Work permits for employees in Costa Rica: A complete guide for employers

Published

May 25, 2023

As a global company looking to hire abroad, you must stay compliant through the hiring process from beginning to end. If you find the right candidate for a role in Costa Rica or are considering transferring an existing employee there, work permits must be at the top of your to-do list.

Employees must have valid residence and work permits to live and work in the country legally. Hiring employees not authorized to work in the country is illegal, leading to severe penalties.

Before you make your first Costa Rican hire, find out the requirements for a Costa Rica work permit before sending over that contingent job offer.

What is a work permit in Costa Rica?

A work permit is a document the Costa Rican government issues to allow foreign workers to work legally in the country for some time under certain conditions.

In Costa Rica, the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería, the country’s Department of Immigration, handles the processing of work permits. Employers must apply for a provisional visa with the Costa Rican consulate, as it must be used in conjunction with the work permit.

Depending on the employee’s country of origin, the process may change, so it’s essential to understand the local laws and only provide an offer letter contingent on acquiring proper documentation as it is a notoriously difficult process.

Who needs a work visa in Costa Rica?

Only Costa Rican citizens or those with a permanent residence permit can legally work there in Costa Rica. All other immigration statuses must obtain both a temporary residence permit and a work permit to work for a company.

To obtain a work visa, the employer must prove that the foreign national applicant has unique skills not found within Costa Rica to apply for the "special category" visa category.

It is essential to be transparent and provide an offer letter that clearly states that the job offer is contingent on acquiring proper immigration documentation, as it is a notoriously difficult process.

How long does it take to get a work permit in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica's work permit application process is lengthy and complicated compared to other countries. Typically, it takes up to eight months to complete, sometimes longer. Processing times will also depend on the employee’s country of origin and the type of visa they need.

Types of work visas in Costa Rica

There's only one type of work permit in Costa Rica, the "special category" residency and work permits. This work visa allows temporary legal residency and foreign workers to be employed in the country.

Once you've secured the "special category" residency, you can apply for a work permit under the "special category." Specific occupations with special skills include:

  • Those who have secured a job in the arts as entertainers
  • Professional athletes moving to Costa Rica to pursue their sports career
  • Those working for an international company within Costa Rica who wishes to transfer
  • Individuals who are self-employed or freelance
  • Individuals with seasonal or temporary jobs in Costa Rica
  • Individuals who have secured a job in academia as a professor or teacher
  • Individuals who have an internship with a Costa Rican company
  • Those entering Costa Rica to operate as a technical guest

The employer must prove that the employee belongs in this "special category" and that the foreign candidate is the most qualified candidate for the role. Costa Rica has strict regulations around hiring Costa Rican people versus foreigners.

Costa Rica also has other types of temporary residence permits, but these are not allowed to work in the country, so keep this in mind to stay compliant and not incur legal fees and penalties.

These include:

  • Pensionado (retiree visa) requires the individual to receive pension benefits.
  • Rentista (legal resident visa) is an individual that isn't retired but continues to receive unearned income from investments, savings, etc.
  • Inversionista (investment visa) is an individual that invests upwards of USD 200,000 in a Costa Rican business or real estate.

Application process for Costa Rica work visas

Before an employee can live and work in Costa Rica, there are a few steps to follow to comply with local laws.

Employees must register with the Costa Rica consulate in their home country and apply for a provisional visa to enter the country. The provisional visa will allow the employee to enter the country and apply for a temporary residence permit within two months of arrival through Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería.

The burden for the work permit and visas lies with the employer as they must prove that they did everything in their power to find local talent to fill the role. Foreign workers must apply for a "special category" residence permit for an employee with unique skills.

  • Once the employee is in the country, they must register fingerprints with the Ministry of Public Security.
  • The employer and employee submit the work permit application in tandem with the residence permit with all the documents with apostilles or notarized stamps. The documents must also be translated into Spanish and submitted to the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería.
  • Pay for all related processing fees for visa and work permit applications.

The application review will be done following the Costa Rican Ministry of Labor and the CCSS (social security) rules.

The employment contract will be contingent on the employee receiving both their temporary residence and work permits to live and work legally in Costa Rica. Work permit processing times can sometimes take up to eight months or longer.

Frequently asked questions about work permits for employees in Costa Rica

Do US citizens need a work permit to work in Costa Rica?

Yes, US citizens need a valid work permit to work legally in Costa Rica. US citizens do not have special immigration privileges in Costa Rica.

What documents are required to apply for a Costa Rican work permit?

Before applying for a work permit for your employee in Costa Rica, check if the employee requires a provisional visa to enter the country based on their country of origin. Once approved, the employee must apply for a temporary residence permit.

Then, as the employer, acquire official documents with an apostille seal or notary stamps on all of your documents for the employee and Spanish translations before applying for the work permit. You need to submit the following to the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería (Costa Rica’s Immigration Department):

  • The work permit application form
  • A letter of application addressed to the head of immigration
  • Two passport-sized photos
  • A certified copy of the employee’s birth certificate
  • A notarized copy of all the employee’s passport pages
  • An employer statement detailing the employee’s job description, special skills, and salary
  • The employer’s proof of registration documents and copy of its policies
  • Proof the employer has complied with its tax and insurance payments
  • Proof from the employee’s current financial means
  • Background check, including criminal record, of the employee
  • Proof that you have registered with the Costa Rican consulate in the country of origin

Before submitting, contact the immigration office to confirm no changes have been made to the application requirements. Any missing document can delay your application process further.

What’s the fastest way to get a work permit in Costa Rica?

There’s no way to rush the process of work permit applications in Costa Rica. You can avoid processing delays with your employee’s paperwork by submitting the necessary paperwork and paying the fees on time. Sometimes hiring a local lawyer may help with application follow-up.

However, because it can take several months to receive news, some employers hire employees as consultants in the country and pay them a stipend called "servicio profesionale." The employee must leave Costa Rica and re-enter every 30 to 90 days, depending on the employee's country of origin.

How much does it cost to get a Costa Rican work permit?

The "special category" residence visa application fee is 28,300 CRC (about 50 USD). There will be additional fees depending on your country of origin and application form details.

You’ll pay around 73,600 CRC (130 USD) following the initial fee for the application process and then 169,800 CRC (300 USD) to the Costa Rican government at a later time.

Are family members included in work visa applications in Costa Rica?

Yes, any foreign workers who applied and had their work visa application approved by the Costa Rican government may bring their dependents under a family visa. Dependents include only immediate family:

  • Spouse
  • Children under 18 years old
  • Any-aged children with disabilities

This family visa (or por vínculo in Spanish) will grant temporary residency after submitting a notarized marriage certificate and undergoing a possible in-person interview with immigration. If approved, the spouse and children can live and work in Costa Rica for one year and, after that, be allowed to apply for permanent residency.

How do you renew your Costa Rican work permit?

As an employer, you must watch for expiration dates for your employee's temporary residence and work permits.

A temporary resident permit is valid for two years and can be renewed multiple times without any restrictions. A work permit is only valid for one year and can be renewed if the employee continues to be employed at the company.

Start the process at least 30 days before the expiration date and apply to the Costa Rican Ministry of Labor or through the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería, depending on the permit you're renewing.

Is there a limit on the number of work permits you can obtain in Costa Rica?

No, there’s no limit on the number of work permits the employee can obtain. The work permit is tied to the job and role the employee was hired for and can be renewed every year at the one-year mark if the role continues.

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Rippling and its affiliates do not provide tax, accounting, or legal advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal, and accounting advisors before engaging in any related activities or transactions.

last edited: July 31, 2023

The Author

Muriel Vega

A freelance tech and B2B writer based in Atlanta, Muriel focuses her work on human resources and workplace trends and creating engaging content for SaaS companies. She has traveled the world, but her favorite place to work is Mexico City.