The Costa Rica News (TCRN) – Living and retiring in Costa Rica is attainable for just about anybody with a love of nature, a little gumption, and a desire for the better things in life.  However, as anyone who lives here knows, there is always red tape and bureaucracy to deal with, especially where immigration is concerned.

For many expats, perpetual tourism is a way of life while living in Costa Rica.  Those of you who are lucky enough to never have to play the visa game, this involves going to another country either by plane, bus, or automobile about every 90 days in order to renew your tourist visa for another three months.

In addition, the current regulations say that in order to return to Costa Rica with a valid stamp you must have an onward bound ticket (either bus or plane) showing that you won’t be staying in Costa Rica forever and you must be able to show proof of $500 in your bank account.  Unfortunately, the crossing process seems to be different for every individual and is constantly changing; inconsistency is the key word here.

Leaving Costa Rica for North Americans is fairly straightforward and only requires your passport, a short standard immigration form, and a $7 newly implemented exit fee (which jumps up to $28 if you’re flying internationally).  Once across the border, the law states that you must stay out of the country for 72 hours before returning, but many people are able to return within a matter of hours.  As mentioned, every trip is different for no apparent reason.

If, however, you’ve overstayed your 90 days and have an expired visa, leaving the country is where things can get tricky.  Starting September 1, 2014, Costa Rica finalized a new penalty for those in the country illegally: You must now pay $100 fine for every month past the visa’s expiration date and you can be expelled from the country for three times the amount of time that you’re over.

For example, if your visa expired in March and you don’t renew until June, you could be subject to a $300 fine and not be allowed back in the country for 9 months.  Naturally, if you’ve got a home, family, or business here, this could prove rather inconvenient.

Since this is such a new statute, the Costa Rican government is encouraging anyone with an expired visa to self-regulate and contact immigration to get any fines paid to regain legal status again.

Even though the perpetual tourism process is completely legal according to Costa Rica law, some jurisdictions are beginning to frown upon this never-ending cycle.  According to immigration expert, Glenn Tellier, one of the big reasons the government wants people to become residents is so that they become part of the health care program, which costs the country millions of colones a year to cover non-resident medical expenses.  With the recent immigration changes and unpredictability, he recommends considering residency rather than pursuing the perpetual tourist route.

Nonetheless,  if you’re a veteran of the border crossing process or getting ready for your first time, you now know what to look forward to and if it’s worth the hassle.  In the end, the important thing is that you respect Costa Rica’s laws and hoops, regardless of how whacky they might seem.

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