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Real Estate FAQ | River setbacks in Costa Rica are unbuildable

River setbacks are restricted areas of property surrounding the rivers and creeks in Costa Rica. The law strictly prohibits to build any roads or structures on river setbacks.

Prohibited also are excavation, alteration, improvement, grading, landfill, paving, and storage. INVU controls the river setbacks, so they can protect the riverbeds against destruction.

Looking to purchase a property on or with a river? Check river property in our inventory here.

How much setback?

INVU is in charge of certifying all river setbacks in Costa Rica. The minimum distance of setbacks is 10 meters and the maximum is 50 meters. The distance depends on the size of the river and on the topography of the riverbanks.

To certify the river setback of a property, take one certification of the survey map and 2 copies to INVU. You can get these survey maps (without reduction) at the Catastro (National Registry). Then INVU will stamp the survey map with a note of the length of the setback from the river.

Buy property with a setback?

First of all, request from the property owner a river setback certification by INVU.

Second, we recommend hiring a topographer or surveyor to check the boundaries of the property you are buying. Also, request the surveyor to stake out the setbacks to the river or creek, so you know exactly what your limitations are.

Also, ask the surveyor to check if the property boundary is on the riverbank (on which side) or in the river.

Cleaning the property

Article 58 of the Forest Law, penalizes destruction in the river setback of a property with 3-months – 3-year jail. Therefore, be aware that property owners cannot touch the river setback. It is prohibited to cut any trees or bulldozer the property. Also, property owners cannot build a dock on the river either.

Other setbacks

Springs and water wells also have setbacks. Again, nothing can be built on this setback. These are regulated by Sipeco and Dirección de Agua.

Springs have a setback of 100 meters (328 feet) radius and 200 meters when the water feeds a community

Registered wells have a legal setback of a 40-meter (131 feet) radius.

Bank financing

Are you getting bank financing for the purchase of a property with river setbacks? Land, marked as a river setback, receive a low bank appraisal. Take that into account when negotiating the property.

Existing Buildings

Are there any existing buildings within the river setback? The municipality can certify if you can remodel those existing buildings or not. Those structures might have been built without permits or before the river setbacks were regulated.

Retainer Walls

Is there any danger that the river will wash the property away? As much as you would like, it is prohibited to build a retainer wall in the river without a special permit. Special permits to build a retainer wall can only be given by the National Emergency Commission (CNE).

Looking to purchase a property with a river in Costa Rica? Hire a real estate professional, contact us.


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Ivo Henfling

Your West-side of San Jose real estate agent, covering Escazu and Santa Ana, Rohrmoser and Ciudad Colon.If you are looking to buy a home in Costa Rica or invest in a condo anywhere in the Central Valley or looking for any property for sale in Escazu or Santa Ana, you need to contact Costa Rica real estate agent Ivo Henfling. Ivo has been selling Costa Rica real estate on the westside of San Jose, in the locations of Rohrmoser, Sabana, Escazu, Santa Ana and Ciudad Colon for over 20 years and can show you hundreds of happy buyers of real estate in Escazu and those other areas. For Ivo, a deal is not a good one unless both buyer and seller are happy.

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