Government creates more pitfalls for expats lacking DIMEX

A.M. Costa Rica graphic
This is an example of the DIMEX card

A new rule by the Ministerio de Salud now prohibits foreigners from obtaining health permits for businesses without showing a DIMEX card. The requirement went into effect this May, and one expat has already felt the effect.

She is Cindy Carroccio, who moved to Costa Rica Dec. 10, 2009, and bought an existing restaurant in April 2010. She is using this investment to apply for inversionista residency.

Ms. Carroccio followed the immigration law. She received her comprobante, or proof of application, in May 2010, and each year in March she showed her passport to renew her permit with the Ministerio de Salud, she said. A health permit is required annually for restaurants, and one also is required at least once for the location where any other business will be carried out. Usually a health permit is required for a municipal business license.

This past March it was hinted by a ministry worker that there was going to be a change in the requirements and she would need a cédula to conduct business. She was issued her permit at the time, she said.

However, this month, when Ms. Carroccio went to get a permit for a new business she wanted to open, she was told she would not be permitted to get a permit without a cédula. DIMEX is the short name for plastic cards issued by the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería to show residency status. The ID card could be for permanent residents, rentistas, inversionistas or pensionados, among others. The acronym means Documento de Identificación Migratorio para Extranjeros.

“I have renewed my permit through the Ministerio de Salud three times with no problem,” said Ms. Carroccio. “We then went on to buy property and construct a commercial building with apartments on the second floor in our little town of San Luis. We followed the letter of the law with the muni in Tilaran to do this project. We then went to Ministerio de Salud to get permits for business in that commercial building, businesses where we would again employ local Ticos, but now we were told no permit until we had a cédula. It didn’t matter that we had the comprobante, didn’t matter that they knew us. Rules were rules, and these were passed down from the main Ministerio de Salud in San José.”

According to a document sent by the ministry, a passport is enough to identify a person, but it is a document strictly for tourism. If a foreigner wants to do business, he or she must have a DIMEX issued by the immigration office. The Banco Central said last year that such an immigration ID document would be required for individuals to make money transfers between banks. That caused concern among some expats because it was not clear that the DIMEX card was the same document that immigration issues for residency. The new deadline is Oct. 1.

In the case of Ms. Carroccio, she was allowed to have her permit under the condition that she get a cédula by December, she said. Her other option would be to give power of attorney over her establishment to a resident, who could then get the health permit.

“With much pleading, they have agreed to issue us a permit, but I must have my cédula by December or they will revoke the permit, or I can give a Tica friend, power of attorney, to get the permit for me,” she said. “Luckily I have a friend that I can trust who I can appoint to a position, but others may not.”

Ms. Carroccio said she was told that this is a way to stop money laundering. She consulted with an attorney who told her the process was against constitutional law.

“It’s a Catch 22,” she said.

“My main beef is that this isn’t just going to affect me but thousands of folks that have purchased businesses or want to start a business while patiently awaiting immigration to give them their cédulas,” she added.

Immigration is frequently very slow in approving residencies and issuing the appropriate cédula. The agency’s Web site does not address the problem that confronted Ms. Carroccio directly. But one section does say that a DIMEX card is required for banking, health services, educational purposes or scholarships, presumably for minor children.

Immigration has a number of statuses of legal residency, ranging from refugee to being a member of a religious order. Identifications for each comes from the machines in immigration.

The Catch 22 will not only confront those like Ms. Carroccio, who is awaiting her cédula. But persons who are not residents here will have to find another way to obtain such permits if they choose to enter into business. This could apply to perpetual tourists who leave the country every 90 days or simply to a foreigner who lives elsewhere but decides to start a store or business here.

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