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The Maritime Zone in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a country rich in biodiversity: forests, beaches, mangroves, and wildlife are among the many natural resources protected by the state through solid environmental legislation. The extensive coastal zone includes two oceans and extends throughout the country. The Law on Maritime Zone No. 6043 establishes guidelines the protection and management of a 200-meter-wide strip along both the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines of the Republic, whatever their nature.

This protected strip is divided into the public area corresponding to the first 50 meters and the restricted zone which comprises the remaining 150 meters, with exceptions for port cities and a few other allowances. It is noteworthy that it is prohibited to build, modify, or develop the public area in any way. In addition, it is important to emphasize that it is forbidden to grant concessions in this area and occupation within this zone is prohibited as is private ownership of this public area.

Moreover, in the restricted area, the granting of concessions for public or private use is permitted and regulated through coastal regulatory plans. These concessions are approved by the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) or the Rural Development Institute (INDER) along with the respective municipalities. Concessions, as defined by the law in this context, mean a special legal power that is given to a natural or legal person for the execution of public works, management of public services, or use of collective heritage.

In order for a concession to be granted, the following binding information is involved: the demarcation, a declaration of tourist aptitude (ICT), and the existence of regulatory plan in the area. All concessions that are granted will not exceed 20 years in length, nor will they be for less than 5 years. In addition, they will not be awarded to requests made containing one of the following scenarios:

  1. A foreigner who has not resided in the country for at least five years and does not have a residency status;
  2. Joint stock companies with bearer shares;
  3. A company or entity domiciled abroad;
  4. Entities established in the country by foreigners without a Costa Rican residency; and
  5. Entities where the majority owner(s) are foreign nationals without residency.

At this point, Maritime Zone concessions only exist on properties within coastal regulatory plans and according to their location, which also applies to the use or activity that is permitted within the property.

For properties that are outside the Maritime Zone, use permits exist either through a local master plan for an area, or in the absence of the same, with the application of national legislation. In addition to this, concessions must pay their taxes, which are collected annually by the municipality according to the use for which it is approved.

One of the biggest problems of the Maritime Zone concerns the exact location of the boundaries with respect to the properties, as its use and exploitation within concessions is strictly linked to the extension of the areas inside or outside of those limits. Likewise, proper demarcation of the public area can avoid major consequences such as the inevitable takeover of buildings that invade the area.

As you may know, the Maritime Zone is of vital importance to Costa Rica in that is encourages development that promotes the conservation of natural resources and therefore the long-term sustainability of the Maritime Zone and the tourist economy that relies on it. Due to this, it also helps improve the quality of life of the inhabitants in the areas involved.

If you decide to buy or lease a property within the Maritime Zone, due to these special characteristics, it is convenient and necessary to have a team of experts who can advise you effectively about the appropriate procedures and restrictions, especially when you are not familiar with the local legislations. This type of advice minimizes making risky real estate investments since the relevant information is known early on in the process, which leads to making safe and reliable decisions, and therefore making a successful investment.

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Maria Fernanda Alvarado

Maria Fernanda Alvarado

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