I get a few emails every month from people seeking information about retiring in Guatemala. The fact that they’re considering Guatemala tells me they’ve done their homework and haven’t been “steered” towards the usual suspects, such as Costa Rica or Panama. I’m in no way putting down choices other than Guatemala because, as I can only speak of what I know, and that means Antigua Guatemala.
As always, I recommend you travel to the country first and stay for a few months *before* you uproot yourself and loved ones. Best to postpone the often-frustrating task of filling out paperwork and sinking money into lawyer fees until you’re sure you want to put down roots.
Speaking of sinking money into lawyer fees, you ought to check out my friend’s blog, TheNewExpat.com, a Gringo that has recently retired to Guatemala, for an insight into how the process works. Compare his experience to what the requirements on the books are here, as listed below. There can often be quite the disparity between the two.
There are different types of visas available. Each has a set of requirements depending on what your intentions are when arriving in Guatemala. If you’re here for a short-term and don’t plan on working in Guatemala or opening a business, then it’s easier to leave the country every six months and play the tourist visa game.
However, if you are thinking of staying in Guatemala long-term and eventually work or set up a business here, consider becoming a resident.
*** If you want to know what are the actual benefits of the Guatemalan Pensionado Program, see my article about (new window) Guatemala Pensionado Program Benefits.
Retiring in Guatemala
With a (tourist) visa, you’ll be able to work as a volunteer in many of the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that have set up shop in Guatemala. You can also buy property here without the need to become a resident.
However, if you want to work for a Guatemalan company in a paid role or have a business, you’ll need to become a resident. Many foreigners come to Antigua with their tourist visas and try to land jobs as bartenders or at local restaurants – this is illegal. You’ll be deported, fined Q10,000 if found, and likely never allowed to enter the country again.
While many people decide to engage in the activity anyway, do know that Police does conduct immigration raids in Antigua from time to time. Not a good outcome for a job that is likely to pay far less than comparable jobs elsewhere.
There are different types of visas available. Each has a set of requirements depending on what your intentions are when arriving in Guatemala. If you’re here for a short-term and don’t plan on working in Guatemala or opening a business, then it’s easier to leave the country every six months and play the tourist visa game. However, if you are thinking of staying in Guatemala long-term and eventually work or set up a business here, consider becoming a resident.
Temporary Guatemalan Residency
The easiest path is to apply for Temporary Residence. This type of residence will allow you to work and invest in Guatemala. Temporary Residency permits are good for two years, at which time you can renew for another two years. However, know that after two years with a Temporary Residency Permit you’ll be able to apply for a Permanent Residency permit.
Regarding government paperwork, you will be required to follow the often cumbersome Pasos de Ley (Lawful Steps), which is a fancy way of saying “get your paperwork stamps” – they love stamps here. Often, your foreign documents won’t be accepted by the Guatemalan government until they have been verified as genuine by a Guatemalan official. This process will vary depending on what you’re trying to do and what international document you’re being required to turn in.
A common way to certify your foreign document is to take your papers to the local Guatemalan embassy in your home country. If there isn’t a Guatemalan embassy in your country, your documents can be certified here, as long as you can provide a copy that has been translated into Spanish by an official translator.
In Guatemala, you’ll need to take your documents to the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores (Ministry of Foreign Relations) in Guatemala City, where a consular officer will certify them as valid. For this, you’ll need official stamps or timbres. These are not expensive, ranging in price from Q1 to Q5. Stamps are available at any office supplies store and in many cases, right outside the gate of whatever government building, you’re required to take your documents for verification.
Here are the documents you need to get your temporary residency, according to Guatemala’s Immigration Department:
- A recent photograph.
- Original passport and photocopies of every page in your passport authenticated (notarized) by a lawyer.
- A certificate of validation for your passport, issued by the embassy or consulate of your country, accredited to the Government of Guatemala (with “Pasos de Ley”). A certified birth certificate will do for people from countries with which Guatemala has no diplomatic relations.
- Proof that you have no criminal record in the country where you have lived for the last five years (with “Pasos de Ley”). If that nation does not extend a similar document, you must show certificate stating so. Also, provide an affidavit (notarized letter) of “Carencia de Antecedentes Penales” (Lack of Criminal History), and a Police report from Guatemala.
- Affidavit by a Guatemalan sponsor, or sponsoring company, guaranteeing financial responsibility for the person applying for residency and proof of their economic solvency.
If your sponsor is an actual person, not a company, they will need to provide the following to prove they’re able to take responsibility for you:
- Have authenticated photocopies of tax returns (VAT-ISR) for the last tax period.
- Bring a legalized photocopy card of your Tax Identification Number (NIT).
- Certified letter showing current job and income using the letterhead of accountant or employer, if applicable.
- Notarized photocopy of sponsor’s Documento Personal de Identification (DPI) – the national ID card that recently replaced the Guatemalan cédula.
- Your brief statement describing what sort of economic activity you’ll be conducting in Guatemala.
If your sponsor is a company with legal standing in Guatemala, they will need to provide the following to prove they’re able to take responsibility for you:
- Financial statements (balance sheet and income statements), or a recent certification stating that corporation belongs to a Guatemalan trade union.
- A notarized copy of the company’s business license.
- A notarized copy of the identification document for the legal representative of the company, plus a notarized photocopy showing said representative’s status as a legal representative of the business.
- Job offer letter or letter of employment and a current work permit issued by the Ministry of Labor.
Pensionado o Rentista (Pensioner or Investor) Residency
This type of residency is useful for those who have a fixed income from overseas. If you’re retired and drawing a pension, this might be your best option.
The main difference between this type of residence and others is that you’ll be unable to work in a paid position (have a job where someone else in Guatemala pays your wages). This doesn’t mean you’re barred from all economic activity here, as in many cases, you’ll still be able to run your own business.
The primary requirement for achieving residency in Guatemala as a pensioner or investor is that applicants be able to prove they have a permanent lawful income of $1,000USD. This monthly income must be generated outside of Guatemala.
Pensioners are considered to be those who are receiving a foreign government’s pension and, or, retirement income, or a pension provided by an international organization or private company.
Investors are those who enjoy stable, permanent income, generated abroad the following way:
- From deposits, and, or, investments in banks established elsewhere.
- From investments in companies established abroad.
- Remittances are originating from real estate income, religious institutions, or academic scholarships.
- Investments in securities issued in domestic currency by financial institutions legally authorized to operate in Guatemala, where they were purchased with funds obtained by foreign exchange in any of those same institutions.
- Investments in securities issued in domestic currency by financial institutions legally authorized to operate in Guatemala, where they were purchased with funds obtained by foreign exchange in any of those same institutions, provided that they were purchased with funds raised by the change foreign currency at any of those institutions.
- Investments in securities denominated in foreign and, or, national currency with the State or its agencies, provided they are obtained by the foreign exchange in any of the country’s financial institutions legally authorized.
Once you receive this type of residency, you can travel in and out of the country as you wish. You will, however, lose your status as a resident if you are out of the country longer than a year. That is unless you can prove that illness forced you to be absent from Guatemala for longer than a year.
Pensioners and investors are also allowed to file an application on behalf of their spouse, unmarried children under 18, any disabled adult children, and grown children younger than 25 years old provided that attend a university and are financially dependent on the pensioner or investor.
For every family member you add to your original petition, you’ll be required to prove an additional $200USD in income each.
Here are the documents you’ll need:
- A recent photograph.
- Original passport and complete photocopy of every page in passport notarized by a lawyer.
- A certificate of validation for your passports issued by the embassy or consulate of your country accredited to the Government of Guatemala (with “Pasos de Ley”), or certified birth certificate for persons from countries with which Guatemala has no diplomatic relations.
- Proof that you have no criminal record in the country where you have lived for the last five years (with “Pasos de Ley”). If that nation does not extend a similar document, you must show a certificate stating so and an affidavit of “Carencia de Antecedentes Penales” (Lack of Criminal History), and a Police report from Guatemala.
- Certified documents (with “Pasos de ley”) stating that you receive a monthly pension income or one thousand U.S. dollars ($1,000USD) or more, or its equivalent in local currency. Remember that each additional dependent will require you show an extra income of U.S. $200USD. This document must have a contact email address of the entity issuing the pension or income statement.
- If your documents are in a foreign language, they must be translated into Spanish by a sworn translator authorized as such by the Guatemalan government.
- Evidence of-of deposits made from abroad into Guatemalan banks.
Getting permanent residency is not that different regarding paperwork than what’s required to apply for temporary residence. The main benefit is not having to reapply every two years continually, as you’re required to do with a temporary residence.
And there you have it! Not too bad, is it? Until you have to go through it, that is.
Want more info about retiring in Guatemala?
check out the Living in Antigua Guatemala guide.