Residency and Citizenship in Nicaragua

By Pat Werner

Upon arrival in Nicaragua you receive a tourist visa which is usually good for 90 days and can be renewed for another 90 days. Leaving the country, most people cross over to Costa Rica then return, restarts the process. Surprisingly many of the expats have been living here for years using the tourist visa though recently the government has started to crack down on some permanent tourists. For example, recent legal changes require you to be at least a resident to register a motor vehicle. Whether one should obtain legal residency, as opposed to obtaining successive tourist visas, is an issue that carries within its answer: if one stays long term in Nicaragua, yes, it is a good idea to obtain residency. After all, you are not a tourist if you plan to live here for years.

A related question is whether it is worthwhile to obtain Nicaraguan citizenship, in essence a dual citizenship.  First, the process.  Obtaining citizenship takes several years.  First, one must obtain legal residence. When applying for residency you can opt for a one year residency or a five year residency though most people go for the five year residency. After one or two renewals, the resident is usually eligible to apply for Nicaraguan citizenship.  Immigration is open to this process, and the process is a bit more involved than obtaining residence.

An authenticated copy of one´s birth certificate,  some proof of economic support, a thorough background check, interviews with neighbors, and an interview with Immigration and or nationalization inspectors, ensue, as well as paying all fees and taxes, currently set at 2,000 córdobas.  There is a test that must be taken on Nicaraguan culture and history, so knowing something about Nicaragua other than San Juan del Sur and Granada is helpful. Note – Good Spanish will be needed for the test. There is a form, as usual, to fill out, and there is language regarding your pledge to support Nicaragua as a citizen.  The USA Embassy notes that the position of the USA government has changed over the years and does currently approve dual citizenship.  After all, there are many thousands of native Nicaraguans who left during the war, renounced their Nicaraguan birth citizenship, obtained American citizenship and agreed to give allegiance only to the USA government, moved back to Nicaragua, and began to exercise their rights of Nicaraguan citizenship, including voting for Nicaraguan political candidates. No one seems to be bothered by this.  If there is any doubt about this, a consultation with the US Embassy is in order.

Like the residency process, to prepare the documentation you may need a lawyer who is familiar with the process and who knows the personnel in Immigration and Nationalization or a person that is familiar with the process and can assist you.   Once the paperwork is completed and on file, the interviews of neighbors and personal interviews with government inspectors is completed, the authorities at Immigration will review the files  and make a final decision on whether each candidate should be granted Nicaraguan citizenship.

After meeting all requirements, and having the approval of Immigration authorities, a date is set once or twice a year, for the actual swearing in ceremony.  Last ceremony was in August, with 38 candidates accepted as Nicaraguan citizens.

An important consideration is what are the advantages and disadvantages, of obtaining Nicaraguan citizenship.  The most obvious advantage is that you do not have to keep renewing your residency, either annually or every five years. Once you have Nicaraguan citizenship, all restrictions of time work restrictions, end. Neither do you have to do anything special to work. As a foreigner, even one authorized to work in Nicaragua, you still have to have a work contract approved by the Labor Ministry and a copy filed, and pay a fee of $100.  It is not always done, but that is the law.  You can own land, enter into any contract, and live completely within the law.  As a person living here based on a tourist card you live in a twilight zone legally, and have precious few legal rights.  As a resident, with work privileges, you have many of the rights of Nicaraguans, minus the right to vote for candidates; as a resident pensionado or rentista, you cannot work at all.  As a Nicaraguan citizen, all restrictions on working are ended.

One area where citizenship does act as a limiting factor is that it cuts off the rights of pensioners to import, free of duty, a car and household furnishings. This may not be such a valuable thing.  There is a good argument that it makes sense to sell your car, and bring the money to Nicaragua to buy a car.  As a resident pensionado, you can purchase your vehicle in Nicaragua duty free but as a citizen, you cannot. I have watched for years as foreigners working at the American School and university in San Marcos try to import a car.  If the car is a brand that is not common in Nicaragua, is of gasoline, or automatic transmission, it is not such a hot idea to import to Nicaragua. Buying a vehicle, already nationalized, that is a diesel, standard transmission, and a brand known in Nicaragua so that there are spare parts, is a good idea.

An added advantage has to do with the Nicaraguan Social Security system, or INSS.  For people over 60 or 62, old geezers like me, getting medical insurance is a problem.  Medicare does not work in Nicaragua. Private carriers usually will not insure old folks applying for coverage.  Check your policies carefully. If you are a Nicaraguan citizen, and work for a bit, pay your INSS deductions, you may be eligible for INSS medical coverage but you must start your INSS covered work by 55 years of age.  It costs a whopping 35$ per month, and covers everything, including medication. It is nasty, old, socialized medicine.  There is a nationwide system of health installations.  The one I attend is the Hospital of Teachers in Diriamba, one km from my home. It is new, clean, well run, and efficient. The one disadvantage for foreigners is that it really helps to be able to speak fluent Spanish during treatment as very few doctors and nurses speak English.  One of the advantages is that if you get seriously ill, you may be treated at the new Military Hospital located behind PriceSmart in Managua.  It is perhaps the finest state of the art hospital in Nicaragua.  And doctors who have privileges at the Metropolitano (Vivian Pellas) in Managua also have privileges at the Military Hospital, i.e. the same doctors often practice at both hospitals.  And treatment under INSS costs nothing for all services.

In conclusion, only you can decide if residency or citizenship is the route for you. Each way has its advantages and disadvantages. If you do decide to have dual citizenship then you must use your Nicaraguan passport to leave/enter Nicaragua and your USA passport to leave/enter the USA. Either way, having residency or citizenship shows your commitment to Nicaragua, your chosen country.


Update 10/13/15

Dual Citizenship – Nicaragua/USA

There was quite a lot of discussion on pros/cons to getting a Nica citizenship from the article we posted by Pat Werner. As usual, quite a few incorrect statements were made by people’s comments. So I asked the USA Embassy and this is their response.

Dear Mr. Bushnell,

The official information on dual nationality can be found on the Department of State’s website:…/citizenship…/dual-nationality.html; one relevant excerpt in response to your question is: “In order to lose U.S. nationality, the law requires that the person must apply for the foreign nationality voluntarily, by free choice, and with the intention to give up U.S. nationality.”
(emphasis added)

It is also important to note, as spelled out at the above webpage, when one acquires a foreign nationality, one is then treated as a national of that country by the government of that country, with all that entails (including, but not limited to, exit restrictions placed on nationals of the country, tax and military service obligations to that country, lack of requirement to inform the U.S. Embassy when a dual national is imprisoned, and others).

The American Citizen Services Unit
U.S. Embassy, Managua
Telf. 2252-7161 Fax. 2252-7250

DB – So the key is no problem if you are not applying for a different citizenship to give up your U.S. nationality.

Here are all the details.
Dual Nationality

Section 101(a)(22) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) states that “the term ‘national of the United States’ means (A) a citizen of the United States, or (B) a person who, though not a citizen of the United States, owes permanent allegiance to the United States.” Therefore, U.S. citizens are also U.S. nationals. Non-citizen nationality status refers only individuals who were born either in American Samoa or on Swains Island to parents who are not citizens of the United States. The concept of dual nationality means that a person is a national of two countries at the same time. Each country has its own nationality laws based on its own policy. Persons may have dual nationality by automatic operation of different laws rather than by choice. For example, a child born in a foreign country to U.S. national parents may be both a U.S. national and a national of the country of birth.

A U.S. national may acquire foreign nationality by marriage, or a person naturalized as a U.S. national may not lose the nationality of the country of birth. U.S. law does not mention dual nationality or require a person to choose one nationality or another. Also, a person who is automatically granted another nationality does not risk losing U.S. nationality. However, a person who acquires a foreign nationality by applying for it may lose U.S. nationality. In order to lose U.S. nationality, the law requires that the person must apply for the foreign nationality voluntarily, by free choice, and with the intention to give up U.S. nationality.

Intent can be shown by the person’s statements or conduct. The U.S. Government recognizes that dual nationality exists but does not encourage it as a matter of policy because of the problems it may cause. Claims of other countries on dual national U.S. nationals may conflict with U.S. law, and dual nationality may limit U.S. Government efforts to assist nationals abroad. The country where a dual national is located generally has a stronger claim to that person’s allegiance.

However, dual nationals owe allegiance to both the United States and the foreign country. They are required to obey the laws of both countries. Either country has the right to enforce its laws, particularly if the person later travels there. Most U.S. nationals, including dual nationals, must use a U.S. passport to enter and leave the United States. Dual nationals may also be required by the foreign country to use its passport to enter and leave that country. Use of the foreign passport does not endanger U.S. nationality. Most countries permit a person to renounce or otherwise lose nationality.

Information on losing foreign nationality can be obtained from the foreign country’s embassy and consulates in the United States. Americans can renounce U.S. nationality in the proper form at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.


  1. Charity Ford

    October 7, 2015 at 9:17 pm

    I was going to do this last year and after consulting the U.S. Embassy I understood that I could risk losing my U.S. Citizenship. They said that it could be taken as an act of treason against the U.S. Here is a link they gave me: One thing that isn’t mentioned here is that Nicaraguan immigrations does require a legal document renouncing our country of origin. They say it doesn’t mean anything… That’s up to you to decide… I personally would like to have dual citizenship. Most of my family does by birth, but I would not want to risk my U.S. Citizenship in any way…

  2. Darrell

    October 8, 2015 at 4:52 pm

    Well, this article has started a lively discussion. It appears that the USA Embassy response depends on who you speak to. There are thousands of people with dual USA/Nica passports and obviously the USA has allowed many more other USA citizens to have dual citizenships. Getting citizenship in any country usually requires you to swear allegiance to the newest country which does seem contradictory. Though I do have many friends that have promised to love and cherish forever their current marriage partner even though it might be their second or third marriage and that is in their church.

    I will make another request to the embassy on clarifying this issue. It is something to consider and since it is really somewhat of a political issue, you never know if either country could eventually state you must choose one or the other.

  3. Robin Hewitt

    October 10, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    I’ll be following to see what you find out Darrell. It does seem a bit complicated.

  4. Pat Werner

    October 12, 2015 at 7:23 am

    The comment by Charity Ford is timely and the cited pamphlet and 8 USC 1481, INA section 349 pretty much lay out the law and practice of the INA. If you do not intend to lose American citizenship, and state that if someone from the embassy asks, you will in all likelihood, not lose American citizenship. It also helps if you annually file an American tax return, regardless of whether you have a tax liability or not. Most will not have any tax liability if the 330 day absence rule is observed, with the exempt annual income amount of $97,000 ( the last time I looked), or if you establish a foreign tax home as defined by the IRS. No matter, you still have to file a tax return, and, if applicable, all forms regarding foreign bank accounts. In the end it is a personal decision, with not much risk of losing American citizenship. In some ways, the difference between being a permanent resident and citizen is not much in some everyday circumstances. One difference is that, instead of pontificating about Nica politics, one can actually take part in the process, and vote.

    • Edgar

      October 12, 2015 at 9:04 am

      I happened to be at the immigration ofc in MGA, and was curious to find out what the requirements were to obtain Nicaraguan Citizenship. Apparently, they don’t just give you list and before I new it, I was in an interview. I was mostly curious as to the Dual Citizenship clauses were as I’m not interested in giving up my US citizenship. . After a couple of questions on why I wanted it and so on, i got the answer i was

      • Edgar

        October 12, 2015 at 9:23 am

        I was looking for. I was explained that I had to hive up any ACQUIRED citizenship. As a Nicaraguan citizen, I would be required to enter and leave Nicaragua using my new passport but that once outside the country, I could use my US passport. I left it at that, but then I was told that my cedula had to be current for1 yr to apply. So I commented that I would renew it for an additional year, to which the response was that once you have chosen the 5 year plan, you can only renew for another 5

  5. Edgar

    October 12, 2015 at 9:26 am

    Whats the point?

  6. Dave

    May 10, 2016 at 10:29 pm

    Thank you to all for your comments, and especially to Pat Werner for authoring the article. I have been back and forth to Nicaragua since 2009, and relocated here as a mostly ‘perpetual tourist’ in 2012. I received my ‘rentista’ residency (5-year approval) in Nov. 2015, and married a Nicaraguan citizen in Feb. 2016 (we lived together for 3+ years before marrying). My reasons for dual citizenship are to be able to live either in the U.S. or Nicaragua and not worry about residency requirements, and to be able to work or start a business in Nicaragua if I so choose.

    So… my question is this: when is the earliest I can apply for Nicaraguan citizenship (with no intention of giving up my U.S. citizenship)? Does the fact that I am now married to a Nicaraguan citizen help speed up this process, or are there still minimum residency requirements?

    • Darrell

      May 11, 2016 at 7:23 am

      As usual, there are the legal requirements and the reality. Some say after a 5 year residency you can apply for citizenship, others say 2. We are considering applying for our citizenship.

    • Robert

      January 28, 2017 at 4:06 pm


      Have you applied for your Nicaraguan citizenship thru marriage?.
      I am a natural born Nicaraguan citizen with U.S. Citizenship thru Naturalization married to a natural born American Citizen. I want to give my wife Nicaraguan citizenship thru marriage. We currently live in the United States and have no intentions of relocating to Nicaragua. What are the requirements for my wife to obtain Nicaraguan citizenship?.