I get several emails a week from people wanting to come to Costa Rica to live and work. Under Rentista or Pensionada status (which is what most people qualify for under immigration status) you can NOT work. The only way you can work is if you come in as an employee of a company that sponsors you or as a permanent resident.
Now coming in as an employee of a company applies only to those positions that can not be filled by a Costa Rican. Many of the larger corporations, Intel, Proctor and Gamble, Hewlett Packard have Expats living here working under a work visa. You can not enter the country then find a job at one of these places and expect that they will hire you. They will not because you can not work legally in Costa Rica.
This may sound confusing and it really is so I will try to explain… If you are the general manager of Intel you can get a work permit because Intel can not find a Costa Rican that they feel is qualified to do this job. Therefore immigration will grant the general manager and his/her family a work permit.
If you want to work for Intel as say an engineer, you can not get a work permit as there are literally thousands of engineers in Costa Rica that can fill this position.
If you are a permanent resident (married to a Costa Rican for example) you can get permanent residency and the legal right to work. If you stay in the country for 3 years under Rentista or Pensionada status you can apply for permanent residency and you can legally work. This was according to the old law (prior to August 12, 2006) and I’m not sure if that has changed but I don’t believe it did. I will check into to that and let you know if it changed.
Now if you’re completely confused my apologies as I tried to explain this as best I could.
Bottom line is in the majority of cases you can NOT move to Costa Rica and work legally.