The Professionals in Costa Rica - Attorneys, Accountants, and others
Just like every other country in the world, Costa Rica has a ton of lawyers (about 16,000), accountants, CPA's, architects and so on.
I would like to say that all of them are well trained, honest people who will look out for your interests, protect you from harm, charge reasonable prices for work performed, and generally be "good people". I'd like to say that, but I cannot.
I constantly hear stories of people, Ticos and foreigners, getting ripped off by these people. MOST of the complaints center around the lawyers. Bet that comes as a surprise, huh? For that reason, I am going to concentrate on them as a group.
Why are there so many complaints? I do not know this is the reason, but I believe it is because there is little accountability. Most lawyers here are Notaries as well, and THAT is an important distinction. Lawyers really can't do much here, but a Notary has tremendous power. Notaries have enormous powers in the public registries and other goverment offices. They can change ownership in a thrice. A notary with your power-of-attorney can either be a life saver or rob you blind.
I have personally been blessed by have pretty good legal counsel and my CPA does a fine job. I am pretty sure the services they have performed were done properly. Saying that, they have only formed corporations and created financial statements for me or my companies. Forming a corporation is a pretty simple matter just as it is in the US. Paying taxes is pretty straightforward as well, but requires a good accountant or CPA to make sure it is done right and on time.
Lawyers in Costa Rica
An interesting statistic is that one half of 16,000 or so licensed attorneys have been issued in the past eight years. Clearly, this means that many attorneys do not have extensive experience in law.
All attorneys in Costa Rica must be a member of Colegio de Abogados. If the attorney is also a Notary, he must be registered at the Dirección Nacional de Notariado, which is actually administered by the court system. Complaints can be made against a lawyer who has violated the code of ethics set by the colegio. Once a complaint is filed, the allegation will be investigated by the inspectors’ office . Lawyers can be disciplined, and in fact there is a web site that list those attorneys who have been disciplined. All notarys must be attorneys, but all attorneys are not notarys.
So how do you find the good ones?
The answer is you must do your homework. The three greatest reasons that most foreigners need attorneys are for the formation or corporations for business, or the holding or property and real estate transactions, handling the purchase of real estate property in Costa Rica, and residency. Seldom have I found one attorney who is good at all three, but I am sure they exist.
When looking for an attorney, you need to gather personal references from people whom you have met in Costa Rica. For many newcomers, there has not been the opportunity to meet enough people to get references. For that reason, and well before you make the move to Costa Rica, get busy on the Internet and start making contacts. Here, you want to find people who have actually lived here for more than 2-3 years. Obviously, the best ones are people who have done what you will be doing! Buying a house, building, etc. There are some great online resources here, and I suggest you use them.
ALWAYS recall that just because a per speaks your language does not make him your friend.
Once you have met these people, online and in person or at newcomers clubs, etc. start obtaining a list of candidates. Check the web site above to see if they have been disciplined. Ask others who have used them. Ask how the person giving you the reference met them.
Remember that notaries here make all the entries in the National Registry, and this places them in an astonishingly powerful position.
CPA's and Accountants in Costa Rica
CPA's here are of course accountants, but no not need to spend years in public accounting before they become CPA's. Here, you want someone who is careful, knows the tax laws and how they affect you, and has experience. I have never heard of a complaint against a CPA, but that means little.
CPA's here are astonishingly inexpensive, and I find them invaluable to cut through the never ending crappola that is the Costa Rican system of taxation.
Taxes in Costa Rica (and the USA)
Tax laws here are complex. If you own or operate a business here, you probably must pay taxes. Additionally, if you own a corporation of ANY type, you will need to file returns. Don't mess with this. It is a non-event if you are pro-active and a disaster if you screw around and fail to file.
If you are a US Citizen and even if you are living permanently in Costa Rica, you may find you still have some tax obligation to deal with. There are several CPA's in Costa Rica who advertise regularly and who can assist you with this. Of course you can always use the bean counter you left behind, though that may not always be convenient. I would urge US Citizens to read the section on Paying US taxes as an Expatriate.
Architects in Costa Rica
I do hear complaints about architects from time to time. Many of these seem to be because the architect was hired by the contractor, and there is just lousy communications between the client and the architect. Avoid this by finding your own architect who will work with you. Also, if you do speak Spanish, this adds a layer of communications problems that you may have to overcome.
The one thing that IS mentioned a lot is that the architects here build to Costa Rica standards. IN a few ways, this may be better than the average US home... earthquake protection might be an example. But if you want your home here to look like your home in your old country, you may have do do some serious investigating. What you should NOT do is believe the ads saying they build "American Style Homes". Go and SEE 2-3 of the homes they designed and maybe built and ask the owners for their thoughts.