Many expats and immigrants in Costa Rica complete the final step in their immigration process by becoming naturalized citizens. We get a lot of questions about citizenship, especially about the advantages of citizenship. Is the procedure challenging? Will I be stripped of my citizenship? Let’s look at these questions to see if naturalization is a good fit for you.
What Are The Benefits of Citizenship?
As opposed to permanent residence, being a citizen of Costa Rica gives you the Right of Abode – the right to live and work in Costa Rica without restrictions. You would think that permanent residence gives you this right. Still, 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 minimal exceptions (such as being obtained under false pretenses).
Remember, “permanent residence” is not permanent. It would help if you still renewed your residence status every few years. You must pay a renewal fee (currently $123 USD) and show your continued enrollment in CCSS (Caja – social security). It only means you have the permanent right to renew your residence status if you follow the rules.
Other benefits of citizenship include:
- Voting rights: as a citizen, you can vote for President (whether living in Costa Rica or abroad), in the Legislative Assembly, and in municipal elections;
- Free 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 lost or stolen, the process is significantly more straightforward and accessible than 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, 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. Also, Costa Ricans can visit more South American countries without paying hefty reciprocal visa-on-arrival fees that US or Canadian citizens would have to pay;
- 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: as a foreign resident, if you plan to leave Costa Rica for an extended period, 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.
- 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 significant ways to obtain citizenship: naturalization for ex-pats without familial ties in Costa Rica.
- Citizenship by Residence
• 7 years living in Costa Rica as a resident with a DIMEX (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 Certified Public Accountant (CPA);
• Completion of citizenship tests – Spanish and social studies (applicants aged 65 and over are exempt from this requirement). Click here for more information.
- 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 and 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 (TSE will do this 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);
- An apostilled or legalized criminal record check from the home country was issued within the last 3 months.
All naturalization applications are processed by the Options and Naturalizations Department at the TSE (Supreme Elections Tribunal), not by Immigration.
Will I Lose My Citizenship?
We often get this question from US and Canadian citizens unfamiliar with the modern immigration world. We have answered this question in detail in the article Dual Citizenship in Costa Rica.
The short answer is no for the US, Canadians, and many other citizens. You do not lose your citizenship simply by becoming a Costa Rican citizen. One thing to remember is that as a Costa Rican citizen, you will be treated exclusively as a Costa Rican by Costa Rican authorities.
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