Land Development and Permitting Requirements

development site in tambor costa rica

Costa Rica Land Development and Permitting Requirements

Land development and permitting requirements are divided into two general areas in Costa Rica, agricultural land development and urban land development. Agricultural land development is governed by some broad National guidelines, which apply in a general manner throughout the Country. Urban land development is governed by a Zoning Plan (Plan Regulador) enacted by the Municipality in which the particular land in located.

The general scheme for agricultural land development is that lot sizes must be 5,000 sq. meters, or greater, and have access provided either directly to a public road, or be connected to a public road by an interior access easement (servidumbre), with a standard seven meter width. For a single lot development, the Municipality usually exercises little control over the subdivision of the lot, but may impose additional requirements such as a soil stability study, or percolation test for septic tank black water disposal, to meet Health Department requirements. The usual lot construction coverage, or construction footprint permitted, is 15% of the size of the lot. Multi-lot subdivisions can be required to be submitted to SETENA, the technical branch of the Environment Ministry (MINAE), for an environmental impact study.

Urban land development is more specifically governed by the provisions of the Zoning Plan enacted by the Municipality. Lot sizes are usually smaller than in the case of agricultural land development and development restrictions are more specific to the nature of the land being developed. The usual lot construction coverage, or construction footprint permitted, is usually much greater than the coverage permitted in agricultural land development.

Information on Developing Land, Permits, and Zoning

In either development scenario, the place to start is by requesting a Land Use Permit (Uso de Suelo) from the Municipality for the particular piece of land being considered for development. This document, which will be produced by the Municipality in approximately a week following the request, and the cost of which is approximately $20.00 U.S., will set-out in detail the development land use restrictions for the property. If the development is for either a multi-lot residential, or condominium development, the environmental study by SETENA will be a requirement.  In the case of a condominium development, which is governed by more stringent requirements under the Condominium Law and Regulations, than a mere multi-lot residential development, a sewage treatment plant will be a requirement, along with the provision of green zones, and a minimum interior road width, among others.

In each property development scenario, an individual Survey Plan will be produced by a qualified Land Surveyor, for each lot in the subdivision and submitted for approval to the applicable Municipality (Visado Municipal), along with a letter from the applicable Water Authority (AyA, or ASADA), indicating the availability of potable water for the lot, prior to the Plan being registered in the Plan Section (Catastro Seccion) of the National Registry.

Following the development permitting process, for construction in either an agricultural, or urban land development, a Building Permit must be applied for to the applicable Municipality, based on a Building Plan which has been approved by an Architect who is a member of the Costa Rica College of Architects and Engineers.

Architects may be hired merely to draft and approve such a Building Plan for submission to the Municipality, or they may also be hired to supervise the building process until completion.

To contact Attorney Rick Philps about hiring him as your Costa Rican Attorney, please use the following information: Lic. Rick Philps – Attorney at Law, Petersen & Philps, San Jose, Costa Rica Tel: 506-2288-4381, Ext. 102; Email: Website:

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