Unraveling Costa Rica's Coastal Regulations and Maritime Zone Law

Coldwell Banker Pacific Realty | 24th January 2024 | Share
Unraveling Costa Rica's Coastal Regulations and Maritime Zone Law

If you have stumbled across this blog you either currently live or are looking into possibly finding a home in the paradise of Costa Rica, either way there is no denying that the pristine shores of Costa Rica, where sun-kissed beaches and turquoise waves have beckoned travelers from all around the world. However, step onto the sun-drenched beaches of Costa Rica, and you'll find more than just sand and surf – there's a complex web of beach laws shaping the coastal experience. From conservation efforts to recreational activities, Costa Rica's Maritime Zone laws play a pivotal role in maintaining the delicate balance between environmental preservation and human enjoyment. Understanding these regulations should be a priority for anyone planning a visit or even for those who already call these shores their home. Keeping these coasts pristine is a voluntary joint effort so join us as we delve into the legalities surrounding Costa Rican beaches and discover how these regulations shape the experience of basking in the beauty of Costa Rica's coastal treasures.


  1. What is the Maritime Zone Law?

Passed in 1977, Costa Rica’s Maritime Zone Law or Ley sobre la Zona Marítimo-Terrestre (Law 6043) focuses on regulating beachfront ownership and usage in Costa Rica. The law states that the first 200 meters, measured horizontally starting at the average high tide line, defines the maritime zone, which is owned by the Costa Rican Institute of Tourism and administered by the local municipalities. Apart from beaches the law also applies to small islands, peninsulas, mangrove swamps, and estuaries.

The zone is divided into two areas: public zone (Zona Publica) and restricted zone (Zona Restringida). The first 50 meters starting at the coastline are the public zone meaning they are completely open to the public. Any private possession of this area is completely prohibited, however, trespassing on private property in order to reach this public area is prohibited as well. The next 150 meters are the restricted zone which is lended by the government in leases called concessions.


  1. How do Concessions Work?

Concessions grant the occupation of a beachfront area within the restricted zone within timelines ranging from 5 to 20 years. Concessions allow the beholder (businesses or homes) to use the land for personal or monetary gain, however in order for the government to grant building permits within the zone, the maritime zone must be drafted and approved in a Master Zoning Plan. Moreover, concessions do not have any property taxes, instead, they are charged with an annual fee of 2.5% of the property value.

In order to be granted a concession, the potential beholder must abide by one of three conditions:

  1. Be a legal resident of Costa Rica for at least 5 (five) years.
  2. Be a Costa Rican Citizen
  3. Possess a corporation in Costa Rica with at least 51% of the corporation being owned by a Costa Rican citizen.

It is important to know that concessions are temporary and must be renewed after the original agreed term expires, however, it is rare that a renewal is not granted. Though it might seem risky to own property rights in a concession zone instead of titled property, these areas are the most desired within the real estate world, with many enjoying their beachfront homes and businesses for years.


  1. Other Laws to Keep in Mind:

Taking shells, corals, or any natural resource (alive or not) from the beaches in Costa Rica is considered illegal wildlife trafficking, and doing so alters the ecological processes that ensure the maintenance of marine life. According to the Costa Rican National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC), between 2021 and 2022 the Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport and Juan Santamaría International Airport confiscated over 3 tons of seashells, however, once these shells left the beaches the damage is already done. Keep in mind, that those found guilty of confiscating such flora or fauna can be charged with a fine between $1,400 and $2,800 US dollars.

In the footsteps of surfers, sun-seekers, and nature enthusiasts alike, we've navigated the legal shores that shape the character of Costa Rica's coastal landscape. The blend of Pura Vida spirit and regulatory measures underscores the nation's dedication to preserving the natural beauty that draws visitors from around the world. Whether you're planning your next getaway or simply savoring a stroll along these shores may this newfound understanding of the legal nuances enhances your appreciation for the sun, sea, and sand.

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