The REAL Costa Rica

Bring Your Car or Buy in Costa Rica?

Should I bring my car to Costa Rica when I move (or visit long-term), 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 generally not a good idea to bring your car here.  We tend to like our cars, and parting with them is often difficult.  So is making the decision to bring or buy.

When you bring a car to Costa Rica by any means, driving, shipping it, etc. you are charged import duties.  HUGE import duties.  The import duty on a used car here runs from 45% to 70% of THE RETAIL VALUE of that car!  That is NOT the Blue book, Black book or any other color book.  It is the "Costa Rica book", and it is not cheap.  To be clear, that is BOOK price, NOT the price you paid for it in your home country.

On a $20,000 used car, that's from $10,000 to $14,000 in duties depending on the age of the car!. Newer cars actually have MORE duty and older cars have less... older meaning maybe ten years old.  Also, just to be clear... if you own it (it is titled), it is a used car.

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

Finally, once it is here, you will still need to have it inspected, pay your Marchamo, and insurance.  Ugh!  With those costs, you better REALLY be in love with the old wagon.

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.

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

OK... all negatives right? Yeah, but here is the "other 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! That ain't shabby!

So by my analysis, bringing an older car where you will not get soaked for a huge 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. I cannot see how bringing a late model car could ever work to your advantage though.

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

To buy a 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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