Most properties in Costa Rica are registered in a computer system called "Folio Real". This system is centralized at the offices of the Public Registry in San José. Before buying land (or even before seriously considering an offer to buy land) a title search in Folio Real should be performed.
Such a title search will show all data on the property, including area, ownership, boundaries, location, mortgages and other liens.
A few properties have not been incorporated to the "Folio Real" system yet. They are still registered in special books kept in the Public Register. Such properties may also be accurately title searched in the Public Registry.
When considering buying land, the first question to be asked is if you are being offered ownership rights (derecho de propiedad) or occupation rights (“derechos de ocupación”). In the case of occupation, you would be dealing with land that has not been registered, cannot be title-searched and must go through a long process in order to be registered. Ownership rights, in the contrary, are registered and are equal to the concept of owning land in the United States or Canada.
Another situation one may encounter regarding land, especially in beaches, is the concession. In this case, the government gives a private party the right to use the land for a specific period of time. In general terms, the concession may be considered as a lease. The concessions registration system is different than the one for regular land, and has particular requirements regarding zoning, terms, occupation, etc.
In conclusion, before buying, before offering or even before seriously considering a piece of land, enquire about its status and perform a title search: these simple steps could save you a lot of money and effort, and will definitely make your Costa Rican investment worthwhile.
When purchasing property in Costa Rica, proper registration of the property, and not the deed itself, is of the utmost importance (Carballo, 1995). Simply because an individual may have a seemingly "legal" title to a property in his/her name, does not necessarily mean that he/she is the legal owner. Like anywhere else in the world, there are scam artists who attempt (sometimes successfully) to sell the same property numerous times. It is therefore necessary to conduct a thorough investigation of a prospective piece of property as outlined below.
Costa Rica has a Civil Law system rather than a Common Law system. The practical differentiation between the two systems is that Civil Law is much more rigid than Common Law, making the procedure frequently more important than the substance. Such a distinction is of utmost concem when purchasing property, for the letter of the law must be followed precisely when registering property in order to obtain the full legal title (Carballo, 1993). All property is registered at a central depository called the Registro Puiblico, and it is there that one should begin the title search for a parcel of land. The title must be checked for any liens or encumbrances, of which there are often scores. Alvaro Carballo, a Costa Rican real estate attorney, has compiled a comprehensive check list of items that should be verified before a purchase. This list is published in his book, Purchasing Real Estate in Costa Rica: A Guidebook (Carballo, 1993). If the initial background check is flawed and a problem later arises, one could unwittingly lose possession of property thought to be legally owned. Title guaranty services are now available through Stewart Title Guaranty Company, based in San Jose. Stewart Title advertises escrow and title guaranty services to protect the consumer throughout the process of acquiring land, and to indemnify him/her for losses that may be incurred. Stewart Title is a 105-year-old U.S. company based in Houston, Texas, with over 3,500 offices in the U.S. and abroad.
The trick to buying property in Costa Rica is to reconcile the actual property with the two documents that legally define a property. The first is the escritura, which is the title document that describes how the property is recorded in the Registro in words; the second is the catastro map, which is the plat map of the property that is on file. The problem with defining a property arises from the fact that the escrititra may not correspond with either the catastro or a physical survey of the property. Such a discrepancy is due to the fact that when a transfer of property takes place, the transaction may not have been recorded on the catastro, since a change in one does not automatically require a change in the other (McMerty, 1995). It should also not be assumed that the catastro map accurately depicts the property itself. It is therefore necessary that an independent topographical study be conducted in order to verify the property boundaries. Any discrepancies within the two legal documents and the land itself must be resolved before purchasing. Such investigations may be a bit daunting, not to mention confusing, for the foreign investor. Due to the intricacies of resolving such issues, retired Brigadier General McMerty and Alvaro Carballo founded PropData, a companv that offers property title investigations, legal support and financial information. PropData is to date the only known company of its kind of Costa Rica (McMerty, 1995).
A reputable, diligent attorney should take care of the technical procedures involved with a title transfer, but such attentiveness must not be taken for granted. Prospective buyers should beware. They must monitor and understand what is being done, as well as what is not being done. It is therefore worth mentioning the documentation needed for the closing:
A notary must be present at the closing. In Costa Rica, notaries are attomeys accepted by the Supreme Court.
Many single-home investors will be faced with the choice of whether to buy a preexisting structure or a plot of land on which to build a house. While there are a myriad of minor impediments that must be scrupulously attended to, most of which are outside the scope of this paper, a few points are worth mentioning as they may alter a buyer's decision. The law requires that all applications for construction permits be presented by an architect licensed by the Costa Rican Association of Engineers and Architects. Utilizing a certified architect can be extremely costly as well as cumbersome (Puleo, 1995). Furthermore, construction companies in Costa Rica are not bonded, thereby greatly increasing an investor's risk. Before building a house one would be well advised to speak to numerous individuals who have previously built in order to gain an understanding of the reality of the construction process, such as constant delays, necessary personal supervision, and cost overruns.
Juan Santamaría Airport (SJO) is located close to the cities Alajuela, Heredia and the capital San José.
The dimly lit but otherwise pleasant airport features the normal assortment of duty-free shops but an inadequate selection of overpriced restaurants (Church's Chicken, Burger King and a fast-food pizza joint). SJO is serviced daily by American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Iberia, Thomas Cook, Martinair ,Spirit Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways, Air Canada as well as Taca and Copa Airlines. Connecting the airport with cities such as: Los Angeles, New York, Houston, Dallas, Miami, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Atlanta, Phoenix, Orlando, Chicago, Newark, Toronto, Montreal, Madrid, Frankfurt, Bogota, Caracas, Lima, Guayaquil, Quito, and all Central America. Frontier Airlines is slated to begin non-stop service from Denver on November 30th, 2007 and will fly to SJO 5 days a week.
There is a US $26 exit fee at the Juan Santamaría Airport. This must be paid in cash, or by Visa (in which case it will be processed as a cash advance). The fee can also be paid in advance at some hotels. One of my favorite hotels is Lizard King Hotel in the beautiful Reggae Beach Town in Puerto Viejo: A nice Puerto Viejo hotel
Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR) is near Liberia in the Guanacaste province. This airport is closest to the Pacific Northwest coast. Liberia receives flights from Delta, American, United, Continental, Air Canada, Sky Service (charter), and First Choice (charter). Connecting the airport with cities like: Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Houston, Dallas, Newark, Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, London, etc.
The Interamericana (Panamerican Highway) runs through Costa Rica and is the main entry point by car. The border post in the north (to Nicaragua) is called Peñas Blancas and in the south (to Panamá) Paso Canoas. Virtually all travel out of the capital (except to the Caribbean side) will involve travelling this road. There are many speed traps along this major artery, as well as some random police checks for seat belts and, especially near the borders, for valid travel documents. The highway speed is 80km/h, but since the Interamericana (a.k.a. Highway #1) passes through innumerable small towns the speed frequently drops to 50 or even 30 km/h as you suddenly find yourself in a school zone. Most of the highway is not divided. A common indicator that a police checkpoint is ahead is that oncoming cars flick their lights at you. Drivers also appear to flick their lights sometimes when someone has overtaken them. A speeding ticket is at the most 20,000 Colones (US $40), and although the police are generally congenial, foreign drivers are occasionally illegally offered an "on the spot" fine that is half that or less.
Many Costa Rican roads are in terrible shape, and short distances can take a very long time. To get a feeling for distances and driving times this map with the major roads of Costa Rica can be helpful. Even the only road in and out of popular tourist destinations are riddled with major potholes. To avoid potholes, drivers will often snake through the left and right lanes, usually returning to the right when oncoming traffic approaches. While this may seem erratic to North American drivers, one becomes quickly accustomed to it. Driving at night is highly inadvisable due to the unpredictability of road conditions and lack of safety features such as guard rails on the many hairpin turns in the hills.
Many roads are unpaved, and even the paved roads have lots of unpaved sections and washed out or unfinished bridges. Bridges are often only wide enough for one vehicle; one direction usually has priority. Do not expect to get anywhere quickly, supposed 3 hour journeys can turn into 5 or more hours easily: there are always slow cars/buses/trucks on the road. This causes a lot of crazy driving, which you begin to emulate if you are in-country for more than a day. The government does not seem to be fixing the infrastructure well (or at all!) 50km/hr is good over unpaved roads; you hit a resonance frequency where the damping factor of the suspension matches the undulations of the road and you have a smooth ride. Some hotels, in the mountains, require a four wheel drive to reach the destination. Call ahead. This is more for the ground clearance then the quality of the road. Four wheel drive vehicles are widely at the car rentals near the air port, but call ahead.
Navigation can prove challenging. Road signs are relatively few, and those that do exist can be inaccurate. It is recommended that you have a good road map with the small towns listed, since road signs will often only indicate the next town, not the direction of the next major city. Towns generally do not have town-limit signs; you are best to look at the names on the roadside food stores and restaurants to determine the place you are passing. Stop and ask, practice your Spanish. The center of town is usually a public park with a Catholic Church across from it.
There are no formal street addresses in Costa Rica, but two informal systems exist. The first (often used in tourist information) indicates the road on which the establishment is located (e.g. "6th Avenue") together with the crossroad interval (e.g. "between 21st and 23rd Streets"). In practice, street signs are virtually non-existent, and locals do not even know the name of the street they are on. The second system, which is much more reliable and understood by locals, is known as the "Tico address", usually involving an oriented distance (e.g. "100 meters south, 50 meters east") from a landmark (e.g. "the cathedral").
It is worth noting the particular road naming system in San Jose. Avenues run east-west and streets run north-south. The numbering is less straighforward. Starting at Central Avenue going South are 2nd, 4th, 6th Avenue, etc. while going North are 1st, 3rd, 5th, etc. Streets use even numbers going west, and odd numbers going east. This means that if you are at 7th Avenue and 4th Street, and looking for 6th Avenue and 5th Street, you are on the wrong side of town.
Gas stations are full service and the guys there are very cool about taking dollars or Colón(es). The interesting thing is that Costa Rica is small so you do not burn a lot of gas getting places even though it seems like forever. Costa Rica is also land of the traffic circles so people from Europe should have no problem but North Americans should make sure they know how they work. The gas stations really are full service, without asking I have had my oil checked, and water in my raditor filled, and tire pressure topped off. The state owns a gasoline company and the private companies raise their prices to the level of the state set price. It is recommendable to always use super gas and not regular, the regular is soiled. If not you will have to change the gas filter and clean the injectors after 5000 miles.
There are bus services from the neighboring countries of Panamá, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Check out www.ticabus.com or www.transnica.com for more information.
There is an extensive network of bus routes within the country with reasonable fares. Departures are very punctual, though routes often take longer than expected. Stop by the Tourist Office downtown (underneath the Gold Museum in the Plaza--ask anyone and they'll be able to help you out) and get a detailed schedule. The bus system is a safe and even fun way to see a lot of the country cheaply and not have to worry about car rentals. It is highly recommended! If using the bus routes within the country, some ability to speak and understand Spanish may be necessary, although most are friendly enough to be able to help you out.
There are some boat transfers available into Costa Rica from Bocas del Toro in Panamá.
There is twice daily boat service from Los Chiles (in NE Costa Rica), former home of the Contras, to San Carlos, Nicaragua. The cost is about $5, plus a $1 fee. The boats usually only run in the mornings.
Costa Rica is located on the Central American isthmus, 10° North of the equator and 84° West of the Prime Meridian. It borders both the Caribbean Sea (to the east) and the North Pacific Ocean (to the west), with a total of 1,290 kilometers (802 mi) of coastline (212 km / 132 mi on the Caribbean coast and 1,016 km / 631 mi on the Pacific). It is about the size of West Virginia and shares that state's reputation for excellent whitewater kayaking/rafting opportunities. Two of the country's most renowned rivers in that regard are the Rio Pacuare and the Rio Reventazon located near the city of Turrialba about two hours east of San Jose. Other notable whitewater areas are the Sarapiqui Valley area, several Pacific coast rivers near Quepos, and the southern Pacific drainage area around San Isidro de General.
Costa Rica also borders Nicaragua to the north (309 km / 192 mi of border) and Panama to the south-southeast (639 km / 397 mi of border). In total, Costa Rica comprises 51,100 square kilometers (19,730 sq. mi) plus 589.000 square kilometers of territorial waters.
The highest point in the country is Cerro Chirripó, at 3,820 metres (12,500 ft), and is the fifth highest peak in Central America. The highest volcano in the country is the Irazú Volcano (3,431 m / 11,257 ft). The largest lake in Costa Rica is Lake Arenal.Costa Rica also comprises several islands. Cocos Island stands out because of its distance from continental landmass (24 km² / 9.25 sq mi, 500 km or 300 mi from Puntarenas coast), but Calero Island is the biggest island of the country (151.6 km² / 58.5 sq mi).
Costa Rica protects 23% of its national territory within the Protected Areas system. It also possesses the greatest density of species in the world.
Hacienda Barú's forests have been protected for 20 years. Recently, their conservation efforts were rewarded by being formally declared a National Wildlife Refuge by the President of Costa Rica. That means that they have a management plan based on an environmental impact study and regulated by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Energy (MINAE). At present, their ecological restoration efforts involve connecting most of the parcels of lowland forest by allowing approximately 100 acres of pasture to regenerate into a forest corridor.
Visit the riches of Hacienda Barú and you will understand the need to conserve forests. Hacienda Barú consists of: primary and secondary very humid tropical rainforest, mangroves, river and beach habitats. Sharing the natural riches with guests allows them to conserve what they have and promote conservation with their neighbors.
Vacienda Barú is also working to connect its forests to an ecological corridor that will traverse the coastal mountain range in our region. This project is being run by ASANA, a local conservation association, whose offices are located in the old ranch house. Donations are welcome!
They welcome scientific researchers dedicated to field studies within the scope of the Hacienda
Text and pictures by Angela and Jörn Malek. The team of FlamingoLink, S.A. wishes you the best of times in our little paradise called Costa Rica.