Permits, Costs & Timelines

This section is an important outline of exactly how the ideal construction process should work. This is just a guide. In many cases, even for the most experienced of builders, there will be delays, glitches, and issues from time to time.



First consider the ideal spot to settle down that is comfortable and affordable. It is important to make a list of facilities desired in the area, the type of climate, the general type of area whether it be city or the beach, a small town or a suburb, and a budget. Once the property is found the research begins.

First, obtain the uso del suelo document which outlines exactly what is allowed to be built. This document gives certain restrictions, such as type of building, height restrictions,  how much coverage can be built on, etc. Also, obtain the plano catastrado which shows the shape, size, limits, and area of the property. If the property looks to be suitable, read the Steps of Purchase section.


With the uso del suelo and your plano catastrado, one can start to interview potential architects or engineers who can assist in the confection of a homes building plans.  For this initial process expect to spend between $3000 and $20,000 depending on the size & complexity of the design.  A professional architect or engineer should take between 2 to 6 weeks at most to have a design ready. Gauge this by asking how busy they are with other projects and obviously the type of construction being considered.

The architect or engineer is responsible for correcting any errors,  put the construction plans into a computer program called AUTOCAD. They will also outline the structural, mechanical, and electrical aspects of the home. For the electrical, the engineer will consult with an electrician to make sure everything will work.

When the building plans are ready the engineer will then have several sets of construction plans printed for the permit process, for the construction process, and in case financing is needed an additional copy will need to be made.  A set of construction plans can cost between $200 and $500 per set, more complex designs, multiples, or larger designs will cost more.


With the building design one can obtain a report from the engineer or builder can give an idea of cost for labor, materials, and a timeline. This will cover all indirect and direct costs.

With a builder one has two options for a contract:

  1. Sign defining a price per square meter. This can protect from inflation, fluctuating construction costs, and careless mistakes. The builder is responsible for hitting that defined price and is in their best interests to do it for less to make their profit. i.e. the home will be 200m2 and the estimated price is $500 per square meter, the builder can do it for $450 per square meter using their connections and special discounts and that is how they are paid.
  2. Sign a utilities contract in which the builder gets a defined percentage of the construction. This amount can be as low as 12% and as high as 25% in most cases. i.e. the total cost of a construction will be $100,000 sign a contract for 20% and  the builder will earn $20,000.

If contracting a builder, they are resposible for the entire construction process from permits on. If a builder is not contracted then there are several steps one will need to take before arriving at the municipality to present the permits.

The first thing, is go to the municipality and ask for their most updated list of construction requirements, these lists can vary from municipality to municipality and can change over time.

There will be additional requirements if a home is:

  • In the name of a corporation
  • Near a river or creek
  • If you have to cut any trees down
  • Is a large construction
  • Is in a special zone

With this list one can begin gathering all the documents you need. Many of these documents can be solicited at the National Public Registry in Curridabat which is less expensive costing about $2 a document or by a lawyer which could run between $15 and $50 a document. You will need to get a plano catastrado stamped at AyA to show the property has access towater. If using private water, one will need to register a concession of water for your lot which will require additional documentation, a lawyer, a publication in La Gaceta, and will cost around $1500. Both ways the construction plans need to have a stamp verifying there is water available and also a letter that states the same. There is no cost for receiving this stamp from AyA.

Simultaneously one will need to get a similar stamp you will need to get your plano catastrado stamped by ICE the national electric company that states they have service for that property.

Once all of these things are done, the engineer will fill out some paperwork provided by the Colegio de Ingenieros y Architectos. Then all of the initial documentation and plans will need to be turned into them for the initial approval stamp. This process usually takes them between 3 and 10 days depending on how busy they are. If they give the stamp of approval, one has to pay a percentage of the construction cost to pick up all of the documents. For a normal house the cost will be a little over $1000.


Now with the Colegio de Ingenieros y Architectos stamp, one can present at INS the national Insurance company to ensure the construction workers. One will have to pay in full the insurance policy before going to the municipality. This cost is a percentage of the construction cost but for a normal house it should not cost more than $3000.

With all of the documentation, planos, and INS paid slip, one can present them to the municipality. Once the permits are given one must pay a percentage of the construction costs (again this will be around $3000 for a normal house).

Please note this can be a long drawn out process depending on the different municipalities. Normally, each tramite or process can take between 10 and 15 days.


If the construction will require financing, now is the time to approach the bank with all of the construction requirements they will need to process the case. It is recommended however to at least start the personal portion (SUGEF, bank statement, W2s etc) of the financing process around the same time the home plans are being drawn up. Banks are notorious for taking between 3 and 6 months to process a case. Please see a listing of Costa Rican banks where financing might be acquired.


The BEST times to start a construction is at the beginning of the dry season around late November which continues until around April. Try and time the construction around these dates if possible. Deciding to build druing rainy season is an added hassel and expect to pay more. In rainy season, workers must be let go in the afternoons when the heavy rains. Therefore, one pays for a fulll day of worker but only receives a half a days work from them.

With a builder the following will be taken care of by them. Now that the permits are secured the construction team is formed, services like water and electricity must be turned on, any heavy machinary to level the lot will take place, and the basic structural materials to be sent to the building site since they might take a week or so.

It is key to do the excavation first, depending on where the property is it might be advised to let the ground settle for at least one rainy season passing to ensure a more secure platform to construct on.

It is important the water treatment system is to be put in, install electric lines with ICE, do the perimeter walls, and have a temporary storage and guard shack built.  Notice that many of the building materials used in Costa Rica are different due to earthquakes and availability.

The structural portion of the home is the fastest part of the construction and within 2 to 3 months. The home will begin taking shape. Once the basic structure is done the roofing process begins. After that comes painting, flooring, windows, doors and other details. This last part is what will take the longest this could take between 3 and 6 months for an average sized house.

The building of an average sized house of around 200 meters squared should take, with a normal sized team of around 10 or less workers at anytime, between 6 and 10 months. Obviously the complexity of a design could extend this time. If a home is taking significantly longer.... either there are not enough workers or they are not really working often due to delays in materials and various other reasons.

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