FAQ Property Ownership

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Can foreigners own property in Costa Rica?

Yes, foreigners are permitted to own property outright in Costa Rica. Foreigners have the same property rights as Costa Ricans. Private property is protected by the Constitution of Costa Rica. It is no different than owning real estate in the US or Europe. Costa Rica is definitely a beautiful country to live, invest and retire.

What are the restrictions for a foreigner to buy property in Costa Rica?

There are no restrictions that specifically apply to foreigners when purchasing property in Costa Rica.  A Costa Rican partner is not required to buy land in Costa Rica.

What is the procedure to buy a Costa Rica property?

First: After you have found the right property with your Real Estate agent, have them submit an Offer to Purchase (also known as a Letter of Intent) to the Seller or the Seller’s listing agent in order to agree upon the sales price and basic terms of the deal.

Second: Once the Offer is accepted, you take it to your Costa Rica attorney and they draft the formal Sale and Purchase Agreement.  This document is a legally binding document, and it clearly states all conditions necessary for the transfer of the deed.

Third: The period of Due Diligence, which is the complete legal research of the property to insure there are no liens, contingencies, legal issues, and that it has absolute fee simple title.  Surveys, soil tests, home inspections, and other studies requiring professional services are included in this period.  If the property is being sold with an existing company, then the research of the company for any legal contingencies will also be completed during Due Diligence.

Fourth: The Closing (conveyance of the deed) occurs before a Costa Rican Notary Public, who will register the property under the new company or owner.  Alternatively, if the property is being purchased with an existing company, then the shares of the company are transferred at this time by a Shares Transfer Agreement.  In this case the Notary Public will make the corresponding changes to the company’s ownership in the National Registry.

Fifth: Declaring the property before the corresponding Municipality for property tax purposes by filling out a simple form and presenting it along with the some other documents either yourself or through your attorney.

Can I acquire a property under my personal name, even being a foreigner?

Yes, however, it is more common and recommended to acquire the property through a corporation in order to separate potential personal liabilities, facilitate the closing procedure, and allow for easier transfer to relatives in case of casualty.  The Costa Rica holding company will also make it easier to obtain services such as electricity and cell phones, as well as, opening a bank account.

Exception: A foreigner can only own up to 49% of the concession rights for a Concession Property within the Maritime Terrestrial Zone (MTZ).  Without getting too technical, the MTZ is limited to the area 200 meters from the median high tide line.  All other property outside of the 200-meter zone can be owned free and clear.

If I live outside of Costa Rica, do I need to be present to sign for the transfer of the deed at closing?

Although recommended, the answer is no.  The closing can be executed through a Power of Attorney with a third party in Costa Rica that you trust.  This Power of Attorney can be specifically for the sole purchase and signing the closing document.  Another option is to DHL or FedEx the documents after signing them in front of a licensed Notary Public at your nearest Costa Rica Consulate. Considering the cost of the shipping and the distance to the nearest Costa Rica Consulate, many buyers fly down and sign in person.

What are the common taxes, legal fees, and closing expenses included in the purchase of property in Costa Rica?

Every property acquisition in Costa Rica has to pay the following National Registry Fees:

Transfer Tax:  This is a national tax of 1.5% of the purchase price that is paid (by your lawyer) to the National Registry.  Prior to 2013, the cost for transferring the shares (instead of a direct property transfer) of the existing corporation to the new owner was significantly less.  Now in 2013, that option does not offer any significant financial savings.  These costs are often split by the Buyer and the Seller.

Legal Fees: for the purchase of property in Costa Rica are 1% to 2% depending on the sales price, complexity of the transaction, and the allotted time spent by the attorney on the deal.  Additional legal costs may include the formation of a Costa Rica corporation of around $600 USD; drafting of any supplementary contracts or Seller Financing Agreements and registering of such contracts; and translation of contracts into your native language.  The Buyer and Seller typically pat for the separate attorneys.  If one attorney is used by both Buyer and Seller, then some for these legal fees can be split.  However, the Buyer is usually solely responsible for starting a new company, any contracts for Seller Financing (if needed) and registration of those contracts, and translations if the Seller is Spanish speaking.

Lesser Fees include:

Registry: 5 colones per every 1,000 colones of purchase price

Municipal: 2 colones per every 1,000 colones of purchase price

Fiscal: a maximum of 625 colones

Bar Association: a maximum of 10,000 colones

Archive: 20 colones.

Other Closing Fees: may include topographer fees when you have the boundaries of the property (the cost of which varies depending on the size and terrain), soil tests, home inspections, etc.  These items are typically paid by the Buyer.

Total property transaction costs are about 4% of the property’s value, and are usually split 50/50 between buyer and seller.

How can I transfer funds for a property acquisition from my home country?

The easiest way is to make an international wire transfer from your home bank to an escrow company in Costa Rica.  These registered companies are dedicated to protect funds and provide escrow services in Costa Rica. A direct wire transfer from the Buyer to the Seller can be done in certain cases.

Where and how are properties registered in Costa Rica?

All titled properties are registered in the Registro Nacional or National Registry located in Zapote, San Jose, Costa Rica.  There are satellite offices of the “Registro” around the country in larger cities.  This is the agency that keeps the public, property record with the owner’s name or corporate name, any liens, mortgages, or damages against the property.  In order to transfer a registered property the recorded owner must appear before a Notary Public and that signed documentation is then presented and recorded in the National Registry.

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

Concession property is registered in 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.  These properties can obtain title through a lengthy process and 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 is needed in this situation to advise if receiving title is possible before even considering such a property.

What is a Plano Catastro?

Recorded and titled property has a plano catastro, also known as, a survey plan.  It details the boundaries of the property, the total size, ownership, the Folio Real number, and the date it was registered among other things. Planos, as they are referred to in Costa Rica, can be found in the Registro Nacional (Public Registry), as well as, at the municipality in which the property is located.

What is a Folio Real number?

All registered properties have a folio real number (i.e. 6-123456-000) of which the first number represents the province where it is located, the second refers to the specific folio property number, and the third to the property rights as in number of owners (000 means only one owner).

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

You can go to the National Registry: http://www.rnpdigital.com/index.htm where anyone can check the status of a property.  Go to “Sistema de Certificaciones y Consultas Gratuitas” on the top left side of the webpage.  A new tab will open and then first time users will have to go to “Registrarse por Primera Vez” in the top left hand portion of the page.  After filling out the form you will receive an email and click on the link and enter your user email and password on the left hand side under “Ingreso para Usuarios Registrados”.  Then go to “Consultas Gratuitas” on the left hand side and next you will see a list of all the types of “Consultas” you can do for “Bienes Immuebles” (Real Estate).  To obtain a certified property report click on “Consulta por Numera de Finca”.  After this, you will have to enter the number of the property’s province or “Provincia” (first number of the Folio Real number on the Plano), the folio real number of the property (middle numbers of the Folio Real number on the plano), and the number of the property right “derecho” (which is the last 3 digits of the Folio Real number on the Plano). Once you enter the said information click on the “Consultar” (consult) button.  A certificate with all the information of the property will appear on the screen.

How much are property taxes and other taxes associated with owning property in Costa Rica?

Property Tax:  This annual tax is 0.25% (one quarter of one percent) of the registered property value and are paid to the local Municipality for where the property is located.  These taxes are paid every 3 months or can be paid in full for the year in advance.  For example a $100,000 USD property pays $250 USD per year in Property Tax.  Low property tax is one of the many reasons to invest in Costa Rica real estate.

Corporation Tax: This new tax was passed in 2012, and it is a fixed fee of $180 USD for inactive corporations and $360 USD for active corporations.  Most properties are held in an inactive corporation, because it will not be reporting income.  If you have a rental property, you can open an additional, active corporation to report income and expenses.  These taxes are paid to the “Ministerio de Hacienda”.

Luxury Tax:  A tax levied against luxury homes valued at $250,000 USD and is also paid to the “Ministerio de Hacienda”.  This tax is around $2,500 and up depending on the registered value of the home.

Why buying in Costa Rica rather than any other Central American country?

Costa Rica is, by far, the best place to invest in Central America. Almost 60 years of democratic tradition, a nonexistent army, 97% literacy, and a prosperous, fast developing country makes buying and investing attractive. Costa Rica is a great place to retire or raise a family. An ecologically oriented country, Costa Rica offers beautiful national parks, amazing beaches, wonderful adventure sports, and relaxation. Here you will enjoy the advantages of living in the tropics with all the conveniences of a developed country.

Lifestyle and Immigration FAQ

When coming to Costa Rica, do I need a passport or/and visa?

As a tourist, you need a passport, but you do not need a visa if you are planning to visit less than 90 days. If you are already in Costa Rica and want to stay longer than 90 days, then you’ll have to leave the country for 72 hrs and re-enter legally again for another 90 days. You can exit into Panama or Nicaragua; both countries border Costa Rica.

Your passport should be valid for at least 60 days after the arrival date. You should always carry it. A copy of the passport and stamps may not be enough as proof of legal status. It is a good idea to register with the Consular Section of the US Embassy to let them know how long you would be in the country.

What do I need to pass through Customs?

One customs declaration form should be filled out per family, and this form is usually handed out on the plane or boat when you enter the country. They are also available in the baggage claim area in the airport terminal. You will not have to pay for any personal luggage, unless it is new in a box. If you bring multiple units of the same item, the customs’ officer could deem them to be commercial goods and assess a customs fee.

Your luggage could be inspected, and you must fill out a customs’ declaration. This list should include any alcoholic beverages, electrical appliances, any computer and electronic equipment, and food or biological products.

Do I require a specific vaccine to enter Costa Rica?

For most North American, Central American, and European visitors, the answer is no.  The Yellow Fever Vaccination is required to people that live in certain countries in South America and Sub-Sahara Africa. People from Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, French Guiana and Venezuela are required to have an International Certificate of Vaccination against Yellow Fever.

Do I need to get a Costa Rican Driver’s license?

Your own driver’s license with a valid passport will allow you to drive in Costa Rica. However, it will only be good just for 3 months, as per Costa Rican immigration/visa requirements. You may rent a car with your driver’s license, passport, and a credit card. If you have your Costa Rican residency, you can apply for a Driver’s License.

When is it best to visit Costa Rica?

Anytime of the year is a good time to visit Costa Rica. This really depends on individual taste and on the activities you want to experience during your stay.

If you are looking for maximum sunshine and water activities, the Dry Season (also known as, the High Season) may be your best option. From December thru April, the weather is sunny and warm (hot at sea level). Beach resorts and tour companies are very busy during this time of the year. The Peak Season includes Christmas, New Years, and Easter. These three weeks are the most expensive and busy of the year. Finding accommodations can be difficult during this time, so plan ahead.

The Green Season (Rainy Season) typically runs from May to November.  The countryside is lush and the rivers and creeks are full. There is usually sun in the mornings and rain, typically for a couple of hours, in the afternoon. Some days it may rain for more than that or until next day, but those are the exception. The Green Season is attractive because the price for rooms and rentals are lower.

Are dollars accepted in Costa Rica or I have to change currency?

The official currency in Costa Rica is the Colon. Most prices will be in colones but you will find some stores (specially souvenir stores) that have all items marked in dollars. Credit cards and dollars are accepted almost everywhere but not in $50 or $100 bills. Smaller bills will always be accepted. All major credit cards are accepted (Visa, Master Card, AMEX)

What documents do I need to get married in Costa Rica?

Costa Rican law permits U.S. citizens to get married here. A lawyer can perform the required legal ceremony. You will need the following documents:

  • A valid passport;

  • A certified copy of your birth certificate;

  • If you have been married before:

    • 1. A certified copy of the divorce decree or

    • 2. A certified copy of your previous spouse’s death certificate;

  • If you have not been married before, you must come to the Embassy’s Consular Section and make a sworn statement to that effect before a consular officer (there is a $30 fee for this service).

If you are marrying a Costa Rican citizen, he/she will need:

  • A Costa Rican ID (cédula de identidad)

  • A Certificate from the Civil Registry that he/she is single (certificado de soltería del Registro Civil).

In the United States, laws regarding marriage vary from state to state. Please contact the County Clerk’s office in the county in which you plan to reside in or in which you are a resident with any questions regarding recognition of your Costa Rican marriage documents in the United States. (Information provided by the US Embassy)

How can I get a job or internship in Costa Rica?

Some Americans can get a job in Costa Rica. They may teach English in one of many private language schools in Costa Rica. The salary is not very attractive for US standards. If you have an elementary or secondary education certification you might get a job in a primary and secondary school as a teacher or office clerk also. You may also try at one of the English Language publications like The Tico Times, The Beach Times, For Sale by Owner, among others. You may get lucky and get a job at a beach hotel and be near the ocean (Wow!) Just remember that these jobs are not legal because only residents and citizens are allowed to work in Costa Rica.

You can also volunteer in Costa Rica. There are some U.S. non-profit programs such as “World Teach” that place volunteers in Costa Rica every now and then. The Costa Rican Embassy in Washington may help you on this topic. There are also volunteer opportunities with the Costa Rican Energy and Environment Ministry.

What should I bring on my trip to Costa Rica?

Every person has different needs and desires, but here are a few things that may improve your experience:

Medication: if you are allergic to some insect bites or plants or food, pack your medicine. There are pharmacies all over Costa Rica, but we recommend that you bring your own.

Get ready to communicate: a pocket-size English/Spanish dictionary can come in handy.

Get ready for adventure: do not forget to pack a pair of comfortable shoes for every occasion and place (sneakers, hiking boots, sandals, etc). Also, comfortable, loose clothes will allow you to climb. Sunscreen is a must! Even in a cloudy day you may burn in the sun. You are encouraged to wear it. Insect repellent, sunglasses, a hat, and a rain jacket can also be useful.

What is the time zone in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica does not observe daylight savings time.  For citizens of the U.S. and Canada, countries that do observe daylight Savings time, the time zones vary between Mountain and Central time.

Are there any restrictions on bringing pets into the country of Costa Rica?

If you want to bring your dog or cat, you will need to get in touch with the Consulate of Costa Rica in your country. Bring a health certificate from a licensed veterinarian, plus all vaccination given to your pet. These certifications include:

  1. The dog/cat was examined and found to be healthy and free of any clinical signs of infectious disease. Note: In general this examination should be conducted within 2 weeks of the departure date.

  2. Dogs vaccinated against distemper, hepatitis, Leptospirosis, parvovirus and rabies.

  3. Cats vaccinated against rabies.

Forms:

  1. It is recommended that a State or Federal (VS Form 18-1), U.S. Interstate and International Certificate for Small Animals be used.

  2. The accompanying health certificate should be made out at teats 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.

Once you have all these papers, the Consulate of Costa Rica will process and stamp all of these documents and your pet to come into the country.

For more information on real estate, click here.  For more information on rentals in Costa Rica, click here.  Or, you can contact us at:

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