Import Duties on Shipping a Car to Costa Rica

If you have a vehicle that you have owned and that is commonly imported to Costa Rica, you may consider shipping the car to Costa Rica. This article explains the reasoning behind the high import duties, as well as some exceptions, including updated information on environmentally friendly taxes.  Before you ship a vehicle, read our previous article on Importing a Car to Costa Rica vs. Buying a Vehicle Here regarding the advantages of buying a vehicle from a reputable importer and cases where you should import a vehicle yourself. The information stated within is based on information provided at the Tax Ministry web site ( http://www.hacienda.go.cr )

Import Duties in Costa Rica – Basic Concepts

The Kia Bongo Crew Cab was never sold in the US, but has characteristics that make it great here.

It is very important to note that the import duties are based on the value of the car according to customs authorities, not the actual price you paid for the car. In addition, the cost of shipping plus shipping insurance  The objective of the taxes is two fold, sales tax is collected at this time, rather than at the time of resale by the importer.  Secondly, there is a luxury item tax paid.  Since no autos are manufactured in Costa Rica, this is not a protectionist tax and vehicles were not included in exemptions brought about by the CAFTA agreement.   The concept of this taxing is that those who can afford to buy expensive objects should pay more taxes, in addition cars imported to Costa Rica require roads to run on, as well as other public services like traffic police, so vehicles coming in to the country should fund these items.

Tax tables and calculation

52.29% – Cars Less Than 3 Years Old these are cars of the current year model and three year models prior; currently this would mean 2020, 2019, 2018, and 2017.

63.91% – Cars 4 and 5 Years Old – currently these are cars 2016 and 2015 model, 4 and 5 years older than the current year model.

79.03% – Cars 6 and More Years Old – any car older than 6 years, currently older than 2014.

According to a 2005 executive decree, 32458-H, the value of the calculation must be the higher of the receipt for purchase presented by the importer, or the value of the vehicle contained in the data base of the Tax Ministry (at CARTICA/AUTOVALOR linked to from the home page of the ministry web site).   Following is a sample calculation for importing a year 2000 Nissan Sentra.

Vehicle price – $2000 (about 1 million colones)

Shipping and Insurance – $700 (about 350,000 colones)

Total Value – 1,350,000 colones

Hacienda Value – 3,590,000 colones (value returned from on line query)

Importation Value – 1,651,400 colones (value returned from on line query)

Notes: Since the importation value is higher than the purchase price + shipping, this is the value to be used.   The online query for any vehicle returns two results, the Tax Ministry (Hacienda) Value and the Importation Value.  The Hacienda Value is used for calculation transfer or registration taxes, also the end of year “marchamo” taxes.  The importation Value is used to calculate import duties.

1,651,400 x 79.03 % = 1,282,183 colones
(approximately $2261 at an exchange rate of 567 colones to the dollar)

Import Duties on Motorcycles

Motorcycles also pay fairly high taxes, with the rates being as follows:

58.10% – Motorcycles 0-3 years old

46.48% – Motorcycles 4-5 years old

34.85% – Motorcycles 6+ years old

Import Duties on Hybrid and Electric Vehicles — 2006

In 2006 the executive branch decreed that certain energy efficient vehicles could pay less luxury tax and import duties.  The decree established that the following vehicles could pay less:

Electric, Compressed Air, and Hydrogen – the decree established 0% tax rate on these vehicles. They must be new vehicles, and the importer must get certification from the MINAE (Environment Ministry) that the vehicle in question meets the required characteristics for this type of vehicle.

4 Cylinder Motorcycles – a 10% rate on certain taxes was established for 4 cycle motorcylces between 50cc and 250cc.

Hybrid Vehicles – new hybrid vehicles that have less than 2000cc gasoline engines get a 15% reduction in the luxury tax.  The vehicle must have certain characteristics and these must be certified by the manufacturer: 1) serial or parallel hybrid configuration with 2 propulsion systems, 2) combines an internal combustion engine with an electric motor – either may be used to drive the vehicle but there must be at least 1 computer controlling the system, 3) the electric motor must be at least 10 kW 4) there must be a system for capturing kinetic energy during braking, 5) maintenance-free chemical energy source, for example a deep cycle lithium ion or nickel metal battery pack, of at least 48 volts.

2018 Pure Electric Vehicles Exemption — Used and New

In November of 2018, President Carlos Alvarado signed an executive decree for Used Electric Vehicles, which was based on the law passed early in 2018 regarding new electric vehicles. It specifically mentions automobiles, motorcycles, cargo vehicles, minivans and buses. The law and decree exempt electric vehicles (EVs) from import duties in particular, among other benefits:

  • Import Duties of 0 % — All EVs that are less than 5 years old are exempted from import duties listed above.
  • Limit of $30,000 — This exemption is limited to $30,000 of importation value.
  • Exemption from License Plate Restriction — All EVs are permitted to circulate within the restricted area.
  • Designation for EVs — EVs are to receive a special designation (Note: this turned out to be a green license plate, which is also used by the orange airport taxis — which are converting to EV according to representatives, but at present are actually ICEs aka fossil fuel powered vehicles)

If you are looking to purchase a used or new car in Costa Rica, wheelsCR.com can help you with our PASS service. Click here, used car buying assistance in Costa Rica for details. Click here, New Cars in Costa Rica for information on the peculiar process.

If you would like to see information about other vehicle types and models, click here — Vehicle Makes and Models in Costa Rica — for a list of articles on our site.

Click here, General Information, for answers to the most common questions on a variety of topics regarding vehicles in Costa Rica.

Published by Russ Martin

Helping expats locate reliable used vehicles since 2006. I have lived in Costa Rica since 1994.

8 thoughts on “Import Duties on Shipping a Car to Costa Rica

  1. Can I ship[via sea]a car to Costa Rica,use as a tourist and continue on to South America or drive home to U.S.A without registering or paying the full duties as if Im keeping it here.If so how and what are the fees and time allowed.Thank you for your info and advise. Joe Mcgee

    1. Yes, cars that are driven by tourists don’t have to be nationalized. You will need a customs broker to clear customs with the appropriate paperwork. There will be some fees, but no import duties (85% on cars over 5 years old). The car can be driven in Costa Rica for up to 6 months, then it must be nationalized or leave the country.

  2. Not sure if anyone is still answering questions here, but I’m trying to find out if the valuation is based on the ORIGINAL price of the vehicle or the current price, ie, in my case, for a 13-year-old car. Or is it the value of the car that I tell the shipper — based on blue book or whatever? Also, this car is a European car — are there changes that would need to be made for it to meet Costa Rican standards? Thank you.

    1. Tax Ministry Vehicle Values is the website where you can find the value of the vehicles for tax purposes. You would need a customs broker in order to bring the car here, they can tell you what documents you need. You may find that you can’t bring a 13 year old car, nowadays the oldest permitted is 10 years, I believe.

  3. what if I have a 1953 willys jeep but have a 2015 Hyundai turbo diesel engine installed in it. . Can I import it to costa rica

    1. In that case you will have to talk to a qualified customs broker. There are now limits on the age of cars that may be imported to Costa Rica. If there is some type of exemption for antique cars, then you would probably need to have an original Willys engine.

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