Permisos de Trabajo - Work Permits

This section is for those considering working in Costa Rica on a work permit. Obtaining a work permit is an almost impossible task, so be forewarned.

Unless someone is working for a large multinational company here in Costa Rica, obtaining a work permit will be practically impossible due to the high standards set against external competition. If a foriegner is ever caught working without a work permit or the proper residency status that allows one to work, this is considered a serious offense and the person will be deported immediately and not allowed to reenter Costa Rica for the next 10 years. The immigration department does do raids occasionally in business sectors where they know many foreigners try to work.

The law prohibits employment while someone is a tourist or in one of several types of residencies that foreigners can hold. In order to work here in Costa Rica, one must either be a citizen of Costa Rica or have legal Permanent Residency through marriage, family, or a child. With any other residency types (rentista, pensionado, inversionista etc), a foreigner may own a business and receive income from it, but they are not allowed to work within the business.

Click here for the list of requirements to obtain a work permit.

The Costa Rican government and immigration department makes getting a work permit for foreigners an almost impossible task so that foreigners do not compete with nationals for work.  This protects their national labor force and because they have a very nationalistic overview this is something extremely important that they try and preserve. In fact, when foreign companies come in, they can earn incentives by hiring large numbers of Costa Rican nationals.

Even though many businesses are entitled to a percentage of non-citizen employees they rarely fill this quota to avoid hassles and extra paperwork. Plus there is no guarantee that after the extra payments, paperwork, and hassle their employee will actually obtain a work permit.

There are the laws that closely control professionals and certain job categories. For example, a tour guide must be a Costa Rican national, according to a 2003 law. The Costa Rican government is very strict at protecting its national jobs. Unless a foreigner has some very unique talent, training or specialty they will struggle to obtain a work permit here. Basically, the idea is that if a foreigner is  highly skilled or have a special talent that no other Costa Rican has in an area where that job in no way, shape or form can possibly be filled by a Costa Rican then and only then can a work permit be issued. Only in this rare case can the employer can apply for a work permit for one year.

Even though Costa Rica is considered a third world country, there is a large sector of highly literate, well trained, bilingual people to fill nearly every job category. There is even a Costa Rican astronaut, so good luck.

Also, finding work in many fields in Costa Rica will be extremely difficult anyways unless one is completely fluent in Spanish. Another disadvantage is, that foreigners can expect to make about 30% less than you would in the same position in North America. Here is a list of almost every possible profession that exists and what their government guided salaries should be minimum wage by the Ministerio de Trabajo.

Foreigners are allowed however to "telecommute" internationally. This means that individuals who work for a company in their home country, i.e. USA, Great Britain, Italy etc over the Internet. They are paid by their company, but physically reside in Costa Rica. This is legal and does not violate any of the labor laws in Costa Rica. With this type of work there are two conditions. One is that their paycheck or deposit must come from outside Costa Rica and their work must be unrelated to Costa Rica. Secondly, if someone is living here you must hold some type of legal residency.

Many foreigners try to get involved teaching English. If planning to teach English, it would be great if someone has taken a how to teach ESL course, are a teacher in another subject, or are a very patient person. Schools that are of less quality will usually allow this without asking too many questions about somones residency status, and the pay will be minimal. Do not expect to make very decent wages it is not enough to live on even. The government does not frown on this practice too much since these workers are not really competing with nationals and in fact they are better preparing nationals to be competitive. If a person is looking to obtain a higher level position in a more respectable company or school then they can set iy up as a normal employee if they can, and the person will require a residency status that allows them to work.

Many foreigners are currently working in real estate, property management, or in the tourism industry as bartenders, waiters, tour guides and hotel employees. Many of these people are working illegally and could potentially be kicked out of Costa Rica at any time.

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