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Buy a car in Costa Rica or ship mine?

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This is a common question asked by expats planning to move to live in Costa Rica, particularly those from North America.


We can all become attached to our vehicles but does it make sense to transport your transport to your new home?


The short answer is: sometimes. And the conclusion very much varies from person to person.


So let’s consider the factual elements of that decision…

Shipping your car to Costa Rica


There is no single answer to how much the shipping fees might be. Obviously it depends where you are coming from.  Asking on Facebook will give you dozens of different answers!


If you do wish to proceed to ship your car, contact a shipper. They can provide you with a quote if you give them the make, model, year ad VIN they will inform you of the shipping costs (and likely the duties and taxes).


A complicating factor can be getting your car through customs. One thing you will learn about Costa Rica is that there are often surprise pieces of paperwork needed and delays beyond expected dates. So this can cause frustration and waste your time.  

Government import duties on cars shipped to Costa Rica

On top of the shipping costs, what really puts most people off are the government imposed taxes and import duties.  


The Costa Rican government determines the retail value of the car. The government’s market value calculator does not involve the equivalent of the blue book, the condition of the vehicle or even the miles on the clock.


Instead they weigh all the visible features of the car both the features, the specifications and any upgrades. The fancier the features, the higher the fees.


The result, much to the horror of ill-informed owners is that the value put on the car can sometimes be many times the blue book value back home.


So the taxes and duties can be a tough pill to swallow.

The taxed percentage is 52.29% for vehicles 3 years or newer  

The taxed percentage is 63.91% for vehicles of 4 to 5 years old

The taxed percentage is 79.03% for vehicles older than 6 years


[Find out about cars over 10 years – are they forbidden from being imported? There is talk on Facebook about a ban on importing older vehicles]

Shipping your car – answers on Costa Rica Facebook groups

Questions about shipping your car to Costa Rica are asked a lot in Facebook. Here is a sample of the kind of answers you will see there.


Phil: You will pay a lot in taxes. As an example, in 2006, I shipped a 2002 Nissan Xterra 4x4, manual transmission. I bought the car in 2005 for $10, 320 and in CR, had to pay almost $6,000 in taxes.


Bill: I shipped a 2000 ford Excursion with 120,000 miles on it in 2009. Cost 1K to ship and 11K in taxes and fees to get in to CR.79% tax on their value which was considerably more than the US blue book at the time.


Rick: We shipped a Tacoma to find many parts only available from the US


…to which someone else answered… It’s not just that there are fewer Tacomas; it’s that the engine  / parts spec for a ‘’CR-spec’’ Tacoma might be different, and the US-spec part would be unavailable here. You might have to have something shipped in from the US.


Bruce: I’ve been here 12 years and I believe at the end of the day you are better off buying here. It really depends on your budget and what type of car you want. CR values your US based car based on whether or not they want it in the country. The import taxes you pay are based on their value not yours or Blue book. Every time I’ve researched a car to import I fount it was cheaper to buy here.


Jim: I would recommend that you buy a good vehicle locally using a broker and a reputable shop to do an inspection. Rentals are very expensive regardless of which company you use.

Is it better to buy a car in Costa Rica?

If shipping seems like a lot of hassle, what are the pros and cons of buying here?


Cars may be on the expensive side in Costa Rica but you can get value-for-money if you do the right things. Obviously we think that using the CR Car Guy is the right thing to do, but at the very minimum you should get a local mechanic to check out any car before you buy it.


If you make sure you are buying a car that was made for the CR market, you should have much fewer problems with replacement parts and with mechanics knowing how to work on them.


Most expats intend to use their time in Costa Rica to see as much of the country as they can. To be able to visit the countries many volcanos, beaches, waterfalls and more there is comparison between public transport and the freedom of your own vehicle.


Buying a sturdy, reliable vehicle with a good reputation in Costa Rica means your car is likely to be able to handle everything the terrain can throw at it. The conditions here might be very different from those your car back home is used to. Potholes are a fact of life in Costa Rica. Many roads beyond the main highways are unsealed and peppered with undulations. So you definitely want to have a car that is up to the demanding job of coping with Costa Rican roads! 

Check out our customer articles or Facebook reviews 

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

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