Expat Guide to Buying Property in Costa Rica

Expat Guide to Buying Property in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has seen a huge boom in real estate as more and more expat buyers choose to settle in this Central American hot-spot. It is no wonder really as Costa Rica offers spectacular beaches, mountains and the all present greenery of the jungle with a varied wildlife.

Further to all the great scenery, Costa Rica is also the home of eco-tourism and adventure tourism. Tourists usually visit Costa Rica to surf, play gold or indulge into a bit of sport fishing. The large, man-made lake of Arenal is another popular attraction as well as the pink beach of Conchal.

To retired Americans Costa Rica has become somewhat of a second home as thousands relocate there every year.

The province of Guanacaste on the northwest Pacific coast is currently the hottest destination in the country. Throughout the province the cost of living is low, and so are taxes. Real estate agent Steve Grubba of Peninsula Papagayo said;

For many buyers, property taxes are less per year than they pay per month at home, like $3,000 a year on a $2 million home.”

According to USAToday, there are mainly three neighbourhoods in Guanacaste that attracting expat buyers.

  1. Peninsula Papagayo: Is the country’s highest profile development and covers and area of 2,300 acres with 15 miles of coastline. Several golf courses, resorts and leisure facilities will eventually be located in Peninsula Papagayo. An existing Four Seasons hotel offers its own residences from $2.65 million. Surrounding the peninsula is famous Santa Rosa National Park.
  2. Tamarindo: Is a small former fishing village that has become an attractive destination for surfers. With three beaches and plenty of restaurants and hotels there is enough room for tourists and buyers looking to buy. Lots near the beach begin in the low $60,000s and new construction homes from just over $100,000. At the same time, new luxury high-rise condominiums fetch about $500,000.
  3. Playas Flamingo & Potrero: This unique twin-beach community is home to many expats and offers a year-round season. Of the two, Flamingo is more heavily developed with luxury hilltop homes overlooking the sea. There are also casinos, hotels and restaurants. Potrero on the other hand is more quiet with a small village and more modest homes. New homes in gated Potrero communities begin at $150,000, while Flamingo properties start upward of $300,000.

Buying Costa Rica Real Estate

Most properties in the country are registered in a computer system called “Folio Real”, centralised in the Public Registry in San Jose. It is advised that you do a full title search before you buy real estate in Costa Rica. It will present you with data such as boundaries, mortgages, liens, location and area ownership.

Just be mindful that some properties are still outside the reach of the Folio Real. Even so, these properties can be searched in the database of the Public Registry as well.

beach-on-guanacaste-costa-rica As a buyer the most important question to ask is whether you are being offered ownership rights (derecho de propiedad) or occupation rights (‘derechos de ocupances’). Occupation means you would be dealing with land that has not been registered and can’t be title-searched. Occupation land must also go through a lengthy process to be registered. On the other hand, Ownership rights are equal to the concept of owning land in the United States or Canada.

If you are buying beach land then consider what is called the concession. In a concession the government gives a private party (you) the right to use the land for a specific period of time. Generally speaking it can be also considered as a lease and does come with certain requirements.

Purchasing Property

As a foreigner you can legally own property in Costa Rica. Choose from a wide range of styles ranging from:

  • Condominiums
  • Time share
  • Farms
  • Houses
  • Apartments
  • Beachfront
  • Lots

Property Ownership

With the wide range of property choices, legal rights need to be understood in order to make the right choice. There are various ownership models available to overseas buyers and you will have to familiarise yourself with the rights of:

  • Fee Simple
  • Concession in the Maritime Zone
  • Properties in Condominiums
  • Untitled property

Purchasing Property in Costa Rica Step by Step

Once you found a property you deem worthy of buying here is what you need to do:

  • Step 1: Sign an Option to Purchase/Sale with seller.
  • Step 2: Deposit funds into escrow (if available).
  • Step 3: Title research performed by the Notary Public / Lawyer (review if property is free and clear of defects)
  • Step 4: Closing – Execution of Transfer Deed, Endorsement of Shares and/or Mortgage Deed and disburse funds
  • Step 5: Register new owner with Public Registry


Whenever you buy real estate anywhere there are fees attached to it. In Costa Rica the fee structure looks as follows:

  • Transfer taxes, stamps and other charges: The government charges 1.5% of the purchase price in order to record the transfer of the property. An additional 1% is charged for other stamps at the Public Registry.
  • Notary Fees: Notaries are required by law to charge 1.25% as their legal fees.
  • Survey fees: If you require or demand a new survey for your property, there are qualified surveyors available to perform this function. Pricing depends on the location and size of the property.
  • Mortgage registration fees: The government charges 0.6% of the mortgage value to register the mortgage deed on the property.
  • Escrow Fees: Fees are dependent on the escrow provider.
  • Incorporation: Fees for purchasing a corporation typically run between $500-$1000 or +.

Buying and owning a piece of Costa Rican paradise can certainly become a reality for you given you stick with a notary and the law. The good thing is, real estate is still affordable and the lifestyle is offering everything one would want after moving from Europe or the US.