A Cedula is a legal document indicating a person has applied for and received permission from the Costa Rican government to live, temporarily, within it's borders.  United States citizens know this as a "Green Card." 

As a legal resident, we are no longer considered "visitors" and therefore not required to leave the country every 90 days.  However, there are restrictions under which our Cedulas were issued.

Even though we are legal residents, we are still not permitted to hold a Costa Rican job.  There are some exceptions but I'm not going to cover that in this article.   We have (supposedly) all the same rights as a full on citizen except we do not have the right to vote. 

Perhaps our biggest requirement is our need to prove our financial accountability as defined by Costa Rican law.  Since we are RENTISTAS, we are required to convert at least $2000 per month from US Dollars into Colones.  Note, that amount has increased to $2500 with the new Residency Law.  We were told (in the beginning) that in order to do this, we needed to maintain TWO Costa Rican bank accounts, one in US Dollars and the other in Colones.  Each month we needed to withdraw dollars and then redeposit them it into our Colone account, saving the receipt of that transaction.  This official receipt contained no less than two barely readable authenticating rubber stamped impressions and most importantly, our Cedula number and signature.  These monthly receipts would eventually be presented to Migración when it was time to renew our Cedulas.

CLICK FOR FULL SIZE IMAGE

Always looking to bend the rules, I thought I could beat this requirement.  Instead of keeping track of all my monthly transfer receipts, I heard through the expat grapevine that if I brought a letter from my bank, attesting to the fact that I complied with the law, that's all I would need to prove my compliance.  This was a pretty big leap of faith, for if Migración wanted to bust my balls and hold true to the "letter" of the law, my Cedula might not be renewed.

A few days before my meeting with Immigration authorities, I visited my local bank, met with the Manager, and using my best survival Spanish skills, I politely asked for this letter.  His reply to me... "No problema Señor Browne."  Fifteen minutes and $10.00 later, I left the bank with my letter in hand.


THE PROCESS IS IMPROVING

As much as I complain about Costa Rican processes, slowly but surely they are improving and Cedula renewal is a perfect example.  Until about a year ago, anybody renewing their Cedula could only do so in San José.  For us that would have meant a 4 hour drive each way, stand in long lines at Migración and pray like hell that you would not be required to return a second or third time with more information. 

Now, under an agreement with Banco de Costa Rica, Migración has established satellite operations in many of the Bank's branches located throughout the country.  For us that means all we have to do is drive 35 minutes into Liberia. 

DIALING FOR CEDULAS

When we went to the bank to renew our Cedula, they told us (in Spanish) we needed an appointment and the only way to make the appointment was to call a special "900" number.  So they handed us this little chit of paper with our instructions.

 

OK, no big deal (so we thought).  But when we tried to call, we quickly learned that 900 numbers are automatically blocked by Costa Rica's telephone monopoly, ICE (pronounced ee-say).

We tried no fewer than 5 different cell phones and two land lines, all with no luck.  Isn't this like Costa Rica... they set up a telephone call in process to expedite Cedula renewals, but nearly 98% of the population are locked out.  People first have to call or visit an ICE office and and have 900 service activated.  How funny is that?

Well, after trying even more phones, we finally found one that worked.  And inside of 10 minutes we had our appointments for three days later at 11:00 am.

 

HERE ARE THE MINIMUM NUMBER OF DOCUMENTS  DOCUMENTS YOU WILL NEED FOR RENEWAL

SMILE AND BE COURTEOUS

No, that is not what the person across the desk from you is supposed to do, it is what YOU are supposed to do when dealing with anybody rendering you a service in Costa Rica! 

We arrived at Banco de Costa Rica 15 minutes before our scheduled 11:00 am appointment.  Precisely at 11:00, we were escorted back to a desk where a young woman was waiting for us.  And as if I were on automatic pilot, the first words that rolled out of my mouth was "¿Usted habla ingles?"  With a very polite smile she looked at me, shook her head side to side and said "No."  So I knew I had my work cut out for me.

As it turned out, all the things she needed - we had.  But when she said "carta del banco" (letter from bank), I knew I was home free.  All the fears I had about being rejected were 100% groundless.  No receipts were needed to prove financial compliance.  Within 15 minutes I had my Comprobante De Solicitud (Proof of Request), indicating that I was good to go. 

Next it was Fran's turn in the hot seat.  But for some strange reason, the woman asked Fran for her carta del banco?  We only have one one bank account and as Rentistas, our $2000/month requirement applies to both of us, not individually?  So I jumped in and said,  "Pero no es necessita porque estamos casados con una sola cuenta banca!"  Holy crap, where did that come from?  Maybe I am learning to speak Spanish!  She then asked for our marriage license.  But wait... that was not on the list of documents we were told to bring. 

This is why it can take multiple trips to renew a Cedula.

Well thank goodness Fran had the foresight to bring our entire Immigration file, because tucked away in the folder was an extra copy of our Florida Marriage License.  We just dodged a major bullet! 

Fifteen minutes later Fran has her officially stamped documents and off we went.  All we do now is wait till July 12th when our new Cedulas will be waiting for us at the local Post Office.

IN SUMMATION

If there is one take away from this article, it is to be prepared.  Do your research and don't assume anything.  While other people tell you how good or bad their personal experiences were, follow the old axiom, TRUST BUT VERIFY.

¡Buena suerte mis amigos!