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1.0 An overview of research permits required in Costa Rica.


Research permits are required by the Costa Rican government (Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía, MINAE) and its subagency SINAC (Sistema Nacional de Areas de Conservación) for any research projects involving the observation, capture, handling, transport and/or import/export of plants, animals or microorganisms conducted anywhere in the country. If the research involves collecting genetic, molecular or biochemical samples a permit will be required from MINAE CONAGEBIO (Comisión Nacional para la Gestión de la Biodiversidad).

Researchers from the University of Costa Rica are also required to obtain permits from MINAE SINAC.  If the UCR research involves the collection of genetic, molecular or biochemical samples, a CONAGEBIO permit is not necessary; however, such research requires approval of an agreement between UCR and OTS regarding potential commercial use of any products of such research.

For research projects in national parks, review and approval by the relevant office of the conservation area under MINAE SINAC (Sistema Nacional de Areas de Conservación) is provided as part of the research permit approval.

If research is to be conducted on private land (including OTS field stations), evidence of permission from the landowner where the research is to be conducted must be included with the application to MINAE.  OTS requires that all research conducted at its field stations undergo a technical review by the scientific staff of the stations to insure that environmental impacts are compatible with station management and to safeguard other research projects from possible impacts. Owners of other private property must provide a letter of permission for research on their land.

Courses engaged in observational, non-destructive research projects are also required to obtain a permit. Students in the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program (REU) who are conducting research as part of an ongoing project at an OTS field station may be included as a participant on the station approval and MINAE permit requests of that project. A scientific passport will be required for REU students working with existing projects. REU students conducting independent projects will need to obtain station approval, a MINAE permit and a scientific passport.

Additional MINAE permits are required for export or import of biological material and for research involving genetic or biochemical sampling.OTS provides a service to facilitate the permit process to researchers conducting projects at its stations, to students in its courses and to researchers affiliated with its member institutions. We are unable to provide this service to non-affiliated researchers working outside of our stations.This guide will help you navigate these regulations and obtain the permits appropriate to your project, including those from OTS, from SINAC MINAE and from CONAGEBIO MINAE.

2.0 Permits for research on private land.

2.1 OTS Approvals for Research at its Field Stations

Overview: OTS field stations require that all research projects be reviewed by the station director or appropriate staff, or, in some cases, the station advisory committee, to insure that environmental impacts will be minimal and consistent with management guidelines for the station and to minimize conflict with other projects.  In most cases the station director or appropriate staff can review the project methodology and issue an approval letter.  If the project involves destructive sampling, major installations, permanent plots, collecting vertebrates or work with invasive or endangered species, however, the station advisory committee may be asked to review the proposal as well. If you will be conducting research at more than one station you will need to obtain approval from each station.

This is the first step in obtaining relevant MINAE permits for research at La Selva and Las Cruces. For research projects at Palo Verde, which is inside a national park, station approval is required to use OTS station facilities; SINAC MINAE will review the permit for research on lands in national parks, wildlife refuges and forest preserves.

Researchers proposing a project at an OTS station may request preliminary approval of their projects to facilitate grant applications. Please establish an account on the Researcher Database and submit an application for preliminary station approval via that website at least 2 weeks before a letter of support is needed. If funding is approved and you propose to implement the project you will need to request formal station approval as described below.

Who needs to apply? Project leaders and course coordinators. Note that only the project leader needs to apply for a station approval, not the individual participants in the project, although they should be listed on the project application. OTS requires that every project participant supply the personal information requested before an application for a MINAE research permit can be processed.

How much time should I allow? Projects requiring attention of the station advisory committee should allow a minimum of 3 weeks for review; otherwise an approval letter can be provided within two weeks of receipt of a completed application. Station approval must be obtained before applying for a MINAE permit and before beginning research.

Will I need to renew the OTS station approval? Station approval is good for 6 months (foreigners) or 1 year (Costa Rican nationals or residents) and should be renewed at the same time as the MINAE permit (see below). If methodology changes or new projects are added, the permit application should be appropriately amended or an additional permit sought.

What information do I need to submit? OTS requests that you complete the information required online through the Researcher Database. Information required for permission to conduct a research project at one of the OTS field stations includes information on the project leader and participants as well as the following information on the project itself:

  1. Project title.
  2. Field station(s) and other sites at which research will be conducted.
  3. Start and completion dates.
  4. The project proposal. It can be submitted in English or Spanish. A template for your information is provided here to insure that your proposal includes all relevant information; however, this information should be submitted online through the Researcher Database. This proposal will be used to evaluate the suitability of your project for the relevant OTS field station. It is important that your project proposal be complete and accurate. Be sure that any and all information is consistent with any forms required by MINAE (see below).
  5. List of participants and their e-mail addresses.
  6. Source of Funding.
  7. Research themes (keywords) encompassed by the project
  8. Signed agreement to abide by station policies. Download here.
  9. Please attach a copy of your proposal for funding if available.

How can OTS help? You should submit your information and proposal for station review online using Researcher Database. Once your project is reviewed, OTS staff will contact you by e-mail and will provide a formal letter that can be used to apply for a research permit and participant scientific passports from MINAE. Please contact the appropriate the station director with your questions regarding applications for station project approvals.

2.0 Permits for research on private land.

2.2 Permission for Research on other Private Land in Costa Rica

The researcher should obtain a letter from the landowner giving permission for work to be done on private property. This letter should be written in Spanish, addressed to SINAC and include the following information: researcher’s name and passport number, project title and the dates during which the research will be conducted. The letter should state that the landowner supports the field work. If the landowner is other than an individual the letter should be submitted on its letterhead. It is a good idea to provide a wide range of project dates to accommodate any unforeseen delays. A template for such a letter is provided here.

3.0 MINAE Permits for Research in Costa Rica

Overview: The Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía (MINAE) and its subagencies, CONAGEBIO (Comisión Nacional para la Gestión de la Biodiversidad) and SINAC (Sistema Nacional de Areas de Conservación), require permits for research projects involving the observation, capture, handling, transporting and/or exporting of plants, animals or microorganisms or samples of their DNA or biochemistry. MINAE will determine the permits required based on the objectives and methods described for the project. Depending on the nature of your project you will be required to obtain one or more of the following permits:

  • A MINAE SINAC research permit is required of all research projects involving the observation, capture, handling, transporting and/or exporting of plants, animals or microorganisms. Upon approval, MINAE SINAC will supply a permit and scientific passports/scientific license to collect for appropriate participants good for 6 mo for foreigners or 1 yr for Costa Ricans or Costa Rican residents (see below for the re-application process).
  • A permit from MINAE CONAGEBIO is required for research involving genetic, molecular or biochemical sampling. CONAGEBIO permits may be awarded for up to 36 months.
  • An export permit is required from MINAE if you plan to send biological samples outside of the country. The researcher is responsible for any additional permits necessary for importing biological material into the country of destination; MINAE requires a copy of this permit when you apply to export materials from Costa Rica.
  • An import permit is required from MINAE if you plan to bring biological samples into the country.
  • A phyto-sanitary permit will be required from Ministerio de Agricultura (MAG) for the export of live plants, animals or microorganisms.

3.0 MINAE Permits for Research in Costa Rica

3.1 MINAE SINAC Research Permit and Scientific Passport(s)

Who needs to apply? Project leaders should submit appropriate materials for the research permit; the research permit is awarded to the project in the name of the project leader as the primary contact with the government. Project leaders should also include information and photos to obtain scientific passports for project-affiliated personnel expected to be conducting field work. Additional participants can be added as they join the project. The following project personnel may require scientific passports if they will be conducting field work:

  • Co-Principal Investigators.
  • Collaborators and consultants.
  • Graduate students.
  • Postdoctoral Associates.
  • Field assistants.
  • Undergraduates working on affiliated projects.
  • Volunteers if working alone in the field.

Other associates (e.g., laboratory and office workers) should be listed on the application, but scientific passports are not required for these individuals if they are not doing field work.

A course coordinator should submit an application for the entire course for observational, non-destructive research projects; students in courses conducting field research are covered under the permit obtained by their course coordinator. Co-coordinators also should obtain scientific passports, but passports are not necessary for visiting faculty. Students conducting their own research projects or planning to export biological material must obtain a permit, however. REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) and NAPIRE (Native American and Pacific Islander Research Experiences) students should apply for a MINAE permit if they are conducting research not affiliated with an ongoing project at one of the OTS stations. REU and NAPIRE students conducting research as part of an ongoing project may be included as a participant on that project’s permit. Such participants will nevertheless need a scientific passport from MINAE.

How much time should I allow? Allow 4-6 weeks for OTS to obtain the permit and scientific passport. You should obtain this permit before beginning your research at an OTS field station.

Will I need to renew the MINAE permit? MINAE requires that progress reports and re-applications be submitted every 6 months (foreigners) or every year (Costa Rican nationals and residents).

What information should I submit? If you are a project leader or course coordinator you should submit the following information as MS-Word documents (not pdf files). They should be submitted in both digital and hardcopy with appropriate signatures. You may submit your application electronically through OTS to speed the review process. However, MINAE will require hardcopy with signatures before the permit is awarded. If you prefer to submit your application without an OTS intermediary, you will be required by MINAE to obtain a legal representative in Costa Rica. The guidelines outlined here assume that you are working through OTS as your legal representative.

  1. Curriculum vitae: 3 page maximum (In English or Spanish). A CV is required of all project participants except field and laboratory assistants.
  2. Project Description (In Spanish): MINAE provides a detailed description of the information to be included in the project description, copies of which in English here and Spanish here are available on the OTS web page. The project description is the basis on which MINAE will award the research permit and determine whether additional permits should be required. Accordingly, it is important that the description be clear and complete. In general it consists of a 4-6 page summary of the proposed research including title, location(s) including all proposed study sites, authors, dates, background, justification, objectives, methodology, chronology, expected results, bibliography and plans for communication of the results. Include details of any biological collections to be made (taxa, numbers of collections, locations, final disposition, etc), the people and institutions involved, and a description of the techniques to be used for capture, preservation, and study of organisms. Please consult the MINAE document for more details. Note that OTS stations require duplicate specimens of any plants collected be deposited in their herbaria.
  3. Passport photos: Provide two standard (4.0 x 5.0 cm) passport photos (not photocopies) for all project participants except field and laboratory assistants.
  4. Copy of your passport: A photocopy of the first pages of your passport (foreigners) or identification document (Costa Rican residents and nationals) with personal information and photo. This information should be included for all personnel requiring a scientific passport.
  5. Letter of endorsement from your home institution: (If in English provide a Spanish translation) Provide an official letter of endorsement from your home institution on the institution’s letterhead and bearing the institution’s embossed seal. If you are conducting your project as part of an OTS program such as an REU or NAPIRE, you may request a letter of endorsement from OTS in lieu of a letter from your institution. A copy of the recommended form for this endorsement is included here. Note that if you are working with vertebrates, US institutions require that you obtain an IACUC (Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee) permit from your institution.
  6. Land Owner Authorization: (Provide in Spanish) If you are working on private land, include a letter signed by the appropriate land owner approving the research to be done (See 2.2 above and here. If you are working in a national park, no separate authorization is required (see above), although you should specify where you propose to work in your proposal. An example of a letter from OTS for research at its stations is available here If your work will take place at an OTS research station, you will be required to sign an agreement with OTS.
  7. Payment: The fee for this service (see fee schedule in Table 1) may be paid by check (payable to “Organización para Estudios Tropicales, Inc.,” by authorization to charge your credit card, or by authorization to include the fee on your bill at an OTS field station. A form for credit card payment authorization is included on the OTS web page here. 
  8. MINAE Form: (In Spanish) Complete the MINAE application form attached here.

How OTS can help. OTS can review your documents for completeness and submit them to the appropriate offices at MINAE. OTS provides your official representation in Costa Rica and guarantees that you will abide by the terms of your permit. Once you have received your land-owner authorization, send all the appropriate information in both digital and hardcopy to the OTS Permits Office at the address below. NOTE: If your research is to be conducted exclusively at the Palo Verde Research Station, please send the hardcopy of your application to the attention of Dr. Mahmood Sasa at the address below.

Minor Porras (permits.ots@tropicalstudies.org)

Via Courier (FedEx, DHL, UPS etc.):
Organización para Estudios Tropicales (OET)
Attn: Minor Porras
Ciudad de la Investigación, UCR
De la entrada adjunta a LANAMME (Laboratorio Nacional de Materiales y Modelos Estructurales de la UCR) 400 mts Norte del portón acceso, edificio de ladrillo rojo.
San José, Costa Rica

Tel: 506-2524-0607
Fax: 506-2524-0608

Via mail: Organización para Estudios Tropicales (OET)
Attn: OTS Permits Office
Apartado 676-2050, San Pedro
San José, Costa Rica

Spanish Translations: Unfortunately, OTS is unable to provide translation services. If you have no personal access to translation services, please refer to a professional service. Translations do not need to be certified; however, we recommend that translations produced by Google Translate or other translating software be reviewed by someone proficient in the language. Applications have been rejected by MINAE when submitted directly as a Google Translate document.

OTS reserves the right to refuse this service at any time if it feels that a project will undermine its relationship with the Costa Rican authorities or the scientific community. Timely submission of documents and burden of proof are the responsibility of the applicant. OTS will not accept responsibility for delays caused by late application or incomplete documentation. Please follow the recommended timelines listed in the Appendix (Table 2).

3.0 MINAE Permits for Research in Costa Rica

3.2 Subsequent MINAE SINAC Permits

Who needs to apply? Project leaders with ongoing research projects must apply for a new permit every 6 months (foreigners) or 1 year (Costa Rican nationals and residents). There is no restriction on the number of times a new permit may be requested to continue a project.

How much time should I allow? Allow 4-6 weeks after the arrival of all submitted materials for notification of approval.

What information should I submit? MINAE SINAC project renewal requirements depend on the project design and potential environmental impacts. At a minimum you will be asked to submit the same documents indicated in the point 3.1 (MINAE Research Permit and Scientific Passport(s)) plus a progress report (Spanish). Submit a 1-page report describing progress, results, specimens collected, presentations presented, papers published and any future plans for the approved project. Include a copy of any published papers. Please consult the OTS Permits Office and allow sufficient time for the new permit to be reviewed.

How Can OTS Help? OTS can review your documents for completeness and submit them to the appropriate offices at MINAE. Send the appropriate information and completed forms to the OTS Permits Office at the addresses provided above.

3.0 MINAE Permits for Research in Costa Rica

3.3 MINAE CONAGEBIO Permit for Research on Genetic Material

Overview. Projects which will include genetic, molecular and /or biochemical work must be further approved by CONAGEBIO MINAE. For further details on this extended process, please e-mail the OTS permits office (ots.permits@tropicalstudies.org) which will be able to help you determine the additional cost, time and extra documentation required to obtain this permit for your specific project. When your application for a research permit is submitted to MINAE, CONAGEBIO will determine whether or not you will need the additional permit for research on genetic or molecular material. Note that OTS does not facilitate permits for bioprospecting or for any commercial activity, but only those for basic research.

Who needs to apply. Project leaders should submit an application for a MINAE CONAGEBIO permit if you plan to collect samples for DNA, molecular or biochemical analysis. If you do not plan to conduct genetic or molecular sampling you should apply for a MINAE SINAC permit. Depending on the nature of the proposed research, both permits may be required of some projects. University of Costa Rica researchers are not required to obtain a CONAGEBIO permit, but are required to provide a copy of the signed agreement between UCR and OTS regarding potential commercial use of any results of the research.

How much time should I allow? The CONAGEBIO review can be a lengthy process. Please allow for a minimum of 2 months.

What information should I submit? Information required may depend on the nature of your project. You are strongly encouraged to contact the OTS permits office to discuss the details and what portions of these forms should be completed. The application can be initiated by submitting digital documents; however hard (paper) copies must be provided before the permit is awarded.

Signatures on documents must be signed in front of the officials at CONAGEBIO or, if the researcher is in Costa Rica but not in San Jose, signatures must be authenticated by a Costa Rican lawyer. Submission of applications from outside of Costa Rica is very complicated and not recommended. However, signatures can be submitted after the application is approved by CONAGEBIO. The permit will be issued after all documents are signed. OTS can provide assistance if requested.

All documents must be submitted in Spanish and in MS Word format. Do not submit pdf files. Documents may be submitted without signatures. We recommend that you send a draft of your application to the OTS Permits office for review.

The following documents should be included in your application:

  1. Guía Técnica del Proyecto. A copy is provided here.
  2. Photocopy of identity card or passport of the investigator responsible for the project.
  3. Documentation that Minor Porras and OTS are authorized to represent the researcher, a copy of which is provided here.
  4. If the researcher has a current research permit but is now requesting permission to take genetic, chemical or molecular samples, include a signed copy of the code of conduct, a copy of which is provided here.
  5. Consentimento Previamente Informado. A copy of the Informed Consent contract between OTS and the researchers, a model of which is provided here.
  6. Copy of the proposal for the project or pilot project. This should be the same information included in the Guía Técnica from which it can be copied directly. Include summary, justification, objectives, field and laboratory methods, expected results and literature references. Length should be 3-4 pages. This is the principle document for the application and is provided in English here and in Spanish here.
  7. For basic research, present in addition a signed declaration that samples will be used for the purposes established. A model letter is included here.
  8. Payment: The fee for this service (see fee schedule below) may be paid by check (payable to “Organización para Estudios Tropicales, Inc.,” by authorization to charge your credit card, or by authorization to include the fee on your bill at an OTS station. A copy of a credit card authorization form is included here.

3.0 MINAE Permits for Research in Costa Rica

3.4 Export Permit

A permit to export biological samples is required if you want to send or carry samples out of the country. The permit is good for a single use 30 days after issue. The researcher is responsible for any additional permits necessary for importing biological material into the destination country; MINAE will require copies of these permits when you apply to export materials from Costa Rica.

Who needs to apply? Research permit holders who wish to send biological material out of the country.

How much time should I allow? Allow at least 3-5 business days before you plan to export the samples.

What information should I submit?

  1. Departure date from Costa Rica.
  2. Your full name, home address, home telephone number
  3. Name, address, and telephone of the institution where the collections will be kept.
  4. Flight number, departure and destination locations.
  5. Common and scientific names of specimens to be exported.
  6. Total number of specimens to be exported.
  7. Payment.(see fee schedule below) Check payable to the “Organización para Estudios Tropicales, Inc.”, authorization to charge your credit card or authorization to include the fee on your bill at an OTS field station. A copy of the appropriate form is provided here.
  8. Agreement for the Transferal of Biological Material, ATM. [Acuerdo de Transferencia de Material Biológico.] Understand and sign the form attached here in which you agree to comply with the laws of Costa Rica governing the removal of biological material to other countries.

How can OTS help? OTS can secure the export permit once the above information has been supplied to Minor Porras (see contact information above). Please arrange delivery of the permit with Minor Porras at the addresses given above. OTS will deliver the letter of approval to you; however, delivery to a site other than an OTS field station or and address in the San Jose area may entail a delivery charge.

OTS can also arrange to handle shipment of your specimens. You will be charged for transport, shipping and other expenses incurred plus a 22% service fee. If you would like to engage this service please send the following information to Minor Porras (see contact information above):

  1. Name, address and contact information for both shipper and the person receiving the shipment.
  2. Export permit.
  3. Copy of the import permit for the destination country.
  4. Number of specimens to be exported.
  5. Total gross weight of each box/bag/bottle to be exported.
  6. Number of boxes/bags/bottles to export.
  7. Exact date you wish to ship the specimens.
  8. Contact name and phone number.
  9. FedEx or shipping account number to be charged.
  10. Payment. In addition to shipping charges, the fee for this service and expenses incurred may be paid by check (payable to “Organización para Estudios Tropicales, Inc.”), by authorization to charge your credit card, or by authorization to include the fee on your bill at an OTS station. A copy of an authorization for a credit card charge is included here (see fee schedule in Table 1 of the Appendix).

3.0 MINAE Permits for Research in Costa Rica

3.5 Phytosanitary Permits for Exporting Live Specimens.

Before shipping specimens or carrying them with you out of the country, you will need to bring the specimens to the OTS office in San Jose and accompany them to the appropriate Costa Rican quarantine inspection service of the Ministerio de Agricultura (MAG). Please contact Minor Porras directly to explain your requirements and to arrange a time to take the specimens for inspection.

Who needs to apply? Holders of research permits who desire to export live specimens.

How much time should I allow? You should allow at least 3 working days before your intended export to take the specimens for quarantine inspection

What information should I submit?

  1. A signed letter directed to the appropriate agency (MAG, ONS, or other) detailing the reasons for requesting permission to export these samples.
  2. Your Passport.
  3. Research and collecting permit.
  4. Import permit to country of destination.
  5. Export permit information (see above).
  6. Payment (see fee schedule below). Check payable to the “Organización para Estudios Tropicales, Inc.”, authorization to charge your credit card or authorization to include the fee on your bill at an OTS field station. . A copy of an authorization for a credit card charge is included here. Extra charges may apply, for example for transport services, if required.

How can OTS help? OTS can help you determine the requirements for exporting live material, review your information for completeness and facilitate the inspection.

APPENDIX

Table 1. Fee Schedule. The following fees include both MINAE fees and OTS in US$.

  Member Institutions Non-Member Institutions
  Foreign Costa Rica Nationals and Residents Foreign Costa Rica Nationals and Residents
MINAE-SINAC Research Permit $90 $50 $115 $75
MINAE-CONAGEBIO Research Permit $250 $150 $300 $200
MINAE Scientific Passport only (per assistant) $50 $35 $50 $50
MINAE Research Permit Renewal $70 $50 $90 $70
Export Permit $55 $55 $55 $55
Phytosanitary Permit for exporting live specimens $55 $55 $55 $55

APPENDIX

Table 2. Summary of Processing Times for Permits

Project Approval for work at OTS Field Stations  
a. Needing only station director approval 2 weeks
b. Needing station advisory committee approval 3 weeks
MINAE Research Permit 4-6 weeks
MINAE Research Permit Renewal 4-6 weeks
CONAGEBIO Permit for Research Involving Genetic Samples 2 months
MINAE Permit to Export Biological Material 3-5 working days
MAG Permit to Export Live Biological Material 3 working days