Are you interested in buying a house in Costa Rica? First, a disclaimer. I am not a professional in real estate (domestic or international), finance or an expert on Costa Rica. I am not even a professional traveler, and my Spanish skills are less than average. I am a physician leader, recovering perfectionist, 40 something single woman, and new proud owner of a home and LLC in Costa Rica.
Although these things may not seem obviously connected, they are all parts of my journey to finding a place of self and a home in my happy place. Based on the number of times I have been asked, “how did you do that?” I believe that my journey is similar to that of many women. I am hopeful my experience can help others feel more confident as they travel their path, and for that reason I am writing this (again, non-professional) guide to buying a home in Costa Rica.
A Single Woman’s Guide To Buying A House In Costa Rica
Step 1: Be okay with where you are, no matter where that is in life
Yes, we should all strive to grow and work towards our goals, but they need to be our goals, not some arbitrary goal our families or society set for us. Being single, childless, not where you thought you’d be in your career or life can be painful (and explaining it to the world can be worse). Take a deep breath and let go of the expectations you (or anyone else) has of what your life is supposed to look like, and celebrate the way your life is and the light you bring.
Step 2: Find your happy place
Find the place where you feel like your soul rests and your energy resets. The place where you feel centered. It will look different for everyone, it only matters if it’s that place for you. For me, it was Guanacaste province in Costa Rica.
Step 3: Find your why
For me, a home in Costa Rica meant access to self care, but I knew that financially I couldn’t just up and move, so it would also need to be an investment. It also meant an ability to share the place I have grown to love with my friends and family, including my goddaughter. It doesn’t matter if your why is for yourself or others, an investment in your self care or an investment in your bank account. It is your why, and that is all that matters.
Step 4: Surround yourself with people who celebrate your wins
Buying a house, getting a new promotion, posting on social media when you think you look cute….all of these are wins, but not everyone will celebrate with you. There are enough people in the world who will try to dim your light. Find the ones that amplify your shine.
Step 5: Whether it’s buying a home in another country or another dream, realize that it’s a journey
I started dreaming about this 9 years ago, started truly planning for it 3 years ago, and changed directions at least 100 times. If you can, trust the process and the universe. You will find that you will arrive when you are supposed to arrive.
Step 6: Get to know people in the community you want to buy a home in
Make friends, learn the language (or at least try). Ask the locals for recommendations. It’s hard to know who to trust anywhere, but especially in an unfamiliar place. Building relationships created a circle of friends that I could rely on to help me find an amazing real estate agent, lawyer, and property manager, which are key to a smooth-ish buying process in Costa Rica, or anywhere, really. For me, all of these people were women, which helped me feel more comfortable asking questions that I may not have otherwise asked. This allowed me to trust my gut. If it didn’t feel right, I asked questions. If it still didn’t feel right, I figured out how to pivot.
Step 7: Know your budget and stick to it
For me the goal was access to self care, not increasing my stress levels (its going to happen regardless, so might as well mitigate). Did I dream of buying a house in Costa Rica right by the beach? Of course, but it would have caused me significantly more financial stress. I was able to find a home within my budget and within a reasonable driving distance to the beach, and I am much happier for it.
Step 7: Be prepared to feel ALL the feelings
Growing up, no one taught me about investing, and the thought of buying a 2nd home felt extravagant and frivolous. Having a financial advisor and a therapist were both necessary to work through those feelings. As I started the process of searching, making an offer, and finally buying my home, I felt incompetent. I tried to read all the blogs and books, but I still asked all the dumb questions, and, even worse, didn’t know which were the right questions to ask. As I explained this to a dear friend she said “Give yourself grace, you’ve never done this before, so why would you know how to do it”. Every bump is a chance to learn.”
Step 8: Start a limitda (similar to an LLC in the US) sooner rather than later
Add this to the list of things I didn’t know how to do. But it is a much easier process to put the home under the limitada if it is set up before closing. To do this you will need a good lawyer (see step 6) and accountant (may be with your property manager). Once it is set up, you can start writing off your travel expenses, home expenses, etc. against your Costa Rican taxes. (Yes you will be paying taxes in 2 countries).
Step 9: Be prepared to show where ALL the money is coming from
There are very limited financing options for foreign nationals in Costa Rica. The banks don’t offer it, and although some private builders do, the interest rates are very high. In general, it is all cash on the Costa Rican side, so you have to finance in the States (or wherever you are from). I did a combination of a home equity line of credit, savings, and mutual funds. They are VERY particular about making sure all the money is legit. Be prepared to show 3-6 months of statements for every source of money.
Step 10: Speaking of financing
You will need at least a 10% deposit within the first 7 days after signing the contract. If you are wiring it from the US, you will most likely need to be at the bank in person to initiate the wire (or beg a family member to help you in my case). Wiring money was my first lesson in hurrying up to wait. There is nothing more nerve wracking than watching money disappear from your account and not knowing where it is for 48-72 hours. Again, trust the process.
Step 11: Just like in the US, shit will not all go smoothly
There will be bumps and delays. The inspection will take longer than you think it should. The bank will come back and say they need one more document, right before closing. Things may get pushed back, but in general, the contract can be amended so don’t freak out (too much). Again, a good lawyer is key.
Step 12: Many things in the buying process are similar to in the US
There will be a due diligence period, inspection, and lots of negotiating. Many things are different. Again, minimal financing options, so you are buying the house outright. Homeowners insurance is not required to close, but is recommended to have. Water pressure/quality is not guaranteed. Ask questions about the source of the water, shortages during dry season, and floods during rainy season.
Step 13: Once you buy, continue to invest in the community your home is in
Support local artists, interior designers, maintenance workers, etc. Ask your network what is best to buy locally and what is best to bring from the States (electric door locks, Sonos speakers, etc). Household goods are often a bit more expensive in Costa Rica, but when you factor in shipping, the difference is minimal and supporting the local economy makes it well worth it.
Step 14: Celebrate
Whether it is buying a home in another country or making it through a hard day, celebrate the process. Celebrate you. Celebrate your journey being unlike anyone else’s. Find the moments of joy in your life. Find your place of self and try to live every day from that place. Pura Vida!
New Costa Rican homeowner. Physician. Leading with curiosity to discover the world and myself.