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Costa Rica Living; Cédula Renewal Wars

Costa Rica News – Last week my husband and I endeavored to renew our Costa Rican cédulas de residencia, the national ID card.  I called the Banco BCR hotline, BCRCITA (900-003-4639), for an appointment. Aside from the call costing 300 colones a minute, and being immediately put on hold because, “dear customer, all available operators are busy, please be waiting on the line,” the appointment maker was friendly and efficient.

costa rica cedula renewal 3Two years ago, we were in and out in fifteen minutes. This year, the appointment has been the only easy part.

We arrived in Limón 20 minutes early, a good thing because I did not know the Limón Banco BCR had moved. We found the new location, took a seat among the hordes, and listened to the overhead mechanical voice announce ficha numbers and to which booth the holder should report: Ah, setenta tres, posición cinco…. We did not need a ficha, and after about ten minutes a clerk called our name. She asked for our documents.

I have a rule of thumb in this country, known for its obscurantism. When dealing with bureaucrats, I never pull out all my documents at once. If I do, I find they will ask for the one I do not have. Best to present them one at a time hoping my papers exhaust their time, interest, or (insert your own word here).

I gave the clerk our old cédulas and our passports. She asked for proof of payment to CCSS (the Caja), the mandatory government health insurance company. I gave her a payment stub from June. She asked for the actual CCSS carnet, or voucher, which I handed over. I thought I saw her trying to peer over my file folder to see what cards I still held in this poker game, but it might have been my imagination. Then she asked for a letter from the bank ensuring we spend the requisite amount of money each month to qualify us as residents in good standing. I handed over the letter. She read thoughtfully. Then she looked up.

“Entonces, Señora, this letter shows your bank account is linked to your passport number and not your cédula.” There it was, the stickler. I argued my point. The account belongs to my husband and me. Anyone can clearly see that, passport or cédula, we are the same people. I was sent to another booth for consultation. It was there I was informed that a cédula is now required by the good people at immigration.

Our new clerk said we had to return to our bank in Puerto Viejo and a) have the account changed from our passport Problemas de computo en Migracion y lentitudFoto Herbert Arleynumbers to our cédulas and b) have our account verified as to our correct information. “The last time you did this was in 2008,” he said. I was aware of that regulation. Back in 2008 the Costa Rican Financial Regulatory Agency – SUGEF – demanded all banks under its supervision update their client account information to bring the accounts into compliance with anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism acts. We had complied, but I was unaware that it had to be updated every two years. I asked if he could do this while we waited.

This is when I discovered that Banco BCR branches have information only about their particular branch on their computers; the Limón branch cannot access accounts from Puerto Viejo, ni vice versa.

So it was back to Puerto Viejo for a chat with the clerk there. Indeed, she said I needed to verify our account and she could do that when we brought a receipt for the electricity, or the phone, with our physical address. Catch-22. In my quest for efficiency, I pay all our bills online and the receipts go to our apartado, post office box. “Well,” she said, “you can use the receipt for the property taxes from the municipality.” Later, at home, I checked. The address the municipality used is referenced by Hotel Suerre, which was torn down by the government several years ago.
I took the receipt into the bank the next day and waited for the same teller to be freed up (another rule of mine: always get the same clerk, otherwise who knows what other requirements may pop up). Our clerk was unfazed by the non-reference point in our address. “But your house is close by this, yes?” Yes. “Okay, then we will just use this and make a note of your actual address.” We could have done this any number of other ways, like me just stating our address, but, hey, she took it.

Then it was on to changing our account from the passport to the cédula number. Do not even ask, because there is no option for simply adding another piece of ID; it’s all or nothing. It would have been faster to close out the account and open a new one and it certainly would have saved trees. After a ream of paperwork and fourteen signatures, we were set. Only problem, they had to annul our credit card and close my online banking account (with saved information on at least ten accounts I regularly pay into). Just a month ago I laboriously matriculated to all those accounts, complete with special codes emailed to me by the bank (again, new regulations). Now all evaporated into thin air.

She promised to have our new credit card by the end of the week. At that point I will be able to start a new online banking account. I have made a new appointment with BCRCITA for our cédula renewal in Limón.

When I told our lawyer that we finally complied with all the requirements of the bank and immigration, she said, “Para hoy, Sarita, para hoy.” For today. For today. I take some comfort in that. It is good to remember it is not just expats who are inconvenienced and frustrated by these rule changes and regulations; Costa Ricans suffer the same fate. We are all in this labyrinthine system together.

By Sarah Corbett Morgan

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4 Comments

  1. gabriel51 said:

    Hi,

    I have allready my “cédula”, but these days I’m doing the cédula for my wife.
    When I did mine, I hired a lawyer, as this was a recommendation of a friend.
    This lawyer charged me $1.000 for helping me with the paperwork.
    Now I found another lawyer that charged me $500.
    After I hired his services, I foud an article in “LA NACION” explaining that migración recommend NOT to hire a lawyer, as the paperwork is very easy. This is the article: http://www.nacion.com/2010-05-27/ElPais/NotasSecundarias/ElPais2386259.aspx

    Thats why today I asked the lawyer what “work” did he (she) made for my $500… And guess what: she only send the form to the limon office. Then all the other request should be made personnaly by us.

    PLEASE, DO NOT HIRE LAWYERS FOR YOUR MIGRATION PAPERWORKS

    I hope the money I spend in lawyers worth that other people DON’T waist their money 😉

  2. Gandi Ibrahim said:

    do not hire any lawer for paper work.

    The Costrican Immigration are very frindly and helpfull. I never had any problem during my immigration process.

  3. sarahcmorgan said:

    For sure, Gabriel. Way back when it was advisable to get a lawyer to help guide you through the morass that was Migración, but today it is a relatively simple process (stress on the relatively part). Just be aware as you move forward in your wife’s process that you’ll need to have all your bank accounts meet the new SUGEF requirements and you shouldn’t have more trouble than the rest of us. Good luck to you.

  4. Tilaran said:

    More fun in the land of the second most ignorant people on earth. A close second behind the mindless fools with their name tags, uniforms and badges in the us “just doing my job sir”.

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