Buying property and constructing buildings or a home can be an intimidating process, even when you are at home in the culture and know what to expect and plan for.

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In a foreign country, the same processes can be downright frightening. In a new setting, you need to learn what the usual way to go about things is and also who is legally and ethically responsible for, in other words you should invest some time in learning how things work and how to protect your investment.

Fortunately, in Costa Rica there is a defined process through which an intelligent buyer and builder should proceed. In addition, there is a licensing body for architects and engineers, which also sets standards for fees should you decide to build. But let’s start at the beginning.

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.

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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.

Buying Costa Rica Real Estate – Step by step process video Interview with attorney Roger Petersen.

  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 may 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.

At your option, the property can be purchased in an individual’s name, jointly with other persons, or in the name of a corporation. the decision as to ownership should be based upon your particular situation and after consultation with your attorney.

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).

To rent or buy this 54 minute video with Costa Rica Attorney Roger Petersen please visit our Video On Demand page here.

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.

The property database can be accessed via the Internet web page of the National registry or Registro Nacional at

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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.

It is also good practice to verify with the Municipal government where the property is located to verify any zoning use or restrictions and to ensure that the property is current with all property taxes.

Depending on the property and the intended use further due diligence may be required before other governmental agencies such as Environmental Department, Public Works, National Parks, Electrical and Water Departments etc..

You can read part two of Buying or Building Real Estate in Costa Rica? Here is What You Need To Know About Closing Costs.

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Costa Rica Attorney Roger Petersen.

Written and copyright by Attorney at Law – Roger A. Petersen. Roger has been an attorney since 1992 and is a member of both the Costa Rican and Florida Bar. He practices law in San José, Costa Rica and is the author of the best-selling book The Legal Guide To Costa Rica which you can order from Barnes & Noble here or from here. Attorney Petersen’s website can be found at Petersen & Philps Law Offices.

To speak with Attorney Roger Petersen about hiring him as your Costa Rica attorney, please contact him using the information below:

Lic. Roger A. Petersen – Attorney at Law

San Jose, Costa Rica

Tel: 506-2288-2189 Ext. 101 or 2288-6228 Ext. 101


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