If you are looking to retire in Costa Rica, obtaining a pensionado visa makes it possible, but only if you meet specific requirements. Here is what you need to know about Costa Rica's Pensionado Program, which is designed specifically for expat retirees.

Pensionado Visa Requirements

Several types of visas are available to prospective retirees in Costa Rica. The pensionado is the longest-running visa program and remains the most popular, even though some of its benefits have been reduced over time.

Key Takeaways

  • Costa Rica’s Pensionado Program is the most popular residency visa for retirees. 
  • The main requirement is that retirees must have at least $1,000 in income monthly from a pension or Social Security retirement benefits.
  • Applicants need to provide a number of documents, including proof of retirement income, a birth certificate, marriage certificate (if applicable), and a police certificate of good conduct.

The main criteria necessary for acquiring a pensionado visa is that you must have income from a government or private sector pension—or retirement benefits from the Social Security Administration—to lean on during your retirement. According to 2019 law, your income from these sources must amount to at least $1,000 per month and be exchanged from U.S. dollars into Costa Rican colónes.

You must also work through the Department of Immigration and provide a bevy of documents for review. Application fees add up to $250, but there are other costs, such as translation and authentication fees. Pensionado visas need to be renewed every two years. The renewal fee is $100.

Other Residency Visa Options

The pensionado visa focuses on those with fixed retirement income. If you do not have a fixed retirement income with at least $1,000 per month guaranteed, you cannot apply. You should apply to the Rentista Program instead. The income requirements for a rentista visa are set at $2,500 per month, provable over at least two years, or a $60,000 deposit in a Costa Rican bank.

Another option is the Inversionista Program. An inversionista visa requires a $200,000 investment in a Costa Rican business or real estate. The latter can be residential or commercial.

Required Documentation

To acquire a pensionado—or any other retirement visa in Costa Rica—you need to provide an income certificate that proves your legitimate pension. Social Security income can be substituted for pension income if you have the documentation to prove it.

Married couples only need to provide proof of one fixed retirement income source of at least $1,000 per month for both spouses to apply.

Costa Rica also requires a birth certificate, marriage certificate (if applicable), and a police certificate of good conduct. This can be acquired from your local police department. It states that you have been a law-abiding citizen and that you do not pose a threat to the residents of Costa Rica. The police certificate of good conduct must be provided for each applicant, spouse, and any children ages 15 to 25.

The certificate of good conduct expires six months after it is issued, so be sure to have all your other documentation ready before requesting the certificate, or it could expire, and you will have to request a second one. Once in Costa Rica, all temporary residents have to be fingerprinted for an Interpol background check.

All financial and non-financial documents required by the Department of Immigration for a pensionado visa must be valid for at least six months past a potential visa issue date. The documents provided must be written in Spanish, and the Costa Rican consulate must do any translations from other languages to Spanish.

How to Look Like an Attractive Applicant

According to the Costa Rican Department of Immigration, applicants are favored to the extent that they "can demonstrate that they will provide a financial benefit and contribute to create employment for Costa Rican citizens either in the form of direct or indirect investment."

An investment is direct when it comes as a financial security investment in a Costa Rican company or other entrepreneurial activity. Indirect investments are the retirement funds that are converted into colónes and spent in the Costa Rican economy. Costa Rica prefers those with disposable income for their visas, as do most countries that court expatriates.