Working in Costa Rica

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Working in Costa Rica

To legally work in Costa Rica, you must either have Permanent Residency or be a Citizen of Costa Rica.
To legally work in Costa Rica, you must either have Permanent Residency or be a Citizen of Costa Rica.

Many people come to Costa Rica to retire- happy sitting on the beach with a frosty beverage and no money concerns. We’re not talking about these people. We’re talking about the people that want to live in Costa Rica (young and old) for whatever reason, but either need to work or just want to supplement their income. This is the RULE: You cannot work at all in Costa Rica unless you have Permanent Residency or are a citizen of Costa Rica. That said, there are a couple of exceptions….as with any rule. We’ll get to those exceptions in a second.

Costa Rican laws are designed to protect workers here from foreigners who would take jobs that would otherwise be filled by a Costa Rican. Sound familiar? It should, many countries do this, including the States.

Here are the exceptions to the above rule. 1) An annual work permit. 2) Two specific types of residency.

Annual work permit: Sounds relatively easy, it’s not. First, Costa Rica is NOT a third world country as some may think and there are many highly skilled and trained people to fill nearly every existing job title. But, if you are highly skilled in an area where the job cannot be filled by a Costa Rican, the employer can apply for a work permit for one year.

To legally work in Costa Rica, you must either have Permanent Residency or be a citizen of Costa Rica. With rentista, pensionado and inversionista residency,you can own a business but you can NOT work as an employee. Your responsibility is limited to management and you must hire Costa Rican labor. NO labor can be done by YOU that could be done by a Tico. (This is no joke, you can own a small hotel, but you can’t work the Reception desk). I know there are some horror stories out there, but I have NEVER seen this enforced, nor do I know anyone else that has. Just sayin. Again, while you can own a business here and live off the income from that business, you cannot actually work in that company in any capacity other than owner and manager.

It should be noted, you will be paid considerably less than what you were earning back home. If you were earning $90,000 in the US, you’ll make no more than $20,000 for the same job here. Owning a business is an entirely different matter.

Gaining in popularity are the folks that want live in Costa Rica, but actually work for a company in their home country over the internet. It is legal to reside in Costa Rica while being paid by the company back home. Of course you must talk your company into letting you work in another country. If you can work that out, you can work here legally. To do this, two things must happen- the paycheck or deposit must come from outside Costa Rica and your work must be unrelated to Costa Rica. A Computer Programmer would be a good example of this. And you still must apply and be accepted as a legal resident. In other words, it doesn’t matter where your paycheck comes from- you still have to be legal. Apply as a rentista first, then change to Permanent Residency after 4-5 years.

OK...So who can work here? Normally, only those with Permanent Residency. Here’s a pretty straight forward graph- it should help.

. Representante is a form of residency most used by those who set up and manage businesses in Costa Rica and serve as a Director in that corporation. Here, you can receive a salary and do the work of the corporation, but there are heavy investment minimums, a requirement for annual certified financial statements, and you must employ Tico labor in your business. Currently, it is a grand hassle to do this, and immigration tends to make your life miserable by randomly and arbitrarily enforcing the (sometimes non-existent) rules.

A Permanent Resident has all the rights of a Costa Rican citizen except the right to vote. As such, you can hold a job in any sector, own a company and work within that company in any capacity.