Shipping, Importing a Car, Truck or SUV to Costa Rica

Shipping a car, SUV or truck to Costa Rica can cost you almost the same price as was to buy it in the first place.

Shipping a car, SUV or truck to Costa Rica can cost you almost the same price as it was to buy it in the first place.

Importing a car, SUV or truck  is very expensive, one of the biggest drawbacks and mistakes many make. The government has this “Black Book” of value (which changes all the time) to value a vehicle’s import fees. But to get a general idea, expect to pay between 40-70% ON TOP of what your vehicle is worth (and here is the catch), depending on year/make/model at its new car value. And who is to say, What that Value Is that is placed by the Costa Rica government?

Example: Lets say, you bought your car NEW in 2009 for around $20,000US, it could cost you around $14,000US in import fees. Or lets say you bought it USED at $20,000 and it sold for NEW at $30,000US, the import tax could be as much as $21000US and this ALL depends on the “Black Book Value.”

Here is a quote from a Yahoo Answerer who shared her experience on shipping a truck: We brought a 1994 Chevrolet 6.94 liter turbo diesel, extra long bed, king cab into the country in 1998 in a container by ship freight. We paid a fortune (almost the price of the used car again). This is if you plan to drive there as a resident. This is not just passing through to the next country. It will have to get some kind of emissions test too. Payment is in cash.

Now add the shipping costs which depends on which port you are shipping it from and type of shipping (share or private container)  … Ouch!

Now, so when is this import tax due?  All import tax and fees are due at the time of entry. And you had better have all the paperwork (title, pink slip, register etc) and it must be in your name. If the vehicle is in the possession of a lien holder, you WILL have problems.

Payment can either be cash and/or bank note from a credited CR Bank. You will not be able to take the car until payment is made. I believe (but do not quote me on it because it changes under certain circumstances) the car will be held for 30 days, then afterward it is sold at a auction to cover the import fees.

And one of the reasons why many see a ton of vehicles abandoned when people are confronted with the costs and can not pay.

And even when paid, it can take up to 2-6 day nightmare to get all the necessary paperwork to get it released and that is why many hire a broker who takes a percentage of the value of the car and/or will do it for a flat fee.

And do not expect CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement) or Costa Rica’s Free Trade to change this in the future.

See a related article: Moving to Costa Rica

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  1. mark madill says:

      Im visiting Costa Rica,and am wondering if anyone can recommend a respected auto shipper to send a vehicle from here to Canada? Any help would be really appreciated.

    • Baxter Blevins says:

      We shipped our furniture and car to and fron Costa Rica using the company “Ship to Costa Rica” ran by Charlie Zellar. Some damage down and some missing items we never recovered. Coming back to the states several items were destroyed and after several months of haggling with him, including my resorting to exposing him on facebook, he agreed to pay. He asked for our bank account info in order to wire the money. That was one month ago. He has not paid, has blocked my email and will not return calls. This is all to common with dealings with ticos. They have no qualms lying to you, getting your money and then renigging on their promses.

      Good luck with any dealings you may have with them.

  2. jay ess says:

    how about shipping a motorcycle to CR?  Do the same rules apply?  Is there any way to find out what the taxes will be before shipping?

    • joan egizii says:

      Did you ever get an answer about shipping your motorcycle to Costa Rica.  I'm planning on retireing soon and would love to take my bike, 2003 Custom Bourget but am reading that it may cost me fortune…any answers would be appreciated.  Thanks.

  3. karl hobock says:

    I was thinking of buying a car in nicaragua and bringing it to costa rica. Do you know what the taxes are ? are they cheaper than the states

  4. Doug Smith says:

    we paid to ship a car in costa rica,from Los Angeles to Costa Rica our car has been delivered to costa rica, but the shipper here has not paid the shipping company, so we can not pick up the car! What can we do?

    • I assume you have contacted the shipper/broker, if so, I would read your clause in the contact with them, about payment. Most shippers are responsable for payments and additional fees that may accure to get the vehicle out.

      The company that shipped from LA, no doubt was paid and they may have an agreement with the broker.

      Generally, written contracts which govern the transaction, customarily contain the express mutual agreement that the broker agrees to be liable for timely payment of charges, and the carrier agrees to look to the broker for payment of the shipping charges. In otherwords, if you have your contract, and can prove payment I would show it to Customs.

      One thing for sure, that vehicle will not be released until payment is made, including storage fees if they apply. However, if the shipping company is in good graces with Customs (if might be they are not), they may have a bond, in which case I would contact the bonding company and explain the problem. Ask customs if this particular broker has a bond/insurance. The bonding company may make a fast deal to prevent additional costs, and then go after the shipper on a personal matter.

      Second thing for sure, your shipper is local, so you can bang on the door if you can find his office that is off the 3rd dirt road past the large Mango tree. Turn right, down 2 kilometers, then the second right next to the chicken farm etc etc.

  5. In fact, there is a lot of brokers offer their services to make this issues easier, but still lot of cash would be spend. And yes I agree, import tax and legal paperwork is the main problems for people who need to ship their car across country, that’s why many car shipping companies take advantage by over pricing the shipping cost. Different companies have different laws regarding shipping of cars. There are chances that car that you are shipping will make you give a good amount of money in terms of import duties. So we should be extra careful when select company we dealing with and makes sure they takes care of every thing so that people not have a smooth experience.

    This is one of the best car shipping companies to deal with.

  6. Many years ago, we faced the same horror stories when we imported our first 2 cars. Neither to say, we lost money in the deal. We have use many companies (in the USA and Costa Rica) and learned about the business, the reliable providers, and the do’s and don’ts. Now we have a network and logistic that allow us to run a painless operation: Door to Door service.

    We all want to be better informed and have options when making decisions. Here is a valuable one: (use the Door to Door link).

    Enjoy ALL OF your time in Costa Rica!

  7. Cindy Hunter says:

    To everyone who is shipping ANYTHING!
    Please make sure to check the documents of the import person making sure they are legal in their importation of goods. Some people hire a person to “speak” for them in customs and these hired folks don’t know what the real rules are. In some cases, like ours,you may not get your vehicle for 8 months. When you get it the condition of the vehicle could be horrific! (like ours). Lesson learned: Always make sure the person or people you are using for importation are professional, “real importers” with a legitimate business. Check with a reliable attorney for legitimate recommendations. Good Luck.

  8. micah meir says:

    Dear Friend

    I have heard of a loop hole in the import tax laws that allows for a S.A. in the business of tourism to import a vehicle or vehicles and have the import taxes waived. Is there any truth to this. My wife and I are planning to import a 2008 Toyota Tacoma Truck and just wonder if it is even worth it.
    let us know what you can

    Micah y Amanda Meir

    • admin says:

      The only loophole we know of (and we could be wrong) is that it is just rumor … to nail the unsuspected

  9. marco mahmoudieh says:

    I want to know, after 3 month driving in Costa Rica with a honduran lisense plate, I get another 3 month after I am going to Nicaragua for 3 Days. I heard there are some changes.

  10. Laura Mills says:

    I have a 2003 Toyato Camry. What would the import fees be? Would I be better off to sell it here and buy in Costa Rica? Arethere any auto loans available there?

  11. donald violette says:

    I have a 1958 190 SL Mercedes & would like to get an idea what the taxes etc. will be I know I will need emissions testing done prior to my moving although ther is none nearby, as Florida has D/C emissions testing. Is tit possible to have the tests done there? I am visiting CR in 2 weeks & looking for any info I can get. Thank you, Donald Violette
    PS. If you do not have the answers I would appreciate info where I can get them.

  12. NELLY GRAJALES says:

    Could yu please give me a quote I need t ship a truck to Costa Rica from Las VEgas

  13. David says:

    I started to write about this and realized that it was becoming a blog post. So here I go…


    Paperwork ? It has to be transferred from ownership in the States to being titled in Costa Rica. The shipper or customs broker keeps your US title on file.

    Shipping costs: the shipper should give you a price, but be sure to include the length. How it fits the container means everything in cost and speed.

    taxes in CR: There is a 90 day waiver, and one extension. (turist vehicles) But if you have a competent attorney, they can tell you exactly the taxes. Keep in mind that vehicles here don’t depreciate rapidly, and import tax percentages increase with the age of the vehicle.

    emissions testing and safety inspection: yep, they need to be done.

    You most likely should have an attorney (I used an ex-wife of an attorney who knows the system) for the titling, taxes, paperwork. Someone from their office will accompany you to the yard with a plate to release your car.

    Oh, and you should have all of the paperwork ready when you car arrives. Or you pay storage fees.

  14. Goodiex says:

    Well, I f want to import a 2009 car can cost you a lot , but if you import a 2000 above year the taxes are not but, but many gringos are a cheap bastards, and dont want to pay a dime, and want all free, as I heard nothing is free on earth, buy a car here its more easy and cheap.. Goodiex

  15. Shirley Osnab says:

    We would like to ship a model year 2000 Ford Excursion and a 16 ft pull behind cargo trailer from Tampa to Costa Rica.

    Having trouble getting reasonable quotes on the roll on/roll off service. SUGGESTIONS re what company has good rates?

    Have been told that we can pick it up in Limon and drive it for up to 3 months before taxes have to be paid, true? We are just trying to avoid being stuck in Limon or San Jose for up to a week. Comments re
    brokers, doing it yourself, success stories or nightmares?


  16. Chris says:

    Can a person on a 90 day tourist visa buy a car in Costa Rica and go to Panama once or twice to renew that tourist visa and still keepthe car in Costa Rica?

  17. Stefani says:

    The new owner got ‘nailed’ for the tax but the truck was advertised as ‘tax not paid’. It was worth $4500 so he got it for $3000 after tax. Good deal for both of us.

  18. Stefani says:

    I bought a my 89 Jeep Laredo for $700 and shipped it from Tampa for $300. A friend arranged for pick up in Limon. He got a temp pass for it because I was taking it on to Panama. I never did and 6 months later I was supposed to pay the tax of $1000. I then ‘sold’ the car to my husband, who then had another 6 months before the tax was due. Never paid the tax at all. At the end of the year, we sold it for $2000 and bought a Trooper for $2000. Jeep was not economical and parts very hard to find.

    • admin says:

      Stefani makes 2 valid points, a $700 used car the tax was $1000/ However, one of the major problems with people buying used cars in CR is that, they have to make sure the vehicle is registered and the tax has been paid – chances are the person that bought their car got nailed with the $1000 tax … so be careful (there are many stories like this) and/or keep selling it as they did 😉

  19. Susan Kishner says:

    I’ve been reading along for a while now. I just wanted to drop you a comment to say keep up the good work.

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