United States Embassy Services in Costa Rica
Everyone planning to live, retire or do business in Costa Rica should know
that the U.S. Embassy (in the San José suburb of Pavas) can help with Social
Security and veterans benefits, notarizing documents, obtaining new U.S.
passports, reporting lost or stolen passports, obtaining a marriage license,
registering births of your children, registering to vote, complying with
Selective Service registration requirements, private mail service, reporting
deaths of U.S. citizens abroad, and getting a U.S. visa for your spouse (if
you choose to marry a Costa Rican). They also assist in obtaining absentee
ballots for U.S. elections and getting U.S. income tax forms and information.
However, if you get into any legal trouble in Costa Rica, do not expect help
from the U.S. Embassy.
In the past there were two ways of receiving your Social
Security check if you lived abroad. First, you could have it sent directly to your
P.O. box in Costa Rica through the U.S. Embassy. The only problem with this
method was that the checks did not arrive until almost the third week of the
month. The other way was to have your check directly deposited into your U.S.
bank account. Now, things are much simpler. Your Social Security payments
may be deposited electronically to your account in a Costa Rican bank by the
third of each month. Banco Nacional, Banco de Costa Rica, Banco Interfín
and Citibank offer direct deposit of Social Security checks. All you have to do
is complete a form and make sure it gets sent to the Federal Benefits Unit of
the US Embassy. Call the embassy at 2220-3050 if you have any questions.
Your bank will charge $6 for this service. Here is a bank link with information
about direct deposit. http://www.bancobcr.com/bcr_in.php?id=331
The Social Security Administration’s guide tells you how to receive your
Social Security checks while living abroad. See www.ssa.gov/pubs/10137.
Since 2002, U.S. citizens residing or traveling abroad
who need a U.S. passport are issued the latest, state-of-the-art passport
incorporating a digitalized photo image and other innovative security features.
U.S. embassies and consulates will send the applications to domestic U.S.
passport facilities. This increases processing time at some embassies and
consulates, but it ensures that U.S. citizens receive secure documents in a
timely manner. Therefore, U.S. citizens are encouraged to apply early for
renewal of expiring passports.
U.S. embassies and consulates issue passports in emergency situations.
Such passports have limited validity and cannot be extended. Bearers are
required to exchange their limited validity passports for full-validity digitalized
photo passports upon completion of their emergency travel, either through
passport facilities in the United States or U.S. embassies abroad.
First-time Passport Applicants
To apply for a U.S. passport, a native-born, U.S. citizen
must present a certified copy of his or her birth
certificate, two passport photos measuring two inches by two inches (color
or black and white with a light background), photo ID and the applicable
fee. You will need to present the certificate of naturalization together with
the photos, a photo ID, and the fees.
You need your current passport as evidence of citizenship
and two passport photos measuring two inches by two inches
(color or black and white with a light background). To be eligible, you must
have been issued a U.S. passport in your name within the past 12 years. There
are different fees for adults and for those under 16.
Lost or Stolen Passport
You will need to report the loss of your passport
to the police and obtain a copy of the police report. In addition
to the two passport photos, you will need to present proof of identity and
proof of a U.S. citizenship. The proof of identity could be any photo ID
such as U.S. driver’s license. Proof of citizenship could be a certified, sealed
copy of your U.S. birth certificate and/or an old cancelled U.S. passport.
Report of a Birth Abroad
Children being registered as U.S. citizens must be
brought to the embassy or consulate by the U.S. -citizen parent
along with the following documents:
1. Child’s Costa Rican birth certificate, which may be obtained from the
Civil Registry, or Registro Civil.
2. Evidence of parent’s U.S. citizenship. This may be in the form of an
original U.S. birth certificates, U.S. passports, Certificates of Citizenship or
Naturalization Certificates. Military IDs are not proof of U.S. citizenship.
3. Parents’ marriage certificate.
4. Evidence of dissolutions of previous marriages. If either parent has been
previously married, submit original divorce decrees or death certificates.
5. If only one parent is a U.S. citizen, there are additional requirements.
Please check with the embassy.
The U.S. State Department provides links and information for
U.S. citizens living abroad. See www.travel.state.gov/travel/living/
Here are other matters the embassy can assist you with.
How can I teach school or volunteer in Costa Rica?
There are several U.S.-curriculum and English-medium schools in Costa Rica, and some
of them recruit teachers in the United States. If you are interested in
teaching school in Costa Rica or another foreign country, see the U.S.
Department of State’s Overseas Schools page for a list of recruiting
organizations and for information on schools that are supported by the
U.S. government overseas.
The Peace Corps has a small number of volunteers in Costa Rica.
Other U.S. non-profit programs such as WorldTeach have placed volunteers
in Costa Rica in past years. The Embassy has no specific information
on volunteer opportunities at this time. The Embassy of Costa Rica in
Washington, DC (202-234-2945) may have additional information about
Can I receive my Social Security checks at the U.S. Embassy? Only military
personnel can receive their Social Security checks at the U.S. Embassy.
The recipient should have at least 20 years of service. In order to receive
checks at the embassy, you must fill out a registration form to be submitted
to and approved by the Office of the Defense Representative in the embassy.
At one time, all other beneficiaries could receive checks in Costa Rica
by registering with the Federal Benefits Unit. You needed to provide the
embassy with your home and mailing addresses, phone number, identification
document and Social Security number. The checks were received through
Diplomatic Pouch and were mailed via “registered mail” to the address
indicated in your registration document. The problem was the checks did
not reach the post office boxes until the middle of the month.
The good news is that a couple of Costa Rican banks now offer direct
deposit to your account by the third of each month. Please check with the
embassy to see which banks provide this service and what forms have to be
For information about all of Social Security’s programs, see their website
What inoculations do I need for Costa Rica? How is medical care in
Costa Rica? There are no required inoculations for Costa Rica, but it is a
good idea to check with your physician for recommendations of optional
inoculations and health precautions. Costa Rica is suffering an outbreak of
dengue fever, although the incidence remains lower than in other Central
American countries. Dengue is transmitted by mosquito bite and there is
no vaccine. Anyone planning to travel in affected areas should take steps to
avoid mosquito bites. These include wearing long sleeves and pants, using
insect repellent on exposed skin, and sleeping under mosquito netting.
Medical care around the capital city of San José is very good. However,
in areas outside of San José medical care is more limited. Doctors and hospitals
often expect immediate cash payment for health services. U.S. medical
insurance is not always valid outside the United States. Supplemental medical
insurance with specific overseas coverage, including provision for medical
evacuation, has proven useful in many emergencies.
How can I register with the U.S. Embassy? All travelers should register
with the embassy in case an emergency occurs in Costa Rica or at home. Go
to the Embassy Consular Section, Window C, Mondays 8 a.m. and 11:30
a.m. and 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. or Tuesday to Friday between 8:00 a.m.
and 11:30 a.m.
You can also send the embassy your information on-line: include name,
passport number, travel plans, local contact in Costa Rica, and next-of-kin
contact information in the United States. Registration on-line will not serve
to prove citizenship in case of passport loss, but will provide a basis for which
an emergency passport may be issued.
In person registration is necessary to be entered in embassy records as
an American citizen.
Those American citizens who are living in Costa Rica, whether or not
they are official residents, should also register.
Do I have access to APO privileges in the U.S. Embassy? If you are a
holder of a U.S. military identification card, you may use the embassy’s Army
Post Office privileges.
What if I Work Outside the United States? If you work or own a business
outside the U.S. and are younger than full retirement age, notify the nearest
U.S. Embassy or consulate or Social Security office right away.
If you do not, it could result in a penalty that could cause
the loss of benefits. This loss of benefits is in addition to
benefits that may be withheld under one of the work tests explained on the
For people born in 1937 or earlier, full retirement age is 65. Beginning
with people born in 1938, full retirement age increases gradually until it
reaches age 67 for those born in 1960 or later.
Report your work even if the job is part-time or you are self-employed.
Some examples of the types of work which should be reported are work as
an apprentice, farmer, sales representative, tutor, writer, etc. If you own a
business, notify them even if you do not work in the business or receive any
income from it.
If a child beneficiary (regardless of age) begins an apprenticeship, notify
the nearest U.S. Embassy or consulate or the Social Security Administration.
An apprenticeship may be considered work under the Social Security program.
The following work tests may affect the amount of your monthly benefit
payment. Work after full retirement age does not affect the payment of benefits.
The Foreign Work Test Benefits are withheld for each month a beneficiary
younger than full retirement age works more than 45 hours outside the
U.S. in employment or self-employment not subject to U.S. Social Security
taxes. It does not matter how much was earned or how many hours were
worked each day.
A person is considered to be working on any day he or she:
* Works as an employee or self-employed person;
* Has an agreement to work even if he or she does not actually work
because of sickness, vacation, etc.; or
* Is the owner or part owner of a trade or business even if he or she does
not actually work in the trade or business or receive any income from it.
Generally, if a retired worker’s benefits are withheld because of his or
her work, no benefits can be paid to anyone else receiving
benefits on his or her record for those months. However, the work of
others receiving benefits on the worker’s record affects only their
* Courtesy of the U.S. Embassy
American Citizen Services Section
Monday 8-11:30am 1-3pm
P hone 519-2000 ext 2452