FAQ's

I want to purchase property in Costa Rica. What is required?

 So you've found, either through a real estate agent or your own searches, a piece of property that is perfect for you. Once you have negotiated a sales price and the seller has accepted your offer, then the legal procedures for transferring ownership of title begin.


How is title transferred?

 In Costa Rica, property is transferred from seller to buyer by executing a transfer deed (escritura) before a Notary Public. Unlike common law countries, such as the United States and Canada, where the role of the notary is limited to authenticating signatures, in Costa Rica the notary public has extensive powers to act on behalf of the state. The notary public must be an attorney and she or he may draft and interpret legal documents, as well as authenticate and certify the authenticity of documents.

 In order to close on the property, the buyer and seller must select a notary/attorney who will draft the transfer deed and register the sale in the Public Registry (Registro Nacional). The local custom is that the buyer may select his or her notary/attorney to draft the transfer deed if paying cash for the property. If the purchase price is financed, there are generally three alternatives for selecting the notary/attorney.

 1. If a large percentage of the purchase price is being financed by the seller and a mortgage needs to be drafted to guarantee payment, then the seller may request that her or his notary/attorney draft the transfer deed.

 2. If a property is purchased 50 percent cash and 50 percent financed, it is common for the buyer's attorney and seller's attorney to jointly draft the transfer deed and mortgage in a single document. This is known as co-notariado.

 3. Finally, the buyer nay insist that his or her notary/attorney draft the transfer deed and let the seller's notary/attorney draft a separate mortgage instrument. In this case, because the mortgage is being drafted separately, it carries a higher registration fee. The registration fees are discussed below in the section on closing costs.

How can I ensure that I have clear title to the property?

 Costa Rican law requires that all documents relating to an interest and/or title to real property be registered in the property section of the Public Registry (Article 460 of the Civil Code). Most properties have a titled registration number known as the folio real, and the records database can be searched with this number or by name index. The Public Registry report (informe registral) provides detailed information on the property, including the name of the title holder, boundary lines, tax appraisal, liens, mortgages, recorded easements, and other recorded instruments that would affect title.

 Since Costa Rica follows the doctrine of first in time, first in right, recorded instruments presented to the Public Registry are given priority according to the date and time in which they are recorded. Obviously, every situation differs and in some cases a review of the Public Registry record will not be enough to uncover all encumbrances. That is why it is important that the buyer have her or his own attorney conduct an independent title search and investigation rather than rely on the seller's attorney.

How about closing costs?

 The general custom is for the buyer and seller to share equally in the closing costs. this can be modified by agreement and usually depends upon the particular transaction. Closing costs involve three things: government taxes and fees, notary fee, and mortgage costs, if any.

[A] Government Transfer Tax and Registration Fees

(1) Real Estate Transfer Tax. - The government collects a property transfer tax (Impuesto de Traspaso ) which is equal to 1.5% of the registered value of the property. The Public Registry will not record a transfer deed unless the transfer taxes and documentary stamps have been paid. (The transfer tax was reduced from 3% to 1.5% by Law No. 7764 effective May 22, 1998)

(2) Documentary Stamps - The government also requires that documentary stamps be affixed to the deed. These stamps include the following: Municipal Stamp: (Timbre Municipal) ;Legal Bar Association Stamp (Timbre del Colegio de Abogados); Agricultural Stamp (Timbre Agrario); National Archives Stamp (Timbre del Archivo Nacional); Fiscal Stamp:(Especie Fiscal). The Public Registry also imposes its own tax of .05% on documents presented for recordation to the Public Registry. (Derechos de Registro)

[B] Notary Fees

The Notary that drafted the contract for sale and carried out the closing is entitled by law (Decree 2307-J) to a fee equal to 1.5% of the first one million Colones of the actual sales price and 1.25% on the balance. The Attorney and Notary fee schedule which was established by Executive Decree No. 2307-J on April 4, 1991 was repealed on February 9, 1999 (Decree No. 27624-J). However, in October of 1999, the Supreme Court of Costa Rica ruled that the Decree which repealed the Fee schedule was unconstitutional and reinstated the original fee schedule.

 [C] Mortgage costs. It is customary for the person who is receiving financing to pay the costs of drafting and registering the mortgage instrument. A mortgage can be created simultaneously at the time of sale by adding a mortgage clause in the transfer deed. Or, a separate mortgage instrument can be drafted. A mortgage document paysregistration fees of 1.00 Colon for every 1,000 Colones. The mortgage document also pays documentary stamps. The Notary Public will also charge for drafting the mortgage instrument and that fee can range from approximately 0.625 percent to 1.25 percent of the amount of the mortgage, depending on the circumstances involved. The buyer should be aware that Costa Rican real estate transactions commonly operate on a two-tiered system. since Costa Rican properties have a low property tax appraisal base in relation to market value, it is a customary practice to run property sales through at the registered value, which may be substantially less than the actual sales price of the property. In such a case, all transfer taxes and fees discussed above would apply to the registered value as opposed to its sales price, with the exception of the notary fee. Buyers should consult their attorney about the potential risks of this practice.

Registration of the transfer deed.

 Once all the fees have been paid, it is the obligation of the notary who drafted the transfer deed to ensure that the deed is presented (anotado) and registered (inscrito) in the Property Section of the Public Registry. I have stressed the words presented and registered to highlight the importance of following up with the notary to ensure registration. Although presentation guarantees your priority (i.e., first in time, first in right), it does not automatically guarantee registration. The Public Registry will not register a transfer deed unless all taxes and registration fees are included; a certified copy from the Municipality where the property is located is provided certifying that the seller's property tax (bienes inmuebles) and municipal assesments (impuestos municipales) have been paid through the date of closing. Likewise, any prior instruments that encumber the property(i.e., mortgages, liens, judgments, etc.) must be lifted before your transfer deed will be registered.


I want to build. What do I do?

 In order to build in Costa Rica, you will likely face a bureaucratic maze of governmental regulations. The law requires that any application for a construction permit be presented by a licensed architect or engineer (Article 83, Law of Constructions, Article II.2 Construction Regulations). It is therefore advisable to contact a reputable, licensed architect or civil engineer to guide you through the construction process.

What do architects and engineers charge?

 All architects and engineers in Costa Rica must be licensed by the Costa Rican Association of Engineers and Architects (Colegio Federado de Ingenieros y Ingenieros y Arquitectos-CFIA. This governing body establishes the fee schedule that can be charged by its members. Most fees are based upon a percentage of the value of the construction project. According to the regulations of the CFIA (Reglamento para la Contratación de Servicios de Consultoría en Ingeniería y Arquitectura), the involvement of a licensed architect/engineer in a construction project is separated into two phases. Phase 1 is construction plans and permits, and phase 2 is control and execution.

Construction permits.

 Before you purchase a lot with the intent of building on it, you should conduct some preliminary studies on the property to ensure that there won't be a problem obtaining a building permit. First, determine if the lot has basic services such as water, electricity, telephone, and drainage. Second, make sure there are no restrictions placed on the lot that could result in the denial of a construction permit. It will not be enough to check the Public Registry. You should also check the Ministry of Public Works (Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte) for future road construction projects; the Ministry of Health (Ministerio de Salud); the National Institute of Housing and Urban Development (Instituto Nacional de Vivienda y Urbanismo) and the municipality where the property is located (municipalidad). And finally, be aware of any environmental regulation that may effect your construction project, such as national wildlife refuges and areas deemed protected by the forestry Law.






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