Costa Rica is a unique country, it is both beautiful to visit and truly enjoyable to live in.
Called by many the “Switzerland of the Americas” due to its neutral political status and its spectacular mountains that remind one of Switzerland.
It is one of the oldest democracies in the Americas and abolished its Army over 50 years ago, choosing instead to spend that money on education and health services for its inhabitants. After 50 years, the results are there for everyone to see and enjoy.
Costa Rica has the second highest literacy rate per capita in the world and a lower infant mortality rate than the United States. Costa Ricans enjoy full political and social stability and are fiercely proud of the peace and prosperity that Costa Rica has achieved.
It is a country that prides itself on having more teachers than policemen and where on Election Day, the polling stations are handled by schoolchildren in many places instead of the armed soldiers one finds in other countries.
Costa Rica used to be a well-kept secret as most people associated Central America with turmoil and war, but the people in Costa Rica have always enjoyed a happy and peaceful existence.
Costa Rica has a population of approximately 3.5 million and about 1% of that is the 35,000 North American citizens that have made Costa Rica their home, attracted by a quality of life, which is among the highest in the Western Hemisphere.
These residents know what many visitors are now discovering; that Costa Rica is a great and very safe place to live, whether one resides here full time or a few months out of the year. Costa Rica’s medical care is among the best in the world.
In a recent survey study of health systems around the world, Costa Rica was ranked just above the United States! New hospitals, such as the Cima-San Jose Medical Complex in Escazu, San Jose are equipped with state-of-the-art medical equipment and world-class specialists.
Many North Americans come here for dental services, plastic surgery and even for heart surgery, as the quality is comparable to North American health care but the prices are 50% – 70% less.
The currently elected President, Abel Pacheco has made tourism and foreign investment a priority of his government and is presently working on several important improvements to the infrastructure of roads, bridges and ports.
The country takes advantage of an almost perfect tropical climate. Because of its mountains, there are in fact, five different climatic zones.
The Central Plateau Valley, due to its altitude, offers a perpetual spring, where the thermometer is almost always between 22 and 34 degrees Celsius, depending on the season.
Costa Rica has two seasons: the Dry or Summer season which runs from late November to May and the Green (Wet) season which usually starts late May or early June and runs to November.
This Green season offers sunny mornings, rainy afternoons and cool nights. During the month of July there is usually a type of Indian summer that brings with it gorgeous weather.
Costa Rica offers a real paradise for the nature and outdoors enthusiast, as well as for the sport fishing and water sports fanatics. The coast lines, rivers and lakes offer ideal conditions for sport fishing, rafting, kayaking, diving, surfing or just plain fun in the sun.
You will find beautiful beaches of white or black sand, valleys, mountains, waterfalls, volcanoes, National Parks and biological reserves, awesome sunrises on the Caribbean and romantic sunsets on the Pacific.
In the area around San Jose you will discover; as well as the more cosmopolitan attractions found in the capital of San Jose where we have many theaters with opera, plays, movies (English and Spanish), shopping centers and a varied and exciting nightlife, all guarantee that Costa Rica can truly offer something for everyone!
Resort and hotel developers such as Marriott, Four Seasons, Hilton, Westin, Rosewood, Melia, Barcelo and many others are in the planning stages, presently building, or have built mega-developments which include golf courses, hotels, marinas and residential developments all of which will boost the already rapidly growing tourism and real estate industries.
Real estate values are just beginning to experience the inevitable collateral effects of this growth. While this rapid growth in development takes place a very opportunistic real estate market will exist for buyers.
Many are taking advantage of the real estate investment opportunities that are presently available because of this immense growth.
REAL ESTATE – THE LAW
Many foreigners arrive here with many misconceptions not only about the country itself but about the property laws as well. Many changes have taken place over the last few years to help protect those that have for some inexplicable reason decided to leave their common sense at home.
The following will hopefully help clarify some of the general misconceptions, as well as to work as an advisory on how to buy property here in Costa Rica.
Unlike Mexico, any foreigner is able to purchase, own and receive full rights to their property in Costa Rica. The Costa Rican Constitution fully protects foreign ownership of property.
The ownership of all properties is recorded in the National Registry (Registro Nacional), as are all liens, and encumbrances on properties. The National Registry is on line enabling potential purchasers to check the status of any property via the Internet.
If you do not wish to check yourself, most lawyers in Costa Rica can offer this service prior to the purchase of a particular property.
In addition to having the ability to directly review properties in the National Registry, purchasers of property can also buy Title Guarantee from internationally recognized title insurance companies.
The safety and security of purchasing property here is no different than most other countries. All the required mechanisms are in place to make it a safe secure transaction.
In Costa Rica there are two very distinct “kinds” of property. There is “titled” property which one would receive a deed to, as they again would in any other country. Titled property makes up for approximately 85% of all the property in Costa Rica.
The remaining 15% is “concession” property, which is located along the coast and is the area with in 200 meters of the median tide level of the ocean. (There are some exceptions to this whereby the property has been titled down to the 50-meter line from median tide.)
Most coastal properties are concession properties. This means the owner has a lease with the Costa Rica government for a specific period of time. The lease periods can range from 20 years to 99 years, and multiple lease terms can be acquired.
So long as the concessionaire pays the annual dues on the concession, the property is secure. Concession properties will have zoning restrictions.
You may have heard that only Costa Rican Nationals can own or lease concessions. This is true. Do not become dismayed if your desire is to own beachfront property, it is possible.
Costa Rican corporations (S.A.’s) can possess concessions, and foreigners can own Costa Rica corporations so the problem is easily and legally solved. However, it is advisable to consult with a reputable legal advisor to ensure ones security related to any property.
WHY COSTA RICA? WHY NOW?
Located in the tropical latitudes, between the varied biological influences of North and South America, bordered by two oceans, mountainous Costa Rica enjoys an immense diversity of climates, environmental regions and related eco-systems.
Costa Rica covers a mere 0.03% of the earth’s surface but is endowed with over 5% of all of the world’s flora, fauna and animal life.
The combination of these natural attributes with the fact that the country is one of the oldest democracies in the Western hemisphere, has no standing army, the second highest literacy rate in the world (per capita), a diverse economy and a people that are genuinely friendly, is the foundation that has made Costa Rica one of the world’s “hottest” eco travel destinations, as well as a sought after retirement haven.
Over the past ten years tourism has increased over 500%. In 1999 just over one million tourists visited the country. Costa Rica is expecting over two million by the end of 2003.
In 1998 over $711 million was invested in the tourism sector, last year over $759 million was invested, the majority being spent in the Guanacaste region.
The Four Seasons Hotel chain has broken ground on a projected $105 million hotel and Arnold Palmer signature golf course.
This is the First Phase of a Three Phase development that will include two more golf courses, two marinas, additional hotels and luxury homes and condominiums.
The projected budget for all three phases is just under $400 million. Both Hilton International and Hilton USA are rumored to be in final negotiations to build hotels at values of over $65 million each and both with a Jack Nicklaus signature golf course.
Greg Norman is under contract to build a signature course adjacent to a possible Westin Hotel site. Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Ron Garl have designed and finished signature courses.
Marriott has four hotels open and operating with construction values at over $200 million. Another rumor has Rosewood Hotels negotiating for a hotel site, as well in the immediate area.
Costa Rica is “hot” and it is not just the weather. Many profitable real estate investment opportunities will present themselves over the next few years while these large developments build out. Neighboring property values will certainly be influenced by this development.
A secondary influence and one that will have an equal impact on property values is the opening up of the Liberia International Airport to international air travel. For the last nine years Canadian charter companies have been using the airport.
On December 1st 2002, Delta Airlines began the first commercial flights into Liberia, direct from Atlanta. True international air access is now available into Liberia three days a week. Rumors have it that other commercial airlines are looking to begin flights into Liberia as well.
The full impact of this event has yet to be realized. Property values are certain to rise simply due to the increase in demand, due to the increase in the numbers of people.
The wheel is not being re-invented. Historically throughout the Caribbean, Mexico, Florida, Colorado, and Hawaii, as tourism developed, so did the real estate industry.
There is a direct correlation between the substantial amount of money being invested by large resort developers, the development of their properties, and neighboring property values.
As these resort communities are built out and mature, neighboring property values inevitably rise. During the next 17 years approximately 80 million North Americans will retire. Florida and Arizona have had their day.
As with most good investments, timing is a key ingredient. The real estate industry in Costa Rica has entered a massive growth cycle that is creating many advantageous opportunities.
For those that make the move to secure a property you will not only be purchasing a great vacation/retirement property, you will be making a wise and timely investment.
Owning property in Costa Rica is an excellent way to place money ‘offshore’ and the investment is further enhanced as there are no taxes on capital gains in Costa Rica.
There is no doubt that tourism and real estate development in Costa Rica have entered an incredibly strong growth cycle.
This cycle, this growth, is fueled not only by the resort community developments, but also equally as significant, by the increasing use of the Daniel Oduber International Airport by commercial airlines.
Good real estate purchases are based on three required criteria, location, timing and purchase price. Specific locations in Costa Rica offer all three. It is time for you to answer the door as opportunity is knocking.
Opportunities do not last forever, it is those that seek them out, and act upon them, that benefit from them. Possibly you or one of your associates/clients may benefit from receiving additional information about the various opportunities that are presently available.
* Statistical information was sourced from the Tico Times and La Revue – Costa Rica Travel Magazine.
Scott MacDougall has lived in Costa Rica for the last ten years and has been intimately involved in real estate construction and land development during this time. Scott is presently the co-owner operator of ‘Century 21 At The Beach’ – a full service real estate and development company.
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