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10 TIPS FOR BUYING REAL ESTATE IN COSTA RICA
Stephen F. Day
Costa Rica, like any other foreign country, has different rules and regulations for buying real estate either for investment or personal use. If you are a US citizen and you are used to buying and selling real estate, it could be a culture shock if you decide to go down this path. However, you would not be reading this unless you have heard about some of the rewards and benefits of owning property in a foreign country, and especially the opportunities in Costa Rica.
Here are a few hints that will help your journey along this path, and some that may even be helpful when exploring other countries.
1. Costa Rica is a very Bureaucratic Country.
The first thing that will become very evident very quickly is that buying land in Costa Rica is filled with many levels of paperwork and government forms and procedures. The real only saving grace is that it is not only in Real Estate where this is the case. Layers of paperwork and regulations abound in every aspect of Costa Rican culture so if your first venture into the system is the purchase of real estate be prepared for the possible delays, periods of waiting, and general frustration that accompanies these types of transactions. If you have ever waited to get something done at a local Department of Motor Vehicles, then expect this type of processing for everything you do legally or financially. Every piece of paper has to be looked at, sometimes twice, before it is approved and stamped- be sure to get it stamped!
2. Obtain a good Attorney
In Costa Rica it is necessary to have a good Spanish speaking attorney who can also speak English or your native language. First of all, all legal documents must be translated into Spanish. This includes everything from your sales contract to your driver’s license. In addition, the attorneys in Costa Rica are also Notaries. In fact, the title of Notary carries more weight than being an Attorney. A very good source for legal information is the book, The Legal Guide to Costa Rica, by Roger A. Petersen. This book can give excellent basic information on many important topics. However, it is a best practice to have a good attorney.
3. Create a Corporation
There are many good reasons for creating a corporation when you purchase property in Costa Rica. One if the most important is liability for things such as property damage and the unfortunate case of an automobile accident. Many times, the plaintiff can go after your personal assets in a lawsuit, and with a corporation you are more protected. A corporation is also a good idea for transferring wealth after a death in the family.
4. Create a Will
Very important is the creation of a will written in Spanish for the probate laws in the country. The corporation makes this transaction much easier under Costa Rica probate law. A good attorney will advise you on this, but it is worth making a note. Your will written in the US is not legal in Costa Rica. Once you own property to probate laws are very simple, and in most cases complex items such as trusts or other types of family distributions are not included in the transfer of wealth. It is best to consult with an attorney, but be sure you do once you own property.
5. Do your Research- Get your feet on the Ground
Like any investment it is always a good idea to thoroughly research your future holdings. An important thing to keep in mind is that there is no licensing for Real Estate Agents or Brokers in Costa Rica. In some cases, it can be like the “Wild Wild West” when buying and selling property and houses. There is no regulated Multiple Listing Service as well. Sometimes a property can be listed with several brokers or just sold by word of mouth. However, there are a lot of agents who have been licensed in the US who are working in real estate in the country. Many are trustworthy and will do a good job for you as they pride themselves on being honest and hard working. The best way to be sure you have good representation is to put your feet on the ground, interview agents in the area you want to live in, and talk to as many expats as possible who live in the area. Word of mouth, personal recommendation, and good common sense go a long way to insuring your satisfaction.
6. To Rent or To Buy?
This is a question that comes up every time someone considers investing in Costa Rica. Of course, you will have visited the country, and if you are thinking of investing you have probably picked out a location. Many people suggest renting a home if you are moving, and getting a chance to know the area and the local culture. Again, knowledge of contractors, architects, utilities, construction resources, and all the other related knowledge is best when you have it firsthand. That is why renting can be a good first step, and there are rental properties available. If you buy land, or even purchase a house, you either have to build or may choose to update, and this is where an architect or contractor enters the picture. There are some good ones, and there are some who are not so good. As in any construction project, do the best you can to certify the competence of your professional. Nothing is perfect, but it is less stressful to know that you are working with a person who has your best interests in mind. There is no Better Business Bureau to assist you in this so be sure to do your homework and ask questions. Also, be aware that many in the construction business are related. For instance, the Project Manager may have his cousin doing the electric, and his brother-in law putting in the septic or putting on the roof. There may even be a case where the Civil Engineer who inspects the building process is also part of the family. The education system also plays a role in this cultural relationship. Many students come from families in the building trades, and from a young age their goal is to become a working member of the family business. You will find that their skills are good, and they are hard workers. There is much pride in the work they do. However, these are all good questions to ask when starting a building project. That is not to say that this family connection is bad, but it is something to be aware of. Working with a thriving family business is one of the best ways to feel at home in Costa Rica.
7. Be aware of the 90 Day VISA Period
Costa Rica does not require a formal VISA when traveling in the country, but there is a 90 Day Visa requirement when you are visiting the country. This is important for Residency applications as well as driving in the country. If you drive around the country there is a very good chance that you will be stopped by local or Transit Police to check your passport to make sure that you are meeting the VISA regulations. It is easy to stay in compliance with the law as you only have to leave the country and then return before the 90 Day period expires. Returning to your native country or making a “border run” to Nicaragua or Panama allows you to meet this requirement. However, the police are very strict when you are not in compliance so it is not a good idea to assume that it is not important.
8. Don’t plan to work in Costa Rica
Like the enforcement of the 90-Day VISA, the Costa Rican authorities are very strict when it comes to foreigners working in their country. Costa Rica is a very poor country, and jobs are very important to the native people who live here. Most online employment is acceptable, however, if you are “quiet” about it and do not advertise extensively. Also, if you have a needed skill or you are employed by a major industry that requires your services, then it is usually approved. Like anything, there are strict regulations, and it is best to get legal advice before planning to work. If the need to work is directly connected to your purchase of real estate, then this is probably not a good plan.
9. Learn the language- or at least try!
If you already speak Spanish you are in a great position to communicate with many of the people who are involved with the real estate business. However, if you don’t speak Spanish it is a good practice to find lessons and at least try. The Ticos very much appreciate it when you try to speak their language, and many will assist you when you have trouble remembering words. Costa Rican Spanish is one of the most difficult to speak because the Ticos speak so fast. It is very hard to understand even when you have good basic Spanish. In most cases they will slow down and help you understand.
10. Establish a Bank Account
There are two major banks in Costa Rica. One is The National Bank of Costa Rica (BCR), and the other is Banco National (BN). Both are widely used. BCR is the bank that most government agencies use to transfer funds for payment for transactions involving Residency and other similar activities. Banco National tends to be more local, but you can still pay some government fees such as the annual car registration or utilities. It is best to check in the town where you will live to find where you will do your banking. One of the main reasons to have a bank account is to have a means to transfer funds to local contractors. Frequently people do not use checks to pay for services, but it is a transfer of funds through the bank from one account to the other that is the method of payment. Also, it is wise to check with your home bank to make sure you understand the process that they use to transfer funds from the American bank to the Costa Rican bank. Costa Rica usually requires clearly worded receipts when money transfers from one country to another due to the fear of people illegally laundering money in foreign countries. Like any legal transaction, give yourself enough time to complete the transaction - at least 7 business days.
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Stop Educating and Start Learning
A Writer’s Journey
Did you ever stop to wonder why all the politicians, soothsayers, and other false prophets tell us that “Education” is the answer to all the world’s problems?
They all look at “Education” in the broadest possible way and never get down to you, me, and the people like us who really want to learn, advance ourselves, make more money, and enjoy the good life. We are the ones who actually want to learn how to succeed. You can have all the education you can handle, but if you don’t learn anything useful it will never be worth the time or the money.
What is Learning?
Learning is the process of acquiring new, or modifying existing, knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, or preferences ( Wikipedia).
One skill that you have
The ability to write.
1. If you could take this skill, learn a unique and positive way to present it, and in the end make money, would it have more value?
2. If you could write in a way that showed your knowledge of the world, and what you wrote was of benefit to others, would this modify your behavior?
3. If you could pick the time and place to write and there is no alarm clock, no office routine, and no boss, would this be a life preference that you could learn to live with?
“Tell me and I forget.
Teach me and I remember.
Involve me and I learn.”
I have a friend who was born in upstate New York, attended a college, and settled in upstate New York. He had never been out of the country. One day, he walked into work at IBM, and his manager told him that he was being transferred to a small town in France, and that was going to be there for 5 years. He was an engineer, had no real desire to travel, and had passed French with a “C +.” He was in for the culture shock of his life!
Believe it or not, after he arrived in France, took some emergency French lessons, and lived in the culture for three months, he was able to speak French and communicate very well in both his daily life and with his work. After 2 years he was fluent.
This is not an unusual story.
High school students who participate in the International Exchange Program with Rotary International have similar experiences. After only 3 months in a foreign country, with little or no knowledge of the language, they are able to communicate effectively in their new environment.
This is not magic- it is true learning. When you are immersed in an area, whether it is a language or writing, you will be able to learn it and make it work for you. With writing you can even make money. You just have to have a way to immerse yourself.
Think of the last time you really learned something. Maybe it was just after you read a great book with a very important message. Or maybe it was after having a conversation with a person as you sat with him/her on a train and you had a meaningful discussion. What did you do with that learning?
Most people find that when they learn something, they retain that learning when they share it with others. My guess is that you may have had a conversation over the dinner table, gone to a meeting, or just had a few drinks with friends, and like magic, the topic came up, almost as if were planned. You may have a wonderful new power, but most likely you were tuned into what people were saying and realized that they were also thinking about the same things you were. In this case you were ready, and you had some new information to share.
Writing for Real
That is what happens each day when you write! Not only are you constantly stimulating your mind with new ideas, but you are placing them in front of people so that you can contribute to their lives.
Real writing is needed in today’s world and there is a formula for you to immerse yourself.
It is not for just the college educated or the executive. It is for the person who can write a few sentences and place them on paper in such a way that they communicate to others. It is a roadmap to more money than you can imagine, more free time, and more of the world.
If you want to learn to write in a way that opens up your world to unlimited benefits then the first thing you have to do is click on the Barefoot Writer link to learn how: www.barefootwriter.com
“A moment’s insight is sometimes worth a life’s experience.” Oliver Wendell Holmes
Let the Journey Begin!