When you come to live in Costa Rica, there may be details which seem small at first, and then become noticeably more important once you begin to consider the logistics of every day life. One of those considerations is your car. While some people may be attached to the car they currently drive, importing your vehicle can be prohibitively expensive; import duties on car can be a significant portion of their retail value, up to 70% in some cases, and that value is determined by the Costa Rican government. Your $30,000 used car or SUV may cost $15,000 or more to bring with you. That doesn’t include freight charges for actually shipping it.
All told, selling your vehicle before you leave for Costa Rica is the smarter option. Purchasing a new or used vehicle in Costa Rica is not a hard process for foreigners, and in fact bears a great deal of resemblance to purchasing a car in any other country.
Car Pricing and Financing
As mentioned, there is an import cost for cars, but it’s not just for cars you want to bring with you. Costa Rica does not have any car manufacturers on the island, which would mean that all of its cars are imported. Every imported vehicle has a cost that is 30% higher than its originating retail value. Every car is simply more expensive due to the need for its to be transported to the island. While you may have avoided bringing your own vehicle to pay those extra charges, understand that purchasing a new vehicle is actually, technically, still less expensive in many cases. In the earlier scenario, it would likely cost you $15,000 to $21,000 to bring your $30,000 vehicle with you in import duties alone, but the used value of that vehicle would only be based on its original worth.
Purchasing a new vehicle for the same price might cost you $39,000, plus inspection fees and registration, but the used value of that car is going to be based on $39,000. In addition, you also have the option of purchasing used vehicles in a private sale and saving far more money. Importing your vehicle is essentially the same as buying your own used vehicle from yourself, as the import duty often exceeds its Blue Book value.
Financing options are also getting better for car buyers in Costa Rica, but as with home loans, you may not be able to qualify for them without residential status.
Know Spanish (or Know Someone Who Does)
The art of negotiation is universal, meaning you need to find, and occasionally haggle for, the right prices. In Costa Rica, these prices are often found in local newspapers, which are written in Spanish. If you know how to read and speak Spanish, you will have a much easier time finding the best price for the vehicle you need and the maintenance and inspection services required for it to get registered. If not, you will need someone who can. The difference in price can be in the thousands depending on which deal you decide on, so invest in either learning the language or finding a trustworthy person who speaks it already.