Many expats and immigrants take the final step of their immigration to Costa Rican and become a naturalized citizen. We get questions about citizenship a lot, mainly what are the benefits of citizenship? Is the process difficult? Will I lose my citizenship? Let’s go through these questions and see if naturalization is right for you.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF CITIZENSHIP?
As opposed to permanent residence, being a citizen of Costa Rica gives you Right of Abode — which is the right to live and work in Costa Rica without restrictions. You would think that permanent residence gives you this right, but residence can be revoked in certain circumstances, such as being convicted of crimes or simply not renewing your residence status. Costa Rican citizenship cannot be revoked, with very small exceptions (such as being obtained under false pretenses).
Remember, “permanent residence” is not actually permanent. You still need to renew your residence status every few years, and you have to pay renewal fee (currently $123) and also show your continued enrollment in CCSS (Caja – social security). It really only means you have the permanent right to renew your residence status as long as you follow the rules.
Other benefits of citizenship include:
- Voting rights: a a citizen, you can vote for President (whether living in Costa Rica or abroad), Legislative Assembly, and in municipal elections.
- Free National ID card: citizens of Costa Rica are provided a free ID card (Cédula de Identidad) from the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE), which is good for 10 years. If it is lost or stolen the process is significantly simpler and easier as it is for replacing a foreign resident card (DIMEX). The TSE will even make house calls to issue or renew cédulas for those with disabilities.
- Costa Rican passport: As a citizen you can apply for a Costa Rican passport, which is ranked 25th overall according to the Henley Passport Index, offering visa-free or visa on arrival access to 149 countries and territories, including some countries that US or Canadian citizens would need a visa (such as Russia). Additionally, Costa Ricans can visit more South American countries without paying large reciprocal visa on arrival fees that US or Canadian citizens would have to pay. Also, a Costa Rican passport can allow you to travel to countries that your home country passport may not allow you to travel to. (i.e. for US Citizens, you could travel to Cuba using your Costa Rica passport without any restrictions).
- CCSS (Caja) enrollment: While all residents (citizens or non-citizens) are required to enroll in CCSS, being off the rolls does not jeopardize your citizenship. This is unlike foreign residents who need to show continued enrollment in CCSS to renew their status.
- You can leave and return without restrictions: As a foreign resident, if you plan to leave Costa Rica for an extended period of time, you need to apply for suspension of your resident status with immigration, and then resume your resident status when you return. Citizens can leave for many years and return.
- You can get your deposit back from immigration: Once you become a citizen, you can cancel your residency with immigration, and thus be eligible for a return of the Guarantee Deposit you made.
- Citizens CAN NOT be deported.
- Citizens have the RIGHT to vote.
- Citizens are eligible to apply for government jobs.
- While technically according to law all residents (citizens or non-citizens) have the same rights, you’ll find that services and platforms are much more geared towards citizens than non-citizens.
CITIZENSHIP PROCESS AND REQUIREMENTS
There are two major ways to obtain citizenship via naturalization for expats without familial ties in Costa Rica.
- Citizenship by Residence
• 7 years living in Costa Rica as a resident with a cédula (5 years if you are a citizen of a Central American country, a citizen of certain Latin American countries, or a citizen of Spain by birth)
• 2 character witness declarations
• Proof of financial means of living such as an income certification from a CPA
• Completion of citizenship tests – Spanish and social studies (applicants aged 65 and over are exempt from this requirement)
- Citizenship by Marriage to Costa Rican citizen
• 2 years living in Costa Rica married to a Costa Rican citizen
• Note that this category exempts you from the proof of financial means as well as completion of citizenship tests.
The shared requirements for these citizenship categories are:
- You must prove you have lived in Costa Rica for the accumulated time through the record of immigration entries and exits (this will be done by TSE as part of the process)
- Birth certificate from home country, Apostilled or legalized (Note: in most cases you can omit this requirement if it is in your immigration file)
- Criminal record check from home country, Apostilled or legalized, issued within the last 3 months
All naturalization applications are processed by the Options and Naturalizations Department at the TSE, not by Immigration.
WILL I LOSE MY CITIZENSHIP?
This is a question we get a lot, mainly from US and Canadian citizens who are not accustomed to the modern immigration world. We have answered this question in detail in the article Dual Citizenship in Costa Rica.
The short answer for US, Canadian and many other citizens is no, you do not lose your citizenship simply by naturalizing as a citizen of Costa Rica. However, one thing to realize is that as a Costa Rican citizen, you will be treated as solely Costa Rican in the eyes of Costa Rican authorities.