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Costa Rica Real Estate Manual for Foreign Buyers

We often receive questions on the process for a foreigner to purchase and own real estate in Costa Rica. This article addresses several of the most frequently asked inquiries about how to make ownership of a tropical home your reality.

  1. Can a foreigner buy Costa Rica real estate?

Absolutely. Any foreigner, whether legal resident of Costa Rica or not, can purchase and own real estate in Costa Rica. Your passport could be used as your identification throughout the process. The property may be your dream home for retirement, an investment home or a business.

  1. How is property ownership registered in Costa Rica?

All properties in Costa Rica are registered in a computer system with a number called Folio Real which is the property title number. This is a centralized system maintained by the office of the National Registry in San José. As a part of due diligence, and before any transfer is made, it is essential to perform a title search in the Public Registry. The property title will show all data on the property such as: ownership, boundaries, location, existing mortgages or liens. Osa Tropical Properties performs a title search on all properties that are listed available through our company. It is our goal to make sure titles are clean prior to offering a property for sale.

  1. What is the National Registry?

The National Registry is responsible for maintaining records of all titled property in Costa Rica. All registered surveys are held in the National Registry.

The National Registry can be accessed on line to obtain certifications of a property, of a corporation, copies of powers of attorney and a copy of property survey map.

  1. Is title insurance available in Costa Rica?

Title insurance is available in Costa Rica; however, it is almost never used. Osa Tropical Properties provides our clients with assistance in the due diligence process to make sure that there are no known issues with the property title.

If you are interested in title insurance, there are a variety of options available. Here is a check list of many of the things that you want to make sure the title insurance company covers:

  • Ownership issues.
  • Liens, mortgages, contracts, options and other encumbrances on the title.
  • Fraud or forgery issues.
  • Right of access to the land.
  • Covenants limiting the use of the land.
  • Transfer problem.

And, of course, it is necessary to validate the reputation of the title company. Referrals from trusted persons are a good start.

  1. Are there any zoning rules or restrictions?

Costa Rica does have many areas that are protected for nature conservation and this is indeed a good thing. We all love Costa Rica because of the natural beauty and protecting it is important. Conservation areas are annotated in the National Registry.

Some types of communities in Costa Rica such as condominiums or gated communities may have their own rules and restrictions. It is important to review all rules and regulations regarding to such communities to make sure that you are comfortable with the conditions.

  1. How do I hire a real estate attorney?

A real estate attorney will provide you with legal advice regarding your real estate transaction and make sure that the process follows the real estate laws of Costa Rica. Selecting an attorney with the additional credential of being a Notary Public (Notario Publico) will make your real estate transaction smoother as there are transactions that require the services of a Notary Public.

The credentials and function of a Notary Public in Costa Rica are different than in North America. Being a Notary Public in Costa Rica requires that the person first be an attorney and then complete additional training and pass a related exam to become a Notary Public. With regard to real estate transactions only a notary public can record a purchase in the National Registry.

Also, it is important that the real estate attorney has a SUGEF (Financial Institution Superintendency) approved escrow account, uses a reputable private or title company to manage the security of earnest money kept in escrow.

  1. How do I start my property search?

There is a lot of information on line so that you can start your property search today. Our Osa Tropical Properties website is a great place to start:


Most importantly, visit Costa Rica and spend as much time as you can in the area. Nothing like living the life to get a feel for your new life in paradise.

  1. Why should I select Osa Tropical Properties as my real estate agent?

Osa Tropical Properties is a member of CCCBR. This is the official body that regulates the real estate industry in Costa Rica. The CCCBR trains and licenses real estate agents in Costa Rica and we have CCCBR licensed agents in our office.

Osa Tropical Properties has 20 years of real estate experience. It is a private, family owned business that prides itself in being the specialists in the Southern Zone of Costa Rica. We have agents fluent in English, Spanish and French in order to serve a wide variety of clients. Check our website to see what our customers have to say about OTP, nothing better than a first hand experience as a recommendation.

  1. What are normal real estate commissions in Costa Rica?

Real estate commissions in Costa Rica vary based on the type of services that are being provided. This is an important question for both buyers and sellers to discuss with their real estate agent.

  1. How do I make an offer on a property in Costa Rica?

The offer should be an official, written document that states all terms and conditions that apply to your offer on the property. Once there is an agreement between buyer and seller on an offer, the real estate broker’s notary will write up a purchase sale agreement. The purchase sale agreement is the legal agreement between the two parties. When it is signed it is customary for the buyer to make a deposit on the property that goes into an escrow account.

If you are traveling to Costa Rica and think you may make an offer on a property while in Costa Rica, it is important to meet with your local banker before you leave home to make sure that you have things in place to initiate a wire transfer. This is important because a purchase sale agreement is illegal until your deposit is in the escrow account.

  1. How is escrow money paid?

Most often the escrow funds are sent via wire transfer. Due to banking protocol in Costa Rica the wire transfer may take few days. Your real estate attorney can advise you on any steps you might need to take to make sure this process goes smoothly.

  1. How is a closing handled in Costa Rica?

You, your real estate agent, your real estate attorney and the seller will meet to execute required closing documents.

If you do no plan to be in Costa Rica for the closing, you will need to designate a special power of attorney for a trusted person to follow your behalf for the closing.

  1. Should I register my property title in my name, a corporation or another legal entity?

Your real estate attorney will be able to advise you on the best way to register your property in Costa Rica. There are options of registering in your name or in a corporation.

If you choose to register the property in your name and would like to share the property title with your spouse, another family member or business partners. You can share the title in equal parts as a “right” or “derecho.” The title will show for example, 1-345678-001 and -002, with as many partners as you would like.

You can also purchase any Costa Rica real estate in a corporation. There are options of a Sociedad Anónima (S.A.) or a Sociedad Responsabilidad Limitada (SRL), which is similar to an LLC. Ask your attorney for advice on the legal part of the transaction.

Another way to purchase your property is in the name of your retirement fund or the corporation that represents it, such as an IRA or 401( k).

  1. What are the real estate title transfer costs?

The cost of the title transfer is normally a little less than 4 percent of the sales price total which is customarily shared between buyer and seller unless stated differently in the purchase sale agreement. Legal stamps are approximately 1.1 percent, as they are on a sliding scale, and transfer taxes are 1.5 percent. Notary fees are also on a sliding scale and add up around 1 to 1.4 percent. Again, ask for your attorney’s advice on this matter.

  1. What kinds of annual taxes will I need to pay on my property?

There is an annual real estate property tax what you will pay that is 0.25 percent of the registered property value.

During the due diligence process your real estate agent and attorney will help you understand all tax rules and regulations that apply to the property.

  1. Condominium fees

If you purchase in a condominium or a gated community, it is important to receive written documentation regarding the amount of fees and exactly what is covered by these fees. Have the Real Estate agent bring a letter of the condominium administration that the HOA fees are paid up to the date of the closing.

  1. Utilities

Once the deed is registered in the National Registry, your attorney can supply you with the needed documentations to allow you to change the utilities for the property to your name or under a corporation name. Your real estate attorney can provide you with advice on the best route to take for your particular situation.

This article is intended to give you an overview of questions that we most frequently receive relative to purchase of property in Costa Rica. The important team of your real estate agent and real estate attorney will be able to walk you through the process. Please contact Osa Tropical Properties to work with among our professional agents in your search and purchase of property in the tropical paradise known as Costa Rica.


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