I respect all professions and business institutions. I do, however, play the devil’s advocate protecting clients in real estate transactions and today we’ll look at Costa Rica attorneys.

There’s a saying about Costa Rica attorney that is prevalent among Ticos and foreigners: “Con cuidado! or, “Be careful!”

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Yes, there are lawyers here that have not represented their profession well by being dishonest, corrupt and criminal and you can find out how to check on your attorney by reading Costa Rica Attorneys Black-List.

The majority of complaints, however, concerning Costa Rica attorneys are in areas of efficiency, attention to detail, follow through, client communication, and consistency.

During consultations with clients concerning real estate and Costa Rica attorneys, I am amazed at the number of individuals who state that: “If anything happens, I will take them to court and sue them”.

At this point, I give clients the following advice that was given to me by my friend who happens to be an international attorney in the US. The last thing you want to do in Costa Rica is enter their legal system.

Once you do, you fall under the umbrella of Costa Rican law and litigation will take a HUGE amount of time, even ten YEARS and even if you win – what have you won? This advice was more for litigation but I am sure many people with court experience here will agree.

Another perspective you need to bear in mind is that you are dealing with Costa Rica attorneys who are a reflection of the culture. Have you ever asked a Tico for directions? Has a Costa Rica attorney ever told you that he can NOT do something? Even if it’s not their area of expertise?

Lawyers here are much more passive than in the states (culture) and will try to avoid conflict with you and situations concerning your case. I find lawyers here would rather sit on a problem rather than confront you, the client, with the fact that that there is a problem. For the client, this causes frustration, delay, and less confidence in the lawyer.

It is important to understand what a lawyer should do for you in a real estate transaction here. The following guidelines will be helpful:

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  1. Protect Yourself!

    Do not take this for granted or you may have the surprise of your life both legally and financially. Tell your lawyer up front that you expect to be protected throughout the real estate transaction. Many attorneys here actually feel that doing the paperwork is where there responsibilities begin and end – again, be careful!

  2. Check documents.

    The lawyer should go over all documents from the purchase agreement to the documents at closing, explain and advise you concerning all documents.

  3. Identify the Real Seller.

    This is very important! Property has sometimes been sold by persons representing themselves as the owner of property when in fact they are not. The lawyer should verify identification of an individual or if the individual is selling through a corporation. The ‘Registro’ is one tool for the lawyer to use and, if a corporation, the lawyer can find out if the individual is, in fact, part of the corporation. Sometimes a lawyer has to physically go down and check corporations and officers of the corporation.

  4. Check the Registro.

    A printout from the Registro will give valuable information concerning ownership, legal description, mortgages, liens, and annotations. The Registro printout, however, does not give all information and the printout can be tampered with (ever hear of cut-and-paste?).

  5. Property Municipality.

    The Property Municipality is important because some details concerning property may only be discovered by physically going to the municipality where the property is located. Taxes, zoning, easements and certain liens may not show up in a Registro printout but will be in the municipality. It is better that a thorough investigation be done beforehand rather than a surprise later.

  6. Method of payment.

    The lawyer should protect your money and money transfers can be complicated. Down payments are customarily held by the seller, therefore, the smaller the down payment the better, 5% to 10% maximum.

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  8. Possible Payment Delays?

    Another problem that arises is cashiers checks from the USA. It can take up to six weeks to clear here. It is better to open up a bank account here, wire the money and get a cashiers check here. Your lawyer should once again protect you and your money.

  9. Deed and Registro.

    The lawyer will do the transfer deed and record the deed. Very important is to record the deed as soon as possible. A good lawyer will record the transfer deed right away.

  10. Closing.

    The lawyer will handle the closing usually at 1.25% of the purchase price. Tip – never take closings for granted. You should check all figures and understand all documents. Do not let anyone throw papers at you to sign without explanation. At the beginning of any closing tell everyone present you wish to go slow and will sign each document after reviewing and understanding it.

  11. Certified copies.

    Let your lawyer know that you would like copies of all papers and certified copies after any documents have been recorded. Tip – My last client bought a lot in Guanacaste for $250,000. The Realtor failed to mention that he was in an environmentally sensitive area near a national park. I asked him for all his papers – he had none. The Realtor had them all!


A lawyer can arrange for an annotation to be put in the Registro concerning the property you wish to buy. A priority reserve is in essence a red flag that will stay for one month and in fact ties up the property for a 30 day period during your purchase transaction.

The seller signs a notice and the lawyer records this. It is a protection for you and prevents the seller from selling the land again. (Has this ever happened before? – Yes!)

In conclusion, I hope I have provided some useful information for you as a buyer. Remember preventive information is much cheaper than remedial.

Written by VIP Member Rudy Matthews

who has more than 25 years experience buying, selling, managing and building homes and apartments in the USA and most recently in Costa Rica.

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