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Information on Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a country located in Central America that has unlimited tourist potential and is ranked as one of the most visited international destinations. One of Costa Rica’s main sources of income is tourism. Costa Rica is a democratic and peaceful country, and it has not had an army since the year 1949.

Although the country is small and it covers only 0.03 % of the surface of the globe, it proudly shelters a 6% of the existing biodiversity in the entire world. 25.58 % of the country is composed of conservation and natural protected territory.

Costa Rica is also an attractive country for investment and it offers great potential for the establishment of important multinational companies, thanks to the outstanding academic level of its population, as well as the high standard of modern services and social and political stability.
Picture - Info on   Costa Rica

 

General Information | Geography | Climate | Government | Infrastructure | Health & Education | Business & Economy | Map of Costa Rica | Living Costs | Real Estate Costs | Utility Costs | Automotive Costs | Household Help | Groceries | Taxes | Medical Services | The legal process of buying property in Costa Rica

 

General Information

 

Official language:
The official language is Spanish. The second language for a large portion of the population is English.

Official religion:
The official religion is Catholic. Freedom of religious choice is respected.

Official currency:
Colon

Political division:

Costa Rica is divided into seven provinces, these are: San José, Alajuela, Heredia, Cartago, Puntarenas, Guanacaste, and Limon. Each province is subdivided into regions and these are subdivided into districts.

The country has as a marine territory known as Coco’s Island. It is a world-renowned natural reserve, located 548 kilometers from Cabo Blanco in the Pacific Ocean comprised of 2,400 hectares of land and 73,100 hectares of sea.

National Holidays:
January 1st: New Years Day
April 11th: Juan Santamaria Day, National Hero.
Holy Thursday and Good Friday: Religious activities.
May 1st: International Labor Day.
August 15th: Mothers Day.
September 15th: Independence Day.
December 25th: Christmas Day.

Other Holidays:
July 25th: Annexation of Guanacaste Day.
August 2nd: Virgin of the Angels Day.
October 12th: Christopher Columbus Day.
 

Geography

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Rugged highlands are found throughout most of the country, ranging from approximately 1,000 to 2,000 meters (3,000 to 6,000 feet above sea level). The Guanacaste Mountain Range, Central Mountain Range, and Talamanca Mountain Range are the main mountain ranges extending the entire length of the country. There are several active volcanoes (Arenal Volcano, Irazu Volcano, Rincon de la Vieja Volcano and Turrialba Volcano) and the country’s highest mountain (Chirripo Hill) with a height of 3,819 m/12,530 ft. The country has a relatively long coastline in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as a number of rivers and streams that attract specialist kayakers and rafters from all over the world.
 

Climate

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In general, the climate in Costa Rica is very pleasant not only during the dry season, which extends from December to April but also during the rainy season, which runs from May to November. During the rainy season rain can be expected in the afternoons, on the other hand the mornings are usually sunny.

Costa Rica has a tropical climate with an average temperature of 22 degrees C (72 degrees F) that increases considerably on the coastal areas. The changes in temperature are considerable and due to the short distances in this relatively small country, they can all be experienced in just one day.

Due to factors such as the geographical location, the weather conditions, the formation of mountain chains, mountains, and valleys, this country experiences different microclimates that give a home to different types of vegetation.

The following climates in the country can be categorized in the following regions :
- The high and cold region: With an elevation of 3,000 to 3,100 meters in altitude with temperatures of 0 degrees C.
- The hot region: The elevation is above 1,500 meters in altitude, with temperatures between 14 degrees C and 18 degrees C.
- The humid tropical region: The elevation is up to 1,100 meters in altitude with temperatures between 25 and 26 degrees C.
- The tropical region: Pertaining to the dry season, with temperatures between 26 and 27 degrees C.
- The inter-mountainous valley region with an elevation between 1,000 and 1,100 meters in altitude which is a characteristic of the central valley, with temperatures that range from 14 to 18 degrees C.

Due to the weather characteristics and the topography of the country, different types of forests can be appreciated: the cloud forest, the rain forest, the dry forest, and the transition forest.

 

Government

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The political system is represented by three powers, which are: The Executive Power, the Legislative Power and the Judicial Power. The Elections Supreme Court is considered the fourth power of the Republic. Every four years national elections are carried out. Among other positions of popular representation, the President of the Republic is elected through direct representation by secret ballot.
 

Infrastructure

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Communications:
Costa Rica has one of the most advanced telecommunications systems in Latin America, with telephones and fax machines all over the country, and an increasing number of businesses online. To call or fax Costa Rica, dial the country code 506 before the number. There is also mail service and a wide selection of courier services in San Jose.
Most large hotels in the San Jose area have cable TV, with US and European stations. Newspapers and magazines from North America and several European nations are sold in many shops and hotels in and around the capital.

Transportation:
It’s easy to get around Costa Rica, and if you stick with public transportation, traveling within the country can be quite inexpensive. There are bus services to just about every town and city, and high-quality buses serving the main tourist destinations. Taxis are also plentiful and inexpensive, and in San Jose they are required to operate with meters for most trips.
The standard charge for a taxi ride between the international airport and downtown San Jose is $10 US. The quickest way to get around is to fly and several domestic airlines offer daily flights to most of the popular tourist destinations. There are also plenty of car rental agencies, most of which rent four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Airports:
The main airport is the Juan Santamaria International Airport, located in Alajuela. This airport is only twenty minutes away from San José.
 

Other important airports are :
- The Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport, located in Liberia, Guanacaste.
- The Tobias Bolaños Airport located in Pavas, San José, for local as well as international flights.
There are also landing fields for local flights situated in different parts of the country such as: Limon, Tortuguero, La Fortuna, Tamarindo, Samara, Tambor, Quepos, Palmar North, Golfito, and San Vito.

 

Health & Education

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Medical Services:
Despite its size and being an under developed country, Costa Rica has positioned itself among the countries with the highest public healthcare development in Latin America.

The Costa Rican Social Security Service (CCSS) is a public service institution that has accomplished important goals regarding health issues, including pensions and social security. This institution offers coverage and integrated health services through two types of insurance:
- General coverage insurance, with a service that covers 100% of the country.
- Contribution coverage insurance, with an 86.80% of the population.

Costa Rica is the country in Latin America with the highest life expectancy rate at 77.75 years old; it is also one of the countries with the lowest infant mortality rate: 10.82%. It is also far advanced in issues regarding prenatal prevention and control.


Education:
Costa Rica is praised because of its efforts for investment in public education that different governments have accomplished throughout the years. There are close to 6,147 elementary, middle, and high schools and more than 50 universities in the country.

The first higher education institution to be established was the University of Costa Rica, which was the only higher educational center up until the year 1971, when the Technological Institute of Costa Rica was founded.

In 1973, the National University of Heredia (UNA) was founded, also the Distance Education University (UNED) was established in 1977, and in the year 1979, the first private institution known as the Autonomous University of Central America (UACA) was created which set the example in 1986 for a large number of other private universities to open their doors in Costa Rica.
 

Business & Economy

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Banks & Money:
There is an ample selection of state owned and privately held banks in San Jose, and throughout the country. The official currency of Costa Rica is the colon; however US dollars are widely accepted. US dollars and traveler's checks can be changed in banks and hotels. Most major credit cards are widely accepted, and cash advances can be obtained at banks around the country and a variety of places throughout San Jose.

Business Hours:
Government offices are generally open from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm, while banks close anytime between 3:00 and 6:00 pm, according to the bank and its branch. Most shops are open from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, while some open at 8:00 am and others close at 7:00 pm; most grocery stores close at 8:00 pm. Some shops also close for lunch, between noon and 1:00 or 2:00 pm.

Economy:
You don't have to drive very far in Costa Rica -- past the coffee, pastures, bananas, and other crops -- to realize that agriculture is the basis of its economy. Coffee has historically been the country's most important crop, and Costa Rica continues to produce some of the finest coffee in the world. However in recent years less traditional crops have been playing an increasingly important economic role. Bananas are the second most important export crop, with vast plantations covering parts of the Caribbean lowlands. There is also significant land dedicated to the cultivation of pineapples, sugar, oranges, rice, hardwoods, and ornamental plants, as well as raising cattle for beef and dairy products.
Though agriculture remains the basis of the national economy, tourism has earned more than any single export crop during the last few years and the tourism industry continues to grow providing new employment opportunities and stimulating the conservation of our complex biodiversity.

Holidays:
Though government offices and most banks close on national holidays, this causes little inconvenience to travelers, since money and traveler's checks can be changed at most hotels. We recommend that you do not change money on the street.
There are days when hardly anything will be open, such as Christmas, New Year, and often a couple of days proceeding, and during Holy Week from Wednesday to Easter Sunday.

Some holidays can be attractive for travelers, such as the last week of the year, when there are parades and many other activities in San Jose and throughout the country. On July 25 every year (the annexation of the province of Guanacaste), the main towns in this northwest province are overflowing with revelry and folklore. Carnival, which is celebrated in the Caribbean port of Limon during the week of October 12, is another colorful affair.

 

Map of Costa Rica

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Map of Costa Rica

 

How much does it Cost to Live in Costa Rica?                                             up   

Despite having one of the highest standards of living in Latin America, purchasing power is considerably greater in Costa Rica than in the United States or Canada.

In their 2006 Cost of Living Survey, Mercer Human Resources compares costs of goods and services and rates San José among the least expensive cities in the world and the least expensive in Central America. San Jose’s Cost of Living index is 58.1 and it ranks 134th of 144 international cities ranked by Mercer. In the U.S New York ranks 100.0, Los Angles 86.7, Chicago is 84.1 and Miami is ranked 83.8. Panama City was ranked at 68.3 and San Paulo Brazil is at 66.3. San Jose is slightly behind Quito, Ecuador at 54.6 and Caracas Venezuela at 54.4 in the Americas in terms of affordability. Contrasted with the Government stability, the rights afforded to foreigners, and relative safety Costa Rica offers compared to Nicaragua, Venezuela and other Latin countries the choice is clear.

In most areas housing costs less than it does in the U. S. and hired help is a bargain. Utilities (telephone service, electricity, and water) are cheaper than in North America. You never need to heat or cool your home or apartment if living in the Central Valley and other areas since Costa Rica’s climate is so temperate. In most beach areas many people require air conditioning for comfort. In addition property taxes are very low; on a $150,000 house you would pay only a few hundred dollars per year in property taxes ($375) and when you resell your property there are no capital gains taxes in Costa Rica.

Real Estate Costs

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As anywhere in the world property prices vary greatly from area to area, beach and city and surrounding suburbs of course are significantly higher than rural properties. You can normally find properties most would be happy in ranging from $85,000 for a small condo into the millions for fabulous beach front and rural estates. Of course personal needs and taste play a large role in what you will pay for your property.

Construction is much less costly than usually found in North America. The majority of construction in Costa Rica is block and concrete which lend to very durable and sound proof structures. A good quality finished house currently would cost about $75-125 per sq. ft to build here. Of course the finishing’s you choose can affect that cost significantly. The contractor is responsible for defects in construction for 5 years.

 Utility Costs

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Utilities are still very inexpensive in Costa Rica. For an average family of 4 the monthly bills will normally be about:

* Water: $10 per month

* Electricity: $ 40 (without air conditioning or heating a pool)

* High speed Internet: $15 per month- Unlimited home user plan

* Digital Cable TV: $40 Includes 4 HBO stations and NBC,CBS most other English stations (about 100 stations)

* Local Phone Service: $7.00 per month

* Long distance call to U.S: $0.35 a minute

* Cellular Phone Service runs $8.25 monthly and includes 60 minutes each extra minute costs 6 cents

You need a residency permit or a Costa Rica Corporation to be able to apply for any phone line, even a cell phone, but many Costa Ricans will help with that requirement. Almost all homes come with at least one phone line already working. Cell phones are available through special arrangements with local Costa Ricans. Though the cell phones themselves are cheaper in the U.S., a local invoice must be shown to get the cell phone connected, so buy it locally. Costa Rica recently converted to the GSM system, so don’t buy any other type of phone. International roaming is just being offered by the cell phone company so can use your cell phone when out of the country, but it is expensive

Internet service is available by dial up everywhere in the country. Most communities in the central valley can get a high speed connections of 256k to 1MB. DSL service is currently being rolled out in the central valley and should be more widely available soon. Other options are available to businesses at significant costs.

 Automotive Costs

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Automobiles carry a high import tax in Costa Rica. This is one area that is significantly more costly than in the U.S. Generally the cost of a car will run about 40%-45% more than in the U.S.because of the Costa Rican Goverments taxes on all vehicles. This is one of the few areas that is strictly enforced in Costa Rica. You can save a little by importing your own car. Gasoline is currently running about $3.50per gallon

In general, parts are more expensive here and sometimes take time to get. On the other hand, labor is cheaper. So a trip to the mechanic will cost a lot less than what you'd pay in the U.S.

 Household Help

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One of the great things about living in Costa Rica is that you can afford to have a maid and/or a gardener for very little money. By law, you must pay your live-in maid $200 per month, plus food and lodging. In return she must only work 8 hours per day. You must give her 1 hour off each day, to coincide with a meal time. You also must give her 1 half day off per week, a half day off on holidays and 15 days of paid vacation per year. You should also enroll her in the Costa Rica Social Security system, so you would deduct 9% of her salary for this tax, but you must also pay 24.5% to the Costa Rica Social Security system. If a live in maid is not your desire you can easily find daily help which will run $1.50 to $2.50 per hour.

 Groceries

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Groceries will cost about 50%-70% less of what you spend in the U.S. But of course a lot depends on what products you buy, the same as anywhere else. Some products have price controls under what is called the "basic food basket". Products imported from the U.S tend to have higher prices than local or imports from other Latin American countries. The good news is the more fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs, meat and poultry you eat the lower your grocery bill will be.

 Taxes

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The Costa Rican government goes to great lengths to encourage investment within its borders. Taxes earned in Costa Rica are low relative to the U.S. and with a good accountant they can be kept to a minimum. It offers up a host of incentives to investors such as no capital gains taxes on real estate, low business taxes, and very low property taxes. As a result, many companies have chosen Costa Rica as an investment site. Companies such as Siemens and Intel are leading the way in the implementation of the infrastructure needed to make Costa Rica the “Silicon Valley of the Americas,”, computer giant Intel has made the central valley of San Jose its new chip making headquarters. Intel's investment in Costa Rica represents the largest ever made in a developing country and the results have been tremendous thus far.

 Costa Rica Medical Services

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If you will be living abroad in Costa Rica you will want to have a good understanding of what types of health benefits the country offers and if expats are eligible to take advantage of those benefits. The health care system in Costa Rica is subsidized by the State and offers low costs and high quality.

If you become a citizen of Costa Rica you will be eligible for free health care as the Costa Rica Social Security System provides free medical services to all Costa Rican citizens. This free service is only available at certain hospitals and clinics though. If you are a foreigner in Costa Rica but have residency in the country you are able to be granted access to the Costa Rica Social Security System health care plan at a small cost. Resident foreigners must make small contributions to the Costa Rica Social Security System health care plan based on their income in order to be eligible for treatment and services under the plan. It is important to stress the only certain hospitals and clinics offer the free or low cost treatment for the Costa Rica Social Security System health care plan.

You do not have to be a resident of Costa Rica to access their hospitals and medical services. In fact the medical services industry is somewhat of a tourist industry in Costa Rica as many people come to Costa Rica each year from all over the world in seek of high quality and low cost health care. This is such big business for Costa Rica that there are a number of clinics that have package deals that include treatment and a stay at a resort.

If you visit a general family doctor and have to pay in full you can expect the cost to be between $25 and $50 for the visit. And if you can pay cash you will be able to get a discount.

If you need an English speaking doctor you should stay in the more populated areas as you are not likely to find an English speaking doctor in the more remote areas. Most of the doctors in Costa Rica were educated in the United States.

If you find your self in need of some prescription medication you may be shocked to find that most prescription medication is available over the counter in Costa Rica. Generic prescription drugs will be cheaper in Costa Rica than you are probably used to. The medication that you encounter

that is expensive is the imported drugs. If you have a prescription from your country you should take it to a doctor in Costa Rica to get a new prescription as the brand names will be different as all of the Costa Rican brands are local brands.

 The Legal Process to Buy Property in Costa Rica

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The first step is to create a Purchase Option that specifies all the details of the agreement. It is imperative that you use a qualified attorney to create your Purchase Option, as it will lay out the terms and conditions for your complete purchase process. Feel free to ask lots of questions, for instance, an inventory of what is included, or who is responsible for taxes and assessments if there is a delay between closing and when you take possession.

You will need the following:

1. Your physical passport.

2. A copy of the title of the property and the registered map ---- our agent and lawyer will attain this for you.

3. The names and passport numbers for shareholders you wish to include in your corporation.

Closing Costs

When buying Costa Rica Real Estate, expect to pay 1.5% to 3% of the purchase price for closing fees, with a few notable precautions.

1. It is advisable in most cases to hold your property in a corporation, for a variety of reasons. The set up for the corporation, which must be done by a licensed Costa Rican lawyer, will cost between 500 to 700 dollars. A corporation protects your property from personal liability, gives added confidentiality to your ownership, creates an easier transfer should you decide to sell it, etc. Buyers Agents of Costa Rica and our legal team have new corporations to offer for our clients that can be ready immediately for your purchase.

2. If you are getting financing in Costa Rica, the process is very similar to that in the United States and Canada. In general, you will have to pay closing costs to the bank for the mortgage. This is not shared by the seller. In most cases, the bank we have their own attorney at the closing, and you can pay them for your portion of the work. The most important part of the process is the creation of the contract, and you will want a qualified, experienced attorney to write this. The actual closing merely completes that work laid out in your contract.

3. Any BACR agent and our team of lawyers will be able to walk you through and explain the purchase process and fees in more detail as needed. We have been to many, many closings in Costa Rica and have seen many variations on the standard contracts and closings. Each member of our staff is a professional buyer's agent in Costa Rica.

Residency

Costa Rica Residency - You have several options

Retiree (or Pensionado)

A retiree must provide documentation proving that he or she receives a pension (private or State funded) of at least $600 per month for life.

Legal Resident (or Rentista)

Applicants are required to deposit a minimum of $60,000 for each adult and $30,000 for each child to either a Costa Rican bank or to a foreign bank recognized by the Costa Rican Central Bank. This must be done for a period of five years and you must guarantee a monthly cash flow of $1,000 for each adult and $500 for each child.

Investor (or Inversionista)

Applicants must invest at least $300,000 into any type of business in Costa Rica. In addition you will need to abide by fiscal requirements. Certain exceptions are made in qualified cases

Relationship with a Costa Rican (or Vinculo con un costarricense)

The ‘relationship’ must be deemed first degree, in other words the Costa Rican must be a spouse, child, mother, father or sibling. This application can be commenced in Costa Rica.

Temporary Residencies

Professional staff of foreign companies working in Costa Rica can apply for this type of residency.

* On August 12, 2006 a new Immigration Reform Law took effect. The new law states that all applications for legal residency must be submitted at a Costa Rican Consulate in the country of origin of the applicant.

Concession versus Titled Property

Aside from the natural beauty, there are two great things about Costa Rica real estate: The 1st is that in order to own land in Costa Rica you do not need to be a resident; the 2nd is that most of the land in Costa Rica is titled. That means if you buy a piece of land, it will be titled in the National Registry under your name. But, there is an exception to this rule.

Many of us have a dream of living on the beach or having a beautiful ocean view property as a second home. What you need to keep in mind is that most of Costa Ricas ocean front land is concession. That means that the Costa Rican government owns the land and will lease it to you for a set amount of time (after which you can renew the lease).

This special situation was established by the Maritime Terrestrial Zone Law. This law states that the Maritime Zone consists of the first 200 meters after the high tide mark. The first 50 meters are the Public Zone. In this area no private development can take place. The next 150 meters inland is the concessionary zone. This land can only be leased (not bought freehold) from the Costa Rican government. You can build on this concessionary zone.


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