Last week, we received an email form ARCR (the agency who helps expats with the immigration process, and the agency we elected to use) congratulating us, letting us know that our Rentista (temporary residency) application has been approved (a year later, which is about right. These things take time). The letter continued by mentioning that the next step is to register for the Caja (health care), which is mandatory for all residents. Kevin did a lot of research regarding this process before we moved here to make sure it was affordable. Citizens pay approximately $20 per month. If you're a farmer, you pay $10 per month. If you're a retired expat with a pension, you pay $35-ish.
ARCR's letter said they will be happy to take care of everything for us. If we choose to go this route, that based on our status, it will cost us $452 per month ... $452 PER MONTH! What?
To qualify for Rentista, you have to prove you have enough money to survive four years without working as an employee anywhere. So this time last year, we had to deposit $60,000 for the first two years into a bank account. We'll need to repeat the procedure for the following two years. The $60,000 is secured as a Certificate of Deposit. It's our money, but we don't have daily access to it. The bank withdraws $2,500 per month from the Certificates of Deposit and deposits it into a Colón currency account (Colón is the Costa Rican currency). We do have daily access to the Colón account. This is the government's guarantee that we can afford to sustain ourselves during the required waiting period before becoming permanent residents. Once we are permanent residents, then we are legally able to work, if we choose to (or need to) and will not need to prove our income (we'll simply need to file taxes). Keep in mind the money we deposited is not a pension. It is savings that we brought from Canada, which we've already paid taxes on. This is not a monthly income. ARCR has presumably calculated our Caja fee based on the $2,500 amount as an income. And even so, they calculated it at about 20%, which is ridiculous. The most it can be is 9%. So the extra appears to be an administration fee for services rendered. They don't make that clear at all. The letter definitely implies the amount is strictly the mandatory Caja fee.
You can imagine our shock when we read the letter. We definitely had not accounted for this amount in our monthly budget! We were panicking a bit. Okay, a lot! At the bottom of the letter it said we could also go to our local Caja office and pay it there, if we prefer. If we do so, however, the option of having ARCR do the paperwork for us is rescinded. We cannot start the process with our local Caja office and then if we have problems switch and ask ARCR to help us.
We asked our good friend Catalina to accompany us to the Caja office in San Marcos to help us with the language barrier. We don't want to get this wrong. We explain to Catalina about the Rentista status, that it is not an income, etc. She's clear. We go to the office and speak with a nice, young woman. She's looks into it for us. She talks to her manager and comes back and says we qualify for the Rentista no pensionado status, which means it will cost us $60 per month. Well, that's more like it. That's what we had read and what we were expecting to pay. Before we get too excited and sign any paperwork, we decide to call ARCR just to make sure that if we go down this route that we are not jeopardizing in any way our future application for permanent residency. ARCR says no. The ARCR woman doesn't explain the discrepancy, just that if we go through our local Caja, that will be fine. She said it's good that we looked into it. No kidding!
So, the only thing we can deduce from all this is that for expats who do not speak Spanish, who do not know anyone in the country who does speak Spanish and can help them, who don't feel comfortable dealing with anyone other than ARCR, who have oodles of money that they don't even bat an eye ... will pay the ARCR rate out of convenience. The $450 is not a mistake, it's a money grab. I guess that's one way they make their profit margins.
ARCR is a useful agency. They definitely do create an atmosphere of "you're not alone in this foreign country" and that is worth something. We don't regret using their services to help us with the immigration process. It's very possible we paid more than we needed to, but last year, for us, it was worth the peace of mind that we could speak English with the representatives and feel a little more comfortable. Having been here a year, knowing what we know, we might suggest that people simply go through a really good lawyer. Having said that, the immigration process usually starts when you first arrive so how do you know who a good layer is? If you've been travelling to Costa Rica for many years, if you know a few people, if you feel comfortable with the customs, then you certainly don't need to go through this type of agency.
We have a meeting in early January to sign the temporary residency paperwork, which will get us our Cedula card. The Cedula is our I.D. card, much like a Green Card in the States (more or less). It means we won't have to walk around with our passports anymore.
So, between editing and proofreading my book and dealing with this little hiccup (which I didn't want to write about until we had it sorted out), I've been a little preoccupied.
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Dave and Krista are a couple from the Pacific Northwest that led overwhelmingly busy lives.
Click here to pick up your copy of Anne's book! It's all about their adventure and the establishment of Hush Valley Lodge: from leaving their middle-class suburban lifestyle in Canada to reinventing themselvess in the beautiful mountains of Costa Rica. Check it out and if you enjoy it, please spread the word! Thanks!