8 Ways to Get Your Holiday Goodies into Costa Rica Easily or Safely

My post about how to receive packages in Costa Rica while avoiding having them snagged by Customs, which requires a trip to San José and a couple hours of bureacratic SNAFU to retrieve said package, continues to be one of my more popular articles.

Still, I often get asked the question: "Just how do you get stuff shipped into Costa Rica?"

Drone chasing Cary Grant in North by Northwest still
Attack of the Drones - CC-SA-3.0

Unfortunately, Amazon drone delivery does not seem to be on the horizon anytime soon. Even though Amazon recently announced they are opening up direct shipping to CR for many more items, they never seem to ship what I need.

So, to supplement the original article, here is a list (perhaps incomplete) on the various methods that I've either used or have learned second-hand from others who have found them to be successful.

It includes the shipping of documents, small stuff and bigger packages.

Mail Forwarding

We've managed to almost completely eliminate the sending of paper documents from the U.S. to here by aggressively using e-delivery where it's available. For the couple of dinosaur companies out there (e.g. insurance companies) that insist on sending me paper, we use a U.S.-side mail forwarder, i.e. Virtual PostMail, which lets us scan/view anything coming in and if it is important, we can download the scan as a PDF.

For CR expats, snail mail of docs is still very viable, see my P.S. at the bottom of the list for a cost-savings tip for that.


Muling Stuff In

If you have people who really like you, especially ones that can afford to travel First Class and perhaps have an extra checked bag for free, this is a great way to get stuff. Mail packages to them in the U.S. or your home country using free shipping in plenty of time before their flight departs. I advise people to take anything they are carrying in for us out of its packaging to mollify Customs officials, which also means your stuff takes up less room in their bags.

Re-Packaging by Those You Love

This is the method outlined in the aforementioned article. Have packages shipped to your friends or family. They will un-package everything and re-package it into what looks like a care package from home. It should look rough, have no business logos on the outside and only handwritten addresses. A few dents and swatches of duct tape on the outside are nice touches as well. Oh, and shipp books separately, since media mail is a less expensive category.

Remember, this is a hassle for your friends or family, despite what they may say, so don't overdo it and make sure you have a way to promptly reimburse/tip them for their trouble.

Re-Packaging by Those You Do Not Know

Use a commercial re-shipper such as AeroCasillas or even Costa Rica's BoxCorreos. These will collect your Internet purchases at a U.S. side address and ship the lot to you, shipping and Customs charges pre-paid. I have heard stories about AeroCasillas packages still getting stopped by Customs, but that is not how it is supposed to work.

Bite the Bullet and Pay Up

By this, I mean just pay for the extreme cost of shipping by a commercial international shipper such as UPS, DHL, etc. They will take care of the Customs hassle and call you with the charges when your things arrive in Costa Rica.

Make sure you have a local outlet in your town or nearby. Not my cup of tea to pay more for shipping than the actual item cost, but this is probably the most reliable and safest way to get your stuff. There are also forwarding businesses that do this sort of thing, but in my experience, they can be very restrictive and of course they take an additional cut.

EBay Asian Vendors

I have had remarkable luck buying items from China, Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore via EBay. Mostly, these things are small, but packages up to a couple of kilos have arrived safe and sound.

The items have included LED lights, a car stereo, incense, a tablet, electronic parts, and so on. The downside is that you must expect to wait 4 to 6 weeks for delivery.

Rarely, a package never arrives, but the vendors are eager to offer a refund or re-ship the item. This even works with items from the UK and Europe and the shipping from there is much faster.

By the way, if you are in-country, Costa Rica Correos has a special program for receiving items from Asian vendors. You pay a fee per shipment (under $2) but pretty much guaranteed delivery, supposedly faster shipping and a special line at the PO or home delivery.

Shipping Big Stuff

If you need to ship something large and/or heavy, then hands-down the best way is to use a partial-container shipper. My preferred shipper in this case is Logistics Management Services, S.A. out of Cartago run by Mike Rappaport. The price is volume-based and includes all shipping and customs clearance.

Note that recently CR Customs has gotten better at collecting their full due of duties from shippers like this, so it has gotten more expensive in recent years.

You either pick your stuff up in their bonded warehouse near Cartago or they can ship it on via Transcama, which is probably cheaper than the gas you'd use getting it yourself. They ship once a month and you must send your packages to their U.S. collector/warehouse in Florida.

Most recently, I had a two pallet order of used PCs shipped by Mike from FL for my kitchen table charity, Costa Rica PC Rescue. This was really the only realistic way to get such an order.

Wing It

This method is like a roll of the dice. Just order your stuff from a commercial vendor that ships internationally by USPS and hope it arrives at your local post office. Customs only stops a fraction of what is sent here, so it might get through.

However, if it doesn't, you'll be making a trip to the Zapote Post Office and standing in several lines for an average 1.5 hours. Plus, you'll pay sales tax and misc. fees, which may include 600 colones per day if you package has been there for over two weeks. In some cases, if the item is not worth so much, you may just have to write it off.

I've done that. It hurts, but less than the 50 bucks for driving there plus a full day wasted.

The Best Shipping Method May Be No Shipping

The hardest, but simplest way to avoid shipping hassles is to just do without that glitzy thingamabob on your computer screen and figure out a way to buy local or not at all. 

Tough, I know, but consider that probably 99% of Ticos do quite nicely without shipping in junk from outside the country and Costa Rica still consistently hits the top ten in global happiness indices.

Or, wait a few years and maybe the drones will arrive en masse

P.S. for CR Expats Using Correos to Receive Documents

Here's a tip I've learned from experience regarding getting just regular mail, such as documents into the country. If possible, avoid using USPS International Priority Mail as it's costly (around 30 bucks these days) and actually slower than USPS International First Class, which is way cheaper (like 2 bucks). Yeah, you get a tracking code, but that is worthless once the mail has crossed the U.S. border anyway.

There is a big caveat here. Whereas USPS IPM lets you send in 4 lbs. of whatever fits in their big envelopes at a flat rate, you can only use USPS International First Class for documents up to 12 oz. Still, if you want it in as little as 5 days instead of 2-4 weeks that "Priority" mail takes, it's a much better option overall and I've never had Correos lose my mail.


  1. What about household goods that you might bring when moving to CR....what is tax on container goods??

    1. There's no simple answer as duty varies greatly among different items. Few items are duty-free. At a minimum, you'll pay a 13% sales tax. Duty on cars is very high, from about 53% for a new car and over 70% for a car over 6 years old. Plus, they are not allowing the import of cars older than 2012 now.

      It used to be until very recently that you could get a flat-rate quote, including taxes, from container shippers, but now everything has to be itemized and valued by the owner of the goods, thus prices have gone up.


Thanks so much for your comment! - Casey