5 permits you need to build a house in Costa Rica

February 23, 2015
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Many Americans and other foreigners have decided to settle in Costa Rica and build their own year-round houses in this lovely country. Others just want to build a place where they can go to escape the cold winters back home. However, building a house in Costa Rica requires more than just the purchase of the land and the construction of the house. There are a series of permits and legal procedures that need to be obtained, followed or processed in order to avoid legal trouble. Below is a list of these permits and procedures. While you read these permits and procedures, keep in mind that these may not take into account specific requirements that might apply to individual buildings.

Environmental Viability of the Project

This permit is required from the SETENA (Secretaría Técnica Nacional Ambiental) for buildings that they consider large enough to affect the environment. In buildings dedicated to occupancy, this permit is required when the construction involves more than 500 square meters (approximately 5,380 square feet) or moving land of more than 200 cubic meters (approximately 7,060 cubic feet).

Land Use Certificate Application

Land owners who wish to buy small houses and who have already obtained the environmental viability permit must apply for a Land Use Certificate (Certificado de Uso de Suelo) at the municipal office in the region where the construction will take place. The municipality has to certify that the area where the construction will take place has occupancy status (aptitud residencial). Note that some areas will not have this status. For example, protected nature reserves or areas reserved for commerce or industry don’t have it. This is similar to zoning regulations in the United States.

Drinkable Water and Sewage Availability Letter

After obtaining the Land Use Certificate, the owner must submit a drinkable water and sewage availability letter to the Costa Rican Aqueducts and Sewage Institute (Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados) for the property where the construction will take place in order to obtain these services.

Design and Presentation of the Construction Plans to the CFIA

Once the land use has been certified and the drinkable water and sewage services have been confirmed, the owner needs to hire a professional company that will be in charge of developing the construction and electrical plans for the building. They will be responsible for assuring that the plans have taken into account all possible factors and regulations to prevent any future problems and issues. The company’s staff will need to include at least one civil engineer and one electrical engineer and is responsible for presenting these plans to the Federal Board of Engineers and Architects of Costa Rica (Colegio Federado de Ingenieros y Arquitectos de Costa Rica or CFIA) for review and approval. The presentation of these plans needs to be done through a digital system called Administrador de Proyectos de Construcción, or APC.

The CFIA will then review and obtain approvals from the different government offices that are pertinent to the construction in question. These offices might typically include:

    • The municipality where the construction will take place
    • The Ministry of Public Works and Transportation (Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes or MOPT)
    • The National Habitation and Urbanism Institute (Instituto Nacional de Vivienda y Urbanismo or INVU)
    • The National Electricity and Power Company or the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz or CNFL, or Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad or ICE)
    • The Costa Rican Train Institute (Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles or INCOFER)
    • The Costa Rican Aqueducts and Sewage Institute (Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados)

 

After the CFIA obtains approval from the relevant agencies, it will establish a value for the construction and charge a fee of 0.0265 percent of the construction value. The owner has five working days to pay the fee or the CFIA will cancel the project and eliminate it from the system. It is strongly advised to have the funds ready to pay immediately once the fee has been estimated by CFIA or you will have to start the process from scratch.

Construction Permit Application

The last step before beginning construction is to apply for a construction permit from the municipality where the construction will take place. Each municipality differs in the requirements it asks for before granting the permit, so you’ll have to ask for the specific requirements for your area. However, those undertaking a construction project in Costa Rica should take into account the following requirements in addition to the requirements of the municipality:

  • Construction and electrical plans reviewed and approved by the CFIA as well as by the respective government agencies.
  • Labor Risk Policy for the construction workers granted by the National Insurance Institute.
  • Proof of payment of a tax of 1% of the total value of the construction.
  • Certification from the Costa Rican Social Security Treasury (Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social) that you are up to date with your employer obligations, if you are an employer.

Once these and any other specific requisites have been fulfilled, the Municipality will issue the construction permit and the construction can begin.

The process of establishing the legal right to build a home might seem long and complex to foreigners or people unfamiliar with it, but we hope this article has given you a clear overview. Those who have successfully built the home of their dreams in Costa Rica agree that it’s worth it.

Alonso Miranda Rivera works with Arias & Muñoz Real Estate and Public Law and he has experience in Corporate Law providing counsel on daily operations to both local and foreign companies. His experience also includes trademarks and IP matters. Alonso is member of the Costa Rican Bar Association. He can be reached by email at: amiranda@ariaslaw.co.cr or by phone at: 2503-9800.

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