Dealing with Contractors in Costa Rica

Enjoy this interesting guest post from Jason Mueller offering viewpoints on the pros and cons of residential construction in Costa Rica:

Chances are if you are reading this, you are new to Costa Rica or possibly thinking about making the big move to paradise to build your dream home and live a stress free life. After all you have heard that Costa Rica is supposed to be the happiest place on earth. What could go wrong? I’m sure everything in your mind will be just “pura vida”.

The truth is that if you are planning on building a new house, business, “cabina” or even a “rancho”  in Costa Rica things can go seriously wrong when dealing with contractors. So you thought that dealing with contractors in the USA, Canada and Europe was a pain in the butt? Well, “bienvenido a Costa Rica” welcome to Costa Rica. Hiring a contractor in the land of “pura vida” has its pros and cons, mostly cons but hopefully you get lucky and find one of the few reliable contractors in this small country.

Costa Rica sloth hanging in tree
Living the Pura Vida


So, it’s Day 1 and your backhoe is supposed to show up at 7 am to flatten your proposed area and the machine is nowhere to be found. It seems you did get lucky on this day because your construction crew did show up, at least most of them and they are really happy because they can’t do any work. The foreman calls the backhoe company all morning but there is no answer. Don’t worry the backhoe will show up in a few days with no heads up when you least expect it and your crew is drinking Imperials at the beach.  You’re only a week behind schedule at this point. Time to go to the beach, take a deep breath and remember why you moved to paradise

“Ticos” are notorious for always being late or just not showing up at all. You would expect a courteously phone call but in this case they will just turn their phone off so they don’t have to deal with you. After all you are the annoying “gringo” that expects things to be on time, “pura vida mae”.

If your one of those persons who pays attention to the fine details then you better do the finishing touches yourself or hire a professional expat living in the country. Costa Rican’s have a tendency to overlook fine details and to be honest some can be downright lazy. This isn’t true for every “Tico” but generally speaking this is true. Sure the wood could have used a finer sanding and they could have use the proper diamond bit to cut a nice round hole for the plumbing but in their eyes it’s good enough, after all they are way behind schedule and you want this job done, right?

The scariest part about hiring a contractor in Costa Rica is the fact that they most likely didn’t get any formal school training or a proper apprenticeship. The electricians, for the most part, aren’t actually electricians because they don’t have a ticket but neither does the plumber or the carpenter. If all else fails they can always become a real estate agent, again with no license. 

Another important fact that you need to know when building in Costa Rica is that the property owner is responsible to pay the “Caja” for all the workers on his or her land. The “Caja” is social security or public health care and technically speaking everyone legally working in Costa Rica needs to pay the “Caja”. Generally speaking, the total amount paid to “Caja” will be about 12% of their wage, the employer pays about half and the employee pays the other half. This changes depending on how much the worker makes but for the wages the construction workers make this is a good ball park figure. Also, FYI, even legal residents need to pay into the “Caja”

It is always advisable to be present on the job otherwise things won’t get done the way you want. This can be very time consuming and frustrating but not as frustrating as living in a house that isn’t to your standards.


The wages are significantly lower than traditional trained workers in other countries. You can hire a “carpenter” for around $20 a day, which would barely pay a typical carpenters coffee break in the USA.  Below are the minimum wages for Costa Rica, don’t be surprised if your crew wants more than the minimum wage. Beware of a contractor that hires Nicaraguans and is charging you a higher than minimum wage for his workers. Those workers are most likely illegal and are willing to work for less, around $400 a month.

table of minimum wages in Costa Rica
Minimum wages for various types of labor

Workers here are generally easy to get along with and very happy so you should at least have a few good laughs along the way. 
There are some skilled workers in the country, especially when it comes to woodworking. Some of the wood that is grown here is beautiful. Teak is one wood that sticks out and can add a fine touch to your home. There are other beautiful woods like Cristobal and the national tree Guanacaste but be careful because these woods are protected and illegal to transport.

Teak flooring in Costa Rica
Teak (teca) Flooring
In the end, once all the hassles are finished, you are living in an amazing country with a great climate. Time to sit back, relax and watch the sun set. Always remember the reasons why Costa Rica is such a great place to live. PURA VIDA!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post Jason. I've heard cons like you mention above, but I guess we've been extremely lucky as the Ticos in our area are generally punctual and hard-working. They also don't mind at all forgoing the Caja contributions. They like cash and not to have to share it with the gov't. :)


Thanks so much for your comment! - Casey