In general

If you do not plan to build a house close to the coastal area, you'll appreciate the mostly liberal construction regulations in Costa Rica.
Just like in Europe or the USA, also in Costa Rica you'll find construction laws and regulations national ones as well as down to the community. The superior construction law (Ley de Construcciones) is broken down into the regulations of the public dwelling and residential institute (Instituto Nacional de Vivienda y Urbanismo), the association of architects and construction engineers (Colégio Federado de Ingenieros y Architectos) as well as all rules and regulations of the various municipalities.

Depending on a municipality and the planned square meters (e.g. more than 60 m2 in Talamanca), it is mandatory to have a construction application handed in by a licensed architect. Planning as well as the execution should also be handed over to a specialist. Of course you can use a preliminary draft you brought from abroad, but those drafts need to be adapted for the management of works by a local architect, because he will know best, what laws and regulations need to be taken into account.
Just like anywhere else, it is recommended to invite more than just one offer before you place an order and most of the times it even makes sense to obtain references about the various providers. You can get information from the Costarican association of architects and construction engineers. This association is also able to help you in case of any troubles that occur during the performance of an obligation. At a push this chamber could also revoke the license of an architect or engineer should it be necessary!


Besides the normal components in the contract formulation you should also determine who is going to be responsible for the necessary permits! The fees can sum up to 15% of all project costs, but are also subject to negotiations. The list of fees could look like the following:

Matter of expense

Fees (in % of construction price)

Preliminary studies
Constr. plans
Cost planning
Total Cost

1,0 - 1,5
0,5 - 1,0
14,0 – 16,0%

Planing and construction duration

Your architect or construction engineer will be able to establish a detailed planning with you, what we would like to do here, is give you an overview of a time schedule (example of a one-family house)!
Construction of a one-family home, from starting to plan until hand over of the keys (about 11 month):

Overview of the phases:

Construction or planning phases

Duration in weeks

Pre-study and preliminary draft
Plan of supervision of works
Construction permits
Total duration of planning and construction


Preliminary clarifications

To be completely sure that nothing will interfere with your construction plans, the following steps are recommended:

Obtain a notarized certificate of ownership from the national register in order to know all about eventual governmental rights of access. With this paper you clarify if the government has any right to build e.g. oil pipelines through your property, has rights of way or other public property.
If this concerns your property, make sure you know everything about lining ups or demarcations of the construction (e.g. rivers, springs, backwater or similar), this information you are able to get from the administration of public construction and the department of town planning (INVU).
Should you consider to build close to an airport, so get the valid building regulations from the department of aviation.

Construction permits – up to 300 m2 living space

One-family houses and other buildings below 300 m2 (one or two stories) are subject to a less long-winded permit procedure and you save your visit at the INVU:

  1. Hand in all construction plans in duplicate at one of the six bureaus of the chamber of engineers and architects (CFIA) for approval. In case of approval the plans will be stamped and therefore validated.

  2. After that you need to present them to the ministry of health that has its offices closest to your building ground. Handling duration: about 5 working days.

  3. Submit all documents in duplicate (and stamped by the chamber of engineers and architects, CFIA) to the municipality. The municipality is forced to let you know eventual changes or objections within 30 working days, if they don't mention anything, the plans are automatically considered approved.

Please note: You need to conclude a work risk insurance (riesgo de trabajo), so at the beginning of all construction work, the operators must be insured against accidents and illness as well as paid for the part of their pension.
If you work with a constructor who has his own crew of workers, please make sure that he provides the necessary insurance.

Construction permits – more than 300 m2 living space

The permit procedure is double-stage. First you need to solicit a permit for your construction plans from the committee for building lice senses (Comisón Revisora de Permisos de Construcción). This committee is to be found in the department for residential construction (Instituto Nacional de Vivienda z Urbanismo, INVU) in San José. Having obtained this permit you need to present all plans and permits to the municipality (Municipalidad) within the next 12 months. Having these two approvals you need to start the construction within the next 6 months, but there are no deadlines for the completion.
Concerning the fees, they are relatively low! About 0.25% are to be paid to the Chamber of architects and about 1 to 3% to the municipality, both fees calculated from the total construction costs.
Please note: You need to conclude a work risk insurance (riesgo de trabajo), so at the beginning of all construction work, the operators must be insured against accidents and illness as well as paid for the part of their pension.
If you work with a constructor who has his own crew of workers, please make sure that he provides the necessary insurance.

Construction costs

Following examples might show an overview of how the construction costs in Costa Rica conduct (as at 1997)! In those prices there are following costs not included: lot, outdoor jobs, site development, fencing, gardening and so on, this table shows the pure construction costs of a building only.

Type of building

Costs per m2 in US$

One-family house (one or two stories)
Apartment house (three or more stories)
Office building
Factory building

500 a 750
550 a 850
400 a 650
250 a 400

But just like for other concerns, we will be please to help you find the right people and therefore the prerequisites to convert your dream of your house into reality! Get our advice and prevent yourself from running into surprises!

Please see also:

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