Bring Your Car or Buy in Costa Rica?

Should I bring my car to Costa Rica when I move or should I just buy one there?

This is one of the most asked questions by people planning to move here, and the answer is it is whatever you want, but you need to know the rules first and of course, the costs involved. 

Having a car that you know and have kept in good conditions can be comforting, but the cost for the privilege may be more than you wish to spend.

First, you should always make sure that the car you own now can be serviced here and that parts are readily available.

Now, before we begin, remember that the import duties mentioned below apply only to those who decide to bring their vehicle here permanently, i.e. more than 90 days. There are no import duties if you stray less than 90- days, BUT, the high cost of getting your vehicle here and back home again might well be more expensive than a renting a car.

When you bring a car to Costa Rica by any means, driving, shipping it, etc. you are charged import duties.  The import duty on a used car here runs from 52% to 79% of the value of your car. Where does that value come from? Right Here. So you need to do the math first before deciding.

Next, add about $500.00 to $800.00 for freight charges to have it shipped from the US to Puerto Limon Or the Port of Caldera where you will pick it up.


Finally, once it is here, you will still need to have it inspected, pay your Marchamo. The car will also need emissions certifications.

Next, models of cars in the USA and other countries are not the same as here. Some are not offered... some have different model names.  I owned a Toyota Avalon in the US, and it is not even sold here. That means parts might be a problem. Sure, some parts might be interchangeable but others may need to be ordered. Check first.

Finally, any warranty that you have or would have on a US purchased automobile (new or used) is very likely not valid here. Check first!

There are companies that specialize in the shipment of vehicles, trucks, and motorcycles to Costa Rica. If the whole idea of international transport makes you queasy, perhaps consider checking them out.

OK... all negatives right? Yeah, but here is the good thing! Cars hold their value here far more than in any other country I know of. For example, I purchased a 2003 Mitsubishi Lancer in late 2002 for $17,500 (US). I have since sold it, but at the time of sale, it still went for $12.500! It was about $8,000 in the US. That ain't shabby!

So by my analysis, bringing an older car where you will not get soaked for an import duty might just not be a bad idea, but you must do the math, check for parts availability etc. before you make this decision.

So how do you know how much will be the import duty? Ask your Costa Rica mover.

To buy a new or used car here, I recommend a dealer, used or new, and make SURE you have the car inspected by a competent mechanic before you sign the papers.  It must be able to pass the Inspection.  If not, there could be a lot of hidden expenses. 

A private sale is not out of the questions, but then, the mechanic's inspection is even more important.  The best prices are always in the Spanish language newspapers like La Nación. Also, there is a ton of paperwork buying a car here and the dealer will do all the footwork.

Also, for pricing or buying, check out some online sources CR Autos.

Also see Owning a Car in Costa Rica

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