When I was growing up, the world seemed so large. As a child lying in the bed of my fathers pickup truck, watching the clouds drift by, I would often day dream about distant lands and places like London, Hong Kong and Paris. How would it be to visit and live in such exotic destinations?
Today with globalization the world has become a much smaller place and we can travel and live almost anywhere we choose. In every corner of the world it seems that the topic of immigration comes up. It’s an interesting subject, one that the majority of people never really think about until they actually are faced with the dilemma of needing to immigrate!
For Gerardo and I in our real estate business aside from general questions about real estate, most of our clients major concerns are about immigration and how they will be able to legally remain in the new found paradise they have discovered in Costa Rica. The process can sometimes seem difficult, complicated, overwhelming, and intimidating, especially if you don’t speak the language (Spanish). Laws seem to change over night due to the fast evolution of people’s and governments needs, so staying informed is necessary. However, with proper guidance, being aware of your options to obtain a residential status and a little leg work before your big move, the process can be manageable and not as unpleasant as one may think. It is important to point out that you can take on the process alone, filing all the paperwork on your own, but be warned, a good lawyer is worth their weight in GOLD! I repeat, a GOOD LAWYER!
I had the good fortune of being introduced to Monika Valerio de Ford through a mutual friend and attorney in Grecia. I quickly learned that Monika was not only an Immigration and Administrative attorney, but she had actually represented many of the expats living in the Atenas and Grecia areas. I asked around town and everyone was more than pleased with her professionalism, efficiency and effectiveness. We soon forged a great working relationship and I too knew first hand what a professional this dynamic lady was. Because the topic of immigration is so essential to our business, I asked Monika if she would be willing to share some of her expertise on the topic as well as learn a little more about her as a person.
In my humble opinion, it is important to get a feeling for who someone is, where they are from, and their background. This is especially important when there is business that requires an extreme amount of trust. I started my interview with Monika by asking where she is from, about growing up in Costa Rica and for her to share a little about herself. Monika replies “I was born and educated in San José but I now live in Alajuela where my family is originally from. I am from a tight knit family and was educated at the Methodist School, being a Catholic and in combination with being a part of CISV (Children's International Summer Villages) as a youth, I learned to share and learn from people of very different racial, social, economic, cultural and religious backgrounds. I am in love with my country and our identity, however I am not blind for it´s need to improve many things. I am respectful of my fellow human beings, and I am a firm believer in our capacity and obligation to contribute in the construction of a better place. I see the good and potential in everything.”
Monika, where did you study law? Monika states “I studied Law at the University of Costa Rica. I followed in the footsteps of my father, a man whom I admire and with whom I´ve worked with since I graduated. He gave me the opportunity to work with him and from the start, I sensed the respect he inspired among everyone who knew him. I knew I had to meet his high expectations, and give my best at every moment, so I could help him maintain his reputation as I built my own.”
What is your background in law? Monika says “We (my father and I) always dedicated our practice to Administrative Law, which involves advising companies that are doing business with the government here in Costa Rica. Basically we assisted our clients in establishing their agencies and business in Costa Rica by securing contacts with-in the public sector. We do risk assessment, preparing tender documents, verifying the execution of the contracts and deployment of the projects, including all sorts of in-house agreements and elaboration of the contracts with the financial entities, subcontractors and purveyors.”
Monika, how did you become involved in immigration law? Monika tells me “This was a very positive accident in my career. I was invited by a friend who owns a very important academic business in Atenas, to share some “Hints for a comfortable stay in Costa Rica” with her students. I tried to cover as many aspects that I thought could be of interest to the students and to my surprise, immigration was one of the issues they were most interested in. One of the students asked me if I could help her get her residency. Since then, this has become one of our main activities. We love it because it has a very human side, dealing with individuals and families, which is nice to combine with our regular practice that deals with corporate interests.”
Over the years Costa Rica’s popularity as retirement destination and vacation home paradise has exploded. It is always important to hear from locals (Costa Ricans) how they feel about expat’s living in their country and if they see positive impacts being made by the expat community. Monika gives a very positive response by saying “We feel very proud of the people we’ve helped get their legal status in Costa Rica. It is a great responsibility to represent someone who wants to live in the country we love and where our children thrive. We’ve always represented people who want to come to our country because they find here in Costa Rica some values, wonderful things they cherish and want to share and reinforce. We love to see how many children are learning other languages because they want to share with the expats. We enjoy seeing expats show our people how much they appreciate our country, our values and nature. Sometimes, Costa Ricans don’t see many of the wonderful things we have, and when someone from abroad tells them how valuable they are, it´s easier for them to recognize what they have been taking for granted. We admire many expats who have created homes and shelters for children and elder people, who have made a big impact on our communities.”
What are the ways that retirees and younger individuals can obtain their residency in Costa Rica? Monika explains “There are different categories established by law that allow individuals to seek residency. The basics I would mention are:
Retirees “pensionados”- Must prove a life time pension with a minimum of$1,000.00 U.S. dollars per month.
Renter “rentista”-Individuals have to prove a minimum monthly income of $2,500.00 U.S. dollars in a permanent and stable way for at least 2 years.
Investors “inversionistas”- Who have to prove an investment of at least $200,000.00 U.S. dollars (including personal investments in owned properties). Prior to the rule change in 2010, the investments had to be in projects that would benefit the community.
There are also other special categories that allow for residence status. Some examples are: technicians, artists, or people with special skills. Also religious people like missionaries also can qualify for status as long as the religious institution is registered with the government. Of course, in each of these cases the applicants will have to hand in proof of how they fit into the corresponding category.”
Once someone knows what category they are going to file under, what is the process like?
Monika continues “After gathering the necessary documents, and having them legalized in the country of origin, applicants need to complete a formal request, a filiation form, get fingerprinted and registered at the Consulate of their country of origin. The requestor must file his documents, including complete copies of their passports during the validity period of their entry stamp (typically 90 days, but can be less), which varies depending on the country they come from, how many times they have been in and out of Costa Rica. Once submitted, the Immigration Department will take 3 months before they review the file. (This time frame has been increased due to the fact that a recent rule provided some transitory articles allowing people in special circumstances to regularize their situation, so the amount of people requesting services from the Immigration Department has increased considerably. This amnesty period will end on November 17, 2012, partially and totally by February 2013). Our hope is that after this special amnesty expires,the wait time will be reduced to 2 months instead of 3 for the files to be reviewed.
It is important to check the file after this “wait” period to make sure the case resolution is not delayed. As long as the file submitted is complete, the resolution should be ready within 4 to 6 months and in some cases sooner. The Immigration Department has made a big effort to become more efficient and has had very good results.”
What documents are needed to successfully apply for a residency status in Costa Rica? Monika tells me “Basically all categories will require: Birth Certificate, Police Record, Marriage Certificate (if applicable), and proof of income. These documents must be certified apostles by the Ministry of Foreign or Government Affairs in their country, or Secretary of State in the State in which they were issued. Sometimes income proof can be obtained very easily at certain consulates, depending on the kind of pension or country the applicant is from. Depending on the category, there could be a need to submit certificates from accountants, notary publics, or public institutions, such as CCSS (Social Security) or the Ministerio de Hacienda (Costa Rican tax department), in order to verify the kind of investment being made or in the case of academic titles to verify the special skills the applicant claims. It is important to bear in mind that most of these documents are valid for only 6 months.
Many people are intimidated by the process and never bother getting their residency in Costa Rica. I wanted to know why Monika believes it is important to have a legal status in Costa Rica. Monika states “It makes things a lot easier and more transparent if you have your residence. You don´t need to leave the country every 3 months and you avoid being considered irregular, penalized or even forbidden to enter the country.”
Can you give us a general idea about costs involved in obtaining your residency in Costa Rica?
Monika explains “As we do with all of our practice, regarding Immigration, we are proud to provide our clients with honest and professional advise, helping them find the best category to apply through. We make sure their file is submitted in a way that success is just a matter of time. Regarding the costs, there is a “migratory fee” to the government of $250.00 U.S. dollars per person. You need to have your documents officially translated at an average cost of $120.00 (U.S. dollars)(depending of the quantity of pages). Once the status is granted then a $300.00 (U.S. dollars) as a guarantee, and $123.00 (U.S. dollars) for the issuance of the document, for a total of $423.00 (U.S. dollars). In total the expenses may be about $800.00 (U.S. dollars) in Costa Rica (Government fees and translation).
Regarding the attorneys fees, it is important for people to know that they can file on their own, and don´t need an attorney to do so. Nevertheless, having an attorney can make their path somewhat easier, because we can verify the completeness of the files, and make a close followup on them. Our fees depend on the category and the amount of people requesting the services, but people can contact us and we will happily give individual quotes on a case by case basis.”
As the world becomes smaller, migration for individuals becomes a more viable option everyday. Destinations such as Costa Rica with it’s dynamic beauty, amazing climate and warm, open culture are top choices for many people looking to retire or relocate. Being informed on the immigration policies and options of your destination is one of the most important pieces of information you will need in making a life changing decision. The process can be overwhelming, but by having a competent professional on your side, things can be much more simple and you will be grateful in the end.
For more information about the immigration process or immigration laws you can contact Monika and her father at:
Fernando José Valerio Sánchez Mónika Valerio De Ford
Bufete Valerio, Casafont & Asociados
Tels. (506) 8810-9004, 8824-1600 Fax. (506) 2433-2635
De INCAE 200 oeste,
Residencial Los Viveros # 30
Alajuela, Costa Rica
Costa Rica Realtors Chamber
Tours in Costa Rica
Pure Life Development of Atenas is a full service tour company. We feature full vacation packages and day trips for the family. Our tour director Nelson Conejo is very experienced and provides a personal service and attention to detail second to none in Costa Rica. Please write Nelson or give him a call to arrange your next Costa Rican vacation at (506)2446-0447 or
Retirement Living in Atenas
Interview with Pure Life Development co-founder and certified realtor Dennis Easters, about Costa Rica ranked by AARP as "one of the best places to retire abroad".