If you are a foreigner wishing to pursue your studies in Costa Rica, you will need a Costa Rica student visa.

Costa Rica has a high level of education, with the country’s literacy rate being upwards of 94%. Its educational system was ranked 20th in the “Global Competitiveness Report 2013 – 14.

There are five public universities in Costa Rica, with several private ones as well. Studying in Costa Rica means getting a good education while enjoying what’s known as the “pura vida”  – Costa Rica’s way of life.

This article is a guide to a foreign national’s path to studying in Costa Rica and the Costa Rica student visa.

Do You Need a Visa to Study in Costa Rica?

Yes, you do. Every foreign national who wants to study in Costa Rica has to obtain a Costa Rica student visa, regardless of their nationality.

Additionally, you also have to be already accepted into a Costa Rican educational institution.

Everyone who wants to stay in Costa Rica for longer than 90 days has to obtain a residence permit. The Costa Rica residence permits are divided based on the purpose you want to remain in Costa Rica for.

The type of Costa Rica residence permit you need for studying in Costa Rica is a student permit, which falls under the “Special Category” of immigration, along with work permits. You can obtain a student permit from the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería (Costa Rica’s Immigration Department).

What are the Requirements for a Costa Rica Student Visa?

The documents you need when applying for a Costa Rica student visa include:

When applying for the provisional visa

  • Request letter for a Special Category provisional visa, legalized by a notary public or signed by the Consul. The letter must contain the following information:
    • Your full name, birthday, place of birth, and nationality
    • Passport number
    • Place of residence
    • Occupation/profession
    • The exact address of where you will stay in Costa Rica
    • Contact information
    • The date and your signature
  • Letter of acceptance from your school
  • Your birth certificate
  • Certificate of police clearance
  • Your valid passport and copies of all the pages on your passport. The passport must be valid for another 6 months from the date of entry
  • Proof of sufficient financial means

When applying for the student permit

The documents you must submit for the Costa Rica student permit application at the Immigration Department include:

  • Completed and signed application form
  • A letter, directed to the Immigration Department, stating the reason you’re requesting the “Special Category” residence permit (student permit). The letter has to be signed either in front of the immigration official or authenticated by a lawyer. It must contain the following information:
    • Your full name and nationality
    • Your age
    • Your occupation
    • Exact address in Costa Rica
    • Contact information
  • A certification issued by your educational institution, confirming your enrollment. The document has to be signed by a legal representative or head of the institution.
  • Receipt of application payment fee
  • Two recent passport-size pictures
  • Proof of fingerprint registration, issued by the Ministry of Public Security
  • Proof you have registered with the Costa Rican consulate
  • Birth certificate
  • Proof of financial means:
    • Through a certificate issued by an authorized public accountant of economic solvency indicating the money’s origin; or
    • Through proof of a scholarship, if you’re a scholarship student.
  • Photocopies of all the pages in your passport, notarized by a public notary in Costa Rica

Keep in mind:

Obtain all the required documents before you travel to Costa Rica.

All the documents you submit have to be translated to Spanish by an official translator. You must have the translations notarized.

All the documents you submit from your country have to be legalized. You can legalize them at the Costa Rica consulate or through the Apostille stamp, if you are from a country included in the Apostille convention.

The Costa Rica Consulate and Immigration department have the right to request any additional documents as they see fit.

How to Apply for a Costa Rica Student Visa?

The process of getting a Costa Rica student visa is divided into two parts: the provisional student visa and the student permit.

Before you can apply for a student permit from the Immigration Department, you need to have authorization to enter the country as a student – ie. a provisional student visa, which you can get from the Costa Rica consulate in your country.

Applying for a provisional visa

You must apply for a provisional student visa at the Costa Rica consulate in your country, or one nearest to you. You need a provisional student visa to enter Costa Rica even if you are exempt from Costa Rica tourist visas. You must also register with the consulate.

The application process is as follows:

  • Contact the Costa Rica consulate to make an appointment
  • Collect the required documents (see below)
  • Submit the documents on the date of your appointment
  • Enter a visa interview, if the Consul requires it

The Costa Rica visa application processing time is 30 days.

Once the application is processed, you generally have 60 days to enter the country, where you must apply for a student permit from the Immigration Department.

Applying for the Costa Rica student permit

Both you and your educational institution are in charge of obtaining a student permit. In most cases, it is the school who applies for the Costa Rica student permit at the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería. You must supply them with the required documents (see below).

However, before you apply at the Immigration Department, you must register your fingerprints with the Ministerio Seguridad Pública (Ministry of Public Security) in San Jose.

Can You Work with a Costa Rica Student Visa?

No, a Costa Rica student visa does not allow the holder to work. Only Costa Rican citizens and Permanent Residence Permit holders are allowed to legally work in Costa Rica.

In order to work in Costa Rica as a Temporary Residence Permit holder, a foreign national has to be very skilled in a position that’s in shortage and cannot possibly be filled by a Costa Rican citizen. Additionally, the process of obtaining a Costa Rica work visa is a long process which is not guaranteed to be successful, so many Costa Rica employers avoid hiring foreigners.

Costa Rica has very strict rules regarding employing foreign nationals. That’s because they try to prevent foreigners taking up positions which can be filled by a native.

However, one option which many expats follow is working remotely (or telecommuting). This involves working for a non-Costa Rican company or freelancing as a writes, graphic designer etc. As long as your income comes from abroad, this is completely legal.