If you seriously consider retirement in Nicaragua, you need to know what options you have for obtaining a residency permit. Once your application is approved, you'll get a residence card similar to the identity card or "cedula" that the Nicaraguans carry. Believe me, cedula is a word you'll hear often when staying in Nicaragua, even for simple things like paying with credit card instead of cash at the supermarket.
There are various types of residencies in Nicaragua, e.g. for foreign investors, business people, employees or students. However, most people who plan to retire in Nicaragua (as opposed to working there) use one of two standard ways to get a residency permit - you are either retired or you have "private income."
The first option is called the "Pensionado" program. To apply for it, you must be 45 years or older and prove a steady monthly income of at least US$600 (plus US$150 for each dependent family member).
Compared to other countries, this amount is still low (in Panama you need at least $1,000 and in Belize twice as much), but not as low as it used to be before the new residency law came into effect in 2009. Before 2009, you only needed a guaranteed income of $400 (plus $100 for each dependent).
If you are not retired yet, you can apply for the "Rentista" status, i.e. people with private incomes. Again, the minimum age is 45 years. The minimum income amount is US$750 per month (plus US$150 for each dependent), and the income can come from investments, revenues, stocks, rents, retirement plans, etc.
Important: once you are a Nicaraguan resident, you must get the permission of the government to leave the country, the so-called "visa de salida." Depending on how often you want to travel, you have the choice between purchasing a one-time exit visa (C$200), or one that is valid for 3 months (C$400), 6 months (C$800) or one year (C$1600).
The one-time exit visa you can obtain directly at the airport when you leave. The other types of exit visas you can only get at the Immigration Office in Managua.
Should you hire a lawyer or apply for residency yourself? This depends on how well you speak the language, how much time you want to invest and how high your frustration level is. ;-)
I have done it both ways, with and without a lawyer, and had greater success when I did it myself... BUT I had help from a local friend who knew how to navigate the Nicaraguan bureaucracy and knew the right people within the immigration office.
You definitely need to inform yourself well about the requirements and the process. A fellow expat and friend of mine, Casey Callais, just published an in-depth guide about Getting Residency in Nicaragua. His guide comes highly recommended if and when you feel ready for your retirement in Nicaragua.
Tip: Most documents for the application process you need to get before moving to Nicaragua, namely
All documents have to be less than 6 months old. Since May 2014 Nicaragua is part of the Hague Convention for legalization of public documents. If your country of origin is part of the Hague Convention as well, you only need to get the Hague Apostille for these documents.
If your country is not part of the Hague Convention (like Canada), the legalization process is a bit more complicated. First, you need to get the documents authenticated by the respective authorities in your country and then by either the nearest Nicaraguan consulate in your country or by your country's consulate in Managua - if there is one.
Calculate at least 4 to 6 weeks for the authentication process. Apostilles take less time, perhaps 1 to 2 weeks.
At the time of writing (2015), the fees for the temporary residence card (valid for 1 year) are C$2,000 and for a permanent residence card (valid for 5 years) C$5,000.
In addition, you'll have costs for the certification and translation of documents. Also, as the application process typically lasts several months, you will have to purchase extensions for your tourist visa for C$500 per 30 days, the so-called "proroga".
If you enlist the help of a lawyer, expect to pay anything between US$ 300 and US$ 800 per person.
What benefits do you get when you retire to Nicaragua? The main ones are: