Buying property in Costa Rica is a great investment for monetary and lifestyle purposes. With that being said, it requires due diligence; there are a number of things that must be closely examined when purchasing land or housing in Costa Rica to ensure that the transaction leads to a dream come true, rather than your worst nightmare.
First off, in any transaction involving land or a standing structure, it is crucial to know whether the ownership rights or the occupational rights are being offered. Unregistered land is offered under occupational ownership and a lengthy process of registration will follow suit if such land is purchased. The provisions of ownership rights are basically the same as those in the US, and always involve registered land.
Buying property in Costa Rica that’s on the beach can be a little trickier than inland property; there are parts of beaches that will always be public property of Costa Rica. Beaches have two zones that make up a width of 200 meters: the public zone and the restricted zone. The public zone is 50 meters wide and falls between the high tide line and the start of the restricted zone. The restricted zone is 150 meters wide and runs from the end of the public zone inland. The restricted zone is private property belonging to the “owner” of the land; however, it is merely a concession from the government. Beachfront property in the restricted zone grants an owner occupational rights for 5-20 years, depending on the governments ruling. Leases can be extended, so a home or business can remain in control of the land for living or financial purposes.
There are some exceptions to the Maritime Zoning Law, however, because it was implemented in 1977. Any beachfront property titled prior to the law’s implementation can still be transferred with its full title. However, only extremely old property from colonial times will include titled public zone.
In most cases of foreigners buying property in Costa Rica, the property is purchased through the formation of a corporation. It can cost up to $500 to start a corporation, and it requires that a Costa Rican resident holds 50% of the shares. However, the resident can sell their half to the purchaser once the sale is finished. A trusted attorney should always be involved in such sales, to make sure the transaction goes through smoothly. Because only residents of at least 5 years can own concessioned beachfront property, starting a corporation is required for any foreigner who purchases land on the beach.
Another important law involves condominiumization. This is a term that applies to zoning and other factors that provide benefits to developers: single family residence projects, finished lots, and typical US style townhomes and apartments.
In general, whenever buying property in Costa Rica, it’s necessary to closely inspect records and other paperwork to ensure that the land, water, and all other aspects of the home are legal.