Costa Rica Immigration
Travelling to Costa Rica requires that anyone entering the country must obtain a visa. The majority of persons entering the country opt for the tourist visa as it is the easiest to acquire for many travelers, depending on your country of origin. Generally speaking, citizens of the United States of America, Canada, and member countries of the European Union are not required to apply for a visa ahead of traveling. These citizens can simply enter Costa Rica and gain an entry stamp in their passport, granting them tourist status for up to 90 days. It is important to note that 90 days is not a right, but a maximum number of days an immigration official is allowed to grant a foreigner. In order to receive this stamp, you must provide proof that you intend to return to your origin country or continue to another destination outside of Costa Rica within the 90 day timeframe. This is easily achieved by presenting your return flight itinerary, for example. In many cases now, airlines will not allow you to board the plane bound for Costa Rica without first checking that you have plans to exit Costa Rica. Airlines have been fined up to $1000 per person for granting passage without observing the immigration laws of Costa Rica, thus having upon arrival the passenger denied entry to Costa Rica, and flown back to the country of origin at the airline’s expense. In addition, some travelers in this category have reported that immigration officials are becoming more stringent on these laws and only granting tourist visas for the amount of time required in Costa Rica based on the exit date on the flight itinerary you present. Remember, 90 days is a privilege granted by a sovereign nation with its own laws, not a right.
Here are the four, ranked categories of travelers to Costa Rica as set by the immigration laws of Costa Rica:
Category One: Those countries designated as Category One may enter Costa Rica without an entry Visa and may remain in Costa Rica for up to 90 days.
Example: United States Canada, European Union, Australia, Brazil
Category Two: Citizens of Category Two countries may enter Costa Rica without an entry Visa and may remain in Costa Rica for up to 30 days.
Example: Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Venezuela
Category Three: If you are a citizen of a Category Three country you need to obtain an entry VISA from a Costa Rican Embassy or Consulate abroad before you enter Costa Rica. If granted it is for a period of 30 days.
Example: Colombia, Ecuador, India, Nicaragua, Peru
Category Four: This is the most restrictive category. This means that citizens of Category Three Countries must have an entry visa BEFORE they are allowed to enter Costa Rica. The visa must be reviewed by the Director of Immigration before it can be granted. If granted the visa is for a period of 30 days.
Example: Cuba, Jamaica, China, Iran, Iraq.
While you are in Costa Rica your passport and the immigration stamp that was placed in it when you entered the country is your proof of legal status. You are allowed to carry a copy of your passport in lieu of the original while you travel in Costa Rica provided that copy also has a copy of the entry stamp issued at immigration.
For those in Category One wishing to stay beyond the 90 day visa, there are options to renew. You are able to go to immigration and apply for an extension. The requirements for this are considerable. This is a relatively new process whereby a tourist can pay $100 and extend their visa for up to 90 additional days, only once, provided they can prove financial solubility during that period and proof of exit with accompanying documents, photographs, and more. There are a lot of hoops to jump through to attain this and this author yet to hear of anyone successfully doing this.
One of the most popular and simplest ways to manage this is to exit the country for a minimum of 72 hours and reenter under the conditions listed in Category One, thereby being granted another entry stamp. For many, this means a trip to neighboring Panama or Nicaragua for a weekend getaway. Though highly discouraged, the law does not prevent individuals from taking this approach several times, consecutively. There are individuals in Costa Rica known as “perpetual tourists” who own homes, run small business, and more, all on the shaky premise of getting new stamps 4 times per year. Though this may be a feasible strategy for those here for 6 months or less, it is by no means a long-term solution. There many paths to legal residency available for those wishing to stay longer that 90 days at a time.
Overstaying your visa can come with consequences. For every 30 days you overstay, you can be fined up to $100. Additionally, immigration officials have the right to deny you reentry to Costa Rica for up to 5 years for staying beyond your visa term. Though this was not heavily enforced in the past, things are tightening up considerably in Costa Rica. As with travel to any country, adherence to all laws and regulations governing that nation is imperative. Treat your entry stamp as an invitation to a great party. The best guests know how to behave, and especially, when to leave.
For more detailed information about visa requirements simply visit the Costa Rican Embassy or Consulate website from the country that issued your passport.