There's a certain mystique in flirting with the idea of investing in a foreign land.
Why is that? Some, like me, are looking for a place to retire. What could be better than having a place that pays for itself over the next 10-15 years. Some just want a change from their home country. Others want to run from something or someone, whether that's family or an ex-wife who still gets invited to Christmas with your family, or some other business reasons. Some people just want to improve their weather. Most just want a change, or they're looking for something. They maybe don't even know what they're looking for, but they're looking for something. There are as many reasons to consider as there are stars in the sky.
Recently, a friend of mine invited me to Costa Rica to check out his development. He's recently purchased 500 acres for future development and wanted me to check it out. I was certainly excited for the opportunity.
Costa Rica has always been a draw for me for three main reasons:
1) stable government
2) great weather
3) cheap living conditions
Going into the trip, I created a list of objectives. I wanted to find out the following:
1) ease of access: how easy is it to get to the property and get into the country, customs, flights, drive, etc.
2) safety: this is paramount. If I'm going to get investors involved, I want to make sure they feel good about the experience, since many of them will want to visit the project. And more importantly I want to personally feel good about making that trek and not worry about getting pickpocketed or mugged or worse, (like many other adjacent countries experience).
3) returns and demand: for the investment I want to make sure there are ample returns, beyond 20% so I can make it worth my while. This is an investment and there is a hassle factor. For good deals in the US we can typically make 20%, so there should be the same or better. I need to get my investors 10-12% or more, so for me to get involved, it needs to be worth my while.
4) regional stability: for the investment, I want to make sure the government isn't going to take the property back with some weird rule, I want to make sure the market is appreciating and there is demand for the area and the property (so I can resell it if I want to). We needs to be able to protect the investment (insurance) and also have unfettered access to the property (for instance, US Citizens won't be blocked from traveling to this port).
OK, so wrt Costa Rica. Getting into the country was standard foreign travel. Flight was good, on time, and not super expensive. I was able to find a flight from Denver to Houston to Liberia. The drive from the Liberia airport to my AirBnB condo was nice and short, just 20 minutes. Overall of course, it all takes time to travel via airplane. Get there 2 hours prior to departure, customs, and the car rental situation. All told for just a "5 hour flight", with a 1 hour layover, it take 9-10 hours from door to door. That isn't awful but certainly a decision factor. Driving is CR is totally normal for small town type driving. The roads are narrow, there are pedestrians everywhere, people on bikes and mopeds, and not a strict adherence to all the laws. The locals drive crazy cutting you off and speeding around you if you're not driving like you stole it. Driving on windy dirt roads and through rivers is also common in CR. That's all a part of the fun adventure. But access should be a priority. Can you get to your property all year long, not just in the dry season? My experience was normal for the most part. Driving through rivers takes some getting used to, and I'd highly recommend anyone going to CR to get 4x4. Rental vehicles are a hassle to get with hidden fees, the investment is usually its $150-200 a week.
Costa Rica is relatively safe from violent crime. You certainly hear about the one-offs with someone getting killed or raped or worse, but it's not the norm. However, petty theft is norm and burglaries are common outside of the gated communities. It seems like every type of accommodation for a tourist has a guard house. Security is big in Costa Rica and most of the places you'll stay will have a guard desk that you'll need to interact with. This is good, but doesn't eliminate all crime. If you are buying, ask about the crime.
Demand for the project: The most important question and the one that drives all decisions is the return on the project. The greatest line I heard during my trip from my friend Micheal Simons was this: We have dozens of buyers, not hundreds or thousands. Wow. That was the most profound thing I could have ever learned during my stay. With only dozens of buyers, when you're competing with 100s of homes, what does that tell you about the market, and the potential?
Additional notes/thoughts: Infrastructure is key for the potential investment in CR and water is the highest priority. Water is life right? If you don't have water, you can't do anything. The strange/unique thing with CR is when you buy you don't have access to the natural resources (think mineral rights) under the property. So you need to make sure there are water certificates (water letters) for your property. Also, every contract (not just every real estate contract) needs to be written in Spanish, otherwise, it's not legal. Have you heard the expression, location, location, location for real estate in America? In CR it's water, security, views.
Coming off my recent trip to Costa Rica, I feel like I have a very good grasp on what the advantages and disadvantages are for investing in Paradise.