Find out how to establish and register a business in Costa Rica, with details of licenses and taxes that must be paid...
After selecting the type of corporation, the company's by-laws should be drafted by a solicitor or notary public, notarised and then filed in the business section of the public registry (registro). The registry checks to see whether the name is in use and then assigns a corporate identification number (cedula persona juridica). The corporate name may be in English, but it must be translated into Spanish in the articles of incorporation.
Simultaneously a legal announcement containing the name of the corporation and its capital stock is published in Costa Rica's legal newspaper of public record, La Gaceta (in Spanish). Required fees for public registration will vary with the amount of the corporation's capital stock.
Taxes and Operating Licenses
Once a corporation has been publicly registered, a tax identification number must be obtained from Costa Rica's Ministry of Finance (Tributación Directa) and an annual fee must be paid. Annual fees recently have been about US$360 for corporations and about US$180 for inactive corporations. An active company is one that is transacting business; an inactive company is generally one that holds title to a property or vehicle and does not conduct commercial activities. The tax is pegged to changes in certain government salaries.
- For additional information: Click here (in Spanish)
Corporations must file their tax returns at the close of their financial year (usually 30 September). A Costa Rican corporation is only taxed on income earned in Costa Rica (although this may change as the Costa Rica Assembly is actively discussing new revenue sources). Larger corporations are taxed on income at a 30 percent rate. Smaller companies are taxed at rates between 10 to 20 percent of income.
Registration for tax
Proof of tax registration is necessary to obtain an operating license. The operating license (or patente) must be obtained from the municipality (municipalidad) where the business is physically located before operations commence. Check for specific requirements from the city, but the applicant is likely to need to present: all of the incorporation documents, the company registration, the operating license forms (Solicitud de Patente Comercial), a zoning certificate of the property (to make sure the business use is permitted), a utility bill confirming the building's location, and an indication of registration for workers' compensation insurance (Poliza de Riesgos del Trabajo) obtained from the national insurance company.
The World Bank estimates that Costa Rican municipal permits generally take at least 18 days to process. However, the length of time will vary depending upon business type, requirements and the municipality. Not all municipalities operate rapidly or efficiently. Check the municipality's website to find applications and forms.
Many types of businesses require specific operating licenses or permits. The Costa Rica Health Department issues health permits (Permiso Sanitario de Funcionamiento) for food and hygiene-related businesses including restaurants. Required liquor licenses (permisos) are also obtained from the municipality where the bar or restaurant is located. Initial and annual fees may vary by location.
Almost all expatriates in Costa Rica will at some time hire workers, either for a business they start or for jobs they require to be performed within their homes. Therefore it is important to know the country's labor laws.
The employer must register their employees with the Social Security Administration (Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social or Caja). The employer is required to deduct nine percent from the employee's salary and contribute an additional 26 percent for employee social benefits that include medical care, disability, and retirement benefits.
- For more information: Click here (in Spanish)
Part-time and casual workers
Take note of the laws pertaining to part-time or one-time workers (for example, a gardener, a tree trimmer, a repair person). The homeowner may be responsible for their well-being while on the property. Check that they have accident insurance. Accident insurance is available on a case-by-case basis from the national insurance agency.
Any statements concerning starting a business are based upon our understanding of current laws and practices in Costa Rica which are subject to change. While every effort has been made to offer information that is current, correct and clearly expressed the publisher is not responsible for the results of actions taken on the basis of information contained in this summary, nor for any errors or omissions. Readers are encouraged to seek professional advice concerning specific matters before making any decision.