The process of getting permission to build a home can be complicated depending upon where your property is located. Beachfront development has a different set of rules compared to private land.
Although it is national code that regulates building, practical application will vary in populated areas like San Jose versus rural areas such as the Nicoya Peninsula. Santa Teresa, Mal Pais and Manzanillo are governed by the municipality of Cobano and all permits must be submitted there for approval.
The building code is not nearly as strict as in the United States, Canada or Europe. The owner must present proof of ownership and a set of building plans signed by a Costa Rican architect. There is a preliminary study and a pre-project (anteproyecto) performed by the architect. Set fees for architects are between 4%-6% of the value of the construction. For larger projects, you may be required to do an environmental impact study and possibly another study for supporting infrastructure. For residential real estate construction, a single permit is issued at the local municipality with a one-time inspection before construction begins. In rural areas, follow up inspections are rare. It is the architect’s responsibility to make sure you follow the approved plans. You must have a proper water supply and septic system. Under the new law, water must be proven to exist on the parcel for which the building permit is sought. In former times the owner could get water from a neighbor via an agreement, but this new restriction means that it is a bit more difficult to get a building permit. This new law will serve to slow development and support sensible, more environmentally friendly development.
The permit process should take a couple of weeks not counting the time it takes the architect to draw up your building plans. Some materials like cement and wood are equal to stateside prices but labor is very inexpensive. General labor costs are around $20 per day and a decent carpenter or block layer will cost around $35 per day. One of the biggest reasons Costa Rica offers such high profit potential is the low cost of construction. Building costs can be as low as $40 per square foot, and for a luxury construction, costs are around $100/sf. Much of the cost also depends on what part of the country you are looking to build.
A permit is required to cut any tree over 15cm in diameter with a height of 130cm. Owners should respect nature and not butcher land, seeking to work around the trees and the animal right-of-ways. Permits are obtained through the government agency known by the acronym, MINAE.