How to Get an Apostille for Costa Rica Residency in 2024

How to Get an Apostille for Costa Rica Residency

When applying for residency in Costa Rica, one challenge is that some of your documents will need to be accompanied by an “apostille.”

In this article, you will learn what an apostille is, the difference between an apostille and having a document notarized, which residency documents need an apostille, and how to apostille documents from both within the United States and from within Costa Rica.

We also have some guidelines for Canadian and United Kingdom readers as well.

This article will take approximately 11 minutes to read. Don't have the time right now? No worries. You can email the ad-free version of the article to yourself and read it later!

Disclaimer: This article may include links to products or services offered by ExpatDen’s partners, which give us commissions when you click on them. Although this may influence how they appear in the text, we only recommend solutions that we would use in your situation. Read more in our Advertising Disclosure.

What Is an Apostille?

An apostille is a certification that proves a public document is authentic.

The apostille certificate confirms the signature, seal, or stamp on a public document to be genuine so that it will be accepted when presented in another country.

The certificate is a separate document that accompanies the original public document and has the signature and stamp of someone authorized by their government to certify the authenticity of a public document.

Only documents issued by public authorities or public officials can obtain an apostille.

To put it simply, an apostille is used as a means for one government to let another government know that the contents of the document are authentic for the international use of documents.

USA Passport
It’s recommended to get an apostille before you fly out of your home country.

Apostille and Notary

Sometimes there is confusion between having an apostille for a document and having the document notarized.

A notary can only confirm that a client’s signature is authentic as he/she observes the person signing a document.

A notary cannot confirm that the document’s information, stamps, seals, or other signatures are authentic.

A notary service is usually done by a law firm.

Which Documents Require an Apostille for Costa Rica Residency?

When applying for residency and become an expat in Costa Rica, these three documents are normally needed with an apostille:

  • Birth certificate
  • Marriage certificate
  • Criminal Report (e.g., Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Identity History Summary (FBI background check))

You can get your document apostilled from both inside and outside of Costa Rica.

How to Get Apostilles from within the United States

There are three main steps involved in getting an apostille:

  • Get a certified copy
  • Have it notarized
  • Get the apostille

Let’s take a look at what you need to do for each document.

Birth and Marriage Certificate

The first step is to get certified copies of the documents you need.

Please note that certified copies of birth certificates and marriage certificates must be submitted for apostilles. Uncertified photocopies are not accepted by apostille agents.

To secure certified copies of birth and marriage certificates, visit the CDC website.

It lists by state the cost, contact information, and request procedures for obtaining certified copies.


The site also provides direct links to the vital statistics office websites of each state so you can make sure the information is up-to-date.

Normally, you need to sign an application form and send a payment to the Vital Records Department. It costs around US$5 to US$30 per document.


Birth certificates and marriage certificates need to be notarized by a licensed notary. Use a notary commissioned by a U.S. state. The notary will charge a fee for this service.

Many banks and businesses offer this service free for customers, or for a minimal charge for noncustomers. also provides notary services online. (I personally have used this service, and it was excellent.)

Some states require that the document be notarized by a notary commissioned by the state that issued the document, so if using online notaries, make sure they can notarize for that state.

When these two documents have been notarized, you are now ready to obtain the apostilles.

Obtain the Apostilles

Since apostilles must be granted by secretaries of state for state-issued documents (birth certificates and marriage certificates), applicants will need to contact the secretary of state for the state that issued the documents.

A web browser search for “secretary of state in [name the state]” should provide the contact information. 

Or you can consult this web page for a listing of the secretaries of state contact information. (Scroll down to find the list.)

Each state will list its requirements for an apostille on its secretary of state website. It is wise to check this early on to make sure you are prepared for that state’s requirements.

In most cases, it is just having a certified copy of your document and having it notarized, but some states require notarization within the state where the document was issued.

Follow the instructions given by the secretary of state. Most apostille requests are only accepted by mail. You will need to provide pre-paid return mail with your request. A fee will be charged for this service.

FBI Background Check

In the case of an FBI background check or proof that one does not have a criminal record, United States applicants will need to visit this website:

Follow the steps under the “Obtaining Your Identity History Summary” section. It will tell you all you need to know to obtain both official fingerprints required for the report as well as the steps to complete to obtain the report.

FBI Seal
An FBI background check is usually required for a US citizen when applying for a visa abroad.

The government of Costa Rica requires that FBI background checks be apostilled also.

Since this is a federal document, it will need to get an apostille from the U.S. Department of State. Instructions for this process are outlined here according to the Department of State information at the U.S. Department of State website.

Requests for apostilles can only be made by mail to the Department of State. Include the following in your mail packet:

  1. An original Identity History Summary (FBI background check or criminal history) document from the FBI, not a photocopy.
  2. The completed printed request form at: Indicate the document’s country of use in Section 4.
  3. Required fees. Authentication fees are $20 per document for all services. Fees are payable to the U.S. Department of State by check or money order. They cannot accept temporary, starter, or bank fill-in checks. All check numbers must be over 100 and dated within the last six months.
  4. One self-addressed, prepaid envelope for return of your document to a United States address. Use USPS or UPS. Please do not use FedEx. Trackable mail from USPS is recommended. You’ll receive an update when your mail has reached the mail distribution center in Sterling, VA, but not the physical office location in Washington, DC.
  5. Mail the packet with everything listed above to the following address: Office of Authentications U.S. Department of State CA/PPT/S/TO/AUT 44132 Mercure Circle P.O. Box 1206 Sterling, VA 20166-1206

The Department of State website indicates that apostille requests will be processed 11 weeks from the date it is received.

Apostille Service

It should be noted that there are apostille service businesses that will handle all the above details for you if you do not want to complete the process yourself.

Birth certificates, marriage certificates, and FBI background check reports still must be obtained by the individual personally, but the online services can handle the remaining part of the procedure for the apostille for a fee.

How to Get Apostilles from within Costa Rica

Regardless of whether the applicant is present in the United States or in Costa Rica, the individual still must obtain the certified copies of the birth and marriage certificates and the FBI background check.

There are two ways you can do it: 

  • have someone with a U.S. address to do it on your behalf
  • Use an immigration lawyer

Do It on Your Behalf

It is possible for individuals to go through the same process as above (within the United States) from Costa Rica, but it requires that you have someone with a U.S. address who can receive your certified birth certificate or marriage certificate, as well as your FBI background check by mail then send it to you in Costa Rica either through services such as DHL or US Mail (very slow) or personal courier.

Then the documents would then be submitted with your residency application in Costa Rica.

Use an Immigration Lawyer

Most people within Costa Rica who need apostilles for U.S. documents use immigration lawyers or services that are equipped to secure apostilles.

This cuts down on time, confusion, and errors.

If you use an immigration lawyer or service, you can usually have the certified certificates and FBI background check sent directly to the lawyer or service, and then they will take over from there and guide your documents through the apostille process.

They generally have offices in the U.S., so they can facilitate things much more easily. It can be a complicated process to tackle on one’s own, so using an immigration lawyer or service that is qualified and experienced in obtaining apostilles is recommended.

If you are using an immigration lawyer or service for your residency process in general, select one who can help you with the apostille process. If they cannot, ask them who can help.

One reputable apostille service within Costa Rica for U.S. documents is William Edward Licht. Information on his services, prices, and requirements can be found at his website

He can assist with the entire process, even helping to facilitate obtaining certified birth/marriage certificates and FBI background checks. 

I have not personally used this service; however, I have corresponded directly with him on several occasions. It is well-known in Costa Rica and is reported to offer efficient and professional apostille services.

Apostilles specifically for an FBI Identity History Summary (background check) can be obtained online at This service processes hundreds of FBI apostilles monthly and has a turnaround time of 2-3 weeks. The cost is $150 per document. They know exactly what needs to be done to get an FBI apostille quickly and efficiently.

Can I Get an Apostille Service at the Embassy?

Apostille services are not provided by the embassies of the United States, Canada, or the United Kingdom in Costa Rica.

Apostille for Canadians

Procedures for apostilles and other authentication services for Canadian documents changed significantly on January 11, 2024, due to Canada joining the Hague Convention.

Information on apostilles and document authentication can be found at the Government of Canada website.

Apostille for UK Citizens

Procedures for the United Kingdom apostilles can be found here the Government of UK website

Prices are listed and range from 35 to 100 British pounds, depending on whether it is paper or electronic.

Now, on to You

While the process seems complicated, it’s a straightforward process.


However, if you are already inside Costa Rica, using an immigration lawyer can be your only option left.

So, if you plan to apply for Costa Rica residency, it’s best to get all of your documents apostilled in advance before flying there.

Paul Maxfield
As an educator and nonprofit leader, Dr. Paul Maxfield has traveled to 58 countries and lived in four: The United States, The Cayman Islands, Costa Rica, and Honduras. He and his wife, Brenda, live in Costa Rica and have two children and six grandchildren. He is the author of When Far Away Is Home and Straddling Two Worlds.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.