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Residency in the Dominican Republic

Update: On October 19th, 2011, the President of the Dominican Republic passed the Decree that establishes the regulations for the Immigration Law, which is supposed to be enforced immediately. The Immigration Law establishes a procedure that its different from the one described in this website; however, the process to obtain Dominican residency, as of today, remains the same, but for the reason explained, the process might change or new documents might be requested at any given time in the future.

Residency in the Dominican Republic can be a straight forward process, as long as your paperwork is well organised and you use a good lawyer. If you are familiar with the Spanish language, you can manage the process on your own. However, we normally advise clients to use a lawyer in the first instance and then manage their own residency renewals.

General Immigration Law No. 285-04, enacted August 15, 2004, and Law No. 875 of July 21, 1978, govern the flow of migrants to and from the Dominican Republic, and grant the Immigration Department (Dirección General de Migración) the authority to control the national borders and administer the law. 

ADMISSION TO THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

A foreign national is admitted to the Dominican Republic either as a "nonresident" or "resident." Nonresidents are those who intend to stay in the country for a limited time for a particular purpose such as pleasure or business, and require a visa or tourist card for legal entry. A resident is a foreign national who is staying in the country for an extended period and has obtained legal residency status, evidenced by a residency card.

NONRESIDENT STATUS

A nonresident foreign national requires permission to enter and stay in the country. Foreign nationals arriving from countries that are party to a dispensation treaty, generally developed countries, are permitted entry by a tourist card and do not need a visa. Tourist cards are purchased for a nominal amount at one of the country's international airports at the time of entry and before passing through customs. They are valid for three months. Foreign nationals who are not citizens of a country covered by such a treaty need to obtain a visa before traveling to the Dominican Republic.

Application for a visa is made to a Dominican Consulate in the foreign national's country of origin, or if no such Consulate exists, to a Dominican Consulate in a nearby country. Several types of visas are available depending on the purpose of the visit: Tourist, Business, Work, and Student. The criteria required for each varies, and the type of visa granted is determined by the Immigration Department. In addition, the time for obtaining a visa varies depending on the practice of the particular Consulate. Visa applications are granted or denied at the discretion of the government. Visas must be obtained before arrival and are typically valid for three months. They cannot be obtained while in the Dominican Republic.

A major difference between a tourist card and a visa is the consequence of expiration. When a tourist card expires, the foreign national is considered in "overstay" status. The foreign national need not leave the country, but exit taxes accrue at a rate of up to 1000 Dominican pesos per month and must be paid before departing from the country. The accrued tax can be paid at the Immigration Department anytime or at the airport before departure. There is no restriction on the number of times a foreign national present on a tourist card may exit and reenter. Upon reentry, however, the foreign national must purchase a new tourist card.

In contrast, a foreign national admitted by a visa is considered "illegally present" in the country when the visa expires. Consequently, this foreign national must leave the country before the visa expires and apply for a new visa from a Dominican Consulate outside the country before reentry or face deportation. 

RESIDENCY STATUS

A foreign national, such as a retiree, a person intent on doing business, or an investor, who seeks to stay in the Dominican Republic for a year or more should consider obtaining residency status. Residency status affords the foreign national legal status in the country entitling the person to an identification card (Cédula de Identidad Personal) and access to a more favorable tax structure. Residency status may be sought while the foreign national is in the country on a visa or tourist card; applicants must be in good health, have sufficient economic means and a clean police record. 

The process presently involves two steps: temporary residency or "provisional residency" and permanent residency. Each step typically takes up to six months from the date that an application is officially admitted to the Immigration Department.

First Step: Provisional Residency

Provisional Residency is acquired by submitting a package of several properly prepared documents to the Immigration Department. Some of the required documents must be obtained by the foreign national in the country of origin and others must be obtained or prepared by a Dominican law firm. Document preparation must be coordinated to avoid having one document expire before another document is obtained. The package of documents must be complete and each document current before the application can be filed with the Immigration Department.

Document Preparation and Medical Exam

Foreign nationals are responsible for obtaining authenticated copies of their birth certificates and "certificates of good behavior.” A "certificate of good behavior" is also commonly referenced as a "criminal background check" or "no criminal record," and is typically obtained from a police department. The foreign national must consult offices in the country of origin for information on how to obtain and authenticate each document. If the foreign national is from a country that is a member of The Hague Convention, the documents must be authenticated through a simplified process called an "apostille,1" governed by the country of origin. After authentication, each document must be translated into Spanish either in the country of origin or in the Dominican Republic. Translations done in the country of origin must also be authenticated as documents separate from the originals.

Next, the foreign national must come personally to the Immigration Department in Santo Domingo for a special medical exam. Appearance before the Immigration Department requires observance of certain customs. First, applicants are seen on a "first come, first serve" basis. The foreign national and Dominican attorney should arrive early in the morning to reduce the wait. Second, wearing proper attire is critical: shoes must be enclosed (no sandals), and no shorts or sleeveless shirts or blouses are permitted.

The medical exam consists of a chest x-ray and a blood and urine test, including a test for drugs. Prescribed medications should be discussed with your Dominican attorney and listed and presented to the examining physician during the exam. Although the completed exam is valid for one year, there must be at least six months of validity remaining at the time the application is submitted to the Immigration Department.

Finally, after the authenticated and translated documents and medical exams are ready, a Dominican attorney will need approximately one month to obtain and prepare the remaining documents for the application. 

Filing the Application

The Dominican attorney will personally submit the application to the Immigration Department, which will immediately admit or reject it. If admitted, the Department will issue a "Letter of Deposit" within three or four working days from the date of admission. This date signifies the beginning of the official inspection process, which can take up to six months. Upon inspection, the Department could still reject the application, or deem there to be a defect in a document and require additional information. The most common obstacles in this process are blood test results and clearance through Interpol (International Crime Police Organization), an intergovernmental organization that facilitates international police cooperation. The attorney of record will be notified by phone of any decision, and given an opportunity to correct defects or add information. Meanwhile, document expiration dates must continue to be monitored.

Provisional Residency Awarded

Provisional residency status is official when the foreign national is presented with the Provisional Residency Card. The Immigration Department will notify the attorney of record that the final papers are ready, and the foreign national must appear again before the Immigration Department to receive the official card. The date of the official card signifies the date of residency status, effective for one year, and non-renewable. Upon expiration, the foreign national may apply for permanent residency. 

Second Step: Permanent Residency

Application for permanent residency requires an updated medical exam at the Immigration Department, and payment of a late penalty at the rate of 1000 Dominican pesos per month from the date of the expiration of the provisional residency until the date the application is admitted. The results of the new exam, the Provisional Residency card, and other documents prepared by a Dominican attorney are submitted to the Immigration Department. If admitted, the Department will issue a Letter of Deposit within six months from the date of admission. This Letter entitles the foreign national to a Permanent Residency card, and the foreign national must again personally appear before the Immigration Department to receive the card. This card is effective for two years, and unlike provisional residency, is renewable for a fee at the Immigration Department an unlimited number of times. Renewal periods can be from two years to ten years in two-year increments, and the longer the renewal period, the greater the renewal fee. There is no obligation to become a Dominican citizen. 

The Time Required to Obtain Residency

Although the official process for residency involves up to six months to obtain provisional residency, one-year to wait before applying for permanent residency, and up to six months to obtain permanent residency, the actual time for obtaining the Permanent Residency card will vary depending on:

a) the time the foreign national needs to collect and authenticate documents,

b) the time for a Dominican attorney to prepare local documents once the foreign national's documents are received, and

c) the time required to provide additional information to the Immigration Department, if requested, which could involve authenticating additional documents from the foreign national's country of origin.

EXPEDITED RESIDENCY

Law 171-07, enacted July 13, 2007, acknowledges the benefit of foreign investments to the general and economic well-being of the Dominican people and nation. Foreign nationals meeting certain criteria can acquire residency status within forty-five working days from the date an application is admitted for inspection at the Immigration Department (Decree No. 950-01).

Eligibility Criteria

Property owners with rental income, investors, and retirees are eligible to apply for residency on an expedited basis if certain income requirements and other specific criteria are met. The term used to describe this status is "Investment Residency," and is not always easy to obtain. The foreign national must submit the same documents required for the normal residency process, and additional documents that evidence the foreign national's eligibility for Investment Residency.

Property Owner with Rental Income

a) Income may be derived from rental property anywhere in the world.

b) Income must be a minimum of US$2000 per month. An additional income of US$250 per month per minor in the immediate family and spouse accompanying the applicant must be added.

c) Proof of rental income evidenced by an official document such as a lease must be certified, authenticated, and translated into Spanish for submission to the Immigration Department.

Investor Criteria

a) The investment must be US$200,000 or more. 

b) The investment may be direct or indirect, for example, a real estate transaction, a deposit in a bank account, or an investment in a project in the Dominican Republic.

c) The investment must be registered in the Dominican Republic, evidenced by a Certificate of Investment. Regulation 214-04 on Foreign Investment Registration stipulates the criteria for registering investments with the Department of Export and Investments (CEI-RD). The CEI-RD issues a Certificate of Investment approximately one month from the date of application, and the Certificate must be regularly renewed. The holder of a valid Certificate of Investment can sponsor immediate family members, if an individual, or company employees, if a corporation, for expedited residency.

Retiree Criteria

a) Income must come from a public or private plan providing retirement income.

b) Income must be at least US$1,500 per month. An additional income of US$250 per month per minor in the immediate family and spouse accompanying the applicant must be added.

c) Proof of retirement income must be certified by the plan provider, authenticated, and translated into Spanish for submission to the Immigration Department.

Processing Time and Residency Validity

Although the time for the expedited process for residency is set at forty-five days, the actual length of the time required to obtain the Investment Residency card will depend on the time needed to authenticate documents in the country of origin, take the medical exam, and prepare local documents for submission to the Immigration Department.

Investment Residency is valid for one year. One benefit is that within six months of obtaining this status, the foreign national may apply for "Investment Citizenship."One benefit is that within six months of obtaining this status, the foreign national may apply for "Investment Citizenship." If citizenship is not sought, the foreign national has the option of applying for permanent residency.

Text available from Guzman Ariza Assoc. visit them at www.drlawyer.com.

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