Located in a Central American rainforest, Costa Rica has a powerful economy, especially relative to its small population. Sectors like tourism, agriculture, and electronics continue to be important, as well as biomedicine and sustainable energy. The country is particularly open to foreign investment and trade opportunities.
Costa Rica makes it difficult for foreigners to obtain a visa and work in the country, especially compared to other Latin American countries. There are strict regulations in place to ensure that foreigners do not receive job opportunities over local citizens.
Still, many expats find employment in the country, especially in the tourism and technology industries.
To qualify for a visa and work permit in Costa Rica, there are specific requirements that foreigners must meet in order to enter the country. Here is an overview for employers and employees of how visas and permits work.
A visa in Costa Rica is only granted to foreign nationals who qualify for a work permit. Work visas act as residence visas and allow expats to live and work in the country. Visas only provide residency for the duration of work, and need to be renewed based on the duration of work in the country.
Work visas can only be obtained with the approval of a work permit, so it is the responsibility of the employer to understand who qualifies for a permit before potential employees can begin the process of applying for a visa.
Keep in mind that tourist visas are only good for 30 days in Costa Rica. If you need to stay in the country longer than 30 days, apply for an extension through the Directorate General of Immigration.
A work permit in Costa Rica is a specific type of immigration document that is required for all expats who fall under a “special category” looking to live and work within the country. Employers must begin the work permit process for them before they can successfully begin their visa application.
Work permits in Costa Rica are only available to:
Workers in specific occupations
Self-employed workers in an established company
Those self-employed in agriculture, service, or the construction industry
Athletes, artists, and other entertainers
If an applicant does not fall under one of the above categories, there is a good chance the work permit application will be denied. Citizens and permanent residents of Costa Rica are the only ones allowed to work in the country without a permit.
For those who don't qualify for a work permit, Costa Rica also has a digital nomad visa for remote workers to live and work in the country for up to 1 year.
Foreigners hoping to obtain employment in Costa Rica will need to first check if they qualify for a visa and permit. Work visa requirements are extensive, so before you can apply, you will need to do extensive research on what documents you need to submit.
Once you are absolutely positive that you meet all of the necessary prerequisites for approval, then you will need to begin your visa/permit process. The visa process requires that you have a professional reason for immigration.
The process can be rather time consuming. Costa Rica does not allow anyone into the country without providing proof and completing the following documents:
Signed and completed application form
2 passport photos
Copy of each page of passport including the blank pages
Potential employers legal constitution and registration
Letter explaining the reason for application for work permit that includes full name, age, nationality, current address, and current occupation
Statement from potential employer that indicates duration of employment contract, salary, and job duties
Proof of health insurance from the applicants insurance company
Receipt of Consular Inspection
Receipt of fingerprint registration issued to the applicant by the Ministry of Public Security
Certificate of police clearance from the applicants country of origin
Copy of a document that proves legal residence in country of origin
Proof that the applicant has sufficient financial means and income to live in Costa Rica
Certificate of the Costa Rican Social Security Institution for employing country
Receipt of payment for each page of the application, translated into Spanish
Upon arrival in Costa Rica, you will also need to register your fingerprints.
The application process can be timely and drawn out. Once the employee meets all of the requirements for working in the country, they must apply for a provisional visa. This is a visa that allows initial access into the country and temporary residence.
Once you arrive in Costa Rica, you will begin the work permit process by submitting all of the necessary documents to the right institutions. Upon arrival, one of the first steps that needs to be completed is registering fingerprints with the Ministry of Public Security (Ministerio Seguridad Publica).
Permits are then issued by the Immigration Department (Dirección Genera de Migración y Extranjería).
Before expecting prospective employees to begin a long application process, employers should remember that they must prove that they are unable to fill the job with a Costa Rican national. The employer will need to state in the visa application how the employee is an asset over other Costa Rican Citizens. If they do not give sufficient evidence justifying the need to hire an expat, then the permit application will likely be denied.
In addition to proving that a foreign employee is needed to fill a position, potential employers should note that it takes 3-8 months for a work permit to be approved and processed. Make sure that you guide and help your employees through the visa application process, to avoid denial after such a long wait time. This means that they need to offer jobs early on and give their employees all of the necessary information for the process.
Employers should warn their employees that all of the visa application documents should be ready, translated in Spanish, and notarized before arriving into the country.
As stated, hiring foreign employees in Costa Rica is a timely, expensive, and confusing process. Without the proper tools to begin the hiring process, employers will likely not want to venture into hiring here.
However, using an EOR service like Via will help alleviate this process because we have knowledgeable in-country support that understands the regulations of hiring in Costa Rica. Via helps you manage local HR processes for direct employment such as work visas & permits, benefits, payroll, background checks, and more. Our team of local labor lawyers and on-the-ground experts ensure that your company remains compliant while expanding abroad. As your employer-of-record/entity abroad, Via assumes responsibility for employment liability, so that you can focus on what matters: recruiting and managing your team.
With Via’s transparent pricing, you can pay full-time employees or contractors across borders with no hidden set-up fees, no foreign exchange or transaction fees, and no minimums–start with 1 employee and scale up at your own pace.