Usually the question “where to start?” pops up when doing business in Costa Rica. Leasing, renting, or purchasing land or using office space in Costa Rica are without a doubt one of the first things that come into mind. Location is deeply connected to the Municipality where your business will be based and the Municipal Operation Permit (“Patente”) that must be obtained and paid first before doing business in Costa Rica.

Many foreign companies or individuals start businesses in the country and assume that as long as the registration of their companies or corporations in Costa Rica and for them to be active, they do not need any other permits for operation. Some others believe that just the fact that the premises they are renting already have permits automatically means that such permits are extensive to their operations. These assumptions are wrong, since the Municipal Operation permit is specific to the Costa Rican company’s operation and must always be requested if such operation is performed in a physical location.

Local Governments in Costa Rica, as independent autonomous entities, collect different taxes. One of such taxes is collected through the Municipal Operation Permit in Costa Rica. The Municipal Operation Permit requires obtaining a set of other previous permits such as: Zoning, Health and Environmental Permit, depending on your activity. The Zoning Permit will involve a review of authorized uses, based on the location of the property and the different commercial uses that the Municipality has previously authorized for that specific location. The Health and Environmental Permits require filing a set of corporate and legal documents, studies, sworn statements and forms before the Ministry of Health and The Technical Secretary of Environment (SETENA), respectively, depending on the specific activity.

The permitting procedure is a set a step-by-step process that requires dealing with the first layer or permit in order for the following layers to be approved. The Workers’ Compensation Policy (“Seguro de Riesgos del Trabajo”) must be obtained through the National Insurance Agency (INS) of Costa Rica before requesting the permit, as this is also a requirement for obtaining the Municipal Operation Permit. It must be pointed out that your business operations cannot start until the Municipal Operation Permit, which is the last permit of this chain, is issued. Otherwise, your business can be subject to closing.