Hot damn! Sorry to cuss, but this process so far exceeded my expectations that I am still in awe an hour later.
My wife and I got remarried in Atenas, Costa Rica on Valentine’s Day, 2016. While I had been wanting to renew our vows after 35 years of marriage and this was a great event to do so, the main reason to get married in Costa Rica was for immigration.
We are temporary residents and need to renew our credential every two years. One of the required documents for renewal is your marriage certificate. Initially, we ordered our marriage certificate in Georgia and had it notarized and apostilled while still in the US. Those forms are good for six months when making your initial application.
When we renew at the end of the year, we will need a new copy of our marriage certificate (notarized and apostilled again) but it can no be more than 30 days old, I think. For us, that means probably flying back to the US just to get a fresh copy with all the approvals, which is time consuming and costly. A local service will do it for us for $250. Trying to do it by mail can cut it close to the 30 day limit.
Some innovative gringos came up with a work-around by getting married in Costa Rica. My wife and I traveled to the central park in Atenas and participated in a mass wedding with 70+/- other gringo couples. With a CR wedding, getting a marriage certificate means simply going to the a government office and picking up a copy versus having to fly back to the US for the US marriage certificate.
So my task today was to see if I could get a copy of my CR marriage certificate before I need it at the end of the year when my renewal comes due. I had a lot of coaching from Pat Wegner who, along with her husband John, organized the mass wedding in Atenas. She instructed me on what to do and where to go. Rafael Valverde of Outlier Legal, who officiated the mass wedding and recorded our certificates, also gave me some pointers.
The Online Request
The instructions on how to get a copy are on the Tribunal Supremo De Electiones website.
Initially, I had some trouble entering my name. I kept entering my first, middle and last name, but the form just wanted my first and last name – Vaughn Evans.
So the result above is all the people matching the input data. Luckily, I am the only one with that name. An aside: the webpage is in Spanish, but my Chrome browser translates it into English on the fly, which is why you see the mix of Spanish and English above. Also note: it returns Vaughn “Will Not” Robert Evans, which I think means they know I do not have an extra family name like Ticos have.
The site responds with instructions and caveats. A few notes: #1 – the clerk provided the stamps at no cost; #2 – Note the timing restrictions so you do not show up before it’s ready. Personally, I have heard people just walking in and getting the certificate, so I am not sure how important pre-ordering the certificate is. Maybe, if things are crazy, it helps.
After reading the notes, press “Continue” and you come to the screen below. Note, the “Will Not” and “Do Not” entries. Do not worry about them. Select the number of copies you want and press “generate Application” button at the bottom.
Note on the bottom of the screen shot above, there is a pull-down box for where you prefer to pick up the certificate. You can see my choice was “Central San Jose” which I will give directions to below. If you do not want to come downtown, pick a location closer to where you live.
The next screen tells me my request was successfully submitted and the detail of that request. I printed this form and took it with me to the office and handed it in to the clerk.
Picking up a copy of the certificate
“Central San Jose,” the pickup location I selected above, translates into the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones building in the center of San Jose. Map
The building is well known to taxi drivers and easy to find.
When you enter the building, you first pass through security and a metal detector. There is an information booth up front and in each section of the building to direct you to the right area. For marriage certificates, you go to the right and keep going until you are at the back of the building.
“Certificaciones” is the area where the marriage certificates are issued. I arrived at 8 a.m. on a Thursday and they were not busy.
Head to the back of the seats and you will find a ticket machine to get your number for service.
If you are a senior (+65), you can choose the third button for the senior line, but if younger, press the first button for “usuario general.” There were not many people there when I was, so it probably made little difference in wait time.
Note, I was given K003 and when I sat down they were on K002. It looks like a DMV in the states, it’s really easy to navigate, and the service was quick.
After a minute (!!!) my number came up and I went to window 28 and handed the clerk my request form. She went to the back where I assume they had printed my marriage certificate beforehand, brought it back to her desk and attached two stamps and stamped the paperwork. I had heard it cost some small fee but when I offered money, the clerk said there was no charge.
So this is the final product–a computer printout with two pasted-on stamps and three rubber stamps.
So back to my cussing at the beginning. I think the entire process took 3 or 4 minutes. I had loaded up my phone with an hour’s worth of reading, but I was in and out before I knew it. Here is a picture of the room, which you can see is almost empty. I guess they would not have all those chairs unless they needed them, so maybe it is crowded at times. For reference, I went there on a Thursday morning at 8 a.m.
I want to mention the building is beautiful. It is well laid out with great signage, easy to traverse, and architecturally interesting. I would enjoy working here. Also, there is a cool park out front you should take the time to enjoy. And finally, the train station to Cartago and Heredia (Estación de Ferrocarril al Atlántico) is by the park for folks who might like to come into town by train to pick up their certificate.
I noticed that this is where I would come for a replacement cedula, and birth and death certificates too. Again, you can see everything is clearly marked.
Overall, an easy and great experience.
September 8,2016 update
I changed clinics and had to get an updated marriage certificate. You know the whole can not be older than 30 days rule. So, I followed the process above again but they through a slight twist in the mix this time. I went to the counter like always and this time the clerk told me to go to the last window where a woman appeared to have all the requested out ready to go. Last time, the clerk must have walked down to the last window and gotten the paper for me. Second change up was this time the clerk directed me to the Caja to buy a stamp while last time the clerk got the stamp and did not charge me??? It was c50 (10 cents) for the four stamps for the two copies I had requested. I took the stamps back to the last window clerk who affixed them and stamped them and I was set to go.
Here is the window where you buy your stamps
Finally, I noticed this warning for gringos who might go crazy dealing with Costa Rican bureaucracy.
Dear Users Threat to an official shall be punished with imprisonment from one month to two years who threatens an official cause of his duties, addressing him personally or publicly, by written, telegraphic or telephone communication through official channels. amended by Law No. 8224 of 13 March 2002, repealing the offense of Contempt) Article 309
Lastly, I was curious where the date stamp was such that the clinic knew it was less than 30 days old. The date you request the form is shown at the bottom of the form spelled out in words