Shipping A Vehicle to Costa Rica

There isn’t one simple answer about whether or not you should ship a vehicle to Costa Rica. Many find that it is easier to buy a new vehicle in Costa Rica than to import, even if it is more expensive. People who want the most effortless vehicle ownership experience will purchase a make and model that is popular locally. This choice makes it easier to source spare parts and find mechanics who know how to work with the model of your vehicle. Mitsubishi, Suzuki, Toyota, and Nissan are all reliable makes in those regards. It is not difficult to ship spare parts to Costa Rica for less popular brands, but we will save this ‘how-to’ for a future article.

Unless you are buying a newer vehicle, the most popular suggestion is to import. Mechanics are not as reliable (yet) in Costa Rica as they are in many of the places that expats come from. In Costa Rica, it can be expected that you may be buying a lemon and you won’t notice until you’ve driven away. If you can afford to spend time looking for a used vehicle that’s in great shape back home, the import taxes may be highly worth paying to ship a vehicle to Costa Rica.

There are also many great dealerships in San Jose, the capital city, and San Isidro de El General, the nearest major city to our Southern Zone region. You can find many options for makes, models, spare parts and skilled mechanics in these areas. Be advised that cash buying is the best and sometimes only option.

But for those who are interested in learning about what it takes to import a vehicle to Costa Rica, read on for a full how-to guide.

Step 1: Find a local moving company at the point of origin

It is ideal to enlist a reliable vehicle shipping company who specialize in moving overseas (like Russ from to get a quote on bringing a vehicle to Costa Rica and to find out how long shipment will take. On average, it can take up to two weeks to move a vehicle from a Miami port to Costa Rica at an average shipping cost of about $1000 USD. A vehicle shipper will know which paperwork is required and the best options to keep your vehicle safe. If you are shipping a vehicle from the US, it must be a US registered vehicle. Canadians must ship their Canadian registered vehicles from a Canadian port.

Things to keep in mind before shipping:

  • An emissions test must be performed and your vehicle must meet standards set in Costa Rica. Your shipper will be able to assist with the emissions test to help ensure that your vehicle is able to be shipped.
  • Wash the vehicle and make sure there is no dust or grime left on any surface.
  • The vehicle must be in good running condition in order to be shipped.
  • Fuel should be dropped to less than a half tank for shipment.
  • All personal property must be removed from inside the vehicle.
  • Anything loose on the outside of the vehicle should be removed as it may falloff or damage other vehicles during shipment.
  • All lighting must work correctly.
  • The brakes and tires must be in good condition and work accordingly.

Step 2: Getting through customs

A few different Costa Rican agencies are involved in the process of importing a vehicle to Costa Rica. The first agency that you will encounter is the Costa Rican Customs Office. Your customs broker is licensed to interact with the Costa Rican Ministry of the Treasury on your behalf. Your broker will request all relevant information about the vehicle, including the Bill of Lading (BL) from the shipping company and the original title to the vehicle. They will initiate the vehicle nationalization process and obtain the tax classification for the vehicle based on the information provided by the VIN number. The VIN number is also the basis for the import taxes that will have to be paid on the vehicle.

Step 3: Paying your vehicle’s import taxes

Import taxes are paid to your customs broker or directly to the Treasury Department. These taxes are considered to be extremely high by many, and a large factor in deciding whether or not to import a vehicle to Costa Rica.

  • Vehicles from 2012 and earlier pay 73.5%  (vehicles more than 6 years)
  • Vehicles from 2013 forward pay  52.5%  (vehicles less than 6 years old)

Step 4: Registering your vehicle in the Customs database

After paying taxes, the Customs Department will issue a document called a DUA (Documento Único Administrativo). This information is entered into the electronic database at the Customs Department, known as TICA. In this database, you can search any information about your import. Once the DUA has been accepted by customs, they will inspect the vehicle and authorize its release if it passes inspection.

Prior to release, you will also have to pay for the services provided by the storage warehouse. This amount depends on the amount of days the vehicle spent in their custody.

Step 5: Passing vehicle inspections

The DUA that you are given by the Customs Department becomes your temporary title for 24-48 hours. This is deemed enough time to take your newly imported vehicle to the mandatory inspection station known as RITEVE, where officially-appointed mechanics conduct safety and emissions testing.

With your RITEVE documentation in hand, you can now hire the services of a Notary Public to draft the legal document to register your vehicle. The owner of the vehicle must personally appear before the Notary Public or legally assign Power of Attorney. The amount of registration costs and fees is based on a sliding scale of the value of the vehicle as it was determined by the tax department. A rough estimate expect to pay around 4.5% of the value of the vehicle to get it registered.

Step 6: Registering your vehicle with the National Insurance Institute

In addition to the registration fees, you will also need to pay the vehicle Marchamo, which is the annual road circulation tax and mandatory liability insurance. The National Insurance Institute (INS) determines the amount that needs to be paid (refer to their website for more information).

It can take anywhere from ten to thirty days to get the vehicle registered. This depends if the deed is accepted during the first presentation, or if it is defected for any reason and requires correction. Once the vehicle is registered, it is assigned a license plate number.

After completing registration, paying Marchamo and receiving your license plates, you need to go back to the vehicle inspection station (RITEVE) so they can issue the final report and sticker proving that the vehicle is now compliant.

At then end of the process your vehicle will have:

  1. A valid title registration (titulo de propiedad)
  2. A RITEVE inspection document and window sticker
  3. A valid Marchamo and Tarjeta de Circulacion (road tax plus mandatory insurance)

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