By Patrick Connelly
The Costa Rican government recently proposed several new measures in regards to immigration that could severely change the retiree and expat situation. Their aim, in theory, is to dually combat the large influx of mainly Nicaraguan migrant workers as well as the increasing stream of North American moving to the country. With the proposed increase in monetary qualifications for both prospective rentistas and pensioners, many would-be North American expats may be turned off by such a move, particularly in the current financial environment.
The Costa Rican immigration authority, Migracíon, has recently been quoted as saying that the immigration situation in the country is “out of control” and that stricter requirements are desperately needed. In response, the government has proposed to increase immigration requirements for pensioners from $600 a month to $2000 a month, while rentistas face an increase from $1000/month to $5000/month. Basically, to qualify for Costa Rican residency you will have be able to prove that your pension or monthly income equals or exceeds the amount for whichever category you fall into, rentista or pensioner.
In light of these astronomical increases, it is clearly evident that potential retirees and expats could get hosed on this one. According to the U.S. Social Security Administration, the average pensioner in the U.S. receives around $1100 a month, far below the prescribed requirement. And, as the U.S. has one of the highest pension averages in the world, these requirements would have a worldwide effect; for example, Canada – a major contributor to the Costa Rican expat and retiree scene – has an average of around $700 a month.
The government in San Jose continues to claim that these requirements are “easily attainable”, which, from their point of view, is understandable. Milk the cow. If a steady cash flow continues to arrive via North America, it is not surprising that a government would try to keep pressing to see what the ceiling is; that is merely good business. However, in this case it would appear as if the proposed requirements far and away exceed any rationality.
And therein lies the silver lining in this possible four car pileup of increased immigration requirements. This is not an isolated incident; in fact, as recently as 2004 a similar bill was introduced. Met with immediate uproar from the expat community, it failed to pass into law. Recently, when informed that the average U.S. pensioner receives $900 less than the desired requirement, a Costa Rican assembly member was unaware of these figures. Now, this could be a simple mistake on part of the Costa Rican government or an attempt to slide one past the North American community; either way, it poses potentially serious problems for would-be expats in Costa Rica. However, the government recognizes the importance of the expat and retiree communities and the income it brings in, and will certainly proceed with caution as to not disrupt such a vital part of the economy. Certainly a situation worth monitoring in the coming months.
Click on the link to read more analysis on how expats are affected by Costa Rican immigration laws
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