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Working in Costa Rica : Adopt a TICO attitude and No Shrimping
by Tom Rosenberger
Costa Rica's exotic attractions are a dream come true for many visitors and those fortunate enough to live here amidst the breathtaking volcanoes, tropical rain forests and awesome beaches.
Many come to enjoy the tropical beauty and ideal climate.
Others, who are more entrepreneurial, see tremendous investment potential and an opportunity for a simpler lifestyle. Actively planning to find a way to work here and support themselves.
The tourist permit allows for only a 90 day period. After that, a visitor must renew his or her Visa. According to the immigration law a foreigner here as a tourist must leave the country for at least 72 hours after he or she has been in Costa Rica for 90 days. As far as having to travel outside of Costa Rica, it's not that big of a deal and can be fun.
Many people travel to David or Bocas del Toro, Panama or Granada, Nicaragua on inexpensive bus tours for a weekend.
It gives you a chance to see the neighboring countries and absorb some of their culture. When you return your passport is stamped and you can legally remain in Costa Rica for another 90 days.
Many foreigners who stay here under this status are referred to as "perpetual tourists"
UNLESS YOU HAVE A JOB ESTABLISHED WITH A LARGE COMPANY ITS DIFFICULT TO OBTAIN A WORK PERMIT ON YOUR OWN.
Unless you have a job established with a large company it's difficult to obtain a work permit on your own. I know several Americans working for large international corporations who never had to file one document in order to receive a work permit.
These large multi-national corporations such as Intel and Proctor and Gamble have full time departments in human resources that obtain the legal work permits for the foreign employees they wish to employ in Costa Rica.
As far as working in Costa Rica is concerned, you might ask how are all these foreigners that you see offering products and services getting around all these immigration regulations.
Many are not and run the risk of being deported if and when the Costa Rica government decided to take a closer look. As far as I know from being here since 1992 the government only cracks down on illegal business operations such as prostitution or bars that cater to drug users or minors.
Occasionally the immigration police operate a 'sting' in popular beach towns to catch expats staying here beyond the legal 90 day term. These illegal expats often are working in some sort of business to sustain their lifestyle in Costa Rica and technically they can be deported without the possibility of returning to Costa Rica for 10 years.
To do business here, most foreigners form a Costa Rica corporation, and as a legal officer of the company, can conduct business on behalf of the company (sociedad anonima or Anonymous Society).
Its sometimes very useful to have Costa Rican nationals as the officers of your SA. At the same time a lawyer can re-write the company by-laws to give only you the power of attorney to conduct business on behalf of the company.
Its worth taking a closer look at the laws governing foreign nationals working in Costa Rica:
1. First the law prohibits employment while someone is a tourist.
2. Foreign Nationals are barred from certain types of occupation.
a. a tour guide must be a Costa Rican national, according to a 2003 law.
b. anyone who wants to be a trucker has to have a registration from one of the Central American nations. No motor vehicle, trailer, or tractor-trailer with foreign license plates outside of Central America may transport goods within the territory of Costa Rica.
c. foreign nationals who wish to act as captain of a vessel with Costa Rican registry must post a bond equivalent to at least half of the value of the vessel under his/her command.
d. only Costa Rican nationals or enterprises may supply domestic air transport services, whether regular or non-regular.
e. only Costa Rican nationals may act as customs brokers.
f. directors and administrators of enterprises supplying radio and television services must be Costa Rican by birth or must have been naturalized Costa Ricans for at least ten years.
g. and mass media and advertising services may only be provided by enterprises incorporated in Costa Rica under Costa Rican law, the summary notes.
h. foreigners might also find difficulty in going fishing. Catching shrimp or fish commercially is only allowed in Costa Rica with vessels built in the country with wood obtained in Costa Rica and made by Costa Rican nationals, according to the law.
3. Foreign Nationals are restricted in Professional Occupations:
a. A lot of foreigners who are considering Costa Rica are members of recognized professions. But simply being a professional does not mean a person can work in Costa Rica. Each profession is governed by legislatively sanctioned professional societies or colleges. To join the professional associations of public accountants, pharmacists, geologists, agricultural engineers, physicians and surgeons, veterinarians, dental surgeons, journalists, medical and surgical technicians, computer and information technology, nurses and official translators and interpreters, foreigners must be residents in Costa Rica at the time of applying for membership, as well as have a certain minimum number of years of residence.
b. There are special rules for medical personnel. All physicians and surgeons, dental surgeons, microbiologists, pharmacists, nurses, and nutritionists must perform the equivalent of a one-year continuous, for-pay mandatory social services requirement, the annex text notes. In other words, work for the government.
c. Foreign professionals in political sciences and international relations specialists may only be hired by public or private entities when they are active members of the professional association and there are not enough Costa Rican professionals said the annex. d. Being a university teacher might be difficult, too. No less than 85 percent of the faculty, administrative faculty, and administrative staff of a private institute of higher education must be Costa Rican nationals.
4.The summary of Costa Rican employment and occupational laws is part of an annex to the Free Trade Treaty between Costa Rica and the United States. The annex covers existing Costa Rican laws, and the United States agrees to respect the measures.
Laws are enforced irregularly and usually only when there is some economic pressure or a series of crimes has received media attention. And some professions can give temporary licenses for those who seek to work here. Still the legal hurdles are substantial and different for each profession.
Having said all of that, the positive business environment, low operational costs and an abundance of natural resources are the primary reasons why investment opportunities in Costa Rica continue to grow.
From my thirteen years of residency here and over twenty-five years of business experience, I have learned how to adapt. If you are serious about moving or doing business in Costa Rica you should first and foremost plan on learning the local language and the Latin culture.
ADOPT A TICO ATTITUDE AND ADAPT TO THEIR CULTURE
Most expats have become accustomed to things such as promptness and efficiency. That’s our baggage from our industrial and technology driven world. The expectation that these things exist in Costa Rica is our problem not the Tico's.
If you're expecting things to be the same as in your home country then you're bound to get disappointed. A move to another country allows you to start over with a new life and experience a new culture in a new environment.
After 15 years here, I still have to remind myself; "If I don't expect much, I won't get disappointed" Then I step back, take a second look at the situation that is beginning to frustrate me and remind myself where I'm at, whom I'm dealing with and why I'm here. Then the situation at hand doesn't seem so irritating. Expats who do manage to stay for a long time in Costa Rica do so because they possess patience and flexibility.
People who become frustrated here and decide to go back home, don't do so because they couldn't find their favorite beverage or a suitable appliance. They leave because they couldn't adjust to the culture. The unexpected trials and wide differences in cultural understanding often make the transition much more difficult than expected.
Years ago I noticed several cultural differences that used to make my life in Costa Rica frustrating. Concept of time, expectations of efficiency and understanding the local language.
The cultural differences in comprehending time can be attributed to the fact that Costa Ricans and expats place a different value on time. For us time is money.
Ticos live for the pleasure of 'now' and occasionally during the week take the time to exchange a little work for a little money.
We are continually bothered by what we expats view as a lack of punctuality on the part of Costa Ricans. Costa Rican's will say, "I'll be there manana", but they usually don't. Often they are not hours late, but days late, with no excuse, no phone calls, no apology.
New residents who can slow down and adjust to Tico time, have a much better chance of making a success of their new jobs and lifestyles.
Obtaining residency here usually takes much longer than expected. You need to hire a consultant to get a drivers license. The list of frustrations goes on and on. The bottom line is if you are not able to slow down and adapt to the culture you're probably going to end up back where you came from.
CULTURE IS EMBEDDED IN THE LANGUAGE, AND MISUNDERSTANDINGS OFTEN ARISE
Culture is embedded in the language, and misunderstandings often arise due to the ways in which people of distinct cultures express and understand language content.
Europeans and North Americans are very direct. In Costa Rica, the Ticos don't say things up front. It's part of their culture and is considered bad manners. Therefore if you don't understand the culture you get frustrated and some folks become angry and this offends the Ticos.
Misinterpretations therefore arise because Costa Ricans view expats as “rude” while North Americans find Costa Ricans to be “indirect” or even “dishonest.” Many expats feel that they have had to learn to decode what their Costa Rican associates and friends are really trying to say. It is not that Costa Rican's lie more, it is that they are trying to save face.
Costa Ricans don't want to disappoint you. If they don't know the answer, they say to themselves 'I don't know but I want to give my best guess.' You have to learn to listen carefully and read between the lines. A simple word like "Ya" can mean "it's already done", "I'm doing it right now", or "I'll get to it soon
We've all faced new challenges in Costa Rica and those of us who have been able to acclimate enjoy the benefits.
The country's strong democratic tradition, innovative environmental programs, museums, cultural activities, and cheaper living costs continue to make Costa Rica a popular destination spot, particularly for tourists and retirees.
The option to live a lifestyle similar to that in a large North American city is here if you want it.
Check out the selection and pricing in any of the major malls or at Super Serretto or Auto Mercado supermarkets. Most products that are imported here from another country incur duties. These duties are built into the price you pay at the cashier.
If you want to live and consume the same products available from overseas, they are available here but not cheap.
Perhaps if the new free trade agreement becomes a reality, this will change. I prefer the old days before there were malls and hooters. I don't miss any of what these new franchises have to offer.
I patronize typical Costa Rican businesses and my budget is much more affordable.
It's nice to have options and that's a new philosophy I recommend. Plans tie you down. Options offer freedom. You don't irritate someone because you exercised an option. But there are many times when plans did not materialize as expected and someone gets irritated. Keep your options open and your plans to a minimum.
Live like the Tico's, adopt their attitude and adapt to their culture. You'll probably live longer and happier!
Tom Rosenberger moved to Costa Rica in 1992 and has had residency there for 13 years. He has been developing residential subdivisions and building homes for over 25 years. And for the last 15 years in Costa Rica he has been completing projects and training the local Spanish speaking tradesmen to finish his construction up to North American standards.
1993-2007- Construction Consultant to international clients wanting to purchase land, condominiums and custom homes in Costa Rica.
San Antonio, Belen, Costa Rica, 40701
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