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Requirements for Banking in Costa Rica Become Similar to the U.S.

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The Costa Rica Star has recently published information about receiving your permanent residency in Costa Rica to avoid border runs, wasting time, and money.

Author’s Note: This article should not be considered legal advice. Readers with questions on the matters explained below should contact attorneys who are in good standing with the Colegio de Abogados de Costa Rica (the National Bar Association).

The Superintendency of Financial Entities in Costa Rica (SUGEF in Spanish) has recently made amendments to the rulemaking scheme as it applies to Article 15 of Law 8204, which covers several issues pertaining to anti-money laundering efforts, particularly with regard to drug trafficking and terrorism. The most recent changes have prompted public officials such as the Minister of Public Safety, the Director of Immigration, and the Central Bank’s Financial Services Director to go on the press circuit with their thoughts on the matter.

At the center of the new rules is the new identification card for foreigners, DIMEX. Speaking to Radio Reloj 94.3 FM, Director of Immigration Kattia Rodriguez explained that the new DIMEX card, which will become a requirement for banking operations, is modeled after the “green card” used in the United States -a smart card with micro-characters, a bar code, and a specific 12-digit numbering system that identifies foreigners with their country of origin and immigration status.

Another American financial measure that is being mimicked to an extent in Costa Rica is “Know Your Customer” (KYC). The Minister of Public Safety Mario Zamora, who was once Director of Immigration, has been using the literal translation of KYC (conozca a su cliente) in various occasions lately. KYC was strengthened in the United States through legislation such as the USA PATRIOT Act and the Bank Secrecy Act.

Carlos Melegatti, Financial Services Director of the Central Bank mentioned that the new DIMEX will allow authorities in Costa Rica to track the banking transactions of foreigners in Costa Rica. In the past, this new measure was postponed until July 12, 2012, and it only applied to foreign residents who wished to make transactions through the Sistema Nacional de Pagos Electrónicos (SINPE). This system allows for easy bank transfers in Costa Rica, and foreign residents would have to present a DIMEX card to be in compliance with the national anti-money laundering law. The Costa Rica Star explained this issue when answering a question from a reader last year.

Director Rodriguez also explained that all foreigners, regardless of their status, will be required to get a DIMEX card. She did not specifically mention tourists who in the past have been able to open bank accounts, or those who obtained immigration status by becoming principals of a business entity. A recent amendment by SUGEF to existing rules for foreigners banking in Costa Rica provides a strict process of identification for individuals who systematically or substantially engage in international bank transfers, trust account management, or transactions higher than $100,000. This amendment, however, equally applies to citizens of Costa Rica.

Director Melegatti also mentioned that in the past foreigners from other Central American nations have been able to open accounts with just a passport, and that the new DIMEX requirement will do away with this practice. Other initiatives are in the works to increase the oversight and security of the already intricate banking transactions in Costa Rica, such as new digital certificates and electronic signature requirements.

DIMEX is hardly a new document. Most foreigners who obtained residency status (even conditional) after 2008 already have such a card in their wallets or purses. Those who obtained cards before then will have six months to switch to DIMEX and present the new cards to their banks. To this extent, Director Rodriguez mentioned that, starting in June, the National Postal Service will help with this endeavor as part of its modernization plan. The change will cost individuals between $98 and $123. Over the next four months, 40 more post offices around Costa Rica will also be able to process DIMEX cards.

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