One of the great appeals of Costa Rica real estate comes from the advantageous property laws offered by this beautiful Central American nation. Property laws in Costa Rica are the same for nationals and foreigners. You don’t need to live in the country to own land or property, and the country has no property tax. All property titles are registered with the Registro Publico. The country practices a “first in time, first in rights” policy, so if you have your eye on a property, you’ll want to hire a lawyer or real estate broker to research the title for you, or research it carefully yourself. You’d hate to be all settled in and get a knock on the door from someone who holds claim to the title going back a few generations! Title insurance is available in Costa Rica, and we highly recommend that you purchase it when you buy property here.
Puntarenas is the province that encompasses the Central and South Pacific Coasts, and it is more developed than other coastal areas in Costa Rica. It has some terrific restaurants, popular surfing beaches, moderately priced hotels, and a wide range of real estate that’s usually less expensive than comparable property to the north.
A few Central Pacific towns-Playa del Jacó, for example-have become so popular that they remind some people of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The comparison is a bit unjust, although you’ll often hear singing in the streets on weekends.
And even Jacó isn’t far from smaller towns where you can enjoy the charm and serenity of a tropical coast. Further south is Dominical, a gorgeous port city with blue-green water on one side and lush tropical hills on the other. Surfers have long been enthusiastic about Dominical because of its consistently good waves. Nature-lovers also appreciate the former fishing village because the area is home to hundreds of exotic animals, including parrots, sloths, toucans, iguanas, monkeys, and wild cats.
The South Pacific Coast stretches from Dominical to the Panama border, an area with beautiful beaches, some of the world’s best fishing, and vast national parks with exotic wildlife. Even better, it hasn’t been spoiled by tourists.
Development of the South Pacific Coast has been held back for one main reason-accessibility. New construction on Costa Rica’s southern highway, known as the Costanera, along the Pacific Coast was recently completed, cutting the driving time along the coast.
Recent Central and South Pacific property listings:
- A three-bedroom house in Sierpe de Osa on the South Pacific Coast. The three-bedroom, one-bathroom residence has a large kitchen and a comfortable front porch. The river town where it’s located is small but has charming cafés, a hotel, supermarket, and a bakery. It’s also near the soon-to-be expanded airport at Palmar Sur. Price:$69,500.
- A small waterfront house in Playa Guapil, just north of Dominical. The two-story, 1,291-square-foot residence has one bedroom and two bathrooms. The area has some of the best beaches on the Pacific Coast, whether they’re for surfing, fishing, or just lying in the sun. Price:$135,000.
If you prefer the serenity of a lakeside community to living on the coast or enjoying the conveniences of the Central Valley, then consider Costa Rica’s Arenal area. For many decades the region’s natural beauty has attracted tourists. And it’s not just the site of the Arenal Volcano-you also have the ravishing Lake Arenal and the charming villages of Nuevo Arenal and Tilarán.
Today the area-particularly around Nuevo Arenal-is also attracting upscale property shoppers. During the day, residents often enjoy fishing in the lake, horseback riding, or hiking in the forest amid rare plants and exotic animals. Although relatively small, the town has some great restaurants, nightclubs, and cafés as well as a health clinic, hotels, and banks. Tilarán is somewhat less developed.
For many residents, Arenal’s remoteness is both an advantage and a drawback. The region is on the border of Alajuela and Guanacaste provinces, which is a drive of several hours from the Central Valley or from the airport in Liberia, although van service is readily available at the airport.
Recent Arenal property listings:
- A recently-renovated Spanish-style villa in the Los Flores neighborhood. This two-bedroom, one-bathroom house also has a kitchen, laundry room, and living room and sits on a lot of 3,703 square feet. Price:$90,000.
- A two-bedroom, lake-view house built in the Spanish colonial style. Located in Nuevo Arenal, this 1,374-square-foot house has a living room, dining room, kitchen, two bathrooms, and a covered patio. Floors are ceramic throughout the house. Price:$177,000.
Purchasing procedure for Real Estate in Costa Rica
As a general rule, don’t delay in making an offer once you find the property you want to buy. The market in Costa Rica is simply too strong to wait. On the other hand, don’t buy property you haven’t actually visited. No matter how much research you do-talking with knowledgeable friends, looking at pictures, or getting information from the Internet-never buy from a developer or individual unless you’ve actually visited the condo, house, or land.
Similarly, buy only what you see-not what a developer or real estate agent may promise. Many developers, for example, talk about plans for new roads, clubhouses, golf courses, or marinas. But a lot can go wrong, even with the best developments. To protect yourself, don’t figure tomorrow’s features into the price you offer today.
As you would do when buying property elsewhere, don’t hesitate to ask for a reduction in price if parts of the house are in disrepair or look as though they may need repairs in the near future. In Costa Rica, ask for a discount-perhaps as much as $2,000-if the residence lacks a telephone. New phones are difficult to get.
There are no restrictions on foreign property ownership as such, although no one can own property with 50 meters of the ocean, and for the next 150 meters real estate comes under Maritime Zone laws. These laws permit development only under government “concession.” This means that anyone shopping for property should be doubly cautious about buying oceanfront real estate, including condos. Before entering into a transaction, insist that your attorney verify that the title is legally consistent with Maritime Zone regulations.
*Prices as of 2013