Renewing Our Cedula (National ID Card) In Costa Rica – the Hard Way


We had to renew our Costa Rica national ID card (Cedula) – it expires in February. This time we did it the hard way!  We tried to do it the easy way, but a ill-prepared or ill-informed clerk at the bank kept us from being successful.  We were told we had to visit the national immigration ministry in San Jose. Here (primarily so I don’t forget when we renew in two years) are the steps we had to follow:

  • If you’re a pensionado (drawing social security) you will required to have a benefits letter in spanish – only available from the U.S. Embassy.
  • Call 1311 to get an appointment – nobody speaks english – ours was within a couple days of when I called.
  • Go to the main immigration office (which a maze of government offices with multiple doors and lines)
  • Find door number 3
  • Wait
  • If you’re over 65 years old find a guard and tell him you have an appointment. Our age allowed us to jump a line. He will ask for a copy of your cedula (make sure you have at least two copies of every document, both sides, you have to present – this will not be explained on any of the online forms or websites. You probably won’t need them, but the line for the photocopy clerk was insane.
  • Wait
  • The appointment has nothing to do with real time, it is just a relative number. eg; you will be taken after the 10:45 person and before the 11:30. So sit and wait until your name is called.
  • Wait
  • If you are a pensionado resident the clerk will ask for proof of income letter.
  • You will be asked to prove you have paid your CAJA (national health insurance) premium.
  • You will be asked to show that you have paid the fee. This was the stumbling block for us doing it the easy way, so I am unsure where we screwed up the first time. To my great relief they accepted our bank receipt. Don’t do one deposit for two people – each much be in the name of the person renewing.
  • Wait
  • Your cedula will be given to you on the spot – or it will be mailed to you for a fee.


The embassy Social Security benefits division works very limited hours. Don’t wait until the last minute to get your letter. One appointment per person.

Take a spanish speaker with you to immigration. We weren’t asked any questions that I didn’t understand, but having a spanish speaker makes this less stressful and I think moves things along quicker.

Next up: getting our CAJA renewed where we deal with a Tico on a power trip! His requirement is a Apostilled marriage license… that’s an official seal available only from the STATE issuing the marriage license. UGH.

Please stand by.

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