If you are a snowbird coming to stay at your Costa Rican condo for six months to duck the northern snow, you better have a bus ticket showing that you are leaving in three months.
That is the lesson Carole Thomas of San Isidro de El General and a few other Canadians learned in the last couple of weeks.
Ms. Thomas, who produces pepper, coffee and other agricultural products for export on her farm here, was denied entry the night of Oct. 29 until she purchased a $300 plane ticket to Miami, Florida, she said. She has been coming here for 20 years and she had a departure ticket six months later.
She not only is irked at her treatment, but she said that from her experiences the rules are not being enforced uniformly. “I know of at least three others who had the same thing happen and three others who had nothing happen even after they were asked for their return tickets and they were observed,” she said.
The problem goes back to the immigration law that went into effect March 1, 2010. When the law was in the legislature, expat advocates were pleased to see that there was a procedure to accommodate snowbirds like Ms. Thomas. The law said that tourists could extend the three-month visa by paying $100. That seemed reasonable and avoided the continuous trips by snowbird tourists to Panamá and Nicaragua.
Mario Zamora, who was immigration director when the laws went into effect, said then that tourists would be able to stay in the country for a full year by paying for 90-day extensions.
That may have been the intent of the law, but a close reading seems to say that this benefit only applies to those with less than 90-day visas. The usual North American visa is for 90 days.
Although the intent of the law was to allow snowbirds to stay for the Northern Hemisphere winter in Costa Rica, text changes in the final document eliminated that possibility.
The Dirección General de Migración staffers are becoming more concerned about perpetual tourists, those who live here but maintain their tourist visa by trips outside the country every three months.
Ms. Thomas said the immigration inspector told her to get residency. But she does not want to do that. “Why would I, a semi-retired grandmother of five Canadian grandchildren, my entire family and friends living in Canada, want to do that?” she said.
Particularly galling to Ms. Thomas is that she has played by the rules.
“Did I have a record for not leaving Costa Rica every three months,” she asked, answering “No.” For 20 years I have been very respectful of this law and left every three months as my passport can prove. Do I own property here in Costa Rica? Yes. Do I have employees? Yes. Seasonal and permanent. My sociedad anónima here in Costa Rica is legal and up to date. Regular monthly payments are made to CCSS, for my full-time employees. Some of my employees have worked for me for 20 years.
“Do I add economy to Costa Rica? Yes. For 15 years I have represented Costa Rica in Canada. My small export/import business connects Costa Rica producers with the Canadian consumer. Annual exports are made of products that rural Costa Rica farmers produce. I am a member of both Procomer (promotional body for exportation and import) and Icafe (regulating body for Costa Rica coffee producers).”
She said she knows of other tourists who were stopped at the departure airport and had to buy an expensive non-renewable return ticket.
Of course, Ms. Thomas and others could have purchased a disposable bus ticket to Nicaragua to satisfy immigration inspectors. But she notes that one cannot do that at night at Juan Santamaría airport.
“Who is Costa Rica hurting,” she asked, answering “Themselves. I have talked with hotel owners, taxi drivers and a few who feel the need for the perpetual tourist and the addition to the economy of Costa Rica that is brought by those who enjoy going to a yearly home for four to six months. This is a large economy they should promote.”
Her solution is a five-year tourist visa that allows multiple entries.
Ms. Thomas shares the problem with many U.S. and Canadian snowbirds. Many own expensive properties here. They have been overlooked by the existing legislation and must make a trip out of the country three months into their winter vacation.
Ms. Thomas notes correctly that immigration officials in Panamá also are causing problems for foreign visitors, including some perpetual tourists from Costa Rica who travel there by land. As A.M. Costa Rica reported in August,the immigration agents are requiring a return air ticket to the traveler’s home county, not just back to Costa Rica.