Importing Used and New Household Goods and Appliances

If you do your homework, importing household goods to Costa Rica is smooth and pretty much painless. If you do not do your homework, it can easily become an expensive nightmare! 

Understanding the rules here is important. Customs is a collection agency for the Government, just as Customs is in the USA or in almost any country.

All of us know the importance of getting good advise when dealing with taxes. With Customs, it's exactly the same. Import duties ARE taxes, so you need to learn how to avoid (NOT EVADE) these taxes.

The Costa Rican Customs Law has three articles that cover the importation of USED household goods and personal effects and the duties will vary depending on how and when you import your goods.  This means that the same items will be exonerated under one article and will be taxed under another article of the Customs Law. The difference depends on how and when you import them.  It's important to understand each article in order to take advantage of them and to not incur needlessly high import duties.


Article 1 - Regulates the importation of luggage carried by (i.e. traveling with) the person entering Costa Rica.

The definition of luggage according to Custom is : The items of personal use or items needed in the exercise of the travelers profession during the trip as long as they are not intended for resale or other commercial use and are carried with the traveler.

These include:

  • Clothing , jewels, purses, umbrellas...
  • Prescription drugs, over the counter drugs, food, instruments, medical apparatus of hygiene , toiletries and disposables used with these.
  • Wheelchair if disabled, stroller and toys if a child.
  • Sporting goods such as muscular tension machines, walkers, bicycles, exercycle, surfboards, sail boards, kayaks, balls, clothing, shoes, tennis rackets , golf clubs, fishing poles, etc.
  • One video camera, one photo camera, one film camera, one tape recorder and its accessories, up to 6 rolls of film or magnetic tape, one radio receiver, one portable TV, one set of binoculars or portable telescope, ALL PORTABLE ITEMS.
  • One portable personal computer, one portable typewriter, one calculator.
  • Tools, supplies and manual instruments pertinent to the trade or profession of the traveler as long as they do not constitute a complete set of work shops, offices, laboratories or similar.
  • Musical instruments and accessories as long as they are portable.
  • Books, discs, CD's, photographs for none commercial use.
  • 500 Grams of Tobacco, 5 liter of wine or hard liquor per adult traveler and up to 2 Kilos of Candy.

The items have to fulfill following criteria in order to be exempt of duties.

  • They have to be for personal use.  ( In other words its not to be given to another person )
  • They are not intended for resale or commercial use (You are not supposed to sell, rent, lease or make any form of profit )
  • The quantity has to be reasonable in relation to the length of stay for the consumable items. (You can bring a bottle of cologne or more than one if they are different, but you can not bring a dozen of the same , same goes for clothing and all other consumables etc. )
  • The items are to be carried (traveling) with the person as luggage , therefore they have to designed and made to be portable. ( A portable TV with handle and rabbit ears would meet the criteria a table top model would not. Because the items have to be carried by the traveler you can not ship them on another vessel (car, bus, boat or airplane) and import them under this Customs Law article article.

Only adult travelers have this right. The age is 18 years for an adult in Costa Rica.


Article 2 regulates the importation of articles not considered luggage and traveling with the person or sent as unaccompanied luggage.

Every person entering Costa Rica is allowed to import $500 worth of goods (new or used) free of import duties once every 6 months.  This rule ALSO applies to persons living here!  This can be very important if you buy items mail order from the US and have them sent to Costa Rica.  Most of the private mail companies here in Costa Rica will track this deduction for you and this can save you a lot of money.

The criteria are:

The importer has to be an adult and must have entered the country within the last 90 days.

On new items proof of value ( invoice) has to be presented.

Your passport will be stamped so you can not do it again for 180 days. (Unless you change your passport).


Article 3 regulates the import to Costa Rica of used household goods when shipped to you.

This is the law that regulates the moving of furniture, appliances, and all other household and personal items that you have shipped from your home country to Costa Rica.

The criteria are:

  • The importer must have entered the country within 90 days prior to clearing Customs.
  • The items must be for personal use and can not be intended for resale.
  • The items must be used. ( Used means more then 6 months old)
  • The importer has to be an adult.

If the shipment meets these criteria, the following items are exempt of duties:

  • Personal effects such as clothes, shoes, purses.
  • Personal pictures, videos and CD.
  • Hand tools for household use.
  • Portable gym equipment.

All other items pay the same percentage of duties as new items.  This does not mean they pay the same amount in duties.

Helpful Info:

  1. Books are exempt of duties no matter how they are shipped.
  2. As long as the items are used and you meet the criteria you can declare the value of the items without having to provide proof of the value.
  3. Duties will be based on the CIF value of the goods.   CIF=Cost+Insurance+Freight.  Because of this, the amount you pay in freight will affect the duties. Most of the times its better to ship more because the more you ship the lower the shipping costs per weight of volume and therefore the lower proportional duties you are going to pay.
  4. If you insure the shipment and the insured amount is printed on the Bill of Lading, you will have to pay duties on the insured amount.  Ask your mover about how and where this information may be available and who can see it.




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