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Friday, April 25, 2014

Foreigners face barriers to open a bank account in Costa Rica

Foreigners face barriers to open a bank account
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Expats are having a very hard time understanding the new rules and regulations set forth by national and private banks in Costa Rica. They were outlined in detail March 31.  They do not understand why they cannot open a bank account if they are on a tourist visa but own property or have other investments in the country.

It is the fault of the Banco Central de Costa Rica. The central bank issued a communication to all Costa Rican banks March 27, 2012, stating that the only people with valid acceptable documents can make interbank transactions via SINPE, the interbank system. The Banco Central is responsible for controlling inflation, printing and managing money and maintaining the stability of the Costa Rican currency.

It should not be confused with SUGEF, the Superintendencia General de Entidades Financieras, the organization that supervises the stability of the country’s financial system. In simplistic terms, the Banco Central manages the quantity and SUGEF the quality of Costa Rica’s finances.

Valid documents for foreigners are the following:

     1. Costa Rican cédula;

     2. Resident identification card, called a DIMEX;

     3. Company cédula obtainable from the
              Registro Nacional; and,

     4. Diplomat identification or DIDI. A
              passport does not qualify. 

Most interbank transactions in the country use SINPE or the Sistema Nacional de Pagos Electrónico. This means it is controlled by the Central Bank. The only way around the rule is to use cash or a check, which is not very efficient.

This means most banks will not open an account any more for a tourist who just walks in to do so. There are rare exceptions. Old accounts opened in more lenient times are being closed because they do not adhere to the new banking rules.

Companies like sociedad anónimas and S.R.L.s can open bank accounts. However, some banks themselves have interpreted the Banco Central’s ruling to mean everyone signing on the account must have one of the four documents listed above.
Digging deeper into the matter by visiting the Banco de Costa Rica and the Banco Nacional and speaking with supervisors, a reporter found they would open an account for a tourist. Nevertheless, it is not easy or common and the non-resident would need to have a valid Costa Rican company. They would also need at least one of the following requisites. Two would be better:

    1. A recommendation letter from their home
             bank, translated into Spanish, notarized
             and apostilled;

    2. A detailed outline of where all the funds
              in 1 originated, certified by a foreign
              certified public accountant, notarized                and apostilled; and/or,

    3. A local certified public accountant’s
           certification of funds.
There is an easier way. A representative at Banco Nacional said he would allow a tourist or otherwise non-resident to sign on an account if the primary account holder did have one of the required identifications. Banco de Costa Rica said it would not let a non-resident foreigner sign under any circumstances.

Some private banks are a little bit more flexible. However, they, too, must adhere to Law 8024 and the Banco Central’s policies. To do so, they require non-resident foreigners to have most of the things national banks are asking for to open a new account.

The obvious problem is most people do not want to have someone they do not know very well sign on their their bank account. Some expats opt for an attorney or CPA, but this is not a very good option either. The way Costa Rican laws work, most crooks get away with the bootie.

The problem is clear. How about a solution?
Expats with property should look to a reputable property manager to pay the bills. The key word here is reputable. To find one, good hard homework is necessary. Asking other expats, friends and other property owners can lead to finding the right person or company.

As for expats in business, they should have residency so they can manage their own banking needs or have a partner trustworthy enough to do so. If they cannot meet these criteria, they should not be doing business in Costa Rica.

Is there a possibility things will change, go back to the way they were? Very unlikely. Costa Rica is doing its very best to stay off the financial tax haven list. Being on it has hurt the country in the past.

Most countries with money do not want to give or lend money to any country not willing to play ball in the international financial community.

Other countries insist on transparency and financial data sharing so they can catch tax cheats.  All the new banking requirements are mandated by the world. Costa Rica is just complying.

Garland M. Baker is a 44-year resident and naturalized citizen of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community.  Reach him at info@crexpertise.com.  Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica.  Find the collection at http://crexpertise.info, a complimentary reprint is available at the end of each article.  Copyright 2004-2014, use without permission prohibited.

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