How to buy a car in Costa Rica: a step-by-step guide

Step 1: Find a car that suits you

Step 2: Inspect / test drive

Step 3: Payment / title transfer

Step 4: Marchamo / Riteve

Step 5: Insurance

Finding a car to buy in Costa Rica

If you want to find a car on the open market then probably the best place to start is to look online. There are various resources worth checking out such as

encuentra24.com, crautos.com and the marketplace in Facebook. 

 

These resources are used by private sellers and dealers alike. Unless you are using them all the time it can be impossible to know the difference.

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Scanning these for several days and seeing comparable vehicles will give you an idea of price. Value-for-money can vary widely of course. From great deals with private sellers to vastly inflated dealer listings (thanks to large mark-ups) to the untrained eye it is not always easy to spot good deals.  

Of course finding suitable listings is the step 1. Step 2 is making the phone calls and talking through the various issues with the seller. Our customers often tell is this is the part they fear most. Regardless of proficiency of Spanish, speaking over the phone to someone with maybe zero English and asking them about the service history of a car, what conditions it had been subjected to, reasons for selling and so on can seem too high a bar.

You also have to be quick since the good deals disappear quickly

 

Car dealerships are always an option. These tend to be less popular among expats for a couple of reasons. First cars are expensive in Costa Rica and everyone knows that second-hand dealerships are not the place for bargains. Whether a dealer is a tico or an expat, you should approach second-hand car salesmen in Costa Rica the same way you would back home. Always consider the mark-up.

You might also see ‘’for sale/se vende’’ signs on cars parked or being driven around your local area. You can always call the phone numbers on these signs and discuss the prospect with the seller.  There is always an expat on Facebook selling their car because they are leaving the country. On the one hand, timing may force the seller to accept a low price for their car. However you do not know how much they overpaid for the vehicle themselves and also they will be leaving the country and as such may be tempted make misrepresentations about the vehicle thinking there will be no consequences for them.

Inspecting and test-driving the car

This is very much where the CR Car Guy comes in. If you are doing it yourself you will need to use Waze or Google Maps to find your way around the labyrinth that is San Jose.

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Knowing where and when the horrific traffic jams are will also help as will knowing which areas are better to avoid!

 

Assuming you can find the location you can then meet the seller, kick the tires and take the car for a little test drive, usually with the seller in the passenger seat. You would be well advised not to make such visits alone.

 

After you have found the car you like, inspected it and decided to buy it, all you need to do is agree into a fair price with the seller, pay for the car and go to the attorneys office to transfer the title.

 

This can be quite simple if you already have a local attorney you often work with.

How to pay for a car in Costa Rica

Not having a local bank account is not a problem, you have three very good and safe options to pay for a car in Costa Rica.

 

The 1st is to do an international transfer from your bank anywhere in the world. The estimated time frame for this is up to 72 hours, depending if your bank has to go through other bigger banks to do the transfer. Bigger banks that offer the international transfer service will take minutes to transfer the money to a bank in Costa Rica. In our experience, it has never taken more than 48 hours, and normally less than 24. It is a good idea you check ahead of time with your bank if they offer this option, so you'll be prepared and the car purchase won't take too long.

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A good idea is to transfer the money to someone local of your trust instead of the buyer, so there won't be that moment of uncertainty while waiting for the money to arrive. Something important to consider with this option, is that the banks will ask for proof of funds origin, if the amount is over $10,000. So have that info ready before transferring the money.

 

The 2nd option is to pay in cash. This option is more feasible for lower budgets, since you have the option to bring cash with you on a plane. Each person is allowed to bring up $9,999 on a flight. Normally a car seller won't accept cash immediately, anyone will prefer to go first to a bank and deposit the money in their accounts. Cash is not king in Costa Rica, and it doesn't work to offer cash as a point of negotiation.

The 3rd way is to pay by credit or debit card. This method applies only for purchases from car dealerships, since individuals won't have a way to accept a payment with this method.

 

Methods that don't currently work in Costa Rica:

❌PayPal

❌Xoom

❌Venmo

❌Zelle

❌ And some others of these same nature

We do these car transactions on a daily basis, and have a vast experience dealing with payments and possible roadblocks, so please do not hesitate to contact us with any question you may have about this.e. It's easy.

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What are Riteve and Marchamo?

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Owning a car has 2 costs involved per year:

 

Riteve (yearly technical inspection): Every car in Costa Rica has to go though this. It is due on the month corresponding to the last digit of the license plate. The cost for this is around $35. You get a sticker that goes on the windshield.

Marchamo (registration & mandatory liability insurance). These fees are paid once per year between November 1 and December 31. Marchamo allows a vehicle to circulate on the public roads of Costa Rica. The cost for this is 5% of the car value as per the National register office. You also get a windshield sticker for this.

 

These 2 costs come with a car when you buy it, meaning you don't have to pay for them at the moment of buying a vehicle. Note: the license plate dies only when the car does. It never changes when it is sold.

Do I need to buy insurance?

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Check out our customer articles or Facebook reviews 


Get in touch now if you need help buying a car in Costa Rica!