How to Buy Real Estate in Costa Rica

I’ve done it, and it’s hard!  But I can help.

Buy Property in Costa Rica

Our beautiful neighborhood beach in Palm Beach Estates, Playa Grande

My quest to buy real estate in Costa Rica and build a home in paradise

A few years ago, my fiancé and I decided we wanted to buy real estate in Costa Rica.  We hoped to eventually retire in the small community of Palm Beach Estates, in the Playa Grande area of the state of Guanacaste.  Palm Beach has a three mile long sandy beach that is never crowded.  It is a perfect surf break in the world’s largest Leatherback turtle sanctuary.  It’s surrounded on three sides by national park with four great restaurants right in the neighborhood. It’s only an hour and a half from an international airport, and a 5 minute water taxi ride to the restaurants and live music of Tamarindo.  It felt like the best decision we’d ever made.

But, how do you buy real estate in Costa Rica? How do you find property to buy, and go through the convoluted process of doing so?  Oh boy, buckle up!  I tried doing it myself for several months, and failed miserably.

First issue- Real Estate Agents

There is no MLS in Costa Rica. There are no licenses for Costa Rican real estate agents.  Anyone who says, “hey, I’m a Costa Rican real estate agent!” can do so with no training, no legal knowledge, no skills, and most importantly, no ethics code as we have in the United States.  I found this out quickly when a “Costa Rican real estate agent” on the seller’s side of my negotiations counter offered not the terms for her clients, but her own commission.  She asked for 10% (!) instead of the 7% I was offering.  This would be unethical in the United States, and would bring about the loss of her license.

But with no license to lose . . . she got her way.  Sleazy and dirty, but such is the way of the real estate world there.

However, what came of this two year process to simply buy bare land, is that I now have my own tested team.  He is a Costa Rican broker who is licensed in America, and has been helping people buy real estate in Costa Rica for 20 years.  He works like I do, with honesty and integrity, putting the client first.  He’s now one of my best friends, has my trust, and he knows the entire Guanacaste region, including Lake Arenal, better than anyone.

Next issue- Bureaucracy

In Costa Rica, you can’t build a home unless you get a letter from the water department stating you are eligible for water service.  No water letter had been issued in Palm Beach Estates in over ten years.  However, my real estate broker told me that the reason prices were so good was that there were no letters attached to these properties.  But he said they were coming, the infrastructure was in, and he had faith I would have my water letters in a year or so.  I trusted him, and purchased the properties.  Seven months later new water letters were indeed issued, and I received mine.

Third issue- A qualified Attorney

Finding a great attorney also proved difficult.  The bar for attorney licensing in Costa Rica versus is very low.  My first attorney was competent, but terrible with communication.  Once my property was purchased, I decided to let him go.  I asked around, and found a much better fit for my legal needs. She is a very communicative attorney who runs her business with two sons who also have very competent legal minds.  They handled my Costa Rican residency application, which was approved in record time, just two and a half months.

The Biggest Issue- A trustworthy Builder

But it turned out that learning to buy real estate in Costa Rica was the easy part! The greatest hurdle was to find a builder who could be trusted.  Stories abound of builders who charge for one level of quality materials but deliver a much lower one.  People say you MUST be there for the entire build!  But due to family and business, I can’t be.  I have friends in the area who check on it for me, and I fly down every six weeks or so to have a look.

The Process and best materials

Most homes in Costa Rica are built from concrete block.  But block holds in heat with its large thermal mass. I knew from my experience renting in Costa Rica that I did not want a home that stayed hot all night.  My home is being built with steel, which also performs better in earthquakes than does heavy, crumbly block.

There is a building boom in Costa Rica, and builders are so flush with work that they won’t answer your calls nor emails.  Luckily, we saw some great, modern homes starting to go up in our neighborhood, and a Nicaraguan friend of mine introduced me to the builder.  He is now building my home, and the progress is excellent.

Costa Rican workers live onsite while the home is being built. I am happy to report that the quality of the work being done is well above what I expected.  My concrete foundation and soil replacement are top notch.  My rebar is thicker than I have ever seen in a home here, and my steel beams?  They are super thick.  One of those items that many builders will skimp on and charge you for a higher quality product, but not mine.  He has my full confidence.

Want to buy real estate in Costa Rica?  I’m your guy on the inside.

If you’d like to buy real estate in Costa Rica, whether a home, a condo, bare land, a business, I can help. If you’d like to join our rapidly expanding expat community there, let me save you from frustrations and daily headaches.  I have a trusted team I can put to work for you.  Drop me an email at to learn how your dream can become reality in the tropics.  Your dream, unlike mine, can be a smooth road, thanks to my experience.