Expat Decisions- Should You Import Your Car, or Buy One in Costa Rica?
One of the most common concerns among soon to be expats moving to Costa Rica is acquiring transportation. While owning a car isn’t always a necessity – there are plenty of ways to get around without one – it is convenient, and it does give you a sense of freedom.
Once a decision is made to own a car in Costa Rica, the next question is inevitably: should I import my car, or buy a car in Costa Rica?
At first glance, this appears to be a no-brainer. Cars are quite expensive in Costa Rica, with some models costing double or even triple the price they would be sold for in the United States. It would seem logical to ship your own car, particularly if it is an older model vehicle.
However, there are a few important factors to consider before deciding to ship your car. First is the shipping fee, which typically varies between $600 and $1000. This may seem a nominal amount to pay, and alone it wouldn’t be enough to dissuade the average person from shipping his or her car. The real sticking point, however, is Costa Rica’s import tax, which can be significant.
Costa Rica charges an import fee that can be up to 85 percent of the car’s estimated value. This does not mean the Blue Book value or the price you paid for it, minus depreciation – it means the value the Costa Rican government estimates it to have. If that estimated value is exorbitantly high, you can end up paying more than your car is worth, just in import fees.
Your car will have to pass inspection upon arrival – if it doesn’t, you will have the added expense of updating it to Costa Rican standards, without the benefit of personally knowing a reliable and trustworthy mechanic. There is also the possibility of damage or theft during your car’s transit, which most freight insurance doesn’t cover.
There are some situations in which it may be beneficial to import your car. If your car has been highly modified and the value has greatly increased from the original car, it may be a wise decision to have it shipped, as the Costa Rican government doesn’t consider modifications when assessing a car’s value. Shipping might also be a good choice if your car is an older model that only cost a few thousand dollars (as long as you know that it will pass inspection), or if it is a model that is popular and well-known in Costa Rica. Because cars depreciate very slowly and cost much more in Costa Rica, you may make money if you decide to sell it.
If you do buy a car in Costa Rica, make sure it is sold from a dealership, receives a thorough inspection and is looked over carefully by a qualified mechanic before purchasing it.