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(506) 223-1327            Published Friday, Jan. 26, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 19             E-mail us    
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Stiff penalties for overstaying tourist visa
Immigration draft easy on pensionados, not rentistas

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A proposed redraft of the nation's immigration laws would require less monthly income to be a foreigner here living on a pension, but the monthly income to be a rentista would double.

The proposal, provided in draft form Thursday by Casa Presidencial, is not fixed in stone, and after it is sent to the Asamblea Legislativa major changes may take place. And the proposal might not even be passed into law.

The proposal also allows so-called temporary residents, inversionistas, pensionados  and rentistas, to apply for permanent residency after just two years in the country. The current period is three years, and the period used to be five years.

The law also creates a special fund and assessment for most foreigners living here. The purpose is to generate some income for the state to pay for medical and educational services used by foreigners. No figure is set in the proposed law, and the amount is left to the discretion of the director general of Migración y Extranjería. Officials have said that the base amount, around $20 a month, might vary depending on the immigration category, a suggestion that North American residents who generally are pensionados, rentistas and inversionistas would pay more each month than Nicaraguan day laborers.

The proposal has 268 articles and 26,200 words. Some sections appear to be just suggestions for changes in the existing law that was passed by the previous legislature and signed by former president Abel Pacheco. The law is full of references to the human rights of foreigners and contains language against discrimination.

The proposal also takes a firm stand against those who work here on tourist visas, something which is not clear in the current law.

The proposal continues current penalties for hiring illegal immigrants or housing them, but there is a new phrase that exempts those who house illegal immigrants for humanitarian purposes. The Catholic Church has opposed the current law because the church officials thought safe houses provided for displaced illegal immigrants might lead to penalties.

The proposed law also contains stiff penalties for overstaying a tourist or other visa that could run into the hundreds or thousands of dollars. Those who overstay visas face a fine equal to double the monthly assessment for their immigration category for each day they have overstayed their visa. Or they must remain out of the country for triple the time they have overstayed the visa.

According to the proposal, those seeking to stay in Costa Rica as a pensionado would have to show a monthly income, usually a secure pension, of $500 a month. Now the amount is $600 a month.

Rentistas would have to show a monthly income of $2,000 instead of the current $1,000. However, the proposal eliminates an additional $1,000 of income for a spouse and $500 a month for each dependent child.

Typically rentistas have put $60,000 in a bank account to show financial capability for five years.


Recently the amount doubled for those with spouses. That amount was keyed to the five years one must remain a rentista before seeking permanent residency. Now with permanent residency possible after just two years, a rentista might be able to qualify with just $48,000 in the bank, depending on how the proposed law, if passed, is interpreted.

Tourists continue to be considered non-residents and do not build time toward residency, under terms of the proposal.

The proposal continues to forbid entrance to Costa Rica to persons who have been convicted of various crimes  ranging from drug smuggling to domestic violence and also to those associated with criminal gangs. But the way to check such crimes in other countries is limited.

Much has been said about how the immigration proposal would legalize the status of thousands of illegal residents of Costa Rica, primarily Nicaraguans. But a detailed reading of the proposal shows it does not do that. Instead, it creates the possibility that the executive branch may issue a decree that would legalize persons — as long as they were not criminals. — who would otherwise not be eligible for residency here

Temporary residents, such as inversionistas, pensionados and rentistas would still be forbidden to work for a salary, but the law spells out clearly that they can do work on their own account. That has been interpreted as running their own businesses. They must spend at least six months in the country each year, according to the proposal.

The proposal would allow tourists to prolong their stay here at the end of 90 days but would expose someone in that category to penalties if they did not leave when their tourism period had expired. The proposal also specifically forbids tourists from working.

The law withholds permanent residency from new foreign spouses of Costa Ricans for three years and requires them to show that they are living together as a couple every year.

The proposal also lets foreigners apply for various immigration categories while they are in Costa Rica. The current law requires that foreigners do so at the Costa Rican consulate in their country, although in the past this has been ignored sometimes.

Those who are deported do not have the right to return to Costa Rica for five years, under the proposal. Those who are expelled for compromising the peace and security of the country would not be able to return for 10 years. But those who commit serious crimes against young people, the aged or the disabled would not be able to return for 25 years.

The Arias administration decided to redo the immigration law even though the new one only went into effect in August. The new law has been criticized for being harsh.


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A.M.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 26, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 19

Costa Rica Expertise
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A.M. Costa Rica/Manuel Antonio Ramirez Corrales 
The fire season has arrived, and this one was in Higuito de San Miguel de Desamparados Thursday where firefighters confronted a 20-acre blaze on a preserve in the Efraim Jiménez finca.


Cultural ministry plans
growth in its programs


By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The culture ministry is counting on a growing budget over the next three years to carry out 10 strategic projects.

The Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes now gets four-tenths of a percent of the national government budget. Officials are planning to have 1 percent of the national budget by 2010, they said.

A big project this year is to unite the holdings of some 60 libraries and houses of culture electronically for research and consultations.

The Antigua Aduana, the sprawling former customs house building in east San José is another project. The ministry has taken over the facility where exhibitions used to be held. Now the plan is to rebuild the structure for $2 million. The result will be a cultural center with facilities for all types of arts.

The plan also provides for large increases in the numbr of youngsters taking music lessons.

In all, the ministry has its eyes on restoring eight historical buildings and 12 schools over the next few years.

The plans will cost more than $100 million, according to the ministry's figures. This includes a number of scholarships.
The cultural plans are closely linked to the national development plan being proposed by the central government.

Marriage bill finally passes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The process took six years, but the Asamblea Legislativa approved on second and final reading Thursday a law that prohibits minors younger than 15 years from contracting marriage.

Lawmakers said that persons younger than 15 are not prepared intellecutally, psychologically or emotionally to be a spouse.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 26, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 19






Car watchers can scam drivers with tickets with permits
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Did you find an unexplained charge on your marchamo bill listed as parquímetro? If you spent any time in San José and parked in the zone where you need a boleto, but don’t remember any fine, it may be that your favorite sidewalk car-watcher simply took the ticket off the windshield.

According to Enrique Chinchilla, director of Servicios Publicos for the Municipalidad de San José, substantial areas have “no authority, the cuidacarros is the strong man.” The limited availability of the pre-paid parking slips leaves the driver with few choices. An article Oct. 19 explained how the same system works well in Heredia, but the east and south sides of San Jose are a concrete jungle.

Each slip or boleto is good for a half hour, and, in the case of San José, one costs ¢195, some 38 U.S. cents. In theory, it’s illegal to mark the slip up more than 10 percent, so the cuidacarros charge ¢250 or ¢300 and justify the difference as their fee for caring for your vehicle to prevent its damage or worse.

The boleto should be marked with a start time and put inside on the dashboard. However, most of the cuidacarros don’t care for this system and put the boleto under the windshield wiper, presumably to add another when the time is up. Then they will perhaps use the same boleto on another car.

When the meter maid shows up, you get a fine.

Of course you won’t pay for services so poorly rendered, so the cuidacarro stuffs the ticket into a pocket. The ticket appears again at the end of the year as a notation when it’s time to pay the registration.

Chinchilla says this scenario is common. Other tricks are re-using boletos until they are so marked up there is no way of knowing when the half-hour starts; writing them in pencil to erase later; and using one boleto to charge for multiple periods.

A.M. Costa Rica/Arnoldo Cob Mora
Cuidacarro left multiple boletos on this vehicle

Some cuidacarros are quite aggressive in demanding payment for the use of the public street and even abusive to the enforcement staff. In some cases, it’s little more than extortion, with everybody secure in the knowledge that they will scratch the paint if you don’t pay.

“It’s a public security problem,” Chinchilla said, but “there’s no specific law to stop it.” Known problem cases are harassed by the Policia Municipal. “But it’s part of the culture, to just say ‘keep an eye on it’ and then not worry too much about process.”

Last year, the municipality gathered more than 80 cuidacarros with hopes of forming a cooperative that could handle the boletos and distribute turf. But most of those involved are illegal aliens, so the Ministerio de Trabajo, the labor ministry, won’t help. Immigration and the Judicial Police are involved, but with little hope of tackling such a dispersed, low-level problem.

The problem has economic impact on San José. “People like lawyers will just get sick of their clients having problems and go somewhere else,” said Chinchilla.

The option is to just pay 500 colons per hour for a parking garage.


The warmth is back after an exciting couple of days
Friends who come to visit offer a great opportunity to get to other parts of the country and do and see things this expat hasn’t done or seen in a while, or at all. 

However, friends from colder climes (like California) who came this month looking for sun and warmth as well as some travel have been sorely disappointed — and so was this hostess.  The only area I found with space by the time Lillian and Ellen arrived was the Caribbean.  It rained most of the time, I got sick and it is very difficult to get from here to there without a car. 

I did learn that you can get from Limón to San José in under two hours if you travel by ambulance.  It took my friends five and a half hours by bus to return to the city.

We did manage to visit the Zoo Ave in Alajuela and the Butterfly Farm in La Guacima while they were here.  My first visits for both.  Although they were very nice, we all were rather taken aback that each one cost $15 for tourists (although Vivi, the guide at the latter, has a soft heart). 

One of their favorite visits was right in the city at the Museo Nacional in what was once the old army barracks above the Plaza de Democracia where they managed to tag on to a tour group that had a guide who was gracious about their intrusion, so they learned much more than they would have going it alone. 

Of course, as soon as they left the country, the weather turned sunny and warm and even the cold wind downsized itself to a balmy breeze.  

Since I have another friend coming at the end of the month, I hope this turn in the weather holds.  I have been told by friends with better memories than I that I should know that January is the windy month.

If you want to read about and see the quintessential trip through Costa Rica, click on to www.helenkantor.com/CRtrip.htm.  Helen and her family recently returned to the States from here.  They went everywhere.

Meanwhile, I had a free spam fighter program downloaded on my computer and learned that there is no such thing as
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com


free.  Due to my ignorance, in exchange for the program they
managed to e-mail every name in my address book to tell them that I had whitelisted them so they would not be sidetracked by my wonderful new free spam fighter.  At best, I am embarrassed.  Some of you have justifiably found the word whitelisted offensive.  And the message itself was a sales pitch and spam. 

I have been busy writing to all of the people who have responded, trying to explain.  However, it is an ill wind that does not blow some good.  I have heard from a number of people long out of contact, Mike wrote to say he has been enjoying mojitos ever since my column over two years ago.  He has even perfected a recipe for making them in quantity.  Others told me about different Spam programs (also free) like gmail.com, which you have to contact through Google.  Only one harassed soul asked if had occurred to me that some people might want to keep me on their spam list and wondered how I had escaped.

Gradually things are getting back to normal.  My friend Doug has found a mortar and pestle for me at Tips so I can attempt to crush those yerba buena leaves.  I am settling back to my routine while still writing my apologies along with a few gracious ‘you’re welcomes,’ to those people who have actually thanked me because they had no program and are going to try it.  I guess advertising works. I now rather wish that Spamfighter had tagged on to their (my) little note that my book, “Butterfly in the City,” is now available in local stores and from me – something I am too principled to use my address book for.


Jo’s book, “Butterfly in the City:  A Good Life in Costa Rica,” is available through 7th Street Bookstore, Lehmann’s and Liberia Internacional.  Or contact Ms Stuart at jostuart@amcostarica.com




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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 26, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 19


All suited up
to sell stuff

Costa Rica is not known for its promotional talents, so these marketeers at the Y-Griega intersection Thursday are worthy of note. The five are decked out in black masks and blue body suits to lend promotional support to their associates who are in the street selling produce to motorists. Their sign gives the price: 1,450 colons or about $2.80. Now if maybe they could talk the tourism board into using their talents . . . .

A.M. Costa Rica/Manuel Antonio Ramírez Corrales


Investigation ordered into copter crash that killed Ecuadorian defense minister
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa says he has ordered an "exhaustive investigation" into the helicopter crash that killed the country's first female defense minister days after she took office.

A helicopter carrying the defense minister, Guadalupe Larriva, and her 17-year-old daughter collided in flight with another helicopter Wednesday near the port city of Manta, southwest of Quito. The impact killed Larriva, her daughter and five members of Ecuador's military.

President Correa told reporters in Manta Thursday the
collision appears to be an unfortunate accident. But he pledged to form a special commission to investigate so that there is no doubt.

He said the commission will include experts from the Chilean air force as well as technicians from the manufacturer of the helicopters involved in the crash.
President Correa has asked the country to pray for the victims, their families and "the government of Ecuador."

Larriva was named defense minister by President Correa when he took office Jan. 15. The former teacher served as president of the socialist party before becoming defense minister.


Real estate-related businesses converge at new Tamarindo business center
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

With the inauguration of the Tamarindo Business Center, one-stop shopping is now available in the real estate market there.

The idea of the business center was to provide a central location where both financial and property needs can be taken care of.  Accompanying a financial group will be real estate representatives for catagories such as bare land, farms, condominiums and second homes.  Also on site will
be developers and architects for those looking to build.

The companies involved in the venture are Natural Properties Real Estate, specializing in homes and property, Centro de Negocios Costa Rica, that is planning two gated communities in the area, and Grupo Financiero Improsa, to provide project financing. 

Herman Gonzales and Luis Salazar, sales representatives for Grupo Financiero Improsa, gave a presentation at the opening that discussed financing options for U.S. and Canadian citizens.  The Tamarindo Business Center is on the main road in Playa Tamarindo in a rented building next to Banco Nacional. 



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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Jan. 26, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 19


New sports center planned
in mountains near Asserí


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff


A new sports center is being developed in the mountains south of San José in Santa Teresita de Aserrí. Promoters say they hope that ST Center will host athletic and cultural events, including first division soccer games.

The first stage includes a soccer field of professional quality with lighting and seats for 2,000 persons. The site is about three hectares or nearly nine acres.

Developing the area is a firm called Desarrollo Económico La Alegria, which has entered into an agreement with the local development association. The initial stage is valued at $1 million and will be inaugurated Feb. 25.

A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Soccer stadium takes shape near Asserí


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