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Expat’s guide for bringing foreign spouse to U.S.

by Garland M Baker on April 27, 2009

Most people have heard the Costa Rican dream story. A tourist comes for vacation, falls in love with Costa Rica and/or a Costa Rican, goes back home and sells everything or ships it down here to become an expat. This usually applies more to men than to women. In many cases older men find younger Costa Rican women, some with children from former relationships.

In many cases the Costa Rican counterpart, whether it be a wife or a husband, does not want to live here but wants to live in the United States and, most importantly, wants to be a U. S. citizen. Some even believe it to something of a prize they need to win to be happy and constantly pressure the expat to repatriate — go back to the United States to live — so they can get their citizenship.

Getting married by itself does not give a Costa Rican wife or husband U. S. citizenship. This is true for both expats and Costa Ricans who want citizenship in either country. Many expats do not want to go back to the United States, but some concede to do so for their new spouse.

The process for expats who have decided to move back to the United States and get their Costa Rican spouse residency and eventually U. S. citizenship is not overly complicated if one knows how to do it. However, putting everything down on paper and distilling it into a cheat sheet for expats who have made the big decision to move back took some doing.

In a nutshell, the process goes like this:

1. Applying for permanent residency.

2. Obtaining permanent residency.

3. Moving to and staying in the United States for the time period required to be eligible for citizenship.

4. Applying for naturalization, completing all requirements for the naturalization process, and obtaining citizenship.

5. Requesting citizenship for children

Applying for permanent residency

In order to apply for permanent residency, U. S. citizens are required to file a petition for their relatives. According to the U. S. Embassy’s website, the petition process for expats who have Costa Rican residency differs from expats who do not have it.

Expats with Costa Rican residency:

• Expats who have lived in the country for at least 6 months and have already obtained Costa Rican residency can fill out I-130 Petition for Alien Relative at the U. S. Embassy in Pavas on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from noon to 1:30 p.m. The petition costs $355. The embassy sends all petitions to U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

• Once the Citizenship and Immigration Services approves a petition, it is forwarded to the National Visa Center, which may contact the applicant if additional documentation is required. Once approved by the visa center, the petition will be sent back to the U. S. Embassy. No information is available as to how long this process takes.

• The embassy then contacts the expat for presenting their U. S. birth certificate and the document that proves their relationship to the Costa Rican relative, whether it is a marriage certificate (issued by the Registro Civil if the wedding took place in Costa Rica) or the birth certificate of their children.

• The expat must also provide documents that prove termination of any previous marriages by divorce or death.

• The embassy also requires proof of legitimate marriage relationship — provided by answering questions and showing family pictures.

• A medical exam ordered by the Embassy is required for the foreign spouse, as well as other requirements, including police records. This exam can cost around $250.

• Any documents in Spanish must be translated into English.

After all requirements have been filed, an interview is scheduled for the spouse, who should bring an I-864 affidavit of support that proves the expat has sufficient income to support the spouse without public benefits.

Expats without Costa Rican residency:

According to the Citizenship and Immigration Services website, expats who do not have Costa Rican residency must file the I-130 petition in the United States, at the citizenship office closest to their hometown.

After approval, the Citizenship and Immigration Services sends the petition to the Department of State’s National Visa Center to determine if a visa number is available immediately for the relative. Numbers are assigned immediately to spouses and unmarried children under 21. Married children will have to wait to get a visa number, but they can check its status in the Department of State’s Visa Bulletin.

Applicants should be aware that if permanent residency is granted before their second wedding anniversary, the residency will have conditional status, which means the couple must prove they have a legitimate relationship for two years after obtaining conditional residency. The couple must apply for removing the conditions on the residency by gathering the following documents:

•Filling out form I-751 (Petition to Remove Residency Conditions),

• Submitting a copy of the permanent residency card, showing evidence of their relationship (i.e. leases or property deeds that show co-dwelling/co-ownership, birth certificates of children).

Failure to apply for this procedure results in losing all residency rights.

U. S. citizens can obtain unlimited permanent residency for spouses and unmarried children under 21, and limited permanent residency for unmarried children’s minor offspring and married children, their spouses and minor offspring.

Obtaining permanent residency

The U. S. Embassy’s website states that after filing the I-130 petition, while waiting for approval from the Citizenship and Immigration Services, foreign spouses and children can obtain a K-3 visa and travel to the United States to become permanent residents through an adjustment of status, but this process is not immediate.

To apply for the K-3 visa, the following documents must be sent by mail to the United States Department of Homeland Security:

• form I-129,

• a copy of Form I-797 that states the I-130 petition was received by Citizenship and Immigration Services,

• additional forms requested in I-129 and

• a fee of $400.

While waiting for approval, if the foreign relatives wish to travel abroad, they need to request advance permission from the Citizenship and Immigration Services prior to traveling. Otherwise, they will abandon their visa applications and will not be allowed to return to the United States.

Moving to and staying in the United States for the time period required by the Citizenship and Immigration Services to be eligible for citizenship

The Citizenship and Immigration Services website states that foreign spouses may apply for citizenship after remaining in the United States for three years, during which they are not allowed to leave the country for more than 6 months at a time.

No information was available on the time period minor children must remain in the country before applying for naturalization.

Applying for naturalization, completing all requirements for the naturalization process, and obtaining citizenship.

Non-citizen spouses need to meet the following requirements:

• Contiguous residence in the United States for three years prior to applying,

• English language proficiency,

• Knowledge of United States history and civics,

• Good moral character,

• Adherence to United States Constitution principles,

• A positive outlook of the United States.

• Filling out Form N-400 along with a fee of $675 by check or money order (application $595, fingerprints $80) and sending it to the nearest Citizenship and Immigration Services office. Fees are non-refundable.

Even though no specific time frame was given for obtaining citizenship, the Citizenship and Immigration Services website claims the bureau has been trying to maximize efforts and complete the process in six months.

If approved, the immigration services will schedule an interview, right after which the applicant can attend the oath ceremony and obtain citizenship. If the applicant requests to attend the ceremony at a later date, he or she will have to make sure they do not miss the appointment. Otherwise, Immigration Services will close the case and dismiss the process.

If the application for citizenship is denied for lack of requirements and not because of eligibility violations, the foreigner may re-apply as many times as necessary until naturalization is granted.

Requesting citizenship for children

To obtain citizenship for youngsters, parents must file N-600 Application for Certificate of Citizenship, along with 2 photographs of the child, additional documentation to verify eligibility and a fee.

For adopted children, parents must file Form N-643, and when the children are older than 18, parents fill out Form N-400.

Once naturalized, all applicants receive a U. S. passport and all the rights of a United States citizen.

For more information about the citizenship process, visit the Guide to Naturalization.

While helpful, this detailed account of facts and steps will not make the actual process less painstaking, but it will definitely save precious time otherwise spent gathering all relevant information. Some expats that have made the big decision to move back to the United States to make their spouse happy may just decide to stay in Costa Rica after reading this article.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Donald Roberts June 2, 2009 at 12:12 pm

Mr Baker:
Your article in AM Costa Rica was over whelming and very accurate.
May I address my experience?
In mid year of 2007, I finally filed for immigration Form I-130. My instructions as I read them from a government bulletin were to submit my spouse application it to the local area office covering Massachusetts, that being in St. Albans, Vermont.
The procedure was tiring for all the paper work and translations. We submitted same and waited. A few months passed and we notified that the paper work was denied for lack of signatures. My fault, we kept the signed originals and submitted the copies. I was instructed to apply again from the beginning, fee and all.
A few months later we were informed that the application was “Approved” and sent to National visa Center at Portsmouth, NH. NVC notified us that the application was received and additional forms were needed to be filed. Before we could send in the forms, we were notified that the application was rejected for lack of signature. That the paper work would be returned to me.
Six months passed and while at my residence in the Boston area, I emailed a request for the return of the paper work. The reply we received was, we are waiting for form DS-3032 (Choice of Agent) to be submitted with fee.
This we did, being informed that an Affidavit of Support (I-864) be submitted, fee $400.00.
We visited the Immigration office at Boston two times. Both times, they would only comment on what ever they saw in black and white, that info that was supported by the US Government bulletins. At no time did we receive a quiet indication or opinion for what to do. We gained no help there.
Problem being of course: If the application has not been signed and a wad of money is submitted through the final process, who’s to say it will not be rejected and be turned down for lack of signature.
“Start all over again”.
Recently, emailing to NVC to request to sign the application fell on deaf ears. I followed the directions they required to contact them by email, name, birthday, case number, only to receive a notice that a Form G-28 is now require before any communications can start
Where does it end?
My reason for the visa application is a medical one. My wife would like to be here with me just in case. She also wants to gain citizenship. I’m getting old and have no medical insurance in Costa Rica. My heart doctor here has warned me of complications, .. that I should be where I can get medical attention.
My wife and I have been married for 5 years. We maintain a home in the San Jose area, which is free and clear.
Hoping you can grasp the dilemma and perhaps warn other prospective visa applicants of the seriousness to get help before one starts off blind on such a dangerous mission.
Donald Roberts June 2nd 2009


gene courtemance November 18, 2010 at 5:15 pm

Face it you're getting old. Bad heart? Not Don Roberts.Gene


gene November 18, 2010 at 5:19 pm

FThey don't want to bring you wife, and her family, into USA. I I I thothought that you planned to stay until death in Costa Rica. it, you're gettGeneing old. Bad heart?


Jer September 23, 2012 at 6:26 am

Well this is overwhelming to the extreme…
Late of last year "I was" supposed to get married to a costa rican citizen, whom I love very much. We met while she was working (work visa) at the same resort as me in Maine. We fell in love (I'm young) and when the season came to an end, she was sent back to the Costa Rica. I had no intentions on flying to Costa Rica as I was afraid that she might be a different person there opposed to whom she was with me in Maine…it haunted me for a couple days, until I eventually sold my car (really giving me all the money I had) and packed my stuff….and you know what happened when I got there? We both hugged each other, and cried…that's when I know she'd be the one I would marry. In fact we tried, but I guess we just procrastinated for about 8 months (all the while still in Costa Rica), and when I found a lawyer it was too late…as he was just trying to scam me in the end (luckily I wasn't stupid enough). During those months, my biggest problem was work and we didn't have a lot of money…but being a U.S. citizen I knew I could back and work for her & provide a better life for her & her daughter (whom I call my daughter as well). Fast forward, and now I am presently working in atlanta trying to get them here (she'll get a tourist visa). The amount of paper work and confusion here though frightens me…I'm just a normal working guy, and I'm just trying to have a normal life with her & my daughter. We haven't ultimately decided what to do, whether to go to settle in Costa Rica or here…I'm aiming for here, cause I couldn't find work for the life of me in Costa Rica. I'm trying to pull things together, and do the right thing. Even though reading this may be discouraging, I'll keep going head strong. She's not some one who's looking for a green card, she just genuinely wants to have an honest life with me, as I do with her whether it is in her country or mine….idk just looking for some advice, I guess.


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