Last Updated: Apr 26, 2012
The government strictly regulates beachfront land in Costa Rica. Be sure to follow proper procedure to ensure the legality of your beachfront property.
In Costa Rica, the first 164 feet (50 meters) of beachfront, measured from the mean high tide line, is considered the Public Zone. This area applies to all islands, except Cocos Island. The law guarantees that all beaches in Costa Rica are public. No buildings are permitted within the Public Zone, except those in certain port areas or those that were titled before the Maritime Terrestrial Zone law of 1973.
The first 492 feet (150 meters) after the Public Zone – or the land between 164 feet and 656 feet from the mean high tide line – is considered the Maritime Zone. The government controls use of this land, and construction within the Maritime Zone is restricted. There are certain exceptions to Maritime Zone construction law, including lands designated for public or touristic use; land near the Caldera Port, and cities located within the Maritime Zone. For all other construction, a government concession must be granted.
The Costa Rican government grants concessions to build within the Maritime Zone. Bear in mind that a concession is not the equivalent of a building permit – a separate process – but rather gives permission to seek a building permit for land within the Maritime Zone. Concessions are granted for periods of 5-20 years.
To apply for a concession, you must own the occupancy rights to the beachfront land; always request that the municipality verify ownership rights. Additionally, the property must be delineated by land markers, and you must have an approved zoning plan for the land. If a zoning plan does not exist, one must be created. When these steps are complete, present your application and land deed to the proper municipality. If the municipality grants the concession, it will be passed to the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) for approval. After ICT approval, you will register the concession with the National Concessions Registry, a division of the National Registry. Concession approval is not guaranteed; currently, there are approximately 300 registered concessions.
Foreigners must have a minimum five years of legal residency to qualify for a concession. Some foreigners skirt the law by assigning a lease to a Costa Rican corporation that is at least 51% owned by Costa Ricans. Before beginning construction within the Maritime Zone, be sure to investigate zoning and thoroughly explore legal issues.
Beachfront property can only be developed according to an approved regulatory plan. A regulatory plan has two components: a zoning plan and a construction implementation framework. Regulatory plans must be approved by the local municipality, the ICT, the Housing and Urban Development Department (INVU), and the Ministry of Health.