When a foreigner wants to become a resident in Costa Rica, it is mandatory to join the Caja del Seguro Social. In the last two weeks, I have been telling you all about my adventure of getting my Caja carnet as well as an authenticated marriage certificate from Canada.
I am telling my story so others might be able to learn from this and save time and effort. It’s a hassle to join the Caja del Seguro Social, but a very necessary hassle.
I have been digging through lots of information so I’d be able to join the Caja del Seguro Social in an organized matter. I found some information to be good and some not good. A computer club friend sent me the following information:
4 Options to join CAJA
There are 4 options to join the Caja del Seguro Social and they’re all quite a bit different from each other.
• As an Employee
You can join the Caja del Seguro Social as an employee or empleado. The patrono, or employer of the employee is supposed to deduct the CAJA premium based on a percentage of the employee’s salary and send it to CAJA along with the employer’s share. This is obligatory for all and non-negotiable.
• As an independent Worker
It is also possible to join the Caja del Seguro Social as an Independent Worker or Trabajador Independiente. The Independent Worker, such as a doctor, lawyer, dentist, taxi drivers, etc. is obligated to send in 5.5% (it is increased periodically nationwide) of their net income for health care and another 6% if under 55 for the CAJA pension.
• As a Voluntary
Another way to join the Caja del Seguro Social is as a “Voluntary” or Voluntario, NON_WORKING applicant, non-group plan. The percentages are the same as for the Independent Worker. It is 6% of an evaluated income and ASSIGNED by CAJA at the time of application for health care. And if under 55 another 6% for CAJA pension purposes. So that would be a total of 12% if under 55.
• As a Group Member
The last option to join the Caja del Seguro Social is as a member of a group plan such as ARCR has. The regulations covering group plans are contained within the same CAJA regulations, which cover the voluntary direct applicants. But under the group plan, one pays the flat group rate, which is not based on income. The group plan is the only way to join without having the premium based on income. CAJA membership through ARCR is $59 per month if over 55 but it has enrolled the maximum number allowed for in the contract.
After studying the above information I decided that the best plan for me to join the Caja del Seguro Social was to go on my own. Get my own carnet and not have to go through this bureaucratic nightmare again – ever!
A Visit To The Caja
I found out that you cannot make an appointment with the CCSS over the phone – you must go in person. Which I did. One morning I went with my husband, both of us with books in hand (just like the old days when we were getting our residency) to the CCSS building in downtown San José. What a madhouse! There were people everywhere sitting, standing, and leaning against walls, children running around. The children appeared to be the only ones having a good time.
The first thing I had to do was go to window No. 1 where I got a ficha (number). My number was 34, and the number showing was 75. “Oh boy”, I thought, “I’ve got a long wait ahead of me”. I started chatting with the young man in front of me and he saw my number, and my face, then he said, I’ll give you my number, 07 and I’ll take yours”. How kind was that?
So things were not quite so bleak and my spirits rose a bit knowing that there was a kind person in the crowd.
Senior Citizen Card
Since it looked like I still had a long wait ahead of me (the numbers were changing about every 10 minutes or so), I figured I might as well have my Gold Card replaced, I had lost it somewhere along the line. So I walked down (way down) to the basement area to the Ciudadeños de Oro section, I shouted upe. Because no one was there and that’s the Costa Rican way of trying to get someone’s attention.
Finally, a little man turned up and checked my name on the computer. He said, “fine, you’re already in the system, come back in 15 days for your replacement card”. So at least I made the lost time useful and it was easy, which gave me a bit of hope.
When I got back, there had only been a movement of 3 numbers. So I got out my book and started to read. My husband noticed there was an empty seat, so he grabbed it and luckily for us one cleared next to him so I got to sit down too. We had a 2-hour wait, it turned out that a lot of people got fed up waiting and left, so sometimes the numbers went quicker than other times. Finally, my number was called and I went to the wicket and the fellow asked me what I wanted.
I told him I wanted my own carnet so he gave me a form called a “boleto”, on the back it had my appointment date and time. It was for the next day at 9:05. He said to come 10 minutes early. Then he also gave me a form to fill out along with instructions on what to bring. I had to bring the “boleto” back to him in the morning and that they would call my name. He also told me not to lose it because then I’d have to start over from the beginning.
I also invite you to read the final episode of the Caja Saga.
Paula Kat-Friedman and her husband Steve started Genesis II Cloud Forest Preserve and Wildlife Refuge, south of San José in the 90’s. After selling the business, they have retired. Paula still writes for The Easy Times once in a while, where she offers her experiences as an expat in Costa Rica.
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