How to Move to Costa Rica With a Criminal Record

••• Playa Montezuma, Costa Rica image by Oren Sarid from

Costa Rica is becoming more popular with Americans who want to live there permanently. It’s no surprise; this Central American country has some of the world’s most spectacular natural locations. It also boasts the colonial capital of San Jose and a lively eco-tourism industry. Although Costa Rica carefully scrutinizes applications for residency, it is possible to move there, even with a less-than-perfect background. The key is to have the necessary application documents in order and to follow immigration procedures to the letter.

Required Documents

Obtain a Certificate of Good Conduct from your local police department if you have been convicted of a crime. It should state that you have not been convicted within the previous six months. It is valid for six months. If you have not submitted your residency documents by then, you must obtain a new certificate.

Have the Certificate of Good Conduct validated by a Costa Rican embassy or consulate in the U.S. You can obtain a list of these through the Costa Rican Ministry of Foreign Relations or the U.S. State Department.

Gather the other documents that will be included with the police certificate. You will need a U.S. passport, as well as a birth certificate, proof of income, recent photos and a marriage certificate, if your spouse is also applying for residency. The Costa Rican government scrutinizes applications carefully to make sure applicants can support themselves. There are several categories of permanent residency, all requiring a certificate.

Go to the Ministry of Public Security office in San Jose to have your fingerprints taken when you arrive in Costa Rica, whether you have a previous conviction or not. The fingerprints are processed by Interpol as part of a background check to prove you do not have a criminal history that would disqualify you from residency. Interpol is an international organization that works with police departments around the world.

Submit your documents at a Costa Rican embassy or consulate in the U.S., which will authenticate and process them. If you are already in the country, the application can be filed with the Department of Immigration in San Jose. Because of the volume of residency applications, be prepared to wait until you learn the status of your application.


  • It is an advantage, or could even be considered a necessity to speak Spanish if you are moving to Costa Rica. Some consulate and embassy staff speak only Spanish and most government websites are in Spanish.

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