Importing a Car to Costa Rica vs. Buying a Vehicle Here

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On some web sites people recommend importing a vehicle yourself rather than buying a vehicle that is already in Costa Rica.  A common concern cited is that cars coming in are flood damaged — Katrina Kars — or wrecked vehicles.  But, often the person giving this advice is a customs broker!  To be fair, we also earn money providing a service to people who buy cars here, so if you import a vehicle yourself, then we obviously can’t help you or earn our keep. This article attempts to objectively look at the issue and offer you advice depending on your situation.

Difficulties of Importing

The Hyundai Terracan was never sold in the USA, but it’s an excellent option here in Costa Rica

Do you save money? I think the root of the issue is this, currently a 2008 Mitsubishi Montero Sport with a gasoline engine might cost $4500 in the US.  Whereas at a dealership here it is likely to cost $13 – $15,000, depending on the features and condition.  A casual glance at the price of shipping (say $1000) would lead you to believe that you could save a lot of money on shipping a car yourself. But the customs duties on any car 6 years old or more are 80% on the value of the vehicle according to customs officials.  (not the actual price you paid)  PLUS the cost of shipping PLUS the cost of maritime freight insurance.  Using $6000, this means the import taxes would be $4800.  On top of this you will have to pay a customs broker, and take on some responsibilities.  You will probably save a few thousand bucks though, the dealer has to earn a living too.

Risks of Shipping: The car may be damaged in shipping or have parts stolen in transit. Radios in particular go missing. Shipping insurance covers the vehicle being lost at sea or if the container is lost, not damage inside the container or during transit.  All vehicles must have an emissions certificate and pass the RiTeVe inspection, if you have any trouble with either, then things could get complicated for you.  You may have to travel to Limon or Caldera to retrieve the vehicle, or pay additional fees to avoid the trip.

Registration: Once you have cleared customs, you will have to go through the red tape at the National Registry in order to register the vehicle in your name and receive the license plate, in order to be able to drive the vehicle.

Reasons to Import Anyway

Even so, there are two cases where I would recommend that you seriously consider importing a vehicle:

  1. If it is a car that you have owned and cared for already, and if you can verify that it is a version that is popular here. In this case you know what you have and know that you can have it repaired here without much trouble.
  2. If it is special vehicle that is not commonly sold here, or has been specially modified. Modifications are not taken into account when calculating customs value, only factory options.

Can You Find a Good Car in Costa Rica?

At we have developed ongoing relationships with a number of reputable dealers who are bringing in excellent used vehicles and who stand behind their products. We have a pool of approximately 40 dealers that we regularly call on when searching for a vehicle for a client. Often we have already had a client buy from these dealers with good results, but in all cases we have visited the lot and driven vehicles they have brought in, so we know what type of quality they have.

At times, if it is a very new car, a vehicle that doesn’t stay on the market long, or we are working with a tight budget, then we have often helped our clients purchase vehicles from private parties that are in superb condition. Our dozens of satisfied customers can attest that it is certainly possible to obtain a high quality vehicle from dealers or individuals here in Costa Rica.

In both cases you won’t have to deal with any customs issues or logistics on the front end or back end.  Also you can drive the vehicle yourself and determine it’s condition.  Often you can pay for it and drive it away immediately.

Also, there are great vehicles for Costa Rica’s unique conditions, that aren’t sold in the US.  For example, the Hyundai Galloper, the Toyota Fortuner, or a Mitsubishi Montero Sport Turbo Diesel Intercooler.


I think both ways have their advantages, but I would argue that buying the car here is the better option, particularly if it you would be buying an SUV in the US that is new to you and then would ship here.  If you do decided to buy a vehicle here, then we can assist you with the purchase via our PASS Service (click here for details)

If you are looking to purchase a used or new car in Costa Rica, 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.

Published by Russ Martin

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

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