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Buying Titled Real Estate in Costa Rica

Buying real estate in Costa Rica is normally easier than buying in other developing countries. Foreigners can own titled property in Santa Teresa, Mal Pais and Manzanillo in their own name and share the same rights as a Costa Rican citizen.

“Titled” or fee simple property comprises most land save for land in the maritime zone or posession land. There are 2 important documents that describe a titled property. First, the title (escritura) which is registered in the National Registry (Registro Nacional), and manifests ownership of the property along with any liens, mortgages, judgments or other encumbrances. Secondly, the registered survey map (plano catastral), registered in the Registro Catastrado, records the size, measurements, and location oft he property, along with other useful information like whether the land falls inside restricted areas such as IDA Land, now falling under INDER, and is co-owned with the government, or inside protected areas like national parks and reserves. The survey is NOT the ownership document and may even reflect a previous owner’s name. The ownership document and the survey of the land are recorded in separate departments of the National Registry. Both departments must be checked to verify that the ownership of the property and the mapping of the property coincide with the same piece of land.

Once a property is titled for the very first time, the “original inscription”, there is a three-year incubation period during which third parties can make a claim to the real estate (the periodo de convaidacion). However, any new claims must carry a fair amount of proof before a title can be challenged. After three years, a claim can still be filed but calls for extraordinary circumstances. There is a ten-year statue of limitations for any such claims.

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