It has been adventurous and tough 2 years of being an expat in Costa Rica.Starting a business has not been an easy journey but I am here to help you from what I have learned in laying the foundation of my tour business in Jaco, Costa Rica. First off let me start by saying that the culture in Costa Rica is contrasting compared to what you are most likely used to, especially if you are from North America or Europe.The people here are very slow going and relaxed, some may even call them lazy. North America is known to be very fast moving, go go go, so when you come to Costa Rica you need to try and slow down the pace a little bit otherwise you will end up going a little insane and feel the urge to pack up and leave.
The people here are infamous for promising you that they will be there a certain day or hour and frequently they won't be.It is strange because they always seem to want to keep you happy to your face when you ask them when it will be ready but they don't seem too concerned to keep their word. My general rule of thumb is to times the dead line by 3 or 4 and this is no joke.For example if a local tells you he or she will have what you are looking for in 1 month you can expect that it will take 3 months, this may seem surreal to you but it is absolutely true for the most part, I warned you this wouldn't be easy but the rewards will be worth it.
Chances are you will need to get a vehicle or something imported in to Costa Rica which can be expensive.You will get charged anywhere from 40% to 90% tax depending on the item.This can be worth it seeing as many things such as cars are very expensive here. I had a lot of help from A-1 in assisting us in getting our work vehicle here and it was well worth it once I did the price comparison and taking in to account we got exactly what we needed which is not always the case in Costa Rica. Even though Panama borders to the south Costa Rica will not have what you hope it will so be prepared to have to import from another country and make sure you get a quote for the taxes beforehand.
The Permit Process
First off you will need to register your new business and this can be done with any lawyer and the cost will vary depending on the business and the lawyer but around $1000 is a good budget number.
2nd and probably most importantly you will need to get ahold of a department of the government called Setena to come and do environmental studies, it is very imperative in Costa Rica that there will be no environmental damages and the government is very strict about this. Setena may call on a higher level called the Area of Conservation if they think there is an inherent risk of an environmental impact.The Area of Conservation can be very slow at setting up an appointment so hopefully you are in the clear but if you are planning on cutting down trees or working around a river they will likely be called.You will need to contact a biologist to make an environmental impact study to submit to Setena when they come for the visit.In addition to the study you will need pictures of the property, a basic business plan, a plan of the property and a soil study, the last 2 mentioned can be obtained by municipality.At the mercy of Setena you will have to wait for them to approve the study before you can obtain your construction permits.
The next step once you get the study form Setena will be to go to the local municipality with an estimated value of the project and proof of insurance for your workers to obtain the construction permits.
Ministry of Health will be the next on the list once you get the green light for the construction permits.They will issue permits for food, any activities and your office, separate permits are needed for each so be sure to give them a detailed report on exactly what you are doing to be sure you are getting the correct permits.
Washrooms will be a necessity if you plan to open a public business.
Ministry of Health will give you the permits you need to take over to the Municipality and get your "Patente" for each permit.Proof that you have insurance for the clients, workers and the project is a must.This insurance is also obtained from I.N.S and in our case they needed to come to do a safety inspection.
It is impossible to give you a time line for all of this because it will depend on your particular case but expect 6months to a year.
I hope this has helped and feel free to contact me if you have any other questions, I would be happy to help.