Buy Land and Build in Costa Rica

Many people have the dream of building a tropical home on the beach or perched on a mountain top with views of the ocean.  Some want lots of acreage to spread out and feel “off-the-grid”, not having neighbors close by.  It can be a reality, and it’s not too hard to achieve, but you need to know the different kinds of property designations.

View of Playa Hermosa from a hillside building lot
Before I get in to the types of plots of land or building lots, let me say that there are many types. I will focus on the most common one. It is important to know the local municipality will actually set the high requirement. Some are setbacks from the boundaries, the maximum percentage of construction that is allowed based on land size and the use of the land, also called in Spanish “Uso de Suelo”. This should be part of any due diligence before actually closing sale on the property so you know what can be built.

Residential Lots There are a few different types of residential lots. Let’s get started here first. Many people that owned large pieces of land may have segregated or sub-divided the plot off of a bigger piece of land. These lots can be situated on public roads or a sometimes on an easement. These types of lots have to be a minimum of 350 square meters in order to build a home.

Home built on a lot in Costa Rica

A) “Horizontal Condominium lots”. These lots can be of any size however most are bigger than 350 square meters. Anyone who purchases in a “horizontal condominium” are required by law to adhere to the registered covenants and restrictions. This could include style of home, roof material retirements, monthly maintenance fees and so on. Horizontal condominium lots are always in a gated community and the roads within are private. These types of lots cannot be subdivided without 100% of the condominium association in agreement.

B) Then there are developments that have been set up under “agricultural” designation. Agricultural lots need to be, by law, a minimum of 5000 square meters, or 1.23 acres. With this type of lot, the roads in the development are easements, meaning that the road will actually pass-through another person’s property and vice versa. This will all be shown on the title of the deed and property registration as well as the registered lot survey or “Plano”.  Agricultural development land can be subdivided but only if the two new properties are still over 5000 square meters. Many developments were set up this way and most do have a home owners association to take care of the common areas and costs. By law, the main home on a agricultural lot can be a maximum of 300 square meters or 3229 square feet of construction.

Costa Rica Rainbow over a piece of agricultural land

C) Urbanization lots. This type of lot is segregated off of a bigger piece of property and the roads going through the development, or area, are public and anyone can drive on them. The size of these lots varies.

Farm land or “Fincas” – There are many large pieces of land for sale in Costa Rica. Heck you dive around and see signs on trees and fence posts declaring “Se Vende” or for sale. You see so many of them it makes you think the whole country is for sale. With large tracks of land usually over one “hectare” or 2.5 acres, you can build just about anything, but why over-build when you probably want the space. Again, as mentioned above, the local municipality will set the use of soil “Uso de Suelo”.
Important things to know – When you find the piece of land you want buy, and build on, one of the most important things I recommend is that you have a legal source of potable water.

Whether the water it is supplied by the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados or AyA (the Spanish acronym for the water authority of Costa Rica), a legally registered private well; or if the property is in a outlying areas, water supplied by a “ASAD. A Spanish acronym for Las Asociaciones administradoras de los Sistemas de Acueductos y Alcantarillados.  This is a legally registered local association that delivers water to properties via piping. Make sure you ask the attorney that is helping you purchase the property to verify all this during the due diligence period. Otherwise, it can be very costly.

When looking for a piece of land in Costa Rica and there are many beautiful spots to build the dream home, make sure you know what you are getting into before you actually close the sale.

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Buying a Car in Costa Rica

We discussed shipping a car to Costa Rica in a previous blog post. Have you decided it would be better to leave your Jaguar in the United and States and buy a vehicle better suited to the conditions in Costa Rica? You need to find something to get you around the country you now call home.

Selection of Costa Rica used cars

There are many affordable used cars in Costa Rica from a variety of sources. is the number one online clearinghouse for used cars. Craigslist Costa Rica is also a great resource, especially for fellow expats looking to sell their car before moving back home. Other sites with classified ads are Encuentra24 and Facebook Marketplace.

The car lots in and around San José have the biggest inventory. Alternatively, the small town of Grecia is famous for its used car lots that line the road from the Pan American highway into the center of town.

Many of the vehicles at the used car lots have been imported from the U.S. These are an advantageous choice because they have not yet been beaten to death on Costa Rica’s potholed back roads. Check any car’s history by looking up the VIN number on Carfax or similar online services. Many used car dealers buy vehicles at auction in southern states like Texas (no rust from road salt) for resale here.

Buying a used car in Costa Rica

Asian brands like Toyota, Suzuki, Hyundai and Mitsubishi are some of the most popular vehicles on the road. Spare parts and qualified mechanics are readily available, making them some of the least expensive cars to repair. Honda and Subaru are great brands but parts are harder to find and generally pricier.

Four-wheel drive is not a necessity unless you live in an isolated area or have a steep, ungraded driveway. However, an SUV’s tougher, higher suspension is helpful when navigating rougher roads.

There are a few models of vehicles never sold in the U.S. that are great vehicles for use in Costa Rica. They include the Hyundai Terracan and Galloper, the Toyota Fortuner, which I have one, the Daihatsu Terios, or the Mitsubishi Montero Sport Turbo Diesel Intercooler.

Buying from a private owner can get you a better deal. Get to know the expats in your area and let them know you are in the market for a vehicle. As far as buying from Ticos goes, it is the same as anywhere else. There are honest people and scam artists. You need to be discerning and do your due diligences the same as you would anywhere. Be sure to have a trusted mechanic give it a go over before laying out any cash.

It is important to make sure that the registration (marchamo) and vehicle safety inspection (RITEVE) are current. Both stickers are located in the upper righthand corner of the windshield. The marchamo is paid toward the end of each calendar year. The month the annual inspection is due coincides with the last number of the license plate (1–January, 2–February, etc).

Once you’ve decided on a vehicle, hire a lawyer. “But I didn’t commit a crime!” you exclaim. There, there, relax. A lawyer is required by law for a valid transfer of title. They search the government database to make sure there are no liens or fines on the car from the previous owner and they write the bill of sale. Usually, the buyer pays for this service, but it can sometimes be split between the buyer and seller. The lawyer’s fee is set by the government based on the value of the car.

Howler Monkey near Playa Hermosa Costa Rica

If you are just too nervous to buy a car from a used car dealer or a private party, you can also buy a new car at a dealership. Check online for the location of the dealer who sells the make of vehicle you are interested in. When buying a new car, the registration and inspection is taken care of by the dealership and included in the price. They also get the license plates for you. 

In Liberia where I purchased my car there is a Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai, Kia, Chevrolet and a Ford dealership, all carry their brand names and some of the dealerships carry more than one brand.

The great news about buying cars in Costa Rica is that they hold their value. If you get a good deal up front and take good care of the vehicle, you may be able to sell it for the same price you paid or only slightly less a few years later. Another advantage in Costa Rica is that cars are cheaper to maintain. Repairs that would cost thousands back in the U.S. will only be in the hundreds here.

Whether or not you ship or buy a vehicle, or decide to walk everywhere, the important thing is to get out and start exploring this beautiful country you call home!

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Want more information about Costa Rica in general visit

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Shipping a car to Costa Rica vs buying a vehicle here

“I have heard vehicles are really expensive in Costa Rica,” you say to yourself. “Maybe I should ship my car down to Costa Rica. Surely that will be cheaper!”

Shipping a car to Costa Rica

Here are the answers to your questions: You are right that vehicles cost more in Costa Rica than in North America, for example. You could certainly ship your car here–there are well-established arrangements to do just that. However, it will not necessarily be less expensive to do so.

Before inviting your vehicle to join you in your new life, make sure it is the right vehicle for Costa Rica. If your vehicle was manufactured in America or Europe, you will find it more challenging (and possibly more expensive) to find parts and get repairs. The most common parts available are for Asian vehicles, and every mechanic can fix them. Does your car ride low, hug the road, and fly along at high speeds smoothly and comfortably? You will not enjoy those features nor the experience in Costa Rica. Though most highways are paved here, they are not even close to the Autobahn or a U.S. interstate highway. Rough patches and potholes abound, and slow-moving trucks and congestion make hitting 60 mph an uncommon occurrence. Though you may rarely use the 4-wheel-drive feature of your SUV, you will find the higher, sturdier suspension more important than speed and comfort.

If you decide your vehicle is a perfect fit, make sure it is in good shape before loading it on a boat since it will undergo a thorough inspection upon arrival by the agency Revision Tecnica de Vehiculos (RITEVE) before you are allowed to take possession. This is the same inspection your vehicle will need to pass on an annual basis.


Importing a car to Costa Rica is a common practice, and there are many reputable car importers. The cost of shipping from the closest port, Miami, is about $1000 plus the cost of maritime freight insurance. Shipping insurance covers the vehicle being lost at sea or loss of the container but does not cover damage to the vehicle inside the container or during transit. If you are interested in shipping your car from Seattle, Los Angeles, Houston, or other port cities the price will be higher and fewer shipping dates offered, but it could be more convenient for you.

Your vehicle will arrive at one of Costa Rica’s two ports–Moin (Limon) on the Caribbean side and Caldera on the Pacific coast. Once your vehicle arrives, the shipping company may transport it to their warehouse in the San Jose area. Warehousing fees will be incurred. The officials at the port and the import company will help you deal with customs paperwork and will assist if you don’t speak Spanish. It is possible the car may have been damaged or–rarely–have parts missing. Unfortunately, there is no recourse to recoup those losses.

Now we arrive at the reason cars cost so much in Costa Rica: customs duties. The customs duties on any car 6 years old or newer can be as high as 80% of the value of the vehicle according to importation laws, not the actual price you paid or the Kelly Blue Book value. This website tells you how much that tax will be for your particular vehicle: CR Government’s Vehicle Import Tax Calculator. It is a good idea to look up your car ahead of time. “To be forewarned is to be forearmed.” Armed with your wallet that is.  The government’s market value calculator takes into account every factory feature, option and extra. Mileage and condition are not taken into consideration nor are modifications.

After paying taxes, the customs office will issue a document called a DUA (documento unico administrativo) which is your temporary title for 24-48 hours. This gives you enough time to take your vehicle to be inspected. Once you pass, you can now hire a lawyer to draft the legal document to register your vehicle. Expect to pay around 4.5% of the value of the vehicle to get it registered. Additionally, you will pay the annual road circulation tax (marchamo) and mandatory liability tax. The National Insurance Institute (INS) posts its rates on its website. Once the vehicle is registered, you are assigned license plates. The registration process can take up to one month, but hang in there. You are on the home stretch!

To ship or not to ship? If it is a car that you have owned and cared for, and you have verified that it is a version that is popular here, then it may be to your advantage to ship your vehicle to Costa Rica. You may or may not save money, but there is a lot of peace of mind in driving the ‘devil you know’ versus the devil someone sold you. Which leads us to the next question–Should I buy a car in Costa Rica?

Want to keep up with everything that is happening here in Costa Rica?  Join my email list!

Want more information about Costa Rica in general visit

Interested in owning a property in Costa Rica, checkout some great options here 

Have a comment or a question? Feel free to EMAIL ME