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Visa Requirements...

A valid passport is required to enter Costa Rica. At the discretion of Costa Rican authorities, travelers are sometimes admitted with a certified copy of their U.S. birth certificate and valid photo I.D. for tourist stays up to 90 days. Additional information on entry requirements may be obtained from the consular section of the Embassy of Costa Rica at 2114 S Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone (202) 328-6628, or the nearest consulate in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Denver, Miami, Honolulu, Atlanta, Chicago, New Orleans, Las Vegas, New York, Houston or St. Paul.

Utilities...

Utilities and communication companies are state-owned. The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad has control of both the energy and telecommunications sectors. Costa Rica has an excellent phone system. You can dial direct to almost any part of the world from a public phone. Several major international communications companies have systems allowing you to make credit card calls.

Electric current is 110 volts, 60 Hertz. Water is safe to drink in San Jose and in tourist zones outside
the city. 

Free Trade Zone & Incentives...

a) Duty - Free Zones

Duty-Free Zones are the mainstay of Costa Rica's export and investment promotion strategy.

The Duty-Free Zones are, by definition, areas of customs and fiscal extra-territoriality. They are facilities designed for realizing economic operations based on importing inputs and raw materials, fabrication, assembly or marketing of products or services for their subsequent export.

Easy operations, tax incentives, monetary and exchange facilities, the country's excellent
communication system, power and basic services installations, make up a firm foundation of the dynamic development of the companies set up under the Free-Zones regulations. A few advantages of operating in the Duty-Free Zones of Costa Rica are:

  •      Freedom of doing transactions in foreign currencies.
  •      100% exemption from all types of import taxes and surcharges for the importing of raw materials, inputs and other items necessary for the production and operation of the company.
  •      100% exemption from taxes on capital and assets.
  •      Exemption from taxes on profits, according to the location and years of operation.
  •      Expediency on documentation required for installation and operation.
Other factor that contributes to offer a valuable opportunity for investment is the geographical location of the country, in the heart of the Western Hemisphere.

There are some law incentives such as:

a) Reforestation Incentives.

     Forest Trust Certificates which are nominative value titles negotiated to pay taxes, per
     reforested hectare. In this case, an exemption from the territorial tax payment related to the real freely committed to the forestry regimes and registered Reforestation Programs.

     Industrialization Transportation of Raw Material.

b) Law of incentives to industrial production.

An amount of the profits reinvested in the following lines will be considered as part of income taxes:

  •      Machinery and equipment that increase productivity.
  •      Diversification of productive activities.
  •      Equipment for the improvement of quality control system.
  •      Energetic saving investment.
  •     Investment projects for generation and fitting of technology.
  •      Buying nominative shares to create a common fun for project development.
c) Law for the promoting of Scientific and Technological development.

This law grants fiscal and other incentives to:

  •      Research.
  •      Diffusion of science and technology.
  •      Research and technological development in enterprises and private scientific institutions.
  •      Enterprises with technological bases.
  •      Technological transfer and innovations.
  •      Establishment of industrial parks.
d) Law of incentives for tourist infrastructure.

Incentives are granted to the following activities:

  •      Hotel Services.
  •      Air transportation of national and international tourism.
  •      Vehicle rental to national and foreign tourists.
  •      Water transportation for tourists.
  •      The receptive tourism business of travel agencies that are exclusively dedicated to this activity.
  •      Food services.
e) Incentives to small industries .

This law provides a 100% exemption of import duties over machinery, tools, equipment and raw materials, to those business that have been catalogued as "small industries". The number of exemptions per year can not be more than six.

Entertainment & Night Life...

Now for the fun part: Latin Music Orientation 101. You're probably most familiar with Salsa (fast & lively) or Merengue (similar, but doesn't require the skilled feet that Salsa does). There's also Soca, a cross between merengue and reggae, so if you'd like an introduction to these "dances of seduction," this is probably your safest bet. Boleros are slow, Latin love songs; rancheros are the Mexican version of country music; and Reggae is mellow Jamaican music requiring no coordination whatsoever. If you go to listen to live bands, you'll often also hear Nueva Trova (the Costa Rican version of a 60's theme folk music, with environmental and anti-establishment themes), Latin Fusion or jazz. And for dyed-in-the-wool gringos, U.S. pop and rock music is also available. 

And one final note: in many bars around town, particularly right after work, you'll get a small plate of appetizers (usually chicken wings, rice & beans, etc.) for free called bocas. Some of the ritzier places have started to charge for their bocas, but most of the other establishments still serve them for free. 

Perhaps the best place for you to start is Infinitos because it has three different discos, so you  can choose what kind of music you want to listen and/or dance to. La Plaza is nearby, also, so if you don't find what you want at Infinito, you can cross the street and check out what's playing at La Plaza. 

Salsa 54 is the place to go not only for music, but also for the sheer entertainment. Some of
the hottest dancers in the country come here, so you can see how it's really done. Like with
Infinito, there are two other discos attached to Salsa 54, one playing various Latin favorites  and the other playing pop or techno, depending on the night. 

For a bit more relaxed pace, and for those who like to rub elbows with "artistes," go to the
Shakespeare Bar under the Laurence Olivier Theater. It's a popular place for people to go
after performances, both audience members and performers alike. Light jazz accompanies
interesting conversation. 

Chelles is the place to people watch. This colorful place stays open 24 hours and serves free
bocas with every drink. Chelles Taberna nearby is a little quieter, so if you tire of the non-stop action, head on over there. 

Los Balcones has live jazz, folk music and fusion, depending on the night, so come prepared  for intelligent conversation and spirits until late into the night.

Tipping...

Hotels add 15% sales tax and 3,33% tourism tax to their room charges, and generally the quoted room rates do not include these taxes.

Restaurants add 15% sales tax and 10% service charge to all meals. Clothing, food and souvenirs usually have the tax added into the listed price.

Most Costa Ricans do not give tips in restaurants and bars, because they are included in the bill, but many foreigners do give them anyway. If you are staying in one place for awhile, tips will certainly enhance your popularity with the service staff.

Food & Drink...

A wide range of cuisine's from French to Chinese and local dishes can be sampled in Costa Rica. With two oceans serving as sources, seafood is a Costa Rican specialty, as are native dishes such as gallos (open faced tortillas), uniquely spiced and seasoned mashed black beans. Other native specialties are heart or palm, tamales, guacamole and ceviche. Guaro is the national alcoholic drink.

Within the Afro-Caribbean tradition one must mention the famous dish, "Rice and Beans", a mixture
of red beans and rice cooked in coconut milk and served with fish, chicken or beef.

Clothing...

Here's a tip about nightlife in San Jose: don't go dressed as Joe Tourist. Shorts are frowned upon in some of the discos and clubs, as are beach shoes, running shoes, t-shirts... you get the idea. A nice skirt or pair of pants and a short sleeved top will do the trick. Ticos pride themselves on looking nice at all times, so when in Rome... 

Crime...

  Crime is on the upswing, and tourists as well as the local populace are frequent victims. Pickpocketings, muggings, house and car break-ins and thefts are common, and are becoming increasingly violent in nature. Travelers should ensure that they purchase an adequate level of locally valid theft insurance when renting vehicles. Never leave valuables in the vehicle and park in paid lots whenever possible. Car-jackings are also on the rise and motorists have been confronted at gunpoint while stopped at traffic lights or upon arrival at their homes. Two U.S. citizens have been killed during robbery attempts over the past three years. There have been several recent kidnappings, including foreigners. Incidents of crime commonly occur in downtown San Jose, at beaches, at the airport, and at national parks and other tourist attractions. There have been several assaults on tourist buses as well. Travelers who keep valuables out of sight, do not wear jewelry, and travel in groups during daylight hours lessen their risk. Local law enforcement agencies have limited capabilities. Money exchangers on the street will pass off counterfeit U.S. dollars and local currency. Credit card fraud is growing. Vehicles should not be left unattended, nor should any items be left inside. 

 Some trails in national parks have been closed because of low numbers of visitors and reported robberies of hikers in the area. Tourists should check with forest rangers for current park conditions. 

 The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to local police and to the U.S. Embassy in San Jose. Travelers may wish to carry a copy of their passport data page and leave the passport, itself, in the hotel safe or other safe location. Useful information on guarding valuables and protecting personal security while traveling abroad is provided in the Department of State pamphlet, "A Safe Trip Abroad." This publication, as well as others, such as "Tips for Travelers to Central and South America," are available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402. 

National Holidays...

 January 1 .......................................................................New Year's Day
 March 19 ........................................................... Feast of St. Joseph, San Jose's patron saint
 April 11 .........................................................................Battle of Rivas
 May 1 ............................................................................ Labor Day
 All ofJune .................................................................... Corpus Christi
 June 29 ........................................................................ Sts. Peter and Paul
 July 25 ......................................................................... Guanacaste Annexation
 August 2 ...................................................................... Virgin of Los Angeles
 August 15 .................................................................... Mother's Day
 September 15 .............................................................. Independence Day
 October 12 .......................................... Columbus Day, Dia de la Raza & Carnaval in Limon
 December 8 ............................................................... Feast of the Immaculate Conception
 December 24 .............................................................. Christmas Eve
 December 25 .............................................................. Christmas Day
 December 31 ............................................................... New Year's Eve

Religion...

The main religion in Costa Rica is Roman Catholic. Even the tiniest towns have
their own churches or chapels. Because there is freedom of worship in this
country, a wide variety of other religions are represented.

Real Estate...

Public Record Office System: With few exceptions, land ownership must be registered at the Property Department of the Public Record Office. Liens, encumbrances and easements imposed on a recorded property should also be duly registered to have any effect on third parties. To ensure the buyer that he is acquiring land from its legal owner, and that the property is free of mortgages and other kinds of encumbrances, a thorough title search of the public records must be performed as a previous and necessary step for buying real estate. 

Legal Procedures in the Deeding and Transfer of Land:

Depending on the legal regulations applicable to a specific piece of land, there are various kinds of property ownership.

1. Recorded Land: Property duly registered at the Public Record Office. 

2. Non-Recorded Land: Property subject to be registered at the Public Record Office which has not been duly recorded. 

3. Non-Registerable Land: Property which is not subject to be recorded at the Public Registry by law. 

Recorded Land:

Recorded land transfers must be granted through a public deed. To this effect, the parties must appear before a Costa Rican Notary Public (to be chosen by the purchaser) who will insert the title transfer in his Protocol. A Notary Public is a licensed Attorney at Law who is endowed with "public trust, " and the right to validate and legalize all contracts and deeds. To protect his/her investment, the buyer is entitled to appoint his or her attorney to perform as the Notary Public in the transaction. 

Prior to the signing of the deed, the buyer or his/her attorney are expected to investigate ownership status and encumbrances at the Public Records Office to make sure the seller's title is clear and lien free. The purchase deed, as well as any related liens granted by the purchaser, must be presented by the Notary to be duly registered in the public records. It is also the Notary's duty to complete all recording procedures necessary to provide the title transfer with full efficacy. 

Expenses and legal fees derived from these procedures may range from 6-7% of the total amount of the transaction. These costs will be shared by the parties on a 50%-50% basis if they have not agreed otherwise. 

Non-Recorded Land: Real estate that fulfills all the requirement the law establishes for legitimate ownership but has never been recorded, may be transferred through a public deed, or even a private contract. It is advisable that the purchase of non-recorded land be performed with the advise and participation of an Attorney at Law. 

The transfer of non-recorded land cannot be registered at the Record Office. A judicial procedure is required to obtain authorization to inscribe real estate ownership for the first time in the public records. 

Even if the ownership of non-recorded land is valid and has most of the legal effects of a registered title, it lacks the securities that are granted by the Record Office. 

Non-Registerable Land: Because of special regulations, some areas are not subject to private ownership. This is the case of most of the beach front property, which is regulated by Law No. 6043 of 2 March 1977 and will be explained in detail later on. Sometimes non-recordable land may be subject to be legally used or possessed by individuals or private companies, either through a concession granted by the Government, or the transfer of legitimate possession by the former possessor. 

Requirenents to Land Ownership: Apart from the restrictions established for non-registerable land and other special cases determined by the law, any individual, national or foreign, may legally own land sheltered by our Record Office system. Nonetheless, for legal and economical reasons, it is advisable that the acquisition of real estate is performed through a  company. 

Recording and Deeding of Beach Front Property in Costa Rica

Public Law No. 6043 of 2 March 1977 establishes a restricted coastal zone called the "Zone Maritimo/Terrestre." It comprises a 200 meters long strip of land along both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of Costa Rica, measured from the high tide line toward the inland. This "Maritime/terrestrial" restricted zone is given a differentiated treatment since it is owned by the national government and administered by local governments (municipalities). It is divided into two sections: 

a) The Public Zone (Zone Publica): 50 meters wide strip of land between the high tide line and the outer line of the "Restricted Zone" (Zone Restringida). 

b) The Restricted Zone (Zone Restringida): 150 meters wide strip of land from the inner limit of the Public Zone toward the inland. 

No private individual or corporation is allowed to build on or use for private purposes any portion whatsoever of the Public Zone. However, they may obtain a lease concession on the Restricted Zone for private or business use. 

Leases on the Restricted Zone are authorized by the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo (ICT) and granted by the relevant municipality. Beneficiaries of lease concessions are granted the use, occupation, and possession of the land, including the right to build. 

No lease concessions are granted to non-Costa Ricans who have resided in the country less than 5 years, nor to foreign companies, nor to national companies of which 50% or more of its stock is owned by non-Costa Ricans. Lease concessions may be transferred with the previous approval of the municipality and the ICT. They are generally granted for periods of time that range from 5 to 20 years. The lease granting municipality is entitled to charge a small leasing fee. The lessee can apply for an extension of the lease concession at the Municipality. Extensions are normally granted with the previous approval of the ICT. 

There are very few exceptions to Law No. 6043 of 2 March 1977. Beach front land that is not regulated by this Law can be found, but it is extremely unusual to have property titles in areas within the restricted 200 meters. 

An American investor wishing to acquire a lease concession must do it through a Costa Rican corporation. Land not included in the Public or the Restricted Zones can be purchased individually and with no special restriction or limitation . 

Before acquiring a lease concession, the buyer would ask his or her attorney to examine the Municipality Records, verify the seller's ownership status, as well as general tax and leasing dues. A similar procedure applies to the purchase of non-restricted land described above.

San José, Costa Rica...

Costa Rica's capital will never win any beauty contests. Its architecture is, with a few notable exceptions, bland bordering on ugly. It is noisy and polluted, its streets are potholed and congested. Petty crime like pickpocketing and chain-snatching is a problem that refuses to go away.

So why do so many visitors leave Costa Rica with such fond memories of San José? Generally speaking, it's the josefinos (as the city's residents are known) who help to give the city a character and charm that is not apparent as you negotiate your first traffic jam on the way to your hotel. Where else in the world can you ask a sidewalk merchant for directions to a bus stop and have him leave his stall and walk you three blocks to your bus.
Not everyone's like that, of course, but San José is usually a good introduction to the legendary friendliness of the ticos. It must also be said that San José offers many rewards to those who are willing to brave the bustling sidewalks (watch your step to avoid spraining an ankle on the uneven paving) and check out the sights and sounds of this vibrant city.

You should definitely make an effort to visit some of the museums. Of the "big three", the Jade Museum is an absolute must. The Costa Rican Museum of Art is housed in the control tower of the old airport and contains an excellent collection of 19th and 20th century paintings and sculpture. Various other galleries around the city showcase the country's thriving contemporary art scene.

Sabana Park is to San Jose what Central Park is to New York, Hyde Park is to London. Built on the site of the old airport, this is the city's playground - a place where you can jog or ride a bike, kick a football, throw a frisbee, feed a duck or two or throw down a blanket and feed yourself with a picnic under the eucalyptus trees. A great place to watch ticos just being ticos.

Closer to the city center, there are a number of other parks which, after a lengthy and expensive beautification campaign by city authorities, are now pleasant places to while away a quiet hour or two. The city's hub is the Plaza de la Cultura, a large paved area between central and second avenues which is a magnet for street performers and pigeons. There's plenty to see and do here. The Costa Rican Tourism Institute's main information office is under the plaza, right next to the famed Gold Museum. Nearby, the outdoor tables of the Gran Hotel's Cafe Parisienne are a great place to have a coffee or something to eat and watch the passing scene. While you're there, wander over and check out the National Theater, San José's loveliest building. Then walk a few blocks north and you are in Barrio Amon, the city's most historic neighborhood where residents and businesses are enthusiastically backing a campaign to restore many of its beautiful Victorian buildings to their turn-of-the-century splendor.