Importing a car to Costa Rica is actually very easy.
There are many reputable car importers. And, if you can get the vehicle to the boat in Miami, it’ll only cost you about $1,000 – even less. Overland transport to the port will add to the price.
You’ll meet it a few weeks later in Limon or Moin, ports on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. (Also check on availability of shipping your car from Seattle, Los Angeles, Houston, or other port cities. The price might be higher and there are fewer boats headed to Costa Rica, but it could be more convenient for you.)
Before you leave, work with the shipping company to make sure your car meets emissions standards. The test is done in the U.S. You should also consider whether your car will make a good match for Costa Rica. Although auto shops are common and labor inexpensive, the most common parts available are for Asian vehicles and every mechanic can fix them. It can be more difficult to repair an American or European vehicle. Vintage cars? Parts will be very difficult to get.
Main roads will be paved in most of the country. And most regions are connected by modern roads. But many secondary roads, especially in isolated areas, will be dirt, and in rural areas can be very rough. If you plan to live in the country, best to leave the sedan at home. SUVs, with their high clearance, are preferred. Four-wheel drive is only necessary if you live way off the beaten track or are in a mountainous area.
You should also make sure your car is in good shape before it goes on the boat. It’ll be inspected thoroughly by the agency Revision Tecnica de Vehiculos, popularly known as RTV, before you take possession. Top to bottom, they look at brakes, lights, safety features, and more. This becomes an annual inspection.
The shipping company will help you deal with customs paperwork and the officials at the port will assist if you don’t speak Spanish. But that’s where the real expense comes in. Taxes and import duties can be high because the fees are based on the car’s market value in Costa Rica, not the blue book value in the U.S. or how much you paid for it.
And the government’s market value calculator takes into account every feature and extra on the car. Have power windows, the optional stereo system, or alloy wheels – you’ll pay for it. Mileage and condition aren’t considered.
Cars hold their value in this country. And that means the taxes and duties could almost equal the “blue book” value in the U.S.
Older cars pay at a higher rate. If your car is six years or older you’ll pay up to 73% of its value to import it. For vehicles between one and five years old, the rate is 52%. You can calculate your car’s value here. The site is in Spanish with no English language version yet.
A couple of last things before you can drive away. Your car must be registered – which is known as marchamo – and you need temporary plates. The newer the car, the higher the fees. The shipping company should be able to help you register the car. And then there’s auto insurance through the state run company, Instituto Nacional de Seguros, or INS. A local attorney would be a good resource at this point. They can help you get all this sorted out for a low fee.
So you have a few things to consider if you’d like to import your car to Costa Rica. The alternative, of course, is to buy a car there. And that can be a good choice for many expats. You can find more details in this article “Buying a Car in Costa Rica.”