First of all, as a foreigner you have almost the same rights as nationals when buying realty in Costa Rica. The only exception is buying property in the Terrestrial Maritime Zone. The Maritime Zone legislation states that all beaches are public property, so the first 50 meters (164 ft.) above the mean high tide line is public. With some exceptions, there are no private beaches in Costa Rica. The exceptions refer to landholdings in port areas and old land grants and agreements dating from before 1973. The Maritime Zone legislation further states that the first 150 meters (492 ft.) after the first 50 meters (164 ft.) is called the Maritime Zone. As a foreigner you are required to have a minimum of five years of residency in Costa Rica in order to buy property of which more than 49% is located in the Maritime Zone.
Costa Rica has regulations regarding to the use of land. This is a very important aspect to take into consideration before buying any property. Besides the land use, regulations might also demand investments or development of property. In order to find out what regulations apply to the property you are interested in you might want to consult a real estate broker or other professionals. Of course, you can also investigate matters yourself. The following authorities can be consulted regarding regulations that apply on the land use:
- Ministry of Agriculture and Cattle (Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganardería, MAG)
- National Institute of Housing and Development (Instituto Nacional de Vivienda y Urbanismo, INVU)
- Ministry of Health (Ministerio de la Salud)
- Ministry of Environment, Energy and Telecommunications (Ministerio de Medio Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones)
- Ministry of Housing and Human Resources (Ministerio de Vivienda y Asentamientos Humanos, MIVAH)
- Water and Sewage Authority (Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados, AyA)
- Ministry of Public Works and Transportation (Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes, MOPT)
- Institute of Farming Development (Instituto de Desarrollo Agrícola, IDA)
- The municipality the property is located at
In Costa Rica it is common practice to negotiate on price. The best way of getting an idea of what a property is worth is to compare it with similar properties in the area. Do not be afraid to offer a lower price than the initial price asked. Agreeing directly on an asking price could even give the seller the impression that he/she is selling too low. Make sure to get an attorney involved before making any down payments.
The following documentation is necessary for the buying process:
- Identification. A passport or proof of residency has to be presented at a notary public. If you want to buy property as a corporation, the legal representative of the company has to be present.
- Municipal Clearance Form. This document is issued by the municipality the property is located at. It states if the owner has paid all municipal and property taxes and if the buyer has any outstanding debts in the municipality.
- Plan of Survey. This is an updated survey of the property.
- Public Registry. Roughly 99 percent of all property in Costa Rica is registered at the Public Registry. Properties are registered at the Public Registry by notary publics. Properties have an identity number called the Folio Real. The data base is accessible by internet at www.registronacional.go.cr. Registry reports include the name of the owner of property, the boundaries of the property, the declared value* of the property, as well as all other issues of importance to the property.
In Costa Rica the declared value of property is often lower than its actual value. The reason why people register the value of their property at a lower value is to evade taxation. Property taxes are calculated as a percentage of the declared value.
If one of the parties cannot be present at the transaction, it is possible to authorise another person with a power of attorney.
If the seller accepts the offer made, the property is withdrawn from the market. The next step is to sign the escritura or transfer deed. The escritura is signed in the presence of a notary public. The notary public drafts the escritura and registers the propery under the new owner’s name at the Registro Nacional. In order to register at the Registro Nacional the following documents need to be presented:
- Proof of payment of taxes and registration fees
- Proof of payment of all property taxes, this certificate is issued by the Finance Ministry
- Proof of payment of all municipal taxes. This certificate is issued by the local municipality
- Proof that there are no outstanding judicial or mortgage problems
Most common form of payment for realty in Costa Rica is cash. However, if the payment is financed the following option arise:
- 50 – 50. In this situation half of the payment takes place in cash and half is made by financing. This is called a co-notario and means that the attorneys of the buyer and the seller draft the mortgage and the escritura in a single document.
- Separate drafts. It is also possible that the attorneys of the buyer and the seller draft separate documents concerning the mortgage and the escritura. Different documents mean higher legal costs though.
- Mortgage. If the majority of the payment is financed, a mortgage needs to be drafted. It is customary in Costa Rica that the financing party pays for the mortgage draft.
Closing costs of the transaction are normally split between the buyer and seller. However, this is negotiable so make sure it is clear who is paying what. Closing costs include:
- Government transfer taxes and registration fees. The Impuesto de traspaso, or transfer tax, charged by the government is 1.5% of the registered value of the property. You must have paid this tax in order to register your property at the Public Registry. Documentary stamps have to be added to the transfer deed as well. These stamps are Agricultural Stamp ( timbre agrario), Fiscal Stamp ( especie fiscal), National Archives Stamp ( timbre del archivo nacional), and the Legal Bar Association Stamp ( timbre del colegio de abogados). The Public Registry adds an additional document registration tax of 0.05%.
- Notary Fees. Notaries are entitled by law to a minimum fee but in agreement with their clients may charge more. The current fee schedule is:
- 2% of the value of the transaction for the first 10 million Colone
- 1.5% of the next 5 million Colones (from 10 till 15 million)
- 1.25% of the next 15 million Colones (from 15 till 30 million)
- 1% on anything above 30 million Colones.
- Mortgage Costs. It is custom use that the person that receives financing pays for the drafting costs of the mortgage and the registration.
After all payments are made, the escritura should be registered the property section at the Registro Nacional within 45 to 60 days. Make sure that the property is properly registered to prevent future problems.