|Frequently Asked Questions's
We’re sure you have lots of questions. Here are some of the most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Costa Rica, Costa Rica real estate.
What documents are required to visit Costa Rica?
A valid passport, with an expiry date at least three months after your proposed entry. Americans and Canadians can stay in Costa Rica legally for up to three months. After that, they must leave for a period of at least 72 hours before they can return.
Do I need any shots?
No specific vaccinations are required.
Can foreigners own property in Costa Rica?
Any individual, Costa Rican or otherwise, including those with only tourist status, may legally own land, homes and motor vehicles in Costa Rica. With real estate, it is best that it be purchased via a Costa Rican corporation.
What determines the value and price of my property?
Like everywhere else, location, location, location, all things being equal. Property values naturally vary from area to area. There is a computerized central property registry system like in North America; subscribers such as lawyers and real estate agents can search title from their own computers. Although foreign residents and non-residents can own land, they cannot lease (concession) land from the municipality or buy land adjacent to Costa Rica’s borders. When you buy property, registration, land transfer fees, taxes and legal fees will usually come to about 5.5% of the declared value of the land being bought.
Can I rent a home in Costa Rica until mine is finished?
Non-residents can rent homes or land. What you pay depends on the location and the home. If you do sign a formal contract, it is assumed to be for three years. If you sign a contract in dollars, your rent can’t be raised during that period. Landlords may not evict tenants for anything other than non-payment of rent or illegal activities.
How much will it cost to bring in my personal possessions?
Non-residents pay the same import duties on cars and boats as someone with resident status would pay to bring them in. Personal effects and works of art are exempt from import taxes. Electronic equipment, household furniture and domestic appliances are valued and subject to import duties.
Will my domestic appliances, lamps, computers and electrical equipment work?
Yes - Costa Rica has 110-115 Volt electric current, and the NTSC television system is the same as that in the US and Canada. Plugs are also the same.
How can I get around?
Costa Rican roads are not very good, to say the least. If you do buy a car, best buy a sturdy, economical SUV. Gas is more expensive than in the US or Canada. There are regular commercial flights from San José to many local and tourist destinations, including the nearby town of Palmar Norte/Sur. You almost always have to fly via San José if you want to travel to anywhere else in the country by air, such as Tamarindo. Bus service everywhere in Costa Rica is frequent and inexpensive, although the buses may not always be up to US or Canadian standards. There is no passenger train service.
Can I send my kids to school?
If you plan to live here, yes. Costa Rica has one of the top public education systems in Latin America. Public education in the Spanish language is available everywhere to all, including children of foreign residents, at no cost (except for text books, uniforms, school supplies, etc.) at the primary level (six years) and at a very minimum cost at the secondary level (five years). Primary education is compulsory. English is taught in the public school system, as is computer studies. There are also good private primary and secondary schools, many of them bilingual, where some subjects will be taught in a language other than Spanish (mainly English). There are also schools, most of them in the San José area, where the language of instruction may be English, French or German, with Spanish taught as a second language. Some schools, such as Country Day School in San José, follow the North American school year. As well, there are many universities and technical institutes, the best by far being the public universities such as the University of Costa Rica and the National University of Costa Rica, although several private universities do come up to scratch. If you are thinking of living here most of the year and sending your kids to school, talk to others who are doing so, and consult Costa Rica’s ministry of public education about requirements.
Are there income taxes?
There is no income tax on money earned outside Costa Rica. Personal income taxes are low for those running a business here; many personal expenses are deductible. Corporate taxes are also very low.
Are there other taxes?
There is a 13% sales tax and a 10% tax for table service at bars and restaurants. Import duties are being lowered, although new vehicles, on which duty is about 40%, are an exception. Tourists pay an exit tax of approximately $19 US on leaving the country; residents pay more. Motor vehicle license plate fees are annual, and depend upon the book value of the vehicle, as does auto insurance. These fees and basic auto insurance are not excessively high.
How do I insure my car?
Auto insurance is available only from the Instituto Nacional de Seguros (National Insurance Institute), the Costa Rican insurance monopoly. INS is a mixed corporation with majority government ownership. Auto insurance is on the vehicle, and provides coverage as long as the person driving at the time of an accident has a valid license. Basic (compulsory) auto insurance comes with the car registration. It provides very little coverage, and should be regarded as another tax. Additional coverage is not obligatory, but it is advisable. Coverage for collision, theft, etc. is only available if the vehicle has been legally imported - that is, once the customs duties have been paid. Payments are usually semi-annual; premiums average 4.5% of the market value of the car for six months full coverage. Auto insurance can be bought directly at an INS office, or from an authorized agent.
Can I drink the water?
If you wish, you can drink tap water anywhere in the country without fear - there is an excellent national purification system.
What types of food are available?
If you want the top North American brands, you will have to travel to San José to shop at Auto Mercado and Price Smart, although you won’t find everything. Items imported from North America and Europe are fairly expensive. However, many familiar name brands are manufactured in Central America and prices are reasonable. Locally-grown fresh fruits and vegetables are available at local supermarkets and greengrocers, and local farmers and produce merchants will even bring them to your door. Many Costa Rican-made food items bought locally are inexpensive and the quality is as good as or better than some of the brand names you are used to.
What is the crime rate? How helpful are the police?
There is not much violent crime in Costa Rica. Even though pilferage, petty theft, car theft and break-ins are common in cities such as San José, they occur far less so in rural districts such as the areas around these properties. Unfortunately, the police are on the whole not very helpful or efficient, either to Costa Ricans or foreigners. Police will not usually respond to a crime unless the victim herself/himself files a report at the local cop shop, although you will come across some very dedicated officers. The police will not expend a great deal of effort pursuing alleged perpetrators.
How do Costa Ricans treat foreign visitors and residents?
Costa Ricans in general welcome foreigners. However, most Costa Ricans believe all Americans and Canadians to be extremely wealthy, so adding a couple of dollars to what a Costa Rican would normally pay for a product or service is not uncommon. Don’t get upset.
Can I find a good doctor or dentist?
Definitely, especially in and around San José. However, as outside areas develop, many top medical professionals are relocating near these locales. A surprisingly large number of Costa Rican doctors and dentists have taken courses in the United States. Good private hospitals are available on a "pay as you go" system for those without medical insurance. There are public hospitals and out-patient clinics everywhere, and no-one, Costa Rican, foreign resident or tourist, will be turned away in case of emergency. Medical care costs, such as a visit to a family physician or specialist, X-Rays, blood or other tests, are very low compared to those in the United States. There is an ambulance service operated by the Red Cross in almost every town in the country.
Can I get medical insurance?
Of course. There several options: talk to long-time residents here in the country. The provider is the Instituto Nacional de Seguros (National Insurance Institute), the Costa Rican insurance monopoly (a mixed corporation with majority government ownership). Medical insurance is available to everyone, regardless of legal status in Costa Rica. The basic coverage is excellent here in Costa Rica, but will not be worth anything abroad. However, INS does have supplementary insurance that will pay expenses abroad – you will have to enquire about costs and coverage. Basic domestic coverage pays 80% of expenses resulting from accident or sickness, based on a list of providers who are affiliated to the plan. Pre-existing conditions and checkups are not paid for. Dental work, eyeglasses and cosmetic surgery are paid only if resulting from an accident. Premiums increase with age. For optimum coverage a man of 50 would pay $450 per year, a woman of 50 would pay $670, and dependents under eighteen: $250. It takes INS about three weeks at minimum to process applications.
Are there good lawyers, accountants and other professionals?
Most Costa Rican lawyers conform highly to the negative stereotypes associated with their profession, so be very careful in your choice. Ask people who have lived here for a while before you pick a lawyer. Accountants are definitely not up to US and Canadian CPA standards, although many certainly do know the ropes, which small businesses can take advantage of. Several major international accounting firms such as Ernst and Young and Deloitte Touche have offices in Costa Rica. There are some excellent architects.
What is the cost of domestic staff?
You will have to pay a maid, gardener or handyman the equivalent of about $2.00 US per hour, more if second language ability is required, or if any other specific conditions apply. There are very definite laws regulating the remuneration and working conditions of live-in maids and domestic help. Best consult a competent lawyer.
Are foreign residents protected by law?
Foreign residents are protected by the Constitution, and can exercise most of the rights that Costa Ricans do, except vote, participate in politics (although many foreign residents, non-residents and foreign-owned businesses and corporations based inside and outside Costa Rica contribute openly or otherwise to political parties and individuals); work for wages without a permit; or own concession land or land adjacent to Costa Rica’s borders. The Costa Rican government has a very good record in honoring these rights.
Will I get hit by hurricanes, tornadoes, typhoons, earthquakes, floods?
Costa Rica is a center of seismic activity, yet only about half a dozen a year can actually be felt. The last quake of any importance was in 1991. Unlike the rest of Central America (which is why Costa Rica is so desirable a place to live) there are no hurricanes, but at times heavy rains may cause some flooding (another plus to buying one of these ocean view properties, perched on the side of low-lying mountains). There are several active volcanoes, the most active being Arenal in the north, which is definitely worth visiting. It erupts almost continuously, but never causes any damage, aside from some volcanic ash and limited visibility in the immediate area. Volcanic eruptions have caused loss of life and done damage in the past, the last of any consequence occurring in November 1963.
Can I bring my dog or cat?
Pets can be brought to Costa Rica. A veterinary certificate is required.
I don’t like bugs or snakes – are there many?
If you decide to live in the tropics, two things you can’t avoid are bugs and beautiful flowers. You are bound to encounter the odd cockroach, ant, spider, mosquito, etc., and on the plus side, lots of gorgeous butterflies. Hardly any of the insects are poisonous, although a scorpion can sting. Keeping your home clean, foods well protected and garbage packed tightly and off the ground will cut down on ants, beetles and cockroaches, while not allowing any stagnant water on your property, cleaning your swimming pool regularly and spraying dense shrubbery will greatly reduce the number of mosquitoes. There are few poisonous snakes, but snakes in general shun populated areas.
What are the beaches like? What is the water temperature?
There are hundreds of miles of world-class sand beaches of various colors. White sand beaches can be found in Punta Leona (near Jacó) in the Central Pacific, and at Playa Conchal in the north, between Tamarindo and Flamingo. The ocean temperature is warm - well over 80 F - year round. Make sure to visit nearby Playa Uvita.