You will find many amazing properties throughout Costa Rica. 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, nor do you have to a legal resident. You can buy property on a tourist visa.
A huge advantage to owning in Costa Rica is the extremely low property tax rate of just 0.25% of the registered property value. For a home worth $200,000 that works out to $500 in taxes. Keep in mind that the assessed value of a home, determined by the local municipality, is often lower than the sales price. There is also a luxury home tax for higher-end properties. But even the highest rate, for a million+ dollar home, is only 0.55%.
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 one of the most developed coastal areas in Costa Rica. It has some terrific restaurants, popular surfing beaches, moderately priced hotels, lush rain forests, and a wide range of real estate from high-end to bargain-priced.
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 because, although it is very popular with foreign and national tourists, the town is quite small. You will see a very active nightlife scene, especially on weekends.
And even Jacó isn’t far from smaller towns where you can enjoy the charm and serenity of a rural tropical coast community just minutes from the services and amenities of town, like Esterillos and Playa Herradura. Further south is Dominical, a gorgeous seaside village 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:
- In the bustling beach town of Jacó is a two-bedroom condo a block from the beach and the “main drag” of town full of shops and restaurants. There is a community pool, 24-hour security, and two playgrounds in the complex. Price: $159,000.
- A two-bedroom home north of Dominical in the village of Matapolo. It’s set on two acres of jungle and has an ocean view. Enjoy sunsets from the expansive balcony. There is also a community pool. Price: $149,000.
Lake Arenal could be for you if you prefer the serenity of a lakeside community to living on the coast or enjoying the conveniences of the Central Valley. 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 and cafés as well as a health clinic, hotels, and banks. Tilarán is somewhat more developed but is about 10 minutes inland from the lakeshore.
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-built three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath villa in a small gated community on the hills above the lake. It has a panoramic lake view and is a quick drive to Nuevo Arenal, the main town in the area with medical clinic, grocery stores, and restaurants. Price: $219,000.
- A one-bedroom condo right on the lakeshore. The community features small marina, horse stables, tennis courts, pool, clubhouse, and lush tropical landscaping. Comes fully-furnished. Price: $125,000.
A can’t miss region in Costa Rica is the Central Valley. It is favored by many expats, especially retirees, for many reasons. The weather is nearly perfect year-round, with the temperatures never getting above 85 F and cooling down to the 60s at night. The best medical care in the country, including the top hospitals and most specialists, are concentrated here. Finally, the main international airport, in the capital, San Jose, is never more than an hour or so away.
Expats tend to live in villages and market towns in the countryside, with homes set on hillsides, offering panoramic views of coffee plantations, river valleys, and soaring verdant mountains. Some popular towns for expats include Grecia, Atenas, San Ramon, Puriscal, and Santa Ana. It’s a peaceful and quite rural existence, with plenty of modern conveniences close by.
Recent Central Valley listings:
- A two-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath home in an expat neighborhood in the village of Atenas. The home features a covered carport, covered terrace, and fenced in yard. The kitchen has custom cabinets and granite countertops. Price: $129,000
- A two-bedroom, two-bath home with large fenced-in yard in Grecia. It offers tremendous views of the Central Valley, a covered patio with BBQ grill, two-car garage, and plenty of fruit trees on the property. Price: $150,000
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. And be sure to do your due diligence to ensure the property is not encumbered by liens or other issues and that the seller is the titled owner.
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 landline phones are difficult to get, with many expats relying mostly on their cell phones. (There is excellent coverage throughout the country.)
There are no restrictions on foreign property ownership as such, although no one can own property within 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,” which is similar to a long-term lease. You may be build on the property, develop it…but you don’t have title. And only foreigners who have resided in Costa Rica for at least five years can be majority owners in this type of land.
This means that anyone shopping for property should be doubly cautious about buying oceanfront real estate, including condos. There are some areas that are exempt from the Maritime Zone law, including portions of Playa de Jacó, but they are few and far between. So before entering into a transaction, insist that your attorney verify that the title is legally consistent with Maritime Zone regulations.
*Prices as of 2015