit times are significant because stuff I mail from here to the States generally takes 2 weeks, and mail from the FBI and the Dept. of State must go to my U.S. mailing address first, which takes roughly a week, maybe less. So, just for that single critical doc, I figure 5 to 6 months before it’s in my hands all apostill’d and shit.

I also need a new certified birth certificate with apostille but my home state is pretty fast with that stuff and can do the two-step process in one go, so I’m not so worried about that one. However, I want to time the fetching of that document carefully. If I were to send for it at the same time as the FBI check, it would age about 20 weeks, which is not good, because both those docs cannot be older than 90 days when I present them to the office here that grants citizenship (which is not Migración by the way).

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The final drawback is that I could save myself a lot of headaches by using a lawyer to handle all this stuff and a service known as a background check “channeler” that can get that FBI check with apostille to me in 2 weeks. Trouble is, all that is spendy, just the channeler service costs $400, the lawyer $800, etc.

Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones (TSE) runs the citizenship process, not Migración (immigration service).

If I can be patient (easier said than done), however, I figure I can do the whole thing myself including the BC (for which there is no channeler) and the citizenship bureau fee of US$250 for a grand total of about US$600. Minus my residency deposit, the net then is US$400 but it takes me about 6 months longer than using the lawyer. So, that’s my plan and I’m stickin’ to it. If I flub it, I apply lessons learned and try again and still be money ahead. By the way, all told this DIY process is likely to take a year, so time’s a-wastin’!

Oh, there is also the small matter of having to take both written and oral tests in Spanish, one on Costa Rica civics and the other to ensure I speak good-enough Spanish. However, those come at the very end and there is an official study guide, so I think it’s no sweat. If they want me to sing the CR National Anthem, then we might have a problem.

Once I get citizenship, my wife can apply as the spouse of a Costa Rica citizen and she gets a waiver on the test. My son, who is now of majority age here, will decide for himself if he wants to continue as a Permanent Resident or apply for citizenship. He will breeze through the test of course if he chooses to become a citizen.

Is it all worth it? Won’t really know until it’s a done deal I think, but for sure there will be an economic payback. In less than a year, just counting the reduction in my gov’t health insurance premiums alone, I’ll have recouped the money I spent if not my time. I kind of doubt that I’ll really ever use my Costa Rica passport though (that’s actually a separate process by the way, they don’t just give you one when you achieve citizen status).

Article Casey Bahr originally appeared on

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We strive for accuracy in its reports. But if you see something that doesn’t look right, send us an email. The Q reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it’s accuracy.

"Rico" is the crazy mind behind the Q media websites, a series of online magazines where everything is Q! In these times of new normal, stay at home. Stay safe. Stay healthy.

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