Eliminating the Worry of Shipping Your Car to Costa Rica

Are ready for an extended stay or retirement to the Land of Eternal Spring and have already decided you prefer to enjoy the freedom and convenience of driving your own vehicle while living in Costa Rica?

Buy a Car Inside Costa Rica or Bring Your Own?

checking out a used car's tires
Always check the tire quality!
We'll assume you already hashed out the pros and cons of vehicle ownership in Costa Rica. The next question is whether it’s wiser to buy a vehicle in-country or ship your current vehicle from North America. From my experience, if I had to do it over again, I’d bring in my own car without hesitation.

Why? Well, if you add up all the costs including shipping and import fees, you probably come out about even, but you’ll have one overriding advantage, which is complete confidence in your vehicle. That is something not available when purchasing a used car in Costa Rica.

Why Buying a Car in Costa Rica is Often a Losing Proposition

Buying new cars in Costa Rica is an outrageously expensive proposition. Expect to pay 50% above U.S. sticker price in the U.S. for an identical model. That rule-of-thumb is pretty accurate for used vehicles also. There are several reasons cars are so expensive here, but let's just accept that fact for now.

Land rover fording river in Costa Rica
You'll never be 100% sure where a Costa Rica car has been
The big difference in used cars here, however, is that they probably have a checkered past when it comes to maintenance and repairs. Plus, they have been subjected to some of the worst roads in the modern world. 

Better that you bring in a car or truck or motorcycle that you already know and can have thoroughly checked out by a qualified mechanic Stateside.


So, How Do You Import a Car to Costa Rica?

If you do not intend to stay longer than 90 days, then you will follow a Temporary Import process. If you expect to stay longer than 90 days, however, you must go through the Permanent Import process to officially import and license the car in Costa Rica.

Regardless of whether you are staying less or more than 90 days, it’s best to use a reputable and knowledgeable vehicle shipping company, such as A-1 Auto Transport, Inc. They will guide you through the process, give you a free quote, get you in touch with a Costa Rica Customs agent and take care of all the paperwork and fees. It's one-stop shopping for getting your car into Costa Rica.

Maersk container ship heading to Costa Rica
Your car is shipped to Costa Rica securely in an enclosed container

They make sure you are abiding by the latest revisions in the law and regulations plus they ship and store your car securely. You’ll find that using these services nearly eliminates all the stress and worry of importation. All you have to do is pick up the car at the port or have it delivered.

Temporary Import Details

For temporary import, you receive a permit valid for 90 days. If for some reason your plans change and you will be staying longer than that, you can obtain an extension, but it is highly recommended that you request such permission well before the original 90 days is up from Costa Rica Customs.

All you need to obtain this permit are the vehicle registration documents, a valid passport and your home country driver’s license. 

Permanent Import Details

For stays longer than 90 days or if you have run out of temporary permit extensions, you need to permanently import the car. 

In addition to the documents required for temporary import, you need the following to complete the permanent import process:

  • A current emissions certificate no older than 90 days
  • Proof of vehicle ownership (e.g. the U.S. title)
  • Proof that the VIN is valid if the proof of ownership document does not cover this
  • The original purchase invoice or Manufacturer’s Certificate of Origin. Alternatively, a notarized bill of sale.

Calculating Costa Rica import taxes on calculator and laptop
Figuring your total costs can be tricky

Importation and Vehicle Value Taxes

There will be sales tax due based on the car’s value and shipping plus a special vehicle tariff to pay, which accounts for the lion’s share of taxes owed. This latter tax is based on both the age and value of the car including options.  

Costa Rica Customs has an excruciatingly detailed database of vehicle configurations from which they calculate this tax. It is no use waving a Kelly’s Blue Book at them, because they already have their own valuations.

The current schedule of vehicle value taxes goes as follows:

  • For cars less than three years old, they tax their assessed value of the car at a rate of 52.29 percent
  • Cars between four and five years old are taxed at a rate of 63.91 percent
  • All cars older than six years are taxed at a 79.03 percent rate
  • The only exception to the tariff is if you are importing an electric-powered vehicle.


Final Steps to Importation

Placing Costa Rica marchamo window sticker
You won't get far without all 3 window stickers
There are a few more steps to take once the import has been approved by Costa Rica Customs. You will need a formal title, which requires the help of an attorney (attorneys are inexpensive, fortunately). You will also need to establish and pay the “Marchamo,” which is the annual vehicle tax and purchase liability insurance.

You do both these tasks via Costa Rica’s national insurance carrier INS. The final step is to have the car inspected by Costa Rica’s Revision Technica Vehicular or RTV (pronounced ree-TEV-ay). Such an inspection is required every two years for vehicles five years old or less and annually for older cars.

Whew! Once you have accomplished all these steps, your car becomes a bona fide Tico car! Just don’t expect it to understand Spanish … yet. Do not forget to obtain your Costa Rica driver’s license after 90 days in-country if you are a resident.

Taking the Hassle Down to a Dull Roar

Costa Rica welcome sign at border
Welcome to Costa Rica!
Yes, when all the steps are spelled out, bringing in your own car can appear to be a daunting process. That is why we absolutely recommend that you get in touch with an expert shipper such as A-1 Transport, Inc. to take care of the numerous details of importation for you. They can even take care of hiring a Clearing Agent/Broker  at the arrival port and get your car delivered to you no matter where you are in the country.


  1. Wait...The older the vehicle the higher the tax rate?

  2. Many thanks. I'm glad you found the post useful.

    Shipping A Vehicle To Hawaii


Thanks so much for your comment! - Casey

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