Osa Peninsula Real Estate Information

Properties on the Peninsula de Osa are unique. Each has its share of beauty and fascination. From deep jungle hide-away's to beach-front cabanas, the Osa has it all. Property on the Osa is still considerably lower in price than the northern coastal areas. Prices are described in square meters for smaller lots and hectares (2.47 acres) for the larger farms. Beach lands start from $15.00 per square meter and range up to $100.00 per square meter.

There are basically three legal classifications of property available here in Costa Rica. Some properties fall within the Golfo Dulce Reserve and are subject to clearing and building restrictions. Each property has its slight differences in regards to proximity, access, water, and natural energy potential.

The main town on the Peninsula de Osa is Puerto Jimenez, which has about 12000 people. Over the past few years there has been a lot of development in the area which has brought more goods and services to the town. There are also several smaller towns to the north of Pto. Jimenez like Doz Brazos, La Palma, and Rincon. On the south end of the peninsula is the world famous surf area known as Matapalo. This area is highly sought after and has many ex-patriots living in the community. Carate which is the south gateway to Corcovado National Park is on the west side of the peninsula 45 Km from Pto. Jimenez.

Road access is very important to most people. Most roads around here are four-wheel drive only. Passing through a creek or river is a daily occurrence. In some cases you must build or reinforce and then maintain an access road to your property. Even more properties and home sites are available to you if you don't mind riding a horse or boat to access your property.

Water is essential. You would think that with rainforest all around finding water would never be a problem. For most of the year you would be right. Water is abundant from May to January. However, for the 3 months in between (dry season), the creeks and rivers slowly dry up. If you want to be able to irrigate your trees, gardens, and grass during the summer months it is important to buy a property that has an adequate water supply.

Most properties do not have access to the grid. This means that you will have to set up natural energy systems for your electrical needs. Propane is readily available in town for refrigeration, cooking, and water heating. Solar and Hydro power potential is a key element to property purchase. Some properties have rivers or creeks running through them which allows for hydro energy to be collected. Some properties get a full day of sun whereas others only get half. This comes in to play when you are calculating your solar system needs.

The few properties you will find listed in these links all carry clear title or are in the Maritime Zone. Each has been thoroughly researched, and are quality listings. However, we do know of other properties in the area that are not listed here that fall under the possession land category. These properties are mostly owned by local farmers who could not afford the title process and the ongoing taxes that come with that title. Although these properties are not titled, most still qualify for a title and for all intensive purposes are safe buys. They do however require extensive research to make sure everything is clear for the titling process. If you are interested in these options please e-mail us with a description of what your looking for.


Property Type Descriptions

Private Land / Titled or Fee Simple

This is land located outside of the maritime/beach zone. In Costa Rica, foreigners can own titled property in their own name and share the same rights as a Costa Rican citizen. There are two documents which describe titled or fee simple property. The title itself or escritura is the most important. Titles are registered in the national registry or Registro Nacional, and show ownership along with any leans, mortgages, or judgments. The second document is the registered survey map or plano catastrado. The plano serves the purpose of recording measurements, size and location along with other useful information like whether the land falls inside restricted areas such as IDA Land (co-op owned lands with the government) or inside protected areas like national parks and reserves. The escritura and the plano may be different from each other and yet refer to the same property. The plano is NOT the ownership document and may even be written with the previous owners name. Ownership of the land is recorded in a separate department of the national registry. Both parts must be checked to verify that ownership and mapping coincide with the same piece of land.

The first time a property is inscribed with title, there is a three-year period of time where third parties can make a claim. 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 such claims.


Private Land/ Untitled or Possession Land

Most of the land in Costa Rica falls in this category. Although many lands are untitled, it does not mean that they do not qualify for title. Some meet the requirements and others don't. In a possession scenario, it is the recording of the legal transaction that establishes possession or ownership rights...not a title. The reason for this is that for many years, farmers and settlers (for any number of reasons) never applied for their title but possessed them in a "legal manner", established boundaries and transferred rights through private documentation. When properly recorded, these rights are completely legal, fully transferable and can qualify for inscription in the national registry as fee simple title. Legitimate possession rights can be demonstrated by researching the history of ownership recorded through private documentation. This is done through a properly recorded bill of sale in a lawyers protocol book. The bill of sale or carta de venta shows transfer of ownership and describes the property in words relating to the surrounding properties and well defined landmarks. Pages from the lawyer’s protocol book are then registered in the national registry.

In 1941, a titling procedure called Ley de Informacion Posesoria was created by the government as a means for landholders to record or register their land that has been held in possession. Many lands have been registered using this procedure. Minimum requirements to qualify for a registered title to possession land are a registered survey and verifiable history of legitimate possession passively and publicly for a minimum of 10 years with no disputes. The remaining parts to complete the title process are notarized statements from adjacent property owners along with a judge’s inspection and review of all documents. This process, done with the help of a lawyer, can take up to a year and cost between $1,500 and $3,000 depending on the size of the land. Possession lands cannot be liened or mortgaged as they have not yet been recorded in the national registry.

In some cases, a buyer will pay for the title process after the sale or even make it a condition of the sale or escrow. Keep in mind that not all cases are alike. It takes a good understanding of the history of ownership for each property. In general terms, it is a good rule to not buy untitled property if you are not clear about how it works. However, considering that most of the land in the country is untitled, it is logical that most of the land transactions have to do with untitled land. Many people have safely bought possession lands including foreigners. Many foreigners here in the Osa have purchased possession land.

Beach Lands

Also known as the Maritime Zone, these lands are dealt with differently. The Maritime Zone (ZMT) is defined as the 200 meter strip of land along the shoreline, calculated from the "average high tide". It is owned by the state and jointly administered by the local Municipality and the federal institution of ICT (Costa Rican Tourist Institute). The ZMT is described in two parts...the first 50 meters is public domain or "public zone" and cannot be developed or claimed by private persons. The next 150 meters or "restricted zone" can be legally claimed and occupied by private citizens by soliciting the Municipality for the rights through a "concession application" called a Solicitude de Concesion.

Until the concession is completed, the legal instrument that constitutes the right of occupation is called a Permiso de Uso, essentially a lease, which is registered with the Municipality by submitting a Solicitude de Concesion. The Municipality of the Osa is in Golfito. According to the law as it is written, the lease holder has the right to occupy the land and build a temporary structure.

Legally registered occupants can transfer their rights by way of a Cession de Derechos, where the registered occupant "gives up his rights and passes them on to another person". Transferring rights is a simple process but there is a very specific format that must be followed. The transfer or traspaso MUST be ratified by the Municipal Board or Consejo. Even though the law does not require an attorney to process lease transfers and concessions, the vast majority of people who buy land inside the ZMT, logically, go through an attorney. However you must follow up with your lawyer to make sure he is keeping the pressure on the municipality to finish the work.

Zoning and Concessions

The Plan Regulador and Concession

The 1976 law for land regulation called for the government to zone the maritime land along the costs. This involves geological, ecological, topographical and economic studies. It also requires analysis of beneficial uses in order to produce a zoning map. The government has not had the resources to fulfill its obligation under this law. This has forced the government to rely almost exclusively on individual owners to do their own regulation plan and zoning with private funding. The process is expensive, time consuming and very tedious. Consequently, very little beach front property has actually been zoned in Costa Rica. A lot of expensive, beautiful homes and developments have been built on the maritime land without the safety of an approved Plan Regulador. The level of controversy over this problem has accelerated from almost a non-issue to a fairly hot topic. So far, no one has been forced to tear down or evacuate their homes and everyone anticipates that the Costa Rican officials and the violators will ultimately find a workable compromise. This has always been the Costa Rican way.

Over time, individual sections of shoreline property will be declared as having "touristic aptitude", thus qualifying that section of land for traditional style zoning which is implemented through a zoning proposal or Regulatory Plan called a Plan Regulador. Once the Regulatory Plan is elaborated and approved through the corresponding institutions: ICT, INVU and the Municipality, the legal occupants inside the newly zoned area can now "activate" their Solicitude de Concession and transform their Permiso de Uso into a Concesion, a permanent and more specific form of ownership outlined in the ZMT Law. A Concesion is as close to a title as you can get even though the land technically is still owned by the state. Concessions for residential and tourist projects are automatically renewable every 20 years for eternity assuming terms of the Concession Contract are met by the Concession Holder. New taxes are assessed for each Concession and are substantially higher than the previous occupation tax.

Even though there has been a substantial amount of development in the ZMT, to this day, 95% of the coastal lands in the country still do not have approved zoning or Concessions. And since development cannot take place without property zoning, 95% of the development inside the ZMT country wide is technically illegal. Also, since concessions are only granted once there is approved zoning, 95% of the lease holders have a Permiso de Uso... NOT a Concesion. In most cases, existing development will be "grand fathered in" once zoning eventually takes place.

The "purchase" of rights to beach property is essentially a private agreement between the buyer and seller. Technically, the law does not allow "buying and selling" of state domain. That is why a registered value appears in the public transfer documents which is much less than the actual purchase price. Costa Ricans or foreigners having 5 years of residency can register beach property in their own name. All other foreign citizens must register the rights to their beach parcel through a Costa Rican corporation formed by an attorney, a simple process that takes about 45 days and costs around $600. The corporate board of directors may be formed by foreign residents but the corporation must have at least fifty percent of it's shares held by a Costa Rican resident. You will see the initials S.A after many corporation names. This stands for Sociadad Anonima or Anonymous Society which is the most common type of corporation used because shareholders have anonymity. Normally, a prearranged agreement is made so at the time of closing the property sale, the Costa Rican shareholder endorses their shares over to the foreign shareholder so they end up holding 100% of the shares. These are "bearer shares" and are registered in a private registry (the corporate books). This procedure has been common practice around the country however some lawyers have devised other methods by holding the shares in a "legal trust" as opposed to endorsing shares at closing. Most lawyers will set it up however you ask them but be sure to understand how it works before you decide.

Refuge - Alternative to the Maritime Lease

In 1992, The Ministry of Environment and Energy or MINAE created a new law called The Law for Conservation of Wildlife No. 7317. This decree by the central government offers a program for landowners allowing them to declare their land as a "protected zone" while maintaining ownership rights and allowing certain development and or other activities. This program also encompasses the beach lands or Maritime Zone. In this case, administration of the permiso de uso essentially changes from the local municipality to the national government. Usage rights are similar to those described in the Maritime Law except in some ways are less restrictive. Traditional zoning or a Plan Regulador is not required. Declaration and rights are solicited through a simpler instrument called a Plan de Manejo or management plan. The Plan de Manejo describes the project and land usage, be it a residence, tourist project, agriculture or other uses of public and social interest. The specified land or protected zone is declared a wildlife refuge or refugio. Basic guidelines for environmental impact and sustainable development are spelled out in the new law, however, large projects are required to present a more detailed study. The purpose of these refugios is to place more lands in state protection while still allowing low impact development. For refugios in the Maritime Zone, concessions are not awarded. Instead, usage contracts are registered with 10 year permisos de uso. Contracts are renewable each term by soliciting the ministry every 9th year. A fixed occupation tax or canon is paid yearly to MINAE but refugios are exempt from the bienes imuebles tax (improvements like constructions). This has become a popular alternative for maritime property owners around the country. Refugio rights can be 100% foreign owned. This option may or may not apply or make sense in all cases. It is important to compare the benefits for each case.