exploring, examining, exchanging, expressing
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
One of Life's Certainties
Since it is terribly difficult for foreigners to get work visas in Costa Rica, I've found that many schools treat teachers like independant contractors. Thus, teachers are required to submit receipts (facturas) for their hours. They also must get a tax ID number (cedula). Luckily, the nice lady at ULatina gave me detailed instructions on how to acquire this number. Since I had nothing better to do today, I decided to give it a shot. With instructions and maps in my pocket, I hopped on the bus to San Jose.

The Administracion Tributaria is in the west part of town, beyond where Avenida Central becomes Paseo Colon. I'd not explored this area yet. It's a bit seedier than other parts. Safe enough during the day, so long as you're careful, but I wouldn't hang around there after dusk. I got to see the area known as Coca-Cola, where many of the major bus stops are. Typical of Costa Rican addresses, the location really has nothing to do with Coca-Cola. A bottling plant existed there years and years ago, but no sign of the building remains.

The directions got me to the office, no problem. Now I had to see if they'd get me through a tangle of beaurocracy.

I stood in a relatively short line for the information desk. When it was my turn, I ventured a hopeful "Habla Ingles?" but was met with a negative shake of the head. I was prepared. I'd found a brochure in the lobby describing the registration process. I smiled and pointed to the name of the form I needed: "D-140 Declaración de Inscripción, modificación de datos y desinscripción - Registro de Contribuyentes." She gave it to me and marked the lines I had to complete. I was uncertain about one, but she described it and through process of elimination and a little guesswork, I figured it out. Keep in mind, this is all in Spanish. But government forms are the same everywhere.

Next I had to wait in a much longer line to get the form stamped. Luckily, there were seats for this wait. Each time the line moved, everyone shifted seats. It was the world's most depressing game of musical chairs. While I waited, I watched the clerks' interactions with other people submitting the same form. Some had long, involved conversations leading to frantic phone calls and shuffling of papers. Others were whisked right through. Based on my observations, I gave myself a 50/50 chance of making it through the process without having to give up due to lack of language understanding. If they started asking a lot of questions, I would have to bow out and come back with someone who could translate. I really didn't want to do that.

A little over an hour later, I was at the head of the line. I took my mostly-completed form and my passport over to the clerk, who looked it over and started typing away on her computer. Immediately, my name was an error that forced her to make some changes. People in Latin American countries use two last names (the mother's and the father's). No biggie. Clearly they've dealt with gringo names before. Then there was another glitch. I had been told to put "servicios professionales" for my economic activity. Apparently this wasn't specific enough for her. She started rattling off types of professions. I decided I might as well call myself a "profesor." More typing. Finally, she brought out the big stamp and made my documents official. She needed to explain something, so she asked if I understood any Spanish at all. I replied with my usual: "un poco." She said, in English, that she spoke no English. We smiled at each other and she began speaking in very slow, very clear Spanish. Even at that, I picked out about 5% of the words. She was explaining that I would need to have facturas printed with my tax number on them. I understood that much only because it was mentioned in the instructions I was given. She had me review my information and I was done! Whee... now I can pay taxes if I ever start earning money.

I'm going to include the instructions from ULatina here, because they were so helpful. Hopefully the university won't mind. Perhaps someone else will find them as useful as I did.

To be compensated for your services, all teachers must obtain a cedula number and have a book of receipts (facturas) printed with their name, address and cedula number. Getting this number allows you to pay taxes at the end of the fiscal year, which ends September 30 every year.

How to get Facturas: First you have to go to the Administración Tributaria. This is located in downtown San Jose. You head down Paseo Colon toward the Parque la Sabana. Address: Barrio Don Bosco, 400 meters south and east of the Pizza Hut on Paseo Colon.

After you pass Academia Europea, go a few more blocks to the west. You're going to turn left (south) at the corner where there's a bike shop called Piesa (There's a Pali store across the street too). Then you walk a few more blocks. There will be a chocolate shop on the right-hand side. Keep walking until you get to this tall government style building. It's on the right side and it takes up the whole block. The building has a red-brick facade. You have to walk to the end of the block past a parking lot, turn the corner to the right and there's a small set of stairs and an entrance. Just inside the door there was a woman at a desk who will give you the form.

You want to register for a cedula number. The paper you fill out should say "Declaración de Inscripción, modificación y desinscripción en el registro de
contribuyentes." You need your passport. And you need to write that your datos de la actividad economica begin sometime after the day you go to this office (you can't tell them that you've already started working). In the description of the type of economic activity, you write "servicios professionales." You also need your exact address (150 metros oeste del... blah, blah) and your telephone number.

Once you fill out the form you will need to go inside and get it stamped. They will tell you where to go and what to do. There is no cost to get a cedula number. Once that's stamped, they'll show you a list of authorized receipt printing stores.