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5 most important things to know when buying a house in Costa Rica

Posted by Katie on December 6, 2017
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You’ve decided to make the plunge and purchase a house in Costa Rica. Fortunately, your choice is a popular one and you have the experiences and advice of the thousands of expats who came before you. Costa Rica has been the #1 destination for expats from the United States and Canada for years, and as the trend continues, it’s clear that Costa Rica truly provides the quality of life desired. People decide to move to Costa Rica for a variety of reasons, but whatever the reason, it’s a well-researched decision. Costa Rica is the most developed country in Central America and is filled with beach fun and forest adventures, so what’s not to love? We are absolutely confident that once settled, you will love your new Costa Rican life, but to reach that point, you need to go through the buying process. Buying real estate is a nerve-wracking process in any situation, but doing so in another country using an unfamiliar language can compound this stress. While you start researching real estate in Costa Rica, remember to take these 5 factors into account.

#1: Costa Rica is small but extremely varied

When buying real estate, location is everything, and deciding on Costa Rica is not specific enough. Costa Rica has beaches, low lands, mountains, volcanos, rainforests, and urban centers, each microclimate with its own geography, culture, and weather patterns. This variation is one of the things that tends to attract newcomers to Costa Rica because whatever your preferences may be, there’s a place for you. This does mean that you need to put more research behind your decision, however. Life in the bustling city of San Jose is significantly different to life on the Caribbean beaches. You have a lot to explore and discover before you decide where you want to live. Consider your weather preferences, working situation, amenities needed, and entertainment options before deciding on a place to settle down. Most people recommend living in Costa Rica for at least 6 months before buying a home. You want to make sure the expat life is for you, decide on a region, and get to know the culture. Luckily, renting in Costa Rica is not very costly, so you’ll be able to live cheaply while you research the country. Remember, as beautiful as Costa Rica is, it’s not extremely easy to navigate, so you want to live close to your work base and community.

#2: Foreigners can legally own homes without residency

A huge benefit of investing in Costa Rican real estate is that foreign ownership is totally legal and easy due to the instatement of CAFTA (US-Costa Rica Free Trade Agreement). This means you need no local partner, no locally inscribed business, and no permanent residency visa to make your purchase. Applying for residency can be a tedious process, but as Costa Rica does not require residency for land or business ownership, you will have no lengthy waiting period before starting to implement your plan in this region. Buying real estate in Costa Rica can even help ease along the process if you do decide to apply for residency.

Legal foreign ownership simplifies and secures the process of purchasing real estate in Costa Rica, but the pro-US government is also dedicated to making this process convenient. Unlike its neighboring countries, Costa Rica maintains astonishingly low property tax rates and zero taxes on capital gains resulting from your purchase. This makes an already cost-efficient location even better for the investor on a budget.

#3: House Financing is difficult

While the process may be easier for a non-resident than it is in other countries, getting financing will be extremely difficult. Traditionally, people buy homes with all cash or engage in owner-financing, rather than a traditional mortgage from a bank. This may not be possible for you, but considering where your financing comes from will be extremely important as you make your decisions. Costa Rican banks may have reservations about providing financing to non-residents, and the interest rates they apply may be significantly heavier than what you’re used to. Try to secure financing through your bank in your home country, this will ensure that you understand the pay-back process. Financing your new home may be a pain, but the traditional owner-financed system will be in your benefit when the time comes for resale.

#4: There are no standard legal documents

In most countries, there is a standard document to conclude a real estate purchase. These documents are often long, confusing, and overwhelming, but at least you know you’re on track. In Costa Rica, the contract will be anything the owner, real estate agent, or developer thinks up. This is not necessarily a problem and could even take away some of the headache of buying a house, but you need to have a good team in your corner. Make sure you trust your real estate agent and try to contract a local lawyer. You want both the real estate agent and the lawyer to have extensive knowledge of home-buying in Costa Rica. In the end, the contract needs to be signed in Spanish, but you can have an official translation made at an accredited translation institute. This will ease your mind as you make this big decision.

#5: More due diligence is needed

The lack of standardization is going to mean a little bit more work on your part. But you’re buying for your future, so the work is well worth it. Don’t take any shortcuts during the home buying process. Go for the inspection, don’t forget a land survey, check water sources, and go for all and any translations. Make sure you have the best real estate agent in your corner, and look into hiring a Costa Rican lawyer to oversee the transaction. Fortunately, services such as notaries are extremely cheap in Costa Rica, so what you lose in time you’ll make up for in a cost-effective process.

Tips:

  • First and foremost, trust your team. You want a great bilingual real estate agent and a lawyer with recommendations. Buying a home in Costa Rica is a team process, so make sure yours is out for the win.
  • Never be pressured to make a buy, but move quickly when you sense a rush. Opportunities constantly present themselves in Costa Rican real estate, and you don’t want any to slip through your fingers.
  • Buy what you see. Be wary of promises of future development to an area. What you buy at the time is what you get, and any future community swimming pools or tennis courts will just be extras.
  • Be engaged and active during the process. This is your future and you want to be a part of shaping it.
  • Don’t get too frustrated. Buying real estate is always a stressful process, and considering a future move will compound it. Remember you’re signing up for life in the happiest country on Earth, so all this stress will be worth it