ribing and paying graft is a true detriment to the progression of a country as a whole by communities, and the individual agencies that seem to promote the proliferation of asking for money for extra services or turning a blind eye to necessary permits.

I have had many conversations with people telling me what they have gotten away with. Sometimes they have fed someone in authority money to ignore offenses that are actually fabricated so that the corrupt can profit.

I was directly aware of a residential project in Guanacaste that built a septic system with no permits. Many in the community, including the developer prior to the project starting, said that paying bribes is the normal way of doing business here in Costa Rica.

Well, it is not the right way, in my view. The ripple effect of someone paying bribes causes it to be seen as an acceptable practice for expats, despite being illegal. Agencies like the police, the ASADA water authorities and some municipality officials often times play a role in perpetuating these instances. This can cause difficulties for people wanting to do things right. It’s like digging out of a big hole and the top just keeps caving in.

To illustrate, let me share a striking first-hand example. At an annual general homeowners’ association meeting, the HOA administrator was presenting the budget and year-end financial reports for approval. There was a line item of over $800 dollars that was notably out of place. When questioned, the HOA administrator indicated this amount was paid to pay off a municipal official. Asked to elaborate, he clarified it was to pay someone off to get things moving on a building project. After much further discussion, the lawyer acting as a proxy for some homeowners asked, “Are you admitting to the criminal act of paying a bribe?” Sweating profusely, the HOA administrator yelled in response, “Yes, yes, I paid a bribe!”

This story does not end there. The building project proceeded further in the ensuing months, despite the lack of permits and over the protests of homeowners. Wink, wink … how could it? As the construction activity progressed closer towards ultimately being completed, permits miraculously appeared. I wonder how that happened?!

The potential for serious consequences of legal infractions like this should not be taken lightly. Permit requirements exist for important reasons that are not always a simple matter of zoning boundaries, or of structural functionality and quality. They are often tied to health, safety and sanitation standards, as well as environmental protection regulations extending beyond your own property borders.

Road to repetition

In a more individual context, I recently heard of a person being pulled over by the police in a rental car. The driver had only a black and white copy of his passport. The police immediately threatened to confiscate the car and cause many other problems. However, in a veiled manner, the driver was given the option of paying $600 to be let go. Being a tourist and scared of the consequences, he ended up paying the officer almost $300 dollars for being allowed to drive away.

Of course, there are other actions this driver could have taken, such as calling the vehicle rental agency or asking for a supervising police officer to come to the scene. But this would take time and add to the hassle and stress, which is why many people in the same situation pay and just go on their way.

Naturally, these scenarios will keep recurring as long as the perpetrators are encouraged to continue behaving the same way. Once you have paid someone off, do you think it ends there? It may not even stop for you personally. You could become a repeat financial supporter of the same offenders because they know you are willing to pay.

Paying a bribe to a traffic officer will put you on his radar as an easy mark. “Hey, here comes Johnny! Let’s pull him over again. We can make some side cash.”

I wonder, how many people leave Costa Rica with a bad taste for these actions?

For a country to remove the stigma of accepting graft is difficult, and it holds back progress. The police might not respond when you need them unless you pay them. The officials of muni agencies may cause you other problems if you don’t pay them more. It is a cycle that must be broken. That will require a shift in attitude away from being considered the “normal” way of doing things.

All in all, it is a bad idea to be a party to these misdeeds, directly or indirectly. It hurts not only you but also others. It diminishes the reputation of a country that is promoting its place in the world of happiness and green. The green is not cash!

See this article in the magazine

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March 2022 Troop (Contributors)

Costa Rica’s real estate scene is abuzz with activity, only partly triggered by last year’s economic reset buttons being pushed globally. What many of our readers will realize is that it’s not a new phenomenon or passing fad, but rather the continuation of a long-term uptrend. From the time of Howler’s inception, we’ve kept our finger on the pulse of what motivates expats to seek, find, buy and build homes in this awesome country. Our vast online collection of articles covers the gamut of expertise on relocation, real estate, design and building, legal, financial, investment and property management. So with a special focus on real estate in this month’s issue, we are pleased to provide a catalog of titles that we encourage prospective house hunters to read at their leisure.

Our March featured adventure describes the natural highs you can experience while hiking with an informative guide in Arenal. And again, we offer glimpses at five unique Latin American locales — all based on recommendations from locals. Our “top 5” sampling of attractions in each spot includes two home country locales: Puntarenas and Playas del Coco. Crossing both international borders, we take you to Tola, Nicaragua and Colón, Panama. Venturing further to South America, find out what experiences await in Neiva, Colombia.

Howler continues connecting Costa Rica with the world on other fronts too. We have plenty of details about the eco-friendly performance tour that Coldplay is kicking off in San José. Also find out about cultural preservation initiatives benefiting the Maleku indigenous community, and a versatile new venue for special events and retreats.



As one of Howler’s longest-standing regular contributors, Ivan Granados is someone we never take for granted. In fact, many of the above-mentioned real estate articles in our online collection were published under his LegalEase column byline in the CR Biz section. He’s provided yet another one in this month’s issue — “Buying Real Estate in Costa Rica: FAQs.” 

Ivan is an attorney and notary public specializing in real estate, corporate and tax law in Costa Rica. He also provides legal counsel and advice regarding intellectual property, immigration and nearshoring to clients who include business builders and foreign investors. Ivan is a managing partner at GM Attorneys, where he entered private practice in 2004 after earlier career positions with the Costa Rican government. He obtained his law degree at the Autonomous University of Central America (UACA). He also has a dual master’s degree (LL.M) in tax and business law from the University of International Cooperation (UCI), and a conciliator diploma from Latin American University of Science and Technology (ULACIT) and the Minister of Justice and Peace. 



Joanna Blanco. Integrative nutritional health coach who helps clients embrace wellness in five interconnected areas of life: relationships, livelihood, physical activity, spiritual awareness and diet.

Debbie Bride. Canadian continuing to create and communicate in Costa Rica.

Terry Carlile. Served as a U. S. Navy journalist for eight years, and is also a workshop trainer and keynote speaker.

Laura Méndez. Founder of Pura Vida Vibrations. Offering sound journeys, breathwork experiences, cacao ceremonies & other activities.

Turner Mojica. Chief Marketing Officer/Senior Vice President of Howler Media Holdings as well as the Costa Rican Chamber of Culture, Fashion and the Arts and CR Fashion Week. He is an International management consultant who has worked with Oscar and Grammy nominated producers, award winning directors and celebrities.

Rick Philps. Canadian who practiced law in Victoria, BC before moving to Costa Rica in 1998. He has practiced law here for 17 years, having continued his education in civil law and notary and registry law. Offers legal due diligence seminars and consultations in the Gold Coast area for expats moving, or considering moving to Costa Rica. Contact or visit

Valerie Scheirman. Creator and director of, a non-profit partnership with indigenous artisans to empower people and communities in Latin America and uplift lives. A native of Colorado and retired pharmacist, now living part-time in Costa Rica and Mexico.

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