Top Mistakes Buyers Make in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is an amazing country with tons of biodiversity and natural attractions, friendly local people, safe for retirees and families, and real estate opportunities for any level investor.  Many come to Costa Rica with romantic dreams and grandiose plans of how they will live the rest of their life in tropical paradise stress free on the beach or a mountain retreat.  However, some common mistakes can lead to frustration and disillusionment of this idyllic dream and for some, result in returning to their country of origin.  This blog will discuss some of those mistakes and how to avoid them in order to truly enjoy the “Pura Vida” lifestyle.

Buyer Beware – There are many buyers that come to Costa Rica and think they can purchase a home or property on their own and do not need to use a realtor.  There are tons of “Se Vende” or “For Sale” signs everywhere and it is not hard to find many property options, however, it is not easy to find quality property options.  Basically anyone can try and sell their property by placing a sign on it or having their brother or uncle try and sell it for them, but many do not understand the legality and usability of their own property.  By using a qualified and experienced broker you can quickly filter through a lot of properties that are just plain undesirable and start to view properties that work for your specific goals.  Many factors can change the actual usability of a property for example: set backs from rivers, creeks, and springs can make building where you planned impossible and if there is no other place to build on that property, then it is not worth purchasing.  Also minimum property sizes on a private road can vary in different Cantons of the country, so having someone that knows these details is an invaluable asset.  Make sure you realtor or broker has experience in their local area, legal and other useful contacts, and at the very least has taken the course offered by the national real estate association; Camara Costarricense de Corredores de Bienes Raices (CCCBR).

Not in Kansas Anymore – This goes without saying, but many people assume everything here will be just like in the States, Canada, or Europe.  Well surprise it is not!  Although Costa Rica is developing and now has many amenities it did not have even a few years ago, it is still not a “get whatever you want when you want it” society.  People used to this type of immediate service and availability can be in for a rude awakening.  Everything takes longer here and especially real estate transactions where the “Rigistro” or National Registry is involved processing papers and building permits from the local Municipality take longer as well.  It is not just buying land or a home, it can be anything and a common example I like to use is just going to the hardware store.  In the U.S. you go to Home Depot or Lowes, everything is well marked and you can usually find what you want without any help, grab it, and go check out.  Here not so fast…. you need to get someone to help you and sometimes even take a number if it is crowded, then they gather your items and write up a “factura” or bill and sometimes can even pass you on to someone else for this.  Then you have to go to another employee at the register or “caja” and pay your bill.  Meanwhile another person is packing up your items and then you have to go show them your receipt and retrieve the items you paid for.  If there is a word in Spanish for efficiency it is not used in the Costa Rican vocabulary often.  Rather than dwell and complain about the differences it is better to learn patience and embrace them as part of life in a new culture.

Lost in Translation – Costa Rica is obviously a Spanish speaking country, but many locals speak some English and a person can get by on vacation with virtually no Spanish.  However, once you live here full time it is best to learn some Spanish for daily interactions.  Many full time residents do not even bother learning basic phrases and expect everyone to know some English; which in tourism areas may work, but in local towns and more rural areas knowing some Spanish will help tremendously.  Also local people respect the effort of trying to learn their language and will commonly try and help out with pronunciation or vocabulary.  Many times they will want to try out their English while you try out your Spanish.  Whether you take a course once moving here or practice at home with an online course, it will pay off in everyday interactions and help you integrate with the local community.

Jumping In – Another common mistake buyers make is moving too fast.  They fall in love with this country while on vacation, go home and sell everything, and make the plunge.  This can work out for a few, but most people should take their time and rent a home here first or make numerous extended visits to make sure Costa Rica is the right move for them.  At least research first and consider carefully the differences of life in a foreign country vs what you are used to.  This is a huge lifetime decision and a substantial financial investment, so making the right decision is vital.  Renting in a various areas to see which part of the country you like the best is a good idea, maybe different climates too like next to the beach or in the mountains.   Most of our clients we work with through the research stage and for a couple trips before they purchase.  We can also help in finding vacation and long term rental homes for any amount of time.  Whether it is your first or fifteenth trip we can help you through the process, and will work with you as long as it takes to make the right decision for you.

How Hard Can it Be – Many buyers think they will find the perfect piece of land and build their dream home easily and quickly and move right in.  Well, not so fast…. the building process here takes much longer and just getting the proper permits can take well over 3 months.  If you are not going to be here during construction than an English speaking builder/contractor is highly recommended in order to ensure everything goes to plan and can provide you with constant and accurate updates of the building process.  If you are planning on being here during construction it is still worth considering a professional contractor that knows the in and outs of building here, is well connected with local architects, engineers, and the local municipality for permitting, has knowledge of the best supply stores, and has a crew that has worked together many times before.  Another good idea is to build a small caretaker home or guest apartment first in order to have a place to live while you build a larger main house.  Building a home anywhere from scratch is stressful enough, why not make it as unproblematic as possible by hiring a professional.

Patience is a Virtue – Basically most mistakes and frustration come from lack of patience.  This is a hard learned skill and toke me some time after moving here to achieve any resemblance of patience.  I was a very impatient person over 7 years ago and wanted immediate results for anything and everything.  That had to change in order for me to truly appreciate this country, the people, culture, and customs.  Still would not say I have fully obtained it and still find myself sometimes screaming on the inside “HURRY UP!” while waiting at a bank or I.C.E. office and my number has a long way from getting called.  But it is a constant learning process and you just have to really stop and smell the roses, or thousands of different types of flowers in this case.

For more local tips and advice you can contact me by phone or email ( and check out more of the Costa Rica Lifestyle Blog or the United Country – Dominical website!!