Discussing the Building Permits for Container Home Construction in Costa Rica

This really needs to be done in Spanish. It is quite complex and involves several agencies in Costa Rica for finalization.

I will do it in English, and keep it very general so you can get the idea and understand it better.

So first, there use to be a great law in Costa Rica where any construction under 30meters squared you only needed “Croces”. These are basic layouts and designs that anyone can do. You did not need an architect or any engineer or any signatures outside the Municipality. Very easy, very fast. But then just a few years ago the Colegio De Architects lobbied and  complained  that they were not getting their fair share of commission on many small projects. This is 10%. They usually and still do in many cases receive 10% of the value of the project. So if your home is valued at $200,000. Then they get $20,000. Most Architects do not ask for 10%, usually they request 4-8% depending on your guy.

The “Estudio Perspectiva” is broken down into two categories.  “Servicio Profesional” & “Pagos Institucionales”. So basically, what you pay the architect and what you pay the institution.

Servicio Profesional:

1. Estudios Preliminares y Anteproyecto: This is the basic pre-study on the project. Flat fee of 1% of the value of the home and/or project. They usually want 50% up front and then paid if full upon completion of the project.

2. Planos Constructivos y Especificaciones Técnicas: 4% is the basic fee for this. The is the creation of the actual plans and designs of the home/project. This is usually the one of the most expensive and most validated work.

3. Inspection: *This is when they come and visit the site to check off on it and then register it in their legal book. They are generally suppose to visit three times. From my experience, they have never visited the my sites but charged me. Or they cam one time instead of three. I am not sure of the % for this section of service. It was not listed in my quote. I am certain that you can negotiate this part.

4. Direccion Tecnica:  5% fee for this part. This is when the architect takes full responsibility of the Costa Rican Construction. He/she will write an official log entry explaining the construction and it’s progress as well as when it has been completed.


Pagos Institucionales:

5. Visado del Colegio Ingenieros y Arquitectos, incluida la Bitácora de Obra:  .265% of the value of the home/project. This is the service and registration of the plans to the Municipality.

6. Administracion a APC + Bitacora:  Flat fee of $47. This is for the on-line registration and use of the “Bitacora” system. This is the actual Log that is used during the process of construction.

7. Formularios de SETENA Y ESTUDIO DE IMPACTO AMBIENTAL:  *This is only of large projects, multiple dwellings and projects that will have an effect on the environment.

8. Poliza de Riesgos Profesionales del INS (monto incluido en el costo de la obra):  1.71% Fee goes to the Municipality for the paperwork and registration of the policy, not the fee for the policy. This is the Insurance policy for your workers. They will charge a .068% of what you are paying your workers. So if you are paying two guys 100,000 per week, then they will charge you around 168,000 for a three month period to cover both workers.

9. Impuesto Municipal por Construcción: This is a 1% tax on construction. It will be 2% if you begin building before you get permission.

10. Ingeniero Electrico:  This is a flat fee of 100,000 colones. This is the explanation of the type of cable and electric layout of the home/project.


The permits for shipping container homes vary in accordance to where you live. What County, what state and what county.

There is no way you can write a book or explain this in a general way. There is a tremendous variation of stick rules and regulations in home building, regardless of the type of home.

Yes, Container home construction permits are greatly different than traditional home building, but still complicated.

If you are trying to avoid permits and stay away from the complicated application, inspection and review aspect then you need to build something that closely resembles an RV. Recreational Vehicle.

Home on wheels.

I have met some container home construction contractors in Austin Texas that purposely place wheels on 20ft ISO containers to qualify for different permits.

These “wheels” are a category similar and in most cases identical to food truck and RVs, there are none.

Now for food trucks the owner will still need Health and business permits.

In all of the above cases, your container home will need its own “in house” electricity, water and septic. Once you connect outside the box, you will most likely need some permit. However, these are generally quite easy and vary greatly depending on where you live.

So you break it down to the three main things:

  1. Water
  2. Electricity
  3. Septic

Electricity can be easy if you use low watt bulbs and kitchen accessories.

Lights are easy, the toaster oven uses up a lot, but not too much energy and forget about AC units. The refrigerator can be run off of propane, just like in the RVs. In fact that is where you would search for one.

The water can be portable, stored and or collected of the roof then filtered.

You would just want to install low usage faucets through out the home. You would also need a gray water collection unit somewhere on the home.

Septic can be identical to the RV home.

The information above should work in most places, now lets talk about Costa Rica.


In Costa Rica you would need the following:

Electricity: Contact ICE, get your poles and installation system set up, someone local can do this. All the material cost under $200. The installation should be between $50-75. Remember you need cement.

Water: Contact AyA. They will need some of your information and also request that a structure exists on your property. They will not just hook up water with out anything there. This is real cheap, almost free.

Septic: Go to the Municipality and put in a request for septic. I believe it is $30 and takes a few days. Then hire someone to dig you a hole and put in the right stuff. This right stuff depends on how much you want to spend and what type you want. It is best to ask around your town for some quotes and advise. We did ours with a backhoe and a giant cylinder that the backhoe had to lower in the hole he created.

Then we put a lid on it. Total cost including backhoe: Under $200.

So for now that is all I have for you.