Owning a Vehicle in Costa Rica: Is Shipping Your Car Better Than Buying a Car Locally?

If you are in the process of deciding whether or not to ship your car to your home in Costa Rica, we have some tips and information for you. Here we share with you the structure for both shipping a car to Costa Rica and buying a new or used car locally.

Buying a car in Costa Rica

You have basically three avenues to follow for purchasing a car in Costa Rica. You can buy new from an internationally known car brand dealership, which honestly, will give you the most peace of mind. You can look for a used car on your own through message boards and word of mouth or, lastly, you can hire a third party seller to locate and manage the purchase for you.

There are quite a few things to know about car ownership in Costa Rica. There is an annual inspection process called Riteve and an annual insurance-related fee called Marchamo.

Riteve requires an appointment and can also be taken care of by your mechanic because often a car will not pass the first time and will need something addressed before it can go back for a second pass. Our mechanic charges $80 to do this, plus whatever is involved in the fine-tuning.

Marchamo can be paid at the bank and is based on your vehicle’s value. For our Nissan we paid about $400 for the year. Marchamo is due December 31.

Buying New

If money is no object the easiest and most cost-effective route is to research the vehicle you want and visit a dealership to purchase it directly. Mechanical issues and maintenance will not be problematic and you will have the security of a new car.

Be sure you are making the decision that is best for your area and the type of driving you will be doing. Pay attention to the mileage as gasoline and diesel are expensive in Costa Rica. We have found when renting new cars here that diesel gets far better mileage than gasoline does. This is especially true with a heavier 4WD SUV type of vehicle.

However, we have often been told that gasoline engines are easier and less expensive to maintain in the long run. Diesel engines require a higher level of care to keep the engine and filters clean. Diesel is dirty fuel.

Buying new is an EXPENSIVE choice.

Just for reference, if you are thinking about buying what you drove in the states, a new Toyota 4Runner starts at a base price of $68,000. Cars in Costa Rica cost twice as much as they do in the states because of import taxes. It is important to note that import taxes will get you one way or another. More on that below.

Buying Used

You can find used cars for sale on Facebook message boards and often simply by word of mouth. In ex-pat locations, June can be a great time to look because at the end of the school year many families are heading back to their home country and looking to sell their car.

To give you an example, we purchased a 2005 Nissan Xterra from a family on their way back to the states. This older car with well over 130,000 miles on it cost $9000.

Though it came with new tires and shocks, we have invested a great deal of cash in solving various mechanical issues since assuming ownership, including replacing the battery twice in less than six months (humid climate).

It is hugely important to have a good mechanic. Our realtor recommended our mechanic and we trust him. This mechanic also takes care of Riteve for about $80.

Additional places to look for used cars include Costa Rica Craigslist and Encuentua 24. Both of these operate like classifieds, so you are on your own to get to the car, check it out, have your mechanic look it over, and make the purchase.

You must have an attorney to purchase almost anything in Costa Rica. Make sure you have a really good one or you might end up waiting almost four months for the title to be transferred to your name.

There are also businesses that act as third-party sellers. You can think of them more as a buyer’s agent. They will locate the car you desire, take care of the mechanical inspection, and assist you with the paperwork and the transaction. You will still need an attorney to register the car and tags in your name in the national registry.

We recommend Andy Ehler of Ehler’s Cars in San Jose. Other options include Wheels CR also located in San Jose. They will help you look for a car and then guide you through the purchase for a small fee. They know how to avoid former rental cars, which is important.

Shipping Your Vehicle

If you are thinking about shipping your vehicle to your new home, you are certainly not the first. Your car will need to be free and clear and you will need to have the title in hand before you can begin the process. Part of the cost should include any payoff you might owe.

International Relocation Partner based in San Jose has years of experience shipping vehicles into Costa Rica and can manage everything for you. Shipping can cost $2000-4000 depending on whether or not you choose roll-on roll-off (RORO) or container shipping and where you are shipping from. The farther you are from a major port, the more it will cost.

If you ship RORO you absolutely cannot ship anything with the car. If you choose container shipping, you may have space in the container for additional items like boxes. This can be handy if you need to move items at the same time. Also, container shipping means your car stays safer during shipment.

Upon arrival, your car will go through customs and your shipping agent can take care of this for you. Import taxes are calculated based on what Costa Rica thinks your car is worth. They will then take a percentage of that number. Vehicles less than three years old – 52.29 percent. Vehicles four to five years old – 63.91 percent. Vehicles six years or older – 79.03 percent.

You can check this government website to calculate the import tax for your car specifically. Other costs will be based on how much your agent on the Costa Rica end of shipment charges to have the car taken to Riteve for inspection and then how much your attorney will charge to register your car to your name and get new Costa Rica plates.

Additional Tips

Hire a good attorney. We recommend Quatro Legal or Outlier Legal. Check your math, and then check it again. Remember that in Costa Rica, nothing is as it seems. There will likely be fees for which you did not prepare.

You will need to purchase, at the very least, third party insurance. Ask an independent insurance broker for help with this. We pay about $250/year for this on our Nissan. This amount increases, of course, as you add coverage for things like a lost or stolen vehicle.

Whether or not you choose to ship your vehicle to Costa Rica or purchase locally here, you will be glad you have the means to explore all the nooks and crannies of this beautiful country.