Costa Rica’s natural beauty, tropical climate, stable government, friendly people, and welcoming attitude make it a top destination for North American and European travelers and investors. Everybody loves Costa Rica!
But what if you want to develop here? Whether you want a dream home to your exact specifications or an income-generating property like a hotel, read this primer about architects, construction, and building costs!
Architectural Options and Fees
All architects and engineers operating in Costa Rica must be licensed by the Costa Rican Association of Engineers and Architects (Colegio Federado de Ingenieros y Ingenieros y Arquitectos-CFIA), who establishes the fee schedule that can be charged by its members. Most fees are based upon a percentage of the value of the construction project. According to the regulations of the CFIA, the involvement of a licensed architect/engineer in a construction project is separated into two phases. The final price tag will generally range from 9 – 18% of the total value of the construction, depending on a number of factors outlined below:
Phase 1: Construction plans and permits
- Preliminary studies (estudios preliminaries): 0.5 % . (may or may not be required)
- Preproject design (anteproyecto): 1 - 1.5%
- Construction plans and technical specifications (planos de construcción y especificaciones técnicas): 4% .
Phase 2: Control and execution. During this phase, there are several options for you to choose from, depending on the involvement of the professional, due to the scope of the project, confidence in his experience, etc…
- Inspection (Inspección): 3% of total construction value.
- Here your architect/engineer will visit the construction site at least once a week and will inspect it to ensure that the plan specifications are being followed by the general contractor. They will also verify the quality of the materials being used and review invoices being presented by the general contractor.
- Supervision (Dirección técnica): 5%.
- This requires more direct involvement by the architect/engineer in the day-to-day operation of the project.
- Administration (Administración): 12%.
- Here, the architect/engineer takes complete responsibility for the execution and completion of the project.
In Costa Rica, building costs vary just like anywhere else, and price depends on the climate and topography in which the building is constructed and most importantly the style and interior finishes selected by the builder. High quality homes can be built for $100/foot and this number can be reduced or increased depending on the variables described above.
Before you purchase a lot with the intent of building on it, you should conduct some preliminary studies on the property to ensure that there won't be a problem obtaining a building permit. First, determine if the lot has basic services such as water, electricity, telephone, and drainage. Second, make sure there are no restrictions placed on the lot that could result in the denial of a construction permit. It will not be enough to check the Public Registry. You should also check the Ministry of Public Works (Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte) for future road construction projects; the Ministry of Health (Ministerio de Salud); the National Institute of Housing and Urban Development (Instituto Nacional de Vivienda y Urbanismo) and the municipality where the property is located (municipalidad). And finally, be aware of any environmental regulation that may effect your construction project, such as national wildlife refuges and areas deemed protected by the forestry Law.
Requests for construction permits are filed with the Permit Reception Office (Oficina Receptora de Permisos de Construcción), which is a centralized office that houses government representatives from MOPT (Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes-roads), INVU (Instituto Nacional de Vivienda y Urbanismo-housing), ICE (Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad-telephone), AYA (Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados-water), SNE (Servicio Nacional de Electricidad-electricity), CFIA (Colegio Federado de Ingenieros y Arquitectos), and the Ministry of Health (Ministerio de Salud).
For a single family home that measures more than 70 m2 (735.2 ft.2), the applicant must provide the following documentation: four copies of the construction plans, four copies of the property cadastre plot plan (Plano catastrado), four copies of the permit checklist (hoja de comisión), two copies of your property deed (escritura), one copy of the consulting contract with your architect/engineer (contrato de consultoria), an approval from the water company (AYA) regarding availability of water, and one copy of your electrical design plan approved by SNE. Condominium projects, commercial construction, and urbanization projects all carry additional requirements for obtaining construction permits.
In addition to these requirements, you will need to request a building permit from the municipality in which the property is located. By law it is the municipality that is delegated the responsibility to ensure that all constructions comply with building regulations (Article 1, Construction Law). You can, therefore, expect periodic visits to your construction site by the municipal building inspector, who must certify that the construction is proceeding according to code.
Whether you purchase an existing property or decide to build you dream home, be well informed about the procedures involved so that you ensure your investment will be a profitable one.