Buying Real Estate in Costa Rica


 

Why purchase property in Costa Rica instead of other countries in Central America?

Costa Rica offers by far the best and safest lifestyle in Central America. It is a democratic country and one of the few in the world that does not have an army.  It is prosperous, rapidly developing, has a good health system and a 97% literacy rate. It is one of the greenest countries on earth with one of the smallest environmental footprints. The tax laws and financial security issues supported by the government offer a safe haven in which  to invest and live. Because of its slower pace and good quality of living the life expectancy is longer than for its neighbors to the north or south.

 

As a foreigner can I own property in Costa Rica?

Yes, as a foreigner you can own property in Costa Rica. You have the same rights as Costa Ricans when purchasing and owning property in the country. The Rights of Properties with Fee Simple Title are protected by the Costa Rican Constitution. Owning property here is very similar to owning in the USA, Canada and Europe.

 

Are there any restrictions to buying property in Costa Rica as a foreigner?

No, there are no restrictions that apply specifically to foreigners when buying property in Costa Rica. Unlike Mexico, you do NOT need to have a local partner to buy and own property outright in the country.

 

How do I purchase property in Costa Rica?

  1. The first step is to select a real estate broker that is familiar with the area you are interested in and knows the properties that are available.
  2. Once you have found the perfect property your agent will submit your offer to the owner(s) in the form of a Letter of Intent or Option to Purchase.
  3. When you have agreed on the price and the terms of the transaction with the seller(s) you will want to select a reputable and experienced Costa Rican real estate attorney.
  4. Your offer will normally include a 30 to 90 day due diligence period depending on your needs. Your lawyer will use this time to do a complete study in the National Registry (www.rnpdigital.com ) to insure that the property has Fee Simple Title and is completely clear of any liens, mortgages, encumbrances or any other outstanding legal issues. Home inspections, surveys and soil studies are not a standard part of due diligence in Costa Rica but should you decide to perform any of these additional protections you will need to complete them during this period.
  5. Closing (transfer or conveyance of Fee Simple Title or deed) will take place in the presence of a Costa Rican lawyer who is also a notary public. At this time the notary will register your property in the National Registry in your legal name or a Sociedad Anónima (S.A.) which is a Costa Rican corporation. In many cases it is advisable to assume the existing corporation that owns the property. This is accomplished by transferring the shares and making the required changes to the S.A. ownership placing it in your name in the National Registry.
  6. After you have completed the purchase process, you will need to register the property in the local municipality for tax purposes. This is a simple procedure that entails filling out some forms. You can do this yourself or have your lawyer or real estate broker do it for you.

 

As a foreigner, can I own property in my name?

Yes, you can own property in your name but it is recommended that you use an S.A. as it helps to separate you from any potential personal liabilities. The S.A. will make it easier to open bank accounts, obtain cell phones, electricity, water and any other services you may need. Having your property in an S.A. also makes it easier and more economical to sell it at a later date.

The only exception to this rule is with Maritime Terrestrial Zone (MTZ) land. This type of property is leased from the government and you must be Costa Rican or a legal resident to own 51% of the property. Maritime Zone is the first 200 meters from the median high tide line of the ocean or beach.

 

Exceptions: 

(1) Concession property located in the Maritime Terrestrial Zone (MTZ); which is 200 meters from the median high tide mark on both Pacific and Caribbean coasts.  The first 50 meters is public zone and free for anyone to enjoy.  The remaining 150 meters is the restricted zone where concession property can be granted by the local municipality.  Although there can be titled property within the MTZ, it is very rare and it may have been titled before the MTZ was established. Any such property should be carefully investigated by your Costa Rican attorney to insure the validity and legality of the title.

MTZ property is registered in a different section of the National Registry called the Concession Registry and has an independent registration number. Concession property is typically used for tourism and if this type of property is a consideration, then it is highly recommended your attorney review the concession and feasibility of your plans for the property before pursuing it further.

 

(2) There are also Possession Properties, which are untitled and are not registered in the National Registry. Title can be obtained for these properties through a lengthy process only if they comply with certain requirements; one of which is a minimum possession of 10 years. These types of properties are the most risky and professional legal counsel would be needed to advise if receiving title is possible before even considering such a property.

 

 

Do I need to be present in Costa Rica to sign the transfer deed at the time of closing?

No, you do not have to be present at the closing. You can authorize your lawyer with a Power of Attorney (POA) that should be limited to the purchase and signing of the closing documents. As an alternative, your lawyer can prepare the documents in advance and send them to the Costa Rican Consulate closest to you. You would then appear before a representative of the consulate to sign the necessary paperwork. This can be very time consuming and in some cases more expensive then attending the closing in person.

 

What are the closing costs and legal fees to purchase property in Costa Rica?

A fee of 2.75% of the purchase price must be paid to the National Registry and other government agencies. The lawyer/notary public will charge 1.25% of the purchase price, although it may be more depending on the lawyer and whether there is a mortgage involved. With the exception of the costs of the mortgage these fees are normally split 50/50 between the buyer and the seller. If you want or need to create a new S.A. then your lawyer will charge an additional $500 to$1,000 which would be paid solely by the buyer.

If you are taking over an existing S.A. then the costs are approximately 1.5% percent of the sale and 1.25% for the lawyers. So there are benefits to taking over the shares of the existing S.A. rather than creating a new corporation.

 

How do I transfer my deposit and closing funds for the purchase of property in Costa Rica?

We always recommend using one of the well known, registered escrow companies operating here in Costa Rica. We have found Stewart Title, www.stla.net or Chicago Title www.caribbean.ltic.com to be very professional and helpful with the transfer of funds and purchase process. These companies are dedicated to protecting your interests and facilitating the escrow process. An escrow company must be registered with the Costa Rican government to legally operate here.

 

How and where is property registered in Costa Rica?

All Fee Simple Title properties are registered in the Costa Rican National Registry located in San Jose. This registry system is a public record with the property owner’s name or S.A. The information is updated dally to reflect the recording and/or transferring of deeds, mortgages, liens or encumbrances against the property. All properties have a Plot Plan (Plano Catastro) and a Folio Real number assigned to it. This is like a social security or ID number for the property. When transferring a registered property the owner will sign the appropriate documents before a notary public/lawyer and these documents must be submitted to be recorded that same day in the National Registry.

 

What is a Plano Catastrado?

A Plano Catastro is the same as a survey plan or plot plan showing in detail the size of your property and the boundaries. It will indicate who the neighboring property owners are and their location in reference to your property. It will also show the Folio Real number of the property and the date it was registered. This will also be registered in the National Registry system.

 

What is a Folio Real number?

A Folio Real number is the ID number assigned to all Fee Simple titled properties in Costa Rica. This number will show the province in which it is located. If the property is a condominium then it will indicate that designation with an F for (Finca Filial) at the end of the number.

 

How do I check the status of a registered property in Costa Rica?

This is a simple and free procedure, anyone can do it. You just log into www.rnpdigital.com  and once you are logged in follow these steps:

  1. Click on Certificaciones y Consultas, located on the top left side of the page.
  2. Next click on Consultas Gratuitas.
  3. Click on Consulta por Numera de Finca.
  4. Enter the Folio Real number.                                                                         

The information on the property will show up on your screen. You will be able to confirm that the property is free of liens or if it has anything registered against it.

 

How are taxes associated with property ownership assessed in Costa Rica?

Municipal property taxes in Costa Rica are 0.25% of the registered or declared  value of the property. If a property is declared or registered at more than $250,000 then there is an additional 0.50% luxury tax added for a total of 0.75%.

 

Do I need a passport or visa to visit Costa Rica?

A passport is required to visit Costa Rica but as an American or Canadian you do not need a visa. When you arrive in Costa Rica you will receive a 90 day tourist visa, if you want to stay longer than 90 days then you will need to leave the country for a minimum of 3 days. You will then be able to reenter the country for another 90 days. Many people fulfill this obligation by going to Nicaragua or Panama.

When contemplating travel to Costa Rica make sure that your passport is valid for at least 6 months from your arrival date.

 

What is needed to get through customs and immigration?

You will need to fill out one customs declaration form per family and one immigration form per individual. Normally these forms will be handed out to you on the plane but they are also available in the immigration area. You are allowed to bring personal items into the country such as a camera, computer and of course clothing. In many cases you will be able to bring in household goods but if the items include computers and electronic equipment still in the box you may be subject to paying import duties. There are also limitations on how much alcohol and tobacco you can bring in.

 

Is any vaccine needed to enter Costa Rica?

If you are from Central America, North America or Europe you do not need any vaccines. If you are from certain countries in South America or Africa you may be required to have a vaccine for Yellow Fever.

 

Can I use my driver’s license in Costa Rica?

As long as you have a valid driver’s license and passport you can drive in Costa Rica for 90 days. You can rent a car with just your driver’s license, passport and credit card.

If you decide to live in Costa Rica then you should apply for residency. Once you have your residency you may obtain a Cost Rican driver’s license.

 

What is the best time of year to visit Costa Rica?

Anytime is a great time to come to Costa Rica as the country has 12 different climatic zones. The dry season from December through April is the sunniest time of the year and it is also the busiest for tourism. The rainy season also called the green season is from May through November. This is a great time of the year as prices are lower and there are fewer tourists along with a more relaxed atmosphere. The beaches, parks and restaurants are not as crowded. Even though it is the rainy season there is still lots of sunshine. A normal rainy season day begins with a beautiful sunny morning to enjoy the beaches or any one of the adventure activities. You may experience brief afternoon showers or the overnight rains that sustain the forests. This is my favorite time of the year and most locals will agree.

During the “high season” it can be difficult to get reservations for a hotel or vacation rental home. Be sure to book well in advance so your are not disappointed.

 

What currency is accepted in Costa Rica, can I use US dollars?

The official Costa Rican currency is the colon. Prices in almost all of the stores and restaurants will be in colones. In some high end souvenir shops the prices will be marked in dollars. The US dollar is accepted in most places of business in Costa Rica as well as credit cards (Visa, MasterCard and AMEX). The most widely accepted credit card is Visa. The dollar exchange rate varies from time to time but it is approximately 530 colones to one US dollar.

 

What do I need to get married in Costa Rica?

Foreigners can get married in Costa Rica. A lawyer can execute the legal marriage contract for which you will need the following documents.

1. A certified copy of your birth certificate.

2. A valid passport.

3. If you are divorced, you will need a certified copy of your divorce decree. If you are a widow/widower then you will need a certified copy of your previous spouse’s death certificate.

4. If you have not previously been married you will need to make a statement to that affect before a notary who will certify it.

Laws vary from state to state in the USA. Contact your county clerk’s office where you plan to live and ask what the procedure is in your state in order for your marriage to be recognized.

 

Can I get a job in Costa Rica?

Legally you need to have Costa Rican residency or citizenship to work in the country. In some cases you can get a work permit and exceptions may be made for business owners working in their own company. Still it is best to obtain residency or an investor’s status. There is a significant number of foreigners living and working in Costa Rica without the legal paperwork, especially in the tourist industry. If you do this just remember it is not legal to work without residency status and though you may be able to get away with it for years you will have problems if you are caught.

 

What to bring on my Costa Rican vacation?

Here are a few suggestions to make your trip easier. If you are on any type of medication make sure to bring it with you. If you are allergic to insect bites, food or plants, we recommend you bring the appropriate treatment. If you forget or run out, there are pharmacies all over Costa Rica and a lot of the medications can be purchased over the counter.

There are endless opportunities for adventure in Costa Rica.  Depending on your chosen activity, make sure you bring the appropriate footwear i.e. sneakers, hiking boots or sandals. Of course don’t forget your sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat and maybe some insect repellent.

In most tourist areas a lot of the locals speak some English, but a small pocket sized English/Spanish dictionary  or a smart phone translator app can be helpful. Cell phone service is widely available in Costa Rica check with your local provider.

 

The time zone in Costa Rica is - 6 GMT

Costa Rica does not use daylight savings time. So based on the season, the time is the same as either Mountain or Central time zones of the US and Canada.

 

What are the restrictions to bringing pets to Costa Rica

In order to bring a dog, cat or other pets to Costa Rica you need to contact the Costa Rican Consulate in your country. You will need a health certificate from your veterinarian stating that your pet was examined and found to be healthy and free of any infectious diseases. Dogs need to be vaccinated against distemper, leptospirosis, hepatitis, rabies and parvovirus. Cats need to be vaccinated for rabies.

 

Forms:

  1. It is recommended that a state or federal (VS Form 18-1), US Interstate and International Certificate for Small Animals be used.
  2. The accompanying health certificate should be made out in duplicate.
  3. The health certificate does NOT need to be notarized by a notary public, nor does it need to be stamped by the Costa Rican Consular office.
  4. Animals exported in commercial lot numbers must be accompanied by an import permit. Personal pet dogs or cats do need an Import permit.
  5. The rabies vaccination certificate should accompany the health documents.

 

Take all of these papers to the Costa Rican Consulate where they will stamp and process these documents allowing your pet to come into the country.

 

So again, why purchase property in Costa Rica instead of other countries in Central America?

With its laid back lifestyle, amazing beaches and national parks teeming with wildlife Costa Rica is a friendly,  ecologically minded country just waiting to welcome you home. Enjoy all of the conveniences of a developed country, where living is an adventure. Pura Vida!