A word about beach property – titled, concessions, living full time
As we alluded to in a previous section of this chapter, the value of beach
property has skyrocketed over the last decade due to the country’s increased
popularity. Many people want to realize their dream of owning a beachfront
lot in a tropical paradise.
For most foreigners, the main beach development areas worth considering
for retirement or vacation homes can be found in Guanacaste areas of Hermosa,
Junquillal and Tamarindo. The Central Pacific beach areas around the towns
of Jacó Beach, Quepos and Manuel Antonio are also attractive. The Central
Pacific area has great potential, as it is much closer to the Central Valley and
San José. The new Ciudad Colón-Orotina and Quepos-Dominical highways
will have a huge effect on real estate values in this part of the country, as it
will reduce driving time to the Central and South Pacific areas.
As in nearly every country in the world, Costa Rica’s beaches are
public property. So, if you would like to build or buy a beachfront home
or business, you should familiarize yourself with the special rules regarding
beach property in Costa Rica. Unlike in Mexico, some beachfront property
may be purchased. The 1977 Maritime Zoning Law for beach property (Ley
sobre la Zona Marítimo-Terrestre – Ley Número 6043) regulates the ownership
and usage of beachfront property in Costa Rica.
Beach property here has its own set of rules so you have to be careful.
The 200-meter strip of land along the seacoasts is owned by the government
and is for public use. It is prohibited to build anything within the first 50
meters (Zone Pública) of the high-tide line. This zone is for the public and
cannot be turned into a private beach.
Also, you can no longer build within the next 50 to 200 meters of the
high tide line—this is called the Maritime Zone, or Zona Marítima, —unless
there is existing housing or a new tourism project involved. If this is the
case, you can lease the land from the municipality, which is overseen by the
Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT).
The Maritime Zone runs for more than 1,500 kilometers (932 miles)
along both coasts. More than one third of this (590 kilometers (367 miles)
is open to legal development. The rest is invested in mangrove swamps,
National Parks, mouths of rivers and other protected areas.
Most of this land is already developed, much of it illegally. Only a small
fraction is still open to development.
There are two types of beach properties — titled and untitled.
Titled properties are those acquired before 1977 before the law changed. The
Maritime Zoning Law is not applied retroactively. Any shoreline property
previously titled can be freely transferred. After that date, coastal properties
can only be obtained by means of a concession. A concession is a type of
lease which is good for five to twenty years and is usually renewable but
there is no guarantee.
Obtaining a concession is a bureaucratic nightmare. The Instituto
Costarricense de Turismo (ICT) authorizes leases in the Restricted Zone,
but the local municipal governments grant and administer the government
concession for possession of land in the maritime zone. The Registry of
Concessions in the Public Registry in San José records all concessions.
Before a concession can be granted, the particular beach where the property
is located must have an approved Zoning Plan (Plan Regulador) in place.
You will also need an uso de suelo (ground use) permit, and approval from
the Instituto Costarricense de Vivienda y Urbanismo or IVU and whatever
else they think up to make you jump through the hoops.
Only the actual Concession will clearly define the rights and terms
of ownership that the occupant has to the property. In theory, foreigners
cannot lease this land, but there are loopholes in this law. One of the ways
to circumvent this regulation is by obtaining a lease through a corporation
owned mainly by a Costa Rican. However, this is illegal and you can get
into trouble and end up losing the lease. Check with a lawyer to find out
how this works.
* Concessions for maritime zone beach property cannot be granted to:
* Foreigners who have not been residents for five years
* Companies with bearer shares
* Foreign companies based abroad
* A company set up in Costa Rica exclusively for foreigners.
* A company with more than fifty percent foreign capital (ZM Art. 47)
Concessions on maritime zone beach property can be forfeited for the
* Failure to apply for an extension of a concession in a timely manner
* The forfeiture of rights by the interested parties
* The death or legal absence of the concession holder with no heir
* Not abiding by the established obligations of Article 51
* Cancellation of the concession (ZM Art. 52)
The ICT can cancel a concession on maritime zone beach property for:
* Non payment of the yearly canon or royalty
* Breach of contract (e.g. use of the land for purposes other than those
expressly stated by ICT)
* Violation of the ordinances of the law that grants the concession
* Impediment of the use of the public right of way
* Other causes that this law establishes (ZM Art. 53)
Beachfront property is being bought-up fast, and the price of this and
other prime real estate is soaring. However, before you move to the beach,
you should know that for some people the novelty of living at the beach
wears off fast. Visiting the beach for a few days or weeks is very different
from living there full-time. The humidity, boredom, bugs, lack of emergency
medical facilities in a few areas and the occasional inconveniences of living
in an often out-of-the-way area are factors that might deter some from
moving to any beach area. However, in general the positives of beach living
far outweigh any negatives. Due to Costa Rica’s increasing popularity and
improving infrastructure, beach property can be an excellent investment
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