Can I Legally Work in Costa Rica ?
This is the most often asked question that we receive. Not all of you are going to like the answer. Costa Rica is very protective of its local labor force and therefore the laws favor the hiring of local Costa Rican workers as opposed to foreign workers. On the other hand it does have an established process to obtain work permits and facilitate the immigration status of those individuals that are coming to Costa Rica with an established company and those which can clearly demonstrate that they have a skill set required by Costa Rica. On the other hand if your intent is to come to Costa Rica and look for employment and then sort out your immigration status – that may pose a challenge. In this article I will review the immigration law as it relates to working in Costa Rica.
1. The Work Permit.
In order to obtain a work permit in Costa Rica you or the employer that will be hiring you will need to show that you have a set of skills which cannot be found locally in order to justify your work permit. A work permit is NOT a residency category. A work permit falls under the “Special Immigration Category” and allows you to remain in Costa Rica so long as the conditions of employment for which it was granted continue in effect. Article 100 of the Immigration Law governs permits for worker with specific occupations. This category applies to salaried workers as well as to individuals who are self employed who are able to justify before the Department of Immigration that their services and expertise are required in Costa Rica. To apply for this category you or your intended employer must present the following to the Department of Immigration:
I. A Letter from the Employer stating the reason they need the employee and specifying the exact activity which that worker will carry out in the country:
a. Full name, nationality, occupation or trade and exact address of the Employer
b. Full name; date of birth; exact address where they will be working; where the worker will live; and the amount of time they will remain in Costa Rica.
ii. Proof from the Employer that they have the economic means to pay the salary of the Employer. This usually requires financial information such as certified financial statements to demonstrate the financial capacity of the Employer.
iii. The Applicant must provide a certified copy of their entire Passport as well as a Certified Birth Certificate which must be authenticated by the Costa Rican consulate in the country of origin.
iv. Fingerprinting in Costa Rica. As part of the application process you will have to be fingerprinted in Costa Rican and proof of that attached to your application.
If an employee is being sent to work on a specific project in Costa Rica then Article 124 of the Immigration Law which specifically applies to employees of companies that are working on project specific ventures in Costa Rica may apply. This generally applies to foreign companies that have been awarded government contracts and need to have their personnel in Costa Rica to carry out those projects.
2. Working with a Permanent or Temporary Residency Category
The Immigration Law distinguishes between Permanent Residency and Temporary Residency. The Permanent Residency category (Article 77 & 78) is the best immigration category to have in Costa Rica because there are NO restrictions with this category. This means that if you have a Permanent Residency you can work in Costa Rica. So what is the catch ?
In order to obtain Permanent Residency you generally must have had a Temporary Residency category for at least 3 years. Most Temporary Residency categories have restrictions which prohibit the holder to work in Costa Rica . The only exception to this is Article 79 (3) which applies to the “Executives, representatives, managers and technical personnel for companies which are established in Costa Rica.” If your company has an established physical presence in Costa Rica then it is possible to bring in your support staff under this category to work in Costa Rica. All other Temporary Residency categories are restricted from carrying out work in Costa Rica. To that end Article 80 of the Immigration Law is pretty specific when it states that “The Temporary Resident may only carry out remunerated work or lucrative self employed activities which have been authorized by the Department of Immigration. The Department will evaluate the recommendations of the Ministry of Labor and other criteria of convenience and opportunity in conferring any authorization.” Also bear in mind that Article 18 Section 20 of the Immigration Law authorizes the Immigration Police to “enter into any business establishment during working hours to verify passports, residency cards and work permits to determine violations of the law.”
Based upon the preceding it should be clear to you by now that if you intend to work in Costa Rica as an employee or are in engaged in retail type operations or providing services that you will need to have the right immigration status to do so.
This does not prohibit you from owning a Costa Rican company which in turn owns a Business enterprise in Costa Rica. We need to distinguish between being an owner/shareholder of a Costa Rican Business as opposed to actually carrying out the work in the business. If your Costa Rican company owns a Restaurant for example you should not be tending the cash register if you only have a tourist status. Follow the guidelines set forth below when considering your employment choices in Costa Rica.