Last week, my friend Isabela (her real name) called me and asked if my new maid, Ginger (not her real name), could leave my house to go babysit for guests in one of Isabela’s rental condos. Seems the wife was giving birth RIGHT NOW and someone needed to go watch the two year old.

Sure, no problemo! A taxi comes, takes Ginger. I end up doing my own laundry. As horrible as that is, I figure things could be worse.

Later, Isabela and I are chatting. I’m wondering, didn’t this woman know she was having a baby, like asap? Wouldn’t this be an odd time to take a vacation? Having never given birth, I’m not exactly sure how anxious or not I’d be, but it seems like giving birth on vacation in a foreign land would be a tad nerve-wracking.

Isabela listens and chuckles. She tells me this particular condo is nicknamed The Maternity Ward. That there have been 15 babies born there in the last 18 months! I’m stunned.

This, she explains, is the Baby Back Door: when a baby is born in Costa Rica, that baby is a citizen. Which makes the parents and the rest of the family citizens. Not just residents, like us, but actual citizens. With all the rights of citizenship: you can work, you can vote, you get a Costa Rican passport, you have dual citizenship with your country of origin.

And you get all these rights immediately. For a young couple moving to Costa Rica, with no pension, no nest egg, no Google stock bought at $85 and sold last Thursday… for a young couple needing an income, this is the most sensible way to go about it. Move here, give birth, gain citizenship, earn a living. Simple.

I guess this is how people have been doing it all over the world, including in the U.S., for years. Duh.

We get our cedulas [SAY-doo-lahce, I.D.s] next month. We are officially rentistas [wren-TEE-stahce, basically we are renting residency]. This is a temporary residency, like pensionado [pen-see-oh-NAH-do, someone with a pension] or one of the investor residency visas. Not as temporary as the "perpetual tourist" who has to leave every 90 days for 3 days – what a pain that is. But temporary nonetheless. We can’t work or vote, but can otherwise enjoy our lives here. Still U.S. residents with all those obligations (read IRS and draft). You can divorce your country of origin, but only after you are a citizen of your adopted country.

Here’s the main problem for young people without deep pockets: to qualify for rentista, you have to have money in a bank (in your home country, like ours, or in a Costa Rican bank, just has to be approved by migración) to prove solvency. For us, it was $60,000 which equals $1,000 a month for 5 years. As of 12 August 2006 (days after we applied for residency), the law changed and that amount is now quite a bit higher. Today, a family of four has to deposit $180,000: $60K for each adult and $30K for each minor child. What young family has $180K to let sit in the bank? Our old family couldn’t have done that! Too bad I don’t have a uterus. No, wait, that’s a good thing.

In three years, we can switch to permanent residency which will allow us to work and take our required monetary deposit out of the bank. Still, we won’t be citizens. Since we aren’t birthing any babies here and Hal won’t let me marry anyone else, gaining citizenship will require passing a test, in Spanish, on Costa Rica’s history, government, geography, the whole nine yards. Not sure I could ever pass that test.

Costa Rica’s newest citizens have been planning this vacation for over a year now. They knew they wanted out of the U.S., knew they wanted Costa Rica, knew they wanted at least one more child. They researched their options, stumbled onto the Baby Back Door idea, got pregnant, rented the condo to arrive 8.5 months into the pregnancy, got here and boom: baby and citizenship in one swell foop. What can you say, but mazel tov!

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