Using Partial Load Shippers in Costa Rica Saves Money

Recently, I ran across an article about how Costa Rica Customs are enforcing the collection of import/sales tax on items mailed to Costa Rica from outside the country especially purchases via Internet. If your stuff gets caught in their ever-tightening net, you will receive a notice of "Aviso Mercadería" in your local Post Office, but no item. They hold all such packages in the main P.O. in Zapote on the southern edge of San José. 

No matter if you happen to live a 6 hour drive from Zapote. If you want your stuff, you must go there in person and suffer through an almost comical procedure of visiting 5 different windows, waste at least an hour and a half, and for the privilege you'll pay handling, storage, sales tax and duty.

Delivery guy with a load of packages
There are alternatives, most of which are better than the Zapote trap. Ex-pats quickly learn about these alternate shipping methods, or give up and buy locally if they can find what they want here. 

In the article, the list of options to get stuff into the country went like this:
  • U.S. Postal service to a local post office box or “Apartado Postal” in Costa Rica (but you see what can happen)
  • Ship via mail, parcel service or courier to a private mailbox in the U.S. that exports to Costa Rica
  • International courier service, such as DHL or FedEx to an address in Costa Rica
  • Ask a friend or associate to bring a package in a suitcase on their flight

I've utilized all these methods at one time or another. USPS is the least expensive (if not stopped by Customs). DHL, UPS, FedEx, and their ilk are double the cost of USPS and you will be sure to pay the duty. Asking your friends to re-mail stuff (duct tape on the outside does wonders, by the way) or to stuff their suitcases on your behalf is limited by how much you feel you can impose on them. 

Shipping to a reshipper to you in Costa Rica (e.g. AeroCasillas) is usually expensive and despite their guarantees that all duty and tax is paid, I have heard stories of stuff getting caught in the Customs net anyway. That's a nice double whammy! These companies don't usually ship large quantities, and their prices are based on volume and weight.

[Important Update: Having used both partial load shippers below, I can now compare them. I no longer recommend They made it a total hassle getting my last few items. Also, Lomaser stores your items in a bonded warehouse with a 24-hour guard. ShippingCR works out of an ordinary quick storage site. I spoke with one of their former customers who lost thousands of dollars of equipment because they don't store your things properly.]

In February, I discovered another way, namely This is a small business, run by Mike and Francesca, out of Florida. Their mainline business is moving whole households via shipping container, but they also do partial load shipments based solely on volume, not weight. They charged me $25 per cubic foot, one cubic foot minimum and no extra fees. That price includes duties, taxes, etc., delivered to San José. They have an online quote service. You send them a web link to the item and they tell you how much shipping will be.

The load of loot about 30 boxes

I ordered several expensive and heavy ham radio items to ship down. After a few days of greedy thought, I started adding to the list. It ended up being about 15 cubic feet total and Mike gave me a 10% discount. 

So, for the pile of stuff you see in the photo at right it was $330, far less than it would have cost by any other method. The drawback, of course, is that you have to be patient. Figure three months from the time you order on the Internet to arrival in San José unless you happen to get it to FL a day before the container leaves. In the end, however, the missed some small items, promised me they would send them on when they arrived, but did not. At least the items arrived but it took months and one wasted rendezvous in San José with them to retrieve my items. Never again.

Francesca of in now nearly empty container
After I'd completed that order with, I received an email from the broker who handled our household move down here in 2008. He now does partial load shipments as well. His name is Mike Rappaport of It's the same concept, shipping by volume, flat rates, everything included. He has a different fee schedule however, as follows. Prices are per cubic foot.

 200 Cu. Ft or less = $7
200-400 Cu. Ft. = $6.5
400-600 Cu. Ft. = $6
600-800 Cu. Ft. = $5.50
Over 800 Cu. Ft. = $5

There is an additional flat $75 broker's fee per shipment. Now, before you go grab for a calculator, I'll tell you that the break-even point between the two shippers: 5 cubic feet ($112.50 for ShippingCR with discount, and $110 for Lomaser). Lomaser is the same for five cubic feet, but they are far more reliable, and for us closer, since they ship to Cartago.  They can also arrange for local transport inside the country. Your items are held in a bonded warehouse with a big fence and a guard. Very professional.
Storage unit site where shippingcr sent out stuff. It changes everytime.

Be sure that as soon as you consider using a partial load shippers that you contact them first to get quotes and find out when the next container is leaving port. They have lots of phone numbers, e-mail, and even Skype IDs.

Have fun shopping and when the load arrives enjoy your "Christmas Day" no matter what month it arrives!


  1. Cargo containers are of increasing interest to architects who plan to make them into homes, offices and other buildings.
    Container Size and Dimensions of Freight and Cargo and its standard widely
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    1. Just to be clear, the company above is located in Australia.

  2. We shipped via shippingCR on our initial visit and I could swear they charged us $75 per cubic foot. That being said, everything arrived safe and clean.

    1. That would be a big OUCH if so!

  3. By the way, I can no longer recommend They made it very difficult to obtain those few small items that didn't make it in the first shipment. I've since used Mike Rappaport's service and it was excellent. Also, Mike uses a bonded warehouse so all your stuff is secure, whereas ShippingCR just uses a rented storage place, which seems to move around from one area to another. All our packages were opened when using ShippingCR, not so when using Mike's service.

  4. Hi Casey, thanks for this article. I'm considering moving to Costa Rica, but just wanted to ask your advice regarding receiving supplements from the US. I depend on a couple of natural supplements that I will need to order online from the US [not available in CR] and receive by post, but I read in a few places that the customs in CR does not allow any supplements to go through, even for personal use!! and that even if it does go through, the chances of it being stolen or otherwise not arriving are very high.
    Since you seem very knowledgeable about CR I wanted to ask if you know if that's true and if there is any way to work around it? The solution you present in this article doesn't seem to be relevant for small online orders of 2-3lb. at the most, does it?
    or is it simply impossible to live in CR and take supplements from the US?


Thanks so much for your comment! - Casey