Professional Services

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The Triple A of Costa Rica- Attorneys, Accountants, Architects

If you live in Costa Rica, you will need one of these eventually. They don't all look like this- some have red beaks.
If you live in Costa Rica, you will need one of these eventually. They don't all look like this- some have red beaks.

If you’re looking for a lawyer, accountant, CPA, or architect in Costa Rica, you’ll have no problem finding one. That said, how good they are, is a totally different matter. It would be nice to report that all of them are well trained, honest individuals looking out for your best interest at a reasonable rate- sadly this is not the case (sounds like a good commercial though). As a matter of fact, is that EVER the case, regardless where you live? I think lawyers in particular are pretty much thought of as vultures globally. Horror stories are rampant- Ticos and foreigners getting ripped off by these ‘professionals’. Most stories center around lawyers and architects. Personally, eight out of ten stories I hear from the people I know, are negative, and usually it takes a few phone calls, recommendations, referrals and meetings to find a lawyer etc. you’re comfortable with. Let’s concentrate on lawyers- you move here, you’ll have one eventually.

The first thing you need to know is there’s little accountability for lawyers in Costa Rica. Also, most lawyers here are Notaries as well, and that is important to know. The lawyers you will encounter tend to be ‘paper pusher’ lawyers, facilitating real estate deals, setting up corporations, and helping with residency issues etc. Notaries on the other hand, have enormous power in the public registries and other government offices. They can change ownership with a flick of the switch. Think about it- a notary with YOUR power-of-attorney can either be your best friend or worst nightmare. In Costa Rica, all notarys must be attorneys, but all attorneys are not notarys.

My personal experience with lawyers here has been fairly simple, forming corporations and overseeing real estate deals. Easy enough. I was referred by someone I trusted, my only beef had to do with ‘tico-time’, which is just a nice way of saying the process dragged on and on and on………and on. Forming a corporation here is easy, as it is in the US. Paying taxes is fairly simple as well, but you’ll need a good accountant or CPA to insure it’s done correctly and on time.

Lawyers in Costa Rica

I think it’s interesting to note that 50% of the approximately 16,000 licensed attorneys here have been issued their licenses in the past eight years. This could mean a few things, but surely it says something about the experience factor. An attorney in Costa Rica must be a member of Colegio de Abogados and if he or she is also a Notary, they must be registered at the Dirección Nacional de Notariado, which is overseen by the court system. If you believe a lawyer has violated the code of ethics, a complaint can be filed, and the allegation will be investigated. This site provides a list of attorneys who have been disciplined.

Finding a good attorney is not that difficult if you do your homework. Usually a foreigner will be seeking legal counsel for the following reasons: forming a corporation, property and real estate transactions, and residency issues. * Just because a lawyer did a bang-up job forming your corporation doesn’t necessarily mean they’re familiar or current with real estate law.

Do your homework, surf the internet, hit up message boards, make contacts, gather personal references from people whom you have met in Costa Rica. Talk to the people who have done what you want to do- gaining residency, starting a business etc. There are some great online resources here, and I highly suggest you use them.

This is very important- Just because someone speaks your language, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re your friend. Foreigners who don’t speak Spanish seem to gravitate to the first person that speaks their language, as if there’s a natural bond. Do not take this advice lightly, it’s an easy mistake to make.

Make a list of potential candidates and do some investigation. See if they’ve been disciplined, ask others who have used them and inquire how the person giving you the reference met them. Be aware that notaries in Costa Rica record all the entries in the National Registry, placing them in a somewhat controlling and powerful position.

CPA's and Accountants in Costa Rica

Obviously still do your homework as if you were seeking out a lawyer, but here, you want someone who knows the current tax laws and how they affect you, and has some experience. Unlike the States, CPA’s are inexpensive in here, but like the States, the Costa Rican system of taxation is complex, so you’ll need a good one. If you own or manage a business in Costa Rica, you do have to pay taxes. Additionally, you’ll need to file returns if you own a corporation of ANY type. Taxes aren’t too bad here, stay on top of this and you’ll have no problems. Don’t and you will.

Architects in Costa Rica

Architects can be a problem and pricey as well. There are many reasons for this (watch out for gringo pricing), so we’ll just review steps you can take to avoid the pitfalls. michael alan's take on Gringo Pricing

Communication. If you don’t speak Spanish, you had better have a REALLY good interpreter. “Oh, did you say you wanted a door there, I thought you meant a window.”

Again- homework, research, referrals, past completed projects, etc.

Contracts on EVERYTHING, to be legal it has to be in Spanish, but obviously if you don’t know Spanish, it can be translated. Just make sure they say the same thing, really.

Stay involved and in constant contact with your architect.

Make sure there’s a good working relationship between the architect and the contractor/ and or laborers.

Do NOT pay up front.

In Costa Rica the architect is the ‘go to’ guy, not the contractor.

Gringo Pricing is a FACT of LIFE here.

Do NOT believe the ads saying they build “American Style Homes”

Bottom Line: Do your homework, get references, talk to people who have been through what you’re about to go through. Keep updated, things change here in regards to rules and regulations, especially for gringos.