MOVING TO COSTA RICA, DO I BRING MY CAR?

You would not believe the number of foreigners moving to Costa Rica every year. Many people making the move desire to “bring my car” or “bring my baby” as I have heard some refer to their favorite mode of transportation, but is this really a good option? Let’s look at some of the reasons you are better off not importing a car to Costa Rica.

Car being prepared for importing to Costa Rica
The Importation Tax: Are you ready for sticker shock? Hold on to your chair as you may fall out of it. The importation tax for a previously owned used car can be as high as forty-five percent of the value of the vehicle. “Ok, I can deal with that,” you say, “because my car is really old but still runs great so that tax won’t really be that high”. Actually, it could be even higher as Costa Rica is trying to prevent old vehicles being imported into the country.

Yes, cars are expensive in Costa Rica, especially new ones. Why? You may ask. All cars are imported into the country.  None of the big brands (Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai or Ford, you name it) are manufactured here. Costa Rica has a really great public transportation system, you can go almost anywhere in this country, that is, if your willing to learn the routes and wait for a bus.

New Toyota 4x4 in Costa Rica
Repair and Maintenance: Toyota is not Toyota, Ford is not Ford. What? I know it sounds strange, but the cars that are sold in North America are not made the same way as cars that are sold here. Each Country has its own legal regulations, especially the US for emission controls and safety features. For example: even though Toyota Forerunners are sold in the US, the models that are sold in Costa Rica are most likely not from the same plant. When you need replacement parts you may not be able to get them here in Costa Rica. Then what do you do? It is just like Ford trucks and cars, yes, it is the same make, however, the Fords that are sold here are manufactured in Brazil, not the US. Again, different parts are used. I personally know some people that had to have parts shipped in from the US to get their cars fixed.

Mechanic repairing a car in Costa Rica
To avoid the hassle and frustration I recommend buying a car or pickup; new or used, that was originally sold here in Costa Rica. Believe it or not, there are some really great independent mechanics here that can just about fix anything, even without the proper part. I know I had it done on a car I bought that was not originally sold in Costa Rica. Did it work well, yes it did, but I always wondered when it was going to fail again. Luckily, I sold that car before I would have had to have it repaired again.

A lineup of used cars for sale in Costa Rica
When thinking about bringing a car to Costa Rica, take a second and third look at the long-term cost, especially with the importation taxes being so high.

4 thoughts on “MOVING TO COSTA RICA, DO I BRING MY CAR?”

  1. Good article Joe. You forgot to mention that the import tax in CR is based on the “book value” the government in CR assigns to the car you’re trying to import. So even if your used car is only worth say $2500 in the US… or you only paid $2500 for it the day before you shipped it… the value used for the import tax is going to be WELL above what YOU think the car is worth. A friend shipped a car to CR and was shocked to find that the “value” the government book in CR had for the vehicle (and the import tax) was about 50% higher then what he paid for the vehicle in the US. They don’t care what the car is worth in the US… Nor do they care what you might have paid for it. Really stings when you’re effectively “paying” for the car again… even if youve owned it for years!

    Best advice, as the article states… buy a local vehicle, one originally sold in CR .. new if possible. Saves tons of problems from the start, and as stated in the long run, on parts and repairs. The cost ultimately will be the same as importing or buying used… but you’re driving a new car with less problems and a warranty that will have parts available for years to come. Consider a model like the rental companies use.

    One other thing to consider is importing a car from the US that has been exposed to road salt… like any vehicle that has spent time in the northern part of the US or Canada. Once it hits the tropics that rust will go into overdrive and your car will fall apart.

    1. Thanks Chris, I appreciate the comments. yes it is a killer importing a car Hence why i say Buy one here.

  2. Does anything like leasing exist in CR? Do the dealerships sell certified pre-owned vehicles like in the U.S.?

    We’re about to move there and really appreciate all of these insights! Thank you for the info!

    1. HI Amy,
      Sorry for the late reply.
      leasing here is not like the states where some dealerships will actually carry the note/lease on the car. I have a lease here but i am also a full permanent resident. took quite a bit to get it. As far as “certified-pre-owned” that is a marketing term used in the states in my opinion. The dealerships here do sell used cars of their own make and do inspect them first, but the warranty is only 3 to 4 months

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