Cédula Renewal Wars


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.

Two 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 numbers 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.

Author: SC Morgan

I grew up in Oregon and learned not everything is black and white. Now I live in the jungles of Costa Rica where the shades of gray cover the full spectrum. I shoot my mouth off on my blog, social media sites, and sometimes I get published. You can find my blog here: https://scmorgancom.wordpress.com/

2 thoughts on “Cédula Renewal Wars”

  1. Our branch of BCR at Puriscal told us that as soon as we had residency we must come in and change our accounts to ones which featured our cedulas….and, as you say, what a performance!
    We had to have an accountant certify our income from the U.K……fascinating as he had no English so had to take our word for what was what on our U.K. bank statement…and expensive as it cost the equivalent of 70 U.S. dollars.
    Our ICE bill was still in the name of the previous owner…no problem there as the clerk knew the house from scrumping jocote there when a child.
    The cards were ready in days, however…and all was well until last month when we wanted to bring a few thousand dollars into Costa Rica from an account in Luxembourg.
    They needed proof of the origin of the money.
    Difficult as it had been sitting there for years….
    We found an old deed of sale of a house in France and brought it in, making sure, like you, that we dealt with the same clerk.
    Fine, he had done three years of French so could work out what it was all about and took it to his boss who pointed out that it was old.
    Our clerk got round that one.
    So are the clients.
    It was passed.
    Much clicking on the computer mouse followed as he tracked down our money to San Jose and promised it would be in our account in the morning.
    It was.
    What was all this in aid of, we asked.
    Mad American government he replied. They want to stop Americans tax dodging and inconvenience everyone else in the process….and why the Costa Rican government had to act like a lapdog and go along with it was beyond him….why not just apply it to Americans….as it was everybody was stuck with it.
    Except politicians he added. He couldn’t see them going through all this.
    As you say, we’re all in this together, locals and immigrants alike….


    1. ACK. I know, it’s terrible, isn’t it? Two years ago, in order to comply with the Obama admin’s call to report all to the IRS, we had to RE-file all our tax returns that included our Costa Rican Society Anonymous–that meant all returns back to 1992. It cost us $1500 in tax preparer’s fees and I kept thinking, WE are not the ones who you are looking for. THOSE would be the multi-national corporations who are wooing the US Congress and getting away scot-free. I’d also like to point out that none of this is halting money laundering in CR. That seems to go on un-impinged. In any event, we got ‘er gone yesterday. Once the bank papers were in order, getting through BCR and immigration was a fifteen minute transaction. Our cédulas should be in our local post office by the middle of next month.


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