It really depends on where are you on the whole process with buying Costa Rica real estate.

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If you are at the early stages of buying Costa Rica real estate where you are still looking to buy the land, we would certainly recommend that you work with an attorney to guide you through the process of building a house in Costa Rica.

This attorney should be an attorney of your choosing… Never, ever use the seller’s attorney just to save a few bucks when it comes to buying Costa Rica real estate.

If you already have the land and are beginning to sign the contracts with the architect or the building company then you may be able to manage without an attorney but, if you do not speak Spanish fluently, we would suggest that you definitely will need expert, bilingual legal help. Especially when it comes to signing any kind of contract or agreement.

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And please bear in mind that if you are not from Costa Rica, you will not be accustomed to the way things work …

There are several different uses in Costa Rica with regard to building contracts, but the most common nowadays is the “contrato por obra terminada“, which is a “turn key contract”. This is where you hire a building company and they do everything for a fixed price, ranging from the engineering blueprints (civil, electrical, mechanical), to the City permits, pay building taxes, etc, up to the handing over of the house ready to be used.

Architectural plans are normally not included, unless you hire a company run by architects. In this kind of contract there are several issues to be addressed, like the performance time table and delay penalties, type of materials and finishing.

So it can be quite demanding which is fine “if” you are someone who likes to live outside the courthouse, but it is advisable to hire a knowledgeable bilingual attorney who will be able to produce a contract that reflects precisely what you want.

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And last but not least, labor laws are quite an issue in Costa Rica. You have to be absolutely sure who exactly is going to be the legal employer.

Sometimes a completely innocent mistake where your name is misplaced in the contract could result in you being entangled in a 5+ years process in the Labor Courts.

Other issues that could possibly complicate your life if you are building in a more rural area, would be those related to water springs, rivers, wildlife refuges and forestry reserves…

Please note that in this brief summary, I have deliberately left anything related to beach front property, which is a whole different ballgame.

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José Rafael Fernández Quesada has been in private practice as an International Law counselor in Costa Rica since 1985. He works mainly with foreign clients from Europe, Canada and the USA who are living in or doing business in Costa Rica.

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