When you purchase a completed home in Costa Rica, issues such as the correct zoning, the availability of utilities and access, are most likely not to be a concern. Your main concerns will be to obtain a reliable home inspection to determine the soundness of the existing structure, and a lot boundary survey to ensure that there are no encroachment issues. 


However, when buying a building lot for residential construction, more inquiries must be made. The following are due diligence items that you should consider.




One of the most important inquiries to be made for a building lot is the applicable zoning that the municipality has stipulated for the property. During the lot purchase due diligence period, a seller will be asked to provide a municipal land use permit (uso de suelo), indicating the type of construction permitted on the lot and any restrictions on building, such as a limitation on structure height and the construction footprint size.


Water Letter


Another important requirement during the due diligence period, is for the seller to provide a letter from the applicable water authority charged with providing potable water to the building lot. This water authority letter is an integral part of being granted a building permit by the municipality.




A building lot may have a frontage facing a public road. This may be determined from the extract of the registered property title obtained from the National Registry. The property title will indicate the neighboring properties on each side of a building lot, including noting a public road frontage. If a public road frontage exists, the lot access is guaranteed. However, if such is not the case, it may be necessary to obtain a private easement to provide the access that you require.


Flooding issues


The investigation of potential flooding problems is a major consideration when building in Costa Rica. Costa Rica is a tropical country, with heavy downpours of rain that primarily occur in the wet season. A gently babbling brook or dry water course in the dry season, can quickly turn into a raging river in the wet season, quite often flooding properties close to the water course.


Subdivision issues


When buying a lot that must be subdivided from a mother property, it would be important to investigate with the municipality as to any dedication of a portion of the property to the municipality for public space, such as green zones, which may be a requirement in the subdivision process. The requirement will vary with the location of the lot and any existing zoning requirements that already apply.


Building plans


In order to obtain a municipal building permit, you will be required to submit building plans to the applicable municipality, which have been certified by a Costa Rica architect who is a member of the Costa Rica College of Engineers and Architects. A water letter issued by the applicable water authority will also be required. A soil stability engineering report may be required, especially for steep sloped properties. Although the application process for the building permit is formal, normally, little — if any — follow-up inspection of the building process will be done by the municipality.


My opinion


A purchaser considering the purchase of a building lot, is well advised to employ the services of a Costa Rica architect or engineer early in the due diligence process, to advise on the feasibility of being able to construct what they have envisioned for the property. Regulations respecting the development of properties vary significantly throughout Costa Rica and must be addressed in the context of any specific property under consideration.

For more information and answers to your questions on diverse legal topics, visit Costa Rica Canada Law:

The investigation of potential flooding problems is a major consideration when building in Costa Rica.

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