Last Updated: Apr 27, 2012
Searching for a laid-back lifestyle in a country boasting spectacular coastlines, a temperate climate, and market prices far below those in the States? Use our insider tips on buying real estate to realize your dream of a seaside retirement home or lucrative investment property. With our years of experience and local know-how, you’ll soon discover the many advantages of home ownership in Costa Rica.
Housing Regulations and Restrictions:
- Along both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, the first 656 feet above mean high tide is owned by the government. No building is permitted within the first 164 feet above this mark.
- 164-656 feet above mean high tide may be leased from the local municipality pending approval from the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT). Per Costa Rican law, foreigners cannot legally lease this area.
- You cannot build a house within 164 to 328 feet of a river.
- Most municipalities require new properties to leave space for sidewalks. Check with local authorities for your area’s specifics.
- The ICT discourages the construction of any building over three stories high in beach areas.
- Housing developers should keep in mind that Costa Rican law allows only 60-70% of your land to be used for building lots. 20-25% must be used for roads, and 5-20% for parks.
Land & Home Buying Tips:
- There is local financing through state and private banks for foreign buyers in Costa Rica. However, many investors choose to purchase in cash, take out a second mortgage, or use a home equity loan for their Costa Rican property purchase.
- The oceanfront Maritime Zone, which runs 164-656 feet above mean tide, is generally restricted for use by Costa Rican residents and citizens. A foreigner must establish five years of residency to own more than 49% of a lease in this zone. If you have less than five years of legal residency, but wish to purchase land in the Maritime Zone, you may consider assigning the lease to a corporation that is owned at least 51% by a Costa Rican citizen. Take a careful look at the zoning laws and talk to your lawyer before you begin development in any of these areas.
- If land is not zoned and you choose to purchase it, you will be responsible for creating a zoning plan and submitting it to the ICT, the Housing and Urban Development Department, and the local municipality for approval.
- Ask a bilingual Costa Rican friend to talk to sellers about property and prices. Foreign accents can raise prices.
- If you plan to purchase a home or existing structure, make every effort to inspect the home during the rainy season (May-November) and, if possible, during a storm. Look for leaks, water damage, wet walls and puddles; if you find any wayward water, request that the homeowner patch the leaks. This is a common request during the wet season, and minor leaks can be fixed within a day or two. Go back for a second inspection after the repairs are made.
- Hire a completely independent home inspector. Do not take the advice of the homeowner, real estate agent, or any other individual involved in the sale. If possible, ask for home inspector recommendations from trusted friends and acquaintances. Explain your standards to the inspector, and ask that he or she check the house according to those standards.
- Many homes in Costa Rica have only 120-volt service. Often, even the 120-volt service is low capacity, perhaps as low as 15 amps for the whole home. If you plan to use heavy-duty appliances (such as a dryer) or need more amperage, talk with your construction foreman in advance.
- Costa Rican law does not require electrical wires to be grounded. If you plan to use expensive appliances – televisions, computers, etc. – you should arrange for your electrical system to be grounded.
- Check the plumbing. Sometimes, narrow, less expensive pipes are used to reduce construction costs. Narrow pipes may cause drainage issues.
- Always survey the surrounding areas for potential building projects to avoid disruptive construction near your new home or property.
- Ask about public utility availability, especially telephone, high-speed Internet, and cable television. If a telephone line is not already installed on the property, it may take months to arrive.