If you build your own home in Lake Arenal, you won’t have to adjust to Tico housing styles, which may include low ceilings, no lawns, and odd ideas about finish work. In your own place, you can put the outlets where you want them, install North American-style hot water heaters and window screens, and lay down floors of tropical hardwoods. You can orient the house toward the best view (many Tico houses look inward rather than outward). You can put in a lush lawn or landscape to your heart’s content with native trees and flowering shrubs. “You don’t really have to plant things here,” one gardener told me. “You just stick something in the ground, or you wait (not long) for your yard to be invaded.”

Getting construction permits

In Costa Rica, before getting any construction permits you must have (ask your real estate agent from 2 very important documents:

1-Survey plan with the stamps on from the local Municipality and the Costarican National Property Registration ( Registro de la Propiedad)

2- Water letter provided by the AyA or the local ASADA ( city water department)

Before you buy land that you intend to build on, you need to do a little research. First, make sure the lot has basic services such as water, electricity, telephone, and drainage. If it lacks any of these, get estimates for how much it will cost to install those services. Next, make sure there are no restrictions on the lot that might cause you to be denied a construction permit. Begin by checking with the Public Registry (Registro Nacional), stop in at the Permit Reception Office (Oficina Receptora de Permisos de Construcción) in San José, and consult the municipality (municipalidad) where the property is located.

Next you are ready to hire your architect to design your dream house, by law the CFIA allows the architect to charge a minimum of 10.5 % on the total construction cost. This percentage includes structural and electrical design and some site inspections. Also the professional will determinate what other paper work or test has to be done in order to get construction permits.

After the client and the professional agree about the final design of the house, the construction plans have to be submitted to the CFIA ( the costarican architect board) to be approved and get stamped before the local municipal inspector approves the construction plans, based on the site visit/inspection and payment of the insurance ( INS- liability insurance).

The fees and time on getting construction permits is cheap and faster than it used to be, the costs and time to get the permits on its different stages are:

1-Professional fee 10.5% OF CONSTRUCTION COSTS -minimum –

2-CFIA stamps 0.26% of construction costs – 3 days-

3- Municipality 1% – 8 days

4-Insurance 1.35% of construction costs 1day

Make sure to ask your real estate agent to provide o recommend a licensed architect, most of the real estate agents in Lake Arenal recommend civil engineers, even though they can help you get the construction permits, they are not designers, so you are not going to be happy the final result.

Those who got the house they wanted tended to be on-site as much as possible, overseeing every little detail.

In short, you can build the house of your dreams for considerably less than you’d have to pay up north. But it won’t be dirt cheap, and it will take a lot of sweat and patience. You will need to be scrupulous about paying your workers the minimum wage which is about ¢1100( $ 2) per hour, which is far lower than it would be in the United States, plus their health benefits. And most people who’ve been through the experience say that you really need to speak Spanish, know something about construction, and be confident you can effectively oversee workers. Those who got the house they wanted tended to be on-site as much as possible, overseeing every little detail. 

Building Costs

In general, materials costs in Costa Rica are roughly equivalent to those in North America, while labor costs will be significantly less. Total building costs vary a great deal depending on materials used and salaries paid, with estimates ranging from US$65 square foot for simple construction to up to US$120 square foot for a luxurious house. Building in remote areas is often more expensive, since you have to factor in delivery costs of materials.

Construction costs around Lake Arenal is aprox. $ 90 square foot for standard American conctruction .

Javier Ruiz Diaz

Team Realty Lake Arenal