Land Ownership and Shoreline Property: U.S. citizens are urged to use extreme caution when making real estate purchases or investments, to consult with reputable legal counsel, and to investigate thoroughly all aspects before entering into a contract. Civil archives recording land title are at times incomplete or contradictory. Check the U.S.Embassy website for a list of local lawyers. You also are encouraged to review the Investment Climate Statement for Costa Rica on the State Department’s website. Coastal land within 50 meters of the high tide line is open to the public and therefore closed to development, and construction on the next 150 meters inland is possible only with the approval of the local municipality. Expropriation of private land by the government without compensation considered adequate or prompt has hurt some U.S. investors.
Squatters: Organized squatter groups have invaded properties in various parts of the country. These squatter groups take advantage of legal provisions that allow people without land to gain title to unused property. The Costa Rican police and judicial system have at times failed to deter or to peacefully resolve such invasions. Victims of squatters have reported threats, harassment, and violence. There is very little that the U.S. Embassy can do to assist U.S. citizens who enter into land or business disputes in Costa Rica; you must be prepared to take your case to the local courts, which is often a very long and expensive process.
Delays in Judicial Process: The legal system in Costa Rica is backlogged, and civil suits take over five years on average from start to finish. Some U.S. firms and citizens have satisfactorily resolved their cases through the courts, while others have seen proceedings drawn out over a decade without a final ruling.
Documentation Requirements: Visitors are required to carry appropriate documentation at all times. However, due to the high incidence of passport theft, Costa Rican immigration authorities permit tourists to carry photocopies of the data page and entry stamp from the passport, leaving the passport in a hotel safe or other secure place. However, as noted under the CRIME section of this report, Costa Rican immigration authorities conduct routine checks for illegal immigrants, especially in bars located in downtown San Jose and in beach communities. A U.S. citizen questioned during one of these checks and carrying only the copy of the passport will be required to produce the original passport. In addition, tourists should carry their actual passports when taking domestic air flights, when driving, when planning to use a credit card, when traveling overnight, when traveling a considerable distance from their hotel, or when they would otherwise be unable to quickly retrieve the actual passport. Local authorities have the right to detain U.S. citizens until their identity and immigration status have been verified. Tourists who carry passports are urged to place them securely in an inside pocket.
Exit Procedures for Costa Rican citizens and legal residents: All children born in Costa Rica acquire Costa Rican citizenship at birth, and may only depart the country upon presentation of an exit permit issued by immigration authorities. This includes children born in Costa Rica to U.S. citizens. Unless the child is traveling with both parents, legal documentation is required to demonstrate that both parents grant permission for the child to leave the country. This policy, designed to prevent international child abduction, applies to dual national U.S./Costa Rican citizens as well as U.S. citizens who are legal residents in Costa Rica. Parents of minors who obtained Costa Rican citizenship through a parent or through birth in Costa Rica are advised to consult with appropriate Costa Rican authorities prior to travel to Costa Rica, especially if one (or both) parent(s) is not accompanying the child.
Disaster Preparedness: Costa Rica is located in an active earthquake and volcanic zone. When planning travel to the area, you should consider that such a disaster may strike without warning. Tsunamis may result from significant earthquakes occurring nearby or across the ocean. Serious flooding occurs annually in the Caribbean Province of Limon and the Pacific Province of Puntarenas, and flash floods and severe landslides occur in many parts of Costa Rica, depending on the time of year and rainfall.