The decision to buy a home in Costa Rica is exciting. The purchase process may seem straightforward, but there are potential pitfalls, especially if you’re buying a previously owned property. Here are six things to know about buying property in Costa Rica.
You have the same property ownership rights as Costa Ricans except for beachfront property. The Maritime Zone Law governs about 95% of Costa Rica coastline. The first 200 meters from the high tide mark define the Maritime Zone boundary. Property within the Maritime Zone is available only as a concession for use defined by the Maritime Zone Law and other regulations set by municipalities and the Institute of Tourism. Only Costa Rican citizens can own a concession. However, you can enter a partnership with a Costa Rican as the majority partner.
An attorney who is also a Public Notary is a requirement and a good idea. An attorney knows whether you’re buying property with an ownership right (derecho de propiedad) or a right of occupation (derecho de ocupación). A right of occupation means the land isn’t registered, cannot be title-searched and will require a long process before entry in the Public Registry. Ownership rights give you clear title to the property once the formalities are complete.
Most properties in Costa Rica have a unique identification number registered in the Folio Real system at the Public Registry in San José. Before you buy or make an offer, ask for a title search in the Folio Real that provides all the property information, including area, ownership, boundaries, location, mortgages and other liens. Some properties aren’t in the Folio Real, but are still searchable.
You’ll also need a surveyor. Your attorney must record a survey at the Public Registry to transfer, mortgage or acquire a property. A municipal authorization is also required on the survey. Both bodies validate and approve the property survey. You should register a new survey to avoid boundary line disputes.
Some properties were never recorded; families have lived there for generations and others were never occupied. Sometimes people will claim ownership and put a property up for sale. Unless it’s recorded at the Public Registry, there’s no clear title. Avoid such a property; there’s simply no way to prove transferable ownership or determine what you’re buying.
Your attorney will prepare the deed for signature at the close of escrow and record it in her notary book, before immediately recording it at the Public Registry. Upon submission to the Registry, you’re protected against subsequent third party interest. Once the deed is verified as correct, staff will record your ownership.
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