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Getting Residency in Nicaragua
With the recent resistance of the Nicaraguan government to approve all tourist visa extensions there has been renewed interest in getting residency and some people are even getting Nicaraguan citizenship. Before we continue, I will remind the reader I am not an expert on this topic and you will find there are few experts on all parts of the residency process. I simply gathered the information from several sources and tried to combine it into a single document. Residency for Nicaragua, no matter what you hear, is no more difficult than most countries. Try being someone getting a visa to the United States and you will see how difficult things can be.
First, this does not affect your citizenship of your origin country. In fact, if later you decide to become a citizen of Nicaragua you will still be a citizen of your origin country such as the USA i.e. you will have both passports. You will then use your USA passport to enter and leave the states and your Nicaraguan passport to leave and enter Nicaragua. Check with your own country in case they do not allow dual passports.
Some reasons or advantages of being a Nicaraguan resident:
- You can legally register a vehicle
- You can apply for firearms license
- You can have bank accounts here
Yes, many people got them without residency but according to the fine print you should be a resident.
- You can have a phone plan
- You do not have to leave the country every 90 days (180 days with extension)
Though you will need a Nica visa to leave the country
- Many area attractions have higher prices for tourists
- It shows commitment to your adopted country i.e. you are not a tourist
When you roam through the various expat blogs and other sources you will see stories of people getting their residencies in two weeks and some take a year or were even unsuccessful. The truth is that if two different people with identical documents applied for residency they would have completely different experiences. Getting a residency is an art not a science. Like all things in Nicaragua you will do better with a smile than a snarl but please don’t tell government workers how they could or should improve the process. It will delay your residency and we already have enough expert expats, thank you.
Do not send your residency questions to me. Everything I know is in this article. Getting reliable information in Nicaragua is difficult so if there are any errors, I apologize for myself and my sources. Get your documents together and authenticated while in your country of origin. It is extremely difficult to get important documents, processed and then delivered to Nicaragua. Many of the offices will not take requests from Nicaragua but especially they may not be willing to mail, fax or even call to Nicaragua. To fly back to the states or wherever is an expensive option. Do your homework!
For those of you on tourist visas remember that Nicaragua is part of the CA-4 agreement between Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Visitors to Nicaragua can visit any of these countries without needing an additional visa. Unfortunately, this also means you cannot visit one of these other countries to renew your tourist visa. You have 90 days (180 with extension) to stay within the four countries then you must leave to another country. This is why so many people go to Costa Rica. Also, there is no three day requirement to remain in Costa Rica. Many people simply stay overnight in CR then return or cross the border and immediately return.
There are not that many resident expats in Nicaragua. According to my sources there are less than 1300 expat residents in Nicaragua and only 62 new ones last year which means they process a residency application a little more than once a week. This means the vast majority of expats in Nicaragua are on tourist visas. Eventually, the authorities will question even those leaving the country then returning on another tourist visa. Many countries are tightening down on permanent tourists because there is no background information on tourists and that makes it difficult to track the bad guys and you know we have enough of them already. So ignore the whining of those that say they are being hassled. The rules have not changed, they are simply being enforced more now. Nicaragua wants tourists and they want people to move to Nicaragua.
Most problems stem from your documents being incorrect, at least according to the rules. Travelers have interesting backgrounds which can make the residency process even more difficult. Imagine being a Canadian female citizen married to a Bolivian male, having lived in Bali for the last 10 years but recently divorced. Then the documents become more difficult to obtain. It is imperative that you get all of your documents in order before coming to Nicaragua since it will be difficult, if at all possible, to get official documents from your country to Nicaragua. Being a tourist in Nicaragua for the past 10 years and now wanting to be a resident will be more difficult than applying for residency immediately.
The first question upon starting your quest for residency is who, if anyone, you should use to assist you. Some people will advise using a lawyer, a lawyer that specializes in immigration, an expat that knows the residency process, an expat that speaks fluent Spanish, a local that will just interpret for you, an expediter or some people just wing it and hope to bully through the process. We have seen successes in using any of these people or methods and quite a few failures. Remember that no matter who you decide to use, there will be someone that will tell you that person did not know what they were doing. In fact, this is true of almost every realtor, property manager, business owner, lawyer, etc. in this country. There are even people that probably say it about me. As always, ask for references that you can check with to see if the customers were happy with the service.
It was easier for us upon our arrival in Nicaragua. We had checked with the Nicaraguan consulate in the states before arrival so we had most of our documents in order. Ortega was not yet president so the immigration process was more loosey-goosey. We decided to pay an expediter to do most of the process for us. An expediter is simply a local that knows the residency process and has great connections. When we ran into a snag, we could simply ask how much money to make the problem go away. For example, they would not accept our employer’s letter as proof of pension. By paying another $140, the letter suddenly became acceptable. Those days are gone. There is still some corruption but Ortega has clamped down on immigration so things are much tighter now.
One of the frustrating things at the immigration office is hearing that your documents are approved then later finding there is an issue with getting your residency. This may be due to the levels of reviews by immigration. At the window at immigration you may be dealing with a clerk who reviews everything then states all is in order. That clerk then passes the bundle of documents to their supervisor who probably is more knowledgeable and may find an error. They usually do not call you. You simply find out about the issue on your next visit to immigration. Customer service is not a common trait and many of the clerks think their job is to find an error rather than assisting the expat in meeting compliance. Before you start grousing, remember your frustrations in working with the Department of Motor Vehicles back in the states or Europe?
There are many types of residencies depending on your need.
To qualify, you’ll need to prove to the Nicaraguan government that you’re actually a citizen of origin country where you claim your nationality, that you’re in good physical and mental health, that you’re in good standing with the local police, and that you have an income equivalent to at least $600 a month from Social Security or a pension. Add an additional $150 for each dependent family member living with you in Nicaragua. The minimum age for eligibility is 45, but this can be waived if the applicant proves a stable income. Your dependents will qualify without meeting the same requirements. Legally you cannot work while under this category but it depends on the circumstances.
Similar to the pensioner is the rentista category. It is someone that has a private income of more than $750 from investments, stocks, bonds and other types of revenue but salaries do not qualify as the revenue. This revenue can be difficult to prove to immigration since values of stocks go up and down, etc.
Benefits to Pensioners and Rentistas:
Tax and customs exemption on importation of up to $20,000 of household goods.
Residency for five years then you can renew your residency. On second five year renewal you can apply for citizenship.
Tax exemption on up to $25,000 value of an imported vehicle
- Vehicle must be less than seven years old (some sources say 10 years) (motorcycles can be imported as the vehicle)
- Vehicle can be purchased locally and exemptions still apply
- You must be a resident to register your vehicle here
- This can save up to an estimated 30% of the cost of a vehicle
- You can import or buy another vehicle every four years with these exemptions (some sources say five years)
No sales tax (15%) for first $50,000 of materials in building or restoring a home (up to $7,500 but can’t sell for 10 years)
You do not need to leave the country every 90 days
- You must purchase a visa to leave the country (you can buy for 30 days up to a full year)
There is no longer a requirement of guaranty bond which previously was the money for a plane ticket back to country of origin.
Note – You must have residency before you have these benefits. Do not ship goods before receiving residency or you may be paying high storage fees until you receive your residency.
Dependents of Pensioners and Rentistas
The same legal status will be conferred on parents, spouses and minor children if they are dependent on the resident for support. The resident must have additional pension or income of $150 per month per dependent.
Other types of residencies:
You must incorporate a corporation in Nicaragua- usually through a Sociedad Anonima
Invest at least $30,000 in Nicaragua i.e. energy, tourism business, mining, free zone company, real estate, etc.
Apply for residency
MIFIC Ministry of Development, Industry must confirm the investment and an appraiser will verify.
A certificate will be issued and sent to immigration. Approval covers shareholders or investor.
You are then eligible for a five year residency
A company can support the residency of its employees. Usually it is a provisional residency for one year but on the third renewal, you can apply for a five year residency.
Like the employees above, a NGO can support the missionaries and NGO workers by submitting copies of its legal documents. This is usually a provisional residency for one year.
Foreigners married to a Nicaraguan can also apply for residency.
Some sources state there is a student residency but I can’t find much info on it.
Obligations of Residents
- Must reside in Nicaragua at least six months each year unless resident receives permission to be absent because of health conditions or difficulties to travel. The six months do not have to be contiguous.
- Renew your cedula every five years or when it expires.
- Respect the laws of Nicaragua
- If residency is renounced, the resident must repay all exonerated taxes within the two past years
- Each year the resident must present to INTUR documents showing the pension or income was transmitted to Nicaragua (I’m not aware of anyone that has had to do this)
- Pensioners and rentistas may not work in any activity in which they receive public money. The exceptions are a) if it is their own business and they have real property registered in the Public Registry worth at least US$75,000, and the work has been approved by the Ministerio de Fomento, Industria y Comercio.; or b) they receive special authorization to work; or c) it is work within a public or private institution and is scientific or intellectual in nature.
- Residents may not become involved in political organizations nor promote any acts against the cultural, ethnic, religious or tourism image of Nicaragua. Yes, people have been asked to leave the country for these reasons.
Document Requirements for Residency
The following authenticated and translated documents are to be submitted in triplicate to the Nicaraguan Institute of Tourism (INTUR):
- Complete form requesting residency (available at Nicaraguan Immigration offices)
- Proof of required income from pension, social security, etc. If it is just the social security from the USA, you can go to the USA embassy and obtain the document of proof.
- Photocopy of the bio data page from your passport and most recent Nicaraguan entry stamp. Passport must be valid for more than six months.
- Two passport size photos, white background, without glasses and/or hats, and ears must be visible.
- Birth certificate with an apostille.
- Criminal record issued by the authorities in your country of origin or where you have resided in the past three years, with an apostille. Minors under the age of 18 are exempt from this requirement.
- Health record extended by a certified authority in your country of origin with an apostille.
- If the applicant is a naturalized citizen, the naturalization papers must be presented
- Complete and detailed list of household items and/or vehicle to be imported if applicable. This is not needed for residency process but will be required to process your received goods and/or vehicle.
- Any supporting documents requested by Nicaraguan Immigration in the interview process, in order to support the residency application. Yes, there may be more documents needed.
*All the requirements should be presented before the Immigration Office in the language of the country of origin, translated to Spanish when necessary. Some of these documents will also be needed for each dependent. Do not wait long to start the process since the documents can expire. When we renewed our residency many of our documents were only good for 30 days but I believe they give you six months on the original application.
The best source of information on the immigration laws is Nicaragua’s own site but it is in Spanish.
Note – An “apostille” is a certificate issued by a designated authority in a country where a treaty called the Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement for Legalization of Foreign Public Documents applies. An apostille refers to the legalization of a document for international use. In order to request an apostille, you will need to contact the country or USA state that issued the legal document that you are looking to certify for this purpose. For more information about apostilles, please click here. Most countries including the USA are part of the Hague Convention but Canada is not.
Please click on the following link to go to list of USA states and their apostille instructions:
It does sound confusing and you will make several trips to Managua to complete the process. The cost for the application at this time is C$6200 or around $250.
Look at all of the expat blogs. Some people will tell you that you must use a lawyer, others state you can get by using their friend and a dozen other suggestions. Just make sure you ask for references and check them out.
When finished you will have a brand new shiny cedula with your picture on it. A business person or foreign investor will obtain a Condition 1 residency which means they have the right to work in Nicaragua. Pensioners (pensionados) will receive a Condition 2 residency which means you do not have the right to work and can´t be a legal representative. So, retirees are Condition 2 which means you can run or be in a corporation in Nicaragua but can´t be appointed as the legal representative at DGI. You can see why it may be desirable to use a lawyer unless you simply are trying to be a pensioner with no plans to start a business or anything more complicated than buying or renting a home. You do not have to be a resident to buy a home in Nicaragua.
For those renewing your residency the following link is our experience of the renewal process:
Take heart, you can do it.
Compiled by Darrell Bushnell