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Building a Dream

The road to Costa Rica living: Self-build or turnkey?

The turnkey option wasn’t available to Paul Reimer when he left Kansas and fell in love with Costa Rica’s southwest Pacific coast. It was a time before companies like Axiom Development Group unfolded master plans for residential projects in the region. Instead, Reimer purchased some land and held onto it for a few years before deciding to embark on a journey to build a home himself.

The country embraces the pioneering spirit of those who choose to go it alone, but new development projects in the region are giving buyers the option to bypass that laborious process and to step straight into Costa Rica’s pura vida.

There are many reasons for migrating to Costa Rica’s southwestern coast, where the mountains meet the sea, and both self-builders and turnkey residents are unanimous in that respect. But with insight from Paul Reimer’s experience, here are five things to consider when choosing your path to owning a piece of the dream:

Land preparation

The terrain along Costa Rica’s southwestern coast is rugged and mountainous. Preparing lush jungle for building can require bulldozers and backhoes to clear and level the land, as well as to open views and position your home.

“It was a much more involved process than I ever imagined,” recalls Reimer. “There is a lot of ground work involved in preparing a site.”

Dreams on Hold

Costa Rica protects its land and has implemented strict building regulations in order to help preserve one of the most beautiful and natural environments on earth. For home builders, that translates into a lot of steps that take time. Development plans must be presented to a Costa Rican engineer, who in turn must register it with the municipality for approval and apply for building permits.

“If all of your boxes are checked, then you can start to build,” says Reimer. “But if you don’t have a water concession, for instance, then it could take years.”


You think you’ve got your budget all figured out, even providing for a slight overrun. But unless your plans are impeccable and you have found the perfect piece of land, then it is probably in your best interests to stay on top of the job. For expats, that can be a difficult task, and misunderstandings can translate into setbacks and long delays. Time is money.

“It definitely took much longer than foreseen, so my costs were subsequently greater than I had expected,” sums up Reimer. “There are definitely economies of scale in master planning, which is why I think people will take a good look at these new developments.”

Modern comforts

Once your home is built, your attention turns to the comfortable living space that completes the dream. Bringing in a sea container of furnishings is a viable but expensive option.

“There are furniture stores in the capital city, San Jose, but you end up buying a bed here, a couch there, and there is no cohesiveness,” explains Reimer. “These development projects offer a choice of beautiful contemporary décors that they bring in and install for you.”

Peace of mind

Many expat residents and non-residents leave Costa Rica to return home from time to time. Some individual owners find occupants for their home during their absence, while others hire people to ensure that their property is maintained.

“One of the advantages of these projects is that you have landscapers, maintenance staff and a security guard at all times, so you can literally just get up and go,” notes Reimer. “In our case, we need to put those things in place for ourselves.”