Importing Vs Buying a Car in Costa Rica - HRG Costa Rica Vacations
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Importing Vs Buying a Car in Costa Rica

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What to consider when deciding to import or buy a vehicle in Costa Rica


You’ve just moved to Costa Rica, and while you love the country and are busy immersing yourself in the fantastic new culture, one thing is becoming increasingly clear: it would be much easier if you had a car to aid in your exploration. But should you import your own car from the States? Or sell it and buy yourself a new vehicle once you’ve relocated?

Importing your own car

cars and ship 2You already have your own car, paid off and title in your name. It should be easy to pop it on a freight carrier and pick it up in Costa Rica, right? Not so fast.

Even if you outright own your vehicle, you are facing big time taxes to bring it into Costa Rica. First up are the import duties, which will range anywhere from 50-80% of the retail value of your car. This isn’t the Kelly Blue Book value, either; the Costa Rican government sets this value, and it’s typically much higher than that of the KBB.

Next, you’ll need to take shipping into consideration. There are two main ports of entry that your car is likely to come in to in Costa Rica: Puerto Limón on the Atlantic, or Puerto Caldera on the Pacific. Depending on your location, your car will probably leave the United States either from Miami or Los Angeles. Total costs for shipping your car will be between $800-$1300 and up. Additionally, your car will be subjected to tests to ensure emission standards are met before shipping even occurs.

Once your car arrives safely in Costa Rica, you’ll need to register your car, and pay the Marchamo, or the mandatory liability insurance. This is not a small expense, either, and even on older vehicle is looking at $200 and up. While not mandatory, you may wish to take out additional auto insurance as well, which runs at rates much higher than in the States. All said and done, you may have paid nearly what your car is worth in just getting it to you.

Buying a car in Costa Rica

If the costs of shipping your own vehicle and getting it road ready in Costa Rica are just too much for you, buying a vehicle may be a viable option. This isn’t to say the buying process is without its difficulties as well.

Locating a vehicle for sale, in good working condition, and for a fair price are hard enough, but if you’re not fluent in Spanish, the language barrier can make it all the more difficult. If you have a Spanish-speaking friend or family member willing to help you navigate the process, jump at their offer of aid.

If you’re having trouble locally finding a car, searching online is always a great option, provided you know where to look. Two such resources are Encuentra24, online newspaper classifieds, and CRAutos, where auto dealers post what they have available. Buying from a certified dealer is always preferred to a private sale, as there is much less of a possibility of things going wrong.

Once you’ve located a vehicle you like, test drive it to a trusted mechanic. This step is vital in ensuring that everything with the car is on the up-and-up. Finally, check with the National Registry of license plate numbers. Cars in Costa Rica are issued one and only one plate for the lifetime of the vehicle, and you can run it on the registry to determine if there have been any problems. As with importing your own car, if you buy one in the country, you’ll still need to make sure that the inspection and Marchamo are current.

To complete the sale, you’ll need a notary public or lawyer to make the title transfer legal. They’ll also be able to help you with the bill of sale, and in getting your paperwork for your new title filed.

Whether you chose to buy a new car when you relocate to Costa Rica, or bring your own over, having access to a vehicle will help you to make the most of your time in the country, and allow you to explore further than you would otherwise. Take some time to look at all of the possibilities, and enjoy your new mobility once you’re on the road!


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