Everything You need to know about buying and owning a car in Costa Rica
When you decide to buy real estate and move to Costa Rica, another decision is whether to ship your car or buy one after the move. While straightforward, importing a car to Costa Rica can be expensive because of high duties and fees. You can expect to pay approximately 52% of value for SUVs, cars and pickups less than 3 years old, 64% for cars 4 – 5 years old and 79% for cars 6 years and older, as determined by the Costa Rican government. For the same reason, buying a car, even used, in Costa Rica will also be more expensive than it is in the States.
Expect a new car in Costa Rica to be about 30% more expensive than in the U.S. The Ministry of Finance, Customs sets the taxes, at their sole discretion, based on value, shipping and insurance costs. You can check the tax due on any model at their website (Spanish only). Some manufacturers make and sell models for the Costa Rican market, with specially tuned engines, motor sizes and suspension. Check the popularity of the make and model on the used market; Toyota, Suzuki and Mitsubishi are the most popular. Popular models have more spare parts and qualified mechanics available. Frequently, new cars are last year’s overseas model, not necessarily a bad thing, just be aware of what you’re buying.
Used cars are available from a variety of sources. You’re more likely to find the best dealers in and around San José. Online CRAutos.com and Craigslist Costa Rica are good resources; many ex pats sell their cars online before they leave the country. It’s best to look for a used car just landed from the U.S. Many used car dealers buy vehicles at auction from places like Texas. If you will move to a rural or isolated area, consider a high-clearance SUV with four-wheel drive.
Know your seller, especially in a private party deal. You can check the title in the vehicle section of the Public Registry (Registro Nacional) to make sure you’re dealing with the owner and there are no outstanding fees. Ask around about the dealer’s reputation—the same with a service center. Buying from a used car dealer means a 30-day warranty on the engine and suspension and dealers sometimes offer financing.
Hire an attorney or notary public to handle the transaction. For a small fee, he’ll handle the paperwork and make sure the Revisión Técnica de Vehiculos (RTV, annual inspection certificate) and marchamo (registration/road tax) are current. For a used car, seller provides the original car title (Certificado de Propiedad) and both parties need proof of identity. The attorney or notary will create a bill of sale (Escritura de Traspaso) for everyone’s signature and have the title recorded in the registry. After about a month, you’ll receive the new title.
Ask your Realtor for advice or an introduction at the local dealerships. Ask other ex pats if they know about any private sales. It’s a good idea to consider cars from your area. You’ll soon be on the road.