The Zona Maritime Terestre was established in 1977 and defines the beach zone in Costa Rica.
The first 200 meters from mean high tide is owned by the state. The first 50 meters is public domain and cannot be occupied or developed privately.
You are not purchasing the land, you are purchasing the right to use the land as granted by the government. Further, this right to use the land is only granted to a corporation. The corporation then owns the right to use the land.
Foreigners have the right to own a corporation (called a "cession de derechos") in Costa Rica for such purposes.
Typically, you will simply purchase the existing corporation that is attached to the beachfront property. You purchase the corporation, and that corporation comes with the use of land for which you are assuming.
Alternatively, you can draw up your own new corporation with the assistance of your lawyer, but there is a bit more paperwork involved. The right to use the land would then be transferred from the existing corporation, to your new corporation.
All corporations at time of purchase must be at least 50% owned by a Costa Rican. This can be someone you know personally, or your lawyer can help find someone suitable.
After the transaction, the shares owned by the Costa Rican are immediately transferred back to you in the lawyer's office so you actually own 100% of the corporation.
All corporation documents are notarized by a lawyer and the shares are registered in the private registry of Costa Rica. These acts or books are very important documents showing your purchase and are normally kept in your lawyer's office for safe keeping.
This type of property is not for everyone. Many have too many unsettled feelings and just do not want to be part of it. Yet 90% of the beaches are owned by foreigners with this process. I have held my property for 21 years in this manner and sleep very good at night!
We provide English speaking lawyers to explain this process further and if you decide to purchase your beachfront property or house.