Buying a Car in Costa Rica

When we moved to Costa Rica this past July, one of our first priorities was to buy a car. We couldn’t wait to be cruising down the road, a warm breeze blowing our hair, on our way to hidden waterfalls and sleepy beaches. It all sounded so easy, just bring our own car from the United States or wait and buy one when we got here. We could handle that. We soon discovered, however, that like many things in Costa Rica, it wasn’t going to be that easy.

 

Highway in Costa Rica Picture

Option one, bringing our car, ended up not making sense because of import duties. When you ship a car to Costa Rica, the government taxes it a whopping 50-80% of the “retail value.” Retail value is determined by the Costa Rican government and is usually much higher than the Kelly Blue Book value. Since shipping also would be a huge hassle because of the customs process, we moved on to option two, waiting to buy until we arrived.

We knew cars are expensive in Costa Rica but prices proved to be even higher than we expected—so much so that the thought crossed our minds not to get a car at all. But after living car-less for over a month, we decided that we wouldn’t survive for long without one. Coming from Boston, we are all for public transportation but found out fast that riding the bus was not always practical. A simple trip to town to run errands would often turn into an all-day affair. Don’t get us wrong, if you live near one of the larger cities, buses are a lot easier because there are more routes. In more remote areas though, like the Southern Zone where we live now, buses are infrequent and there isn’t much within walking distance. With a little money in our pocket from the sale of our car back home and the frustration building, the hunt for some wheels was on.

Where to Look for a Car

In our extensive research, we had read some horror stories about unscrupulous used car dealerships. Not that they are all bad but some people have had bad experiences. Maybe the car had its odometer turned back or the vehicle identification number (VIN) on the body did not match the one on the frame or engine. Then there was the overwhelming thought of being taken advantage of because of the language barrier. Salespeople in the States were bad enough when we could understand them, but in Spanish, yikes! In addition, because we lived far from the capital, and most of the dealers, we couldn’t casually look around; the bus trip alone would take all day. We really wanted a local, private sale.

 

Used car lot Costa Rica picture
A typical used car lot in Costa Rica

 

Being from the United States, our first inclination was to check, where else, but Craigslist. Listings on Craigslist were a little sparse though. It was clearly not the primary site to post cars, so I asked a few locals where they look. I got two different options: crautos.com and encuentra24.com. CR Autos had the most inventory by far. This website is used by a lot of the dealers in San José and Grecia and was our source to compare prices and models, in other words, to find out the going rate. Encuentra24 was also a good resource. This website is the classifieds’ page for one of Costa Rica’s larger newspapers and a lot of non-dealers post cars here. Lastly, we constantly had our eyes open. It’s not uncommon to see a “se vende” sign hanging in the window of a passing or parked car. We even waved down a few to ask the price.

What We Were Looking for

For us, a four-wheel drive SUV was essential. Many main roads in Costa Rica are nicely paved, but back roads, side streets, and driveways, like ours, can be treacherous and steep. Pair that with the unpredictable rainy season and its widespread flooding and we definitely wanted something high off the ground with good traction. Our modest budget had us looking for a compact SUV around model year 2000. That may sound old—it is old—but here in Costa Rica even a 13-year-old car is expensive. We also wanted something commonly found in Costa Rica for ease of parts availability. Lastly, we wanted something good on gas, preferably a four-cylinder or efficient diesel.

These criteria had us looking at only a handful of models: the Toyota RAV 4, Suzuki Vitara, Chevy Tracker, Daihatsu Terios, Hyundai Galloper, and Honda CRV.

 

Rough dirt road in Costa Rica photo
A typical muddy, bumpy road in Costa Rica

How the Process Works

With our search narrowed, we needed to make sure we understood the process so that we’d be ready to buy when the time came. A good deal doesn’t last long as we found by emailing back and forth with a few owners. Again with some help from the locals and more research, we started to understand the process. Here’s how it works:

1) Find a car.

2) Make sure the Marchamo (registration & mandatory liability insurance) and Riteve (inspection) are current. Both stickers are located on the windshield. The Marchamo is paid annually between November 1 and December 31. The month that the Riteve is due coincides with the last number of the license plate, 1 is January and so on. 

For more on the Riteve process, check out our post Riteve: Costa Rica’s Annual Vehicle Inspection.

3) Bring the car to a mechanic to get it checked out (one you choose). Cars in Costa Rica face very rough conditions so a thorough inspection is important.

4) Negotiate a price with the seller.

5) Complete the transaction with a notary public or lawyer (again, one you choose, who speaks your native language). A notary public/lawyer is required by law for valid title transfer. They write the bill of sale, search the government database to make sure there are no liens or fines on the car from the previous owner, and send the paperwork to San José to get you a new title.

How It Worked for Us

After about a month of looking but with very few options materializing in our local area, we decided that we needed to rent a car and drive somewhere with more options. Luckily an English-speaking mechanic was recommended to us in the nearby city of San Isidro Del General (Perez Zeledon). After a few phone conversations, we decided that he would be a great resource. He could check out a car before we purchased it and even offered to call around to see if anyone he knew was selling. San Isidro also was a good starting point for our on-the-ground search because it has a number of used car lots. And with more people driving around, we thought maybe we’d even get lucky with a private sale.

With the mobility of our rental car, we suddenly had a handful of prospects. The first option we considered was a 1998 Suzuki Sidekick, a slightly older model than we were hoping for but affordable. We test-drove it over to our trusty mechanic to get his opinion, but the concerned look on his face said it all. Many parts on the dashboard had been altered and he just didn’t seem to like it. He told us to return that car and come back to his shop.

When we returned, the mechanic had a similar car, a 2000 Chevy Tracker, in his lot. He explained that he had worked on this car for a friend and that it was in much better condition. We told him about a Toyota RAV4 we were considering at one of the dealerships, but he said that for steep hill climbs (like our driveway), he preferred the four-by-four system of the Tracker because of its low-range gear. We test-drove the Tracker and did notice a much smoother ride from the Sidekick. It was now late afternoon and we had to decide based on a ten-minute ride around town if we should buy this car today or come back in the morning for another exhausting day. We decided to trust our mechanic and go for it.

Now we needed an abogado (a lawyer). We had written down the names of a few in town who advertised that they spoke English but were unable to get in contact with any of them. With lawyer offices closing soon, we asked the mechanic for help, now putting our complete trust in him. He made some calls, then some more calls, sent a few text messages, and finally tracked down an available lawyer nearby. Within minutes, we were off. Our mechanic even came along too.

The process with the lawyer was simple. She spent about a half-hour searching the government database for information on the car and filled out paperwork while we sat and chatted with the mechanic and owner of the car. When she was finished with the bill of sale, she carefully explained it to us in English and answered our questions. We listened as she went through the title search, explained how the license plates stayed with the car when it changes owners, and how the annual Marchamo is calculated (based on the government-assigned value, not the sale price). We then signed the papers (all in Spanish) and handed over the money we’d been nervously carrying around all day to the seller. We were given a temporary document to hold while the official ones were processed in San José, told to come back in two weeks to get the papers, and handed the keys. In true Tico style, we all got into the car, mechanic and seller included, and dropped everyone off at their homes before riding off into the sunset.

 

Green Buggy Costa Rica Picture
We dub thee ‘Green Buggy’

 

Overall our car-buying experience in Costa Rica was filled with stress and anxiety. Not surprisingly, it was the locals who helped make the process somewhat bearable. Ticos don’t stress out about much and definitely wouldn’t lose sleep over the purchase of a car. We were extremely fortunate to get help from trustworthy people who were looking out for our best interests. Now that we have a set of wheels, we get to experience all of the other joys that come along with car ownership: maintenance, high gas prices, additional insurance, roadside hazards, and those crazy drivers who pass on curves. We’ll be sure to keep you posted as the wheels turn.

Additional Resources

http://news.co.cr/importing-cars-costa-rica/2644/
http://adullroar.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-cost-of-owning-and-driving-car-in.html
http://www.welovecostarica.com/public/903.cf

So What Happened Next . . . ?

In July 2013, we boarded a plane for a new life in Costa Rica. Want to follow our story as it happened? Check out the posts below to see how our dream became a reality and what it has been like so far.

Post by: Jennifer Turnbull-Houde & Matthew Houde

 

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99 Comments

  1. Thanks for writing this account of your experience. We are carless and doing ok on the bus but there are always those occasions where I just want a car. I imagine we will be purchasing one sometime. This article helps know what to expect. Keep up the good work.
    Greg

    1. Thanks for reading, Greg. Glad you found the post useful. When we were researching the process, the information on the Internet was spotty so we thought it might help others to share our experience. Props to you guys for still being car-free. If you ever take the plunge and have questions, you know who to ask.

    2. Hi Jenn and Matt,

      That was a very good and informative article. I have a place in about 20 minutes west of San Isidro, but unfortunately I only currently visit about 5 times a year. My stats are getting longer and I will be there for the month of July. I would like to buy a used car in San Isidro. Would you be able to give me your mechanics contact info so He could work with me on finding and inspecting a good vehicle? I will be in the area during the last week of anarchy or early April.

      Regards,

      Kofi

      1. Hi Kofi, Unfortunately we haven’t had the best luck with our mechanic lately (he has not been very reliable) so are no longer recommending him. We have someone new who we use in San Isidro but he speaks Spanish only. Not sure if that works for you, but we’ll send his contact info along.

        1. Hi Jenn and Matt, thank you so much for your valuable articles! My boyfriend and I have returned to them many times in the few years we’ve been living here. We’re also living near San Isidro, and are currently in the market for our first car here. I’m wondering if you have a local mechanic who you can reference us to? Also, if you know of anyone who’d like to sell their car, I’m so grateful for a lead! We’re looking for a 4×4 Tracker or Sidekick, late 90s – early 2000s.

          1. Hi Ria, I’ll try to remember to send you an email with the contact info on Monday. We just sold our Chevy Tracker a couple of months ago- bummer that we didn’t get your comment sooner!

  2. Great informative post on buying a car. We have decided to NOT buy a car for now, and we are working well with the bus system here in Grecia (but you’re right – it DOES take all day to go into town and do simple errands). Finding trust-worthy people here makes it so much easier, am glad you found some to help you. And your car looks fabulous! 🙂

    1. Thanks Jen. Glad that the bus system is working out for you guys. We would have been much more likely not to get a car if we lived closer to San Jose like you but the buses only run a couple of times a day down here, which makes it tough. We do take the bus when it’s convenient though since gas is pretty expensive and always for long trips. Thanks for reading!

  3. Hi Jenn and Matt
    Thank you so much for this post, it is extremely helpful. My husband and I are moving to Uvita next year (if all goes as planned) and we were just discussing the car buying process because as you mentioned you really need a car in that area and we have heard some horror stories. We are going to be down there in a couple of weeks and we would love to get together
    To pick your brain on the whole moving process as it is a bit overwhelming. Let us know. In the meantime enjoy your new car. It looks great by the way.

    1. Hi Christine, you’re very welcome, glad you found the post helpful. We’d be happy to meet up with you and your husband when you come down. Just shoot us a message via our Contact page and we can figure out the details via email. Congrats on deciding to make the move, can’t wait to hear all about it!

  4. Nice overview of the process. Perhaps you will do a follow-up a year from now to discuss maintenance. There are a large number of Mitsubishi SUVs of various sizes here, too, which are very rugged and easy to find parts for.

    1. Thanks Casey. A follow up on maintenance is a great idea. I actually remember reading a related post on your blog a while back that we found really helpful- that’s why we brought along some tools to CR for basic repairs. Good tip on the Mitsubishis- we looked at some Monteros too. You do see them everywhere here.

  5. Oh man buying a car here is so not easy. Without even talking about prices, just the whole process… even for a Costa Rican. We’ve been looking into getting a new car for awhile and we use crautos.com but we haven’t’ found one yet. Plus Riteve has been a nightmare for us. It’s like a full body physical for your car! Glad to hear you guys were able to get one though! It is nice to have a car here

    1. Samantha, nice to know it’s not just us! Thanks for the heads up on Riteve. Now we have that to look forward to…wonder how our 13 year old buggy will fare. Only time will tell. Good luck finding a new car!

  6. Thanks so much for this. My husband is moving to Costa Rica in January and he will need a car. He is reopening an Ecolodge near Santa Maria de Dota. It’s 7500 feet above sea level in a cloud forest. Got to have a 4 x 4! Your post was very helpful in getting us started.

    1. Mike and Jennie, glad to help. Exciting news that you’re reopening an ecolodge. We aren’t too far from Santa Maria de Dota; you’ll have to let us know when you’re ready for guests so we can come check it out. Best of luck with the move!

  7. Hi,
    We realized that you guys were in the exact same boat we find ourselves in. We do however find that we are needing to find a car quicker. Renting is very draining on the pocketbook! We’re looking at finding a car within a week. What we need to know are what are the expenses after giving the seller his cash? Taxes? Insurance? Lawyer? Mechanic? Any help with these questions would be greatly appreciated. And yes you guys did get a good looking car! Enjoy.

    1. Hi Guy and Ros,
      Good luck with the car search! Here is some answers that will hopefully shed some more light.
      In general, use the websites we listed above to narrow down what models your interested and their price range. That way you will know if the price is out of line. We paid pretty much the average price for our buggy. We saw the same make and model for more and for less.
      The Marchamo (taxes and mandatory insurance) are paid each year between November and Dec 31 so you will need to check if it has been paid yet since we are well into November now. The price for this will depend on the gov. calculated value of the car not the sale price. You should be able to look at the registration papers in the glove box to get the previous amount paid (ours ran about $200/yr).
      Additional Insurance- You don’t have to but you can buy more insurance later through INS or another company. We upgraded our liability insurance for about $130/6months. This depends on what coverage you choose, full coverage, roadside assistance, etc. would be much more.
      Depending on the mechanic, they may or may not charge, ours did not but we gave him a tip.
      The Lawyer or Notary fee will vary depending on who you use (I’m guessing $300-500 is about the range). Sometimes the seller will split this cost with you if you negotiate it that way but make sure you go to someone you feel comfortable with.
      Hope this info helps, let us know what you end up with. A green buggy twin perhaps?
      Pura Vida,
      -Matt & Jenn

  8. Thanks for your tips. We have a RAV4 but are looking for something bigger. We live in Tres Rios OSA up a very steep hill and sometimes have to take two runs at it. what is the name of the mechanic you used in San Isidrio. Monica

  9. Hi! Is it possible to drive your own car down into CR without paying import fees? What if you are just planning an extended stay, but not permanent move (say 6 months-1 year).

    1. Hi Celeste,
      We’re not exactly sure about the details but we have seen a few cars around that have plates from the States. One thing to keep in mind is that your drivers license is only good for 90 days and needs to be renewed with your tourist Visa. Not sure if a car with US plates would also need to pass over the border to re-new it’s eligibility here. Another thing is that if you were pulled over at any time, they may see how long you have been in the country and try to make you register it here, thus paying all the taxes anyway. Hope that helps. Pura Vida and good luck with the drive down.

      1. Thanks! We are coming down hopefully in April/May to check things out. Then we will have a better idea about how best to do it.

    1. Michael, we hadn’t heard that but just came across an article (http://costarica-connection.com/costa-rica-deceases-used-car-import-tax/) that seems to suggest that the rates did go down last Aug. to 30% for cars up to 6 years old and 40-48% for cars 7+. Not sure how reliable the article is since the prior tax rates provided go against everything we’ve ever seen. Like many things in Costa Rica, this might be a mystery you can unravel only if you’ve gone through it yourself!

  10. Great story. Thanks for sharing.
    I am planning to buy a car and build it to a expeditioncar to make a 1-year+ journey trough middle, north, back to middle and South America.
    So every info is more then welcome.
    Thanks.

  11. Hi Jenn and Matt!
    I love your blog and your stories have made our decision to move to Costa Rica a lot less scary! We will be purchasing a vehicle when we arrive, something likely very similar to the green buggy, and I’m having a hard time finding any information on how much tax is charged on used vehicles purchased in Costa Rica. What kind of tax did you pay on the green buggy?
    Thanks for your help 🙂

    1. Hi Robin, glad our blog is making you feel better about your move. Congrats, by the way!
      For used cars purchased in Costa Rica, you don’t pay taxes at the time of purchase but instead pay them as part of your annual Marcharmo (annual registration that includes a small amount of liability insurance). Marchamo is due by the end of the year. Ours for 2013 wasn’t too bad, I think around $200.
      One other thing you might think about doing is joining some of the expat Facebook groups for the area of Costa Rica you’re moving to. People sometimes post vehicles for sale on there, and sometimes you can get a good deal if someone needs to leave the country ASAP. Good luck with the move!

  12. Hi Matt and Jenn!
    Thanks for sharing this experience. Moving to Escazu with my wife and kids in 2 weeks. Of all of our planning, etc to make this happen, getting a car has been the “stress” most in my mind. This is very helpful in walking the through the process! I think we’ll rent for a month, regardless of the expense. It seems rushing things is not the best approach. Thanks again, just subscribed! 🙂

    1. Hi Noel,
      Glad you found the blog helpful and thanks for subscribing! Getting a car is definitely one of the more stressful tasks ahead of you but once it’s done, it’s done. You will have a much easier time finding something near Escazu, with all of the car dealers in that area. Best of luck with the move!

  13. Hi,
    I’ll be doing the same exact thing tomorrow in San Jose. I’m under a time crunch and hope to find something in a few days. I’ve got my secret weapon with me, a friend who speaks Spanish. Can you tell me the mechanics name?

    1. Aaron, Good luck with the search. There’s a lot to choose from in San Jose so you should be fine. Plus you have your secret, Spanish-speaking weapon. The mechanic is in San Isidro/Perez Zeledon so I don’t think he’ll be much help to you up in San Jose. Just make sure to find someone who is not involved in the transaction to take a look. Pura vida!

  14. Nice write up guys! I love it when people like you go into such detail about the process. It really helps to demystify a confusing process.
    I’m curious how the tracker has worked out for you? It’d be great to get a followup on how the car you chose did or didn’t fit your needs. Any insights into repairs and maintenance would be awesome, too.
    Cheers!

    1. Hi Jim, we have loved the Tracker. It has been great on gas (aprox 25miles/gal) and the 4×4 has gotten us up some pretty impressive dirt roads and driveways. We’ll be doing a follow up post soon once we get our Riteve done later in the month. Hopefully we won’t have a lot to say, but we’ll definitely cover some of the maintenance costs. Thanks for reading, Pura Vida!

      1. Well it seems that you two have become the go to couple for CR info on Vehicle purchases. Maybe you could make a buck on it but you seem to be really helpful folks naturally. Just one Question, how much would you sell your “green buggy” for today if you would sell it.
        My wife and I plan to retire in CR this year. we fell in love with it two years ago on vacation.

        1. Hi Bob and Brenda, thanks for reading and great that you are moving down to CR! Not sure we’d sell the green buggy since she’s treated us so well, but if you are serious about needing some help, send us an email (jennandmatt(at)twoweeksincostarica.com) and we’ll get some more details from you and see if we could work something out. We’ve had our eye on a red buggy that might be perfect.. haha..

  15. Will you please provide me with the contact name and details of the notary/lawyer you used to transfer the title on the car?
    Thanks,
    Max

  16. Great info. We spent 3 mos. looking and based on a friends input we selected a Diesel Turbo (2003 Montero Sport 4×4) for the cost savings on gas (gov’t subsidized) of about $1/gal. Having rented a new 4×4 during the 3 mos. while looking, I found I much preferred the older car versus the new one. The new is too light and Plastic, the older being heavy and rugged feel. Asking price was $18,000 and we successfully offered $14,000. A good thing because repairs and replacements the first year cost us $3,500.
    Tks. Ron

    1. Hi Ron, That’s impressive that you were able to negotiate the price down that much! Diesels are definitely popular here in Costa Rica and we have heard good things about the Montero. Good choice. Much like our car, there are plenty of them around so parts are not hard to find. Maintenance is a never ending battle with Costa Rica’s road conditions, but you’re right that the older models are more rugged than the newer plastic ones. Thanks for your comment and good luck!

  17. Hey guys – great write up. Do you have any tips for bringing a car from CR back to the US? I’ve seen a couple that I would like to bring back to Colorado, but don’t know anything about bringing them “the other way”. If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them. Pura Vida!

    1. Hi Rod, someone actually contacted us recently saying he was going to do this and would let us know how it goes after, so stay tuned! I think you don’t hear much about it because it’s often better to just sell it when you leave CR since cars are really expensive and retain their value. Pura vida!

  18. Second hand info from a friend in Costa Rica– Gas sold here (CR) is Regular Gas (contains lead) and the U.S gas is lead free. If the car you ship to the U.S. is a local car (CR)it may not preform well on lead free (engine pinks-knocks). If you notice local cars (CR) do not have Catalytic Converters that are required for smog control in the U.S. And of course you have all the U.S. required safety devices (Air Bags, etc.)
    Have a Great Day In Paradise.
    Pura Vida
    Ron

    1. We’d never heard of the gas difference Ron. I know our car is originally from the US and has a catalytic converter, oxygen sensors etc. I also thought that part of the inspection process (Riteve) includes an emissions test but since we had a mechanic bring it in, I can’t confirm that. Anyway, always learning something new about cars here, so thanks for the comment.

  19. Hello Jenn and Matt, I was wondering if you know anything about teaching english in Costa Rica. If so, how difficult will it be to land a job at one of the larger schools or at the university?

  20. Hi Jenn and Matt,
    My husband, our two small children and I are planning on taking a break from our hustle and bussel life in the U.S. to travel through South America for a year or so, starting in Costa Rica! Rather than rent a car or pay the import fees required with bring our own, we’re wanting to buy one. Can you buy a vehicle in Costa Rica without being a resident? We are just curious about registration, would we put our address from the U.S.? Any advice would be great! We are very inspired by your story and can’t wait to live the Pura Vida life for a little while!
    -Stacey

    1. Hi Stacey, that’s great that you and your family will be coming down to Costa Rica! You don’t have to be a resident to buy a car. When you have the lawyer fill out the registration you will just put your rental address or wherever you are staying here in Costa Rica. Hope that helps, good luck with your planning and thanks for reading!

  21. Hello Jenn and Matt! Like some of the commenters above, my family and I are moving to CR (Brasilito area) for most of next year and we’re getting pretty excited. We are also planning on buying a car for the time we’re there and I was wondering if you feel that Craigslist has become a better option than when you originally posted? Thanks – your blog is really an incredible resource.

    Andy

    1. Hi Andy, Thanks for reading! Craigslist is hit or miss but sometimes we do see some good cars on there, it all depends. No matter what, just make sure to check out the car once you get down here and bring it to a mechanic that someone you know can recommend to get it checked out. Hope that helps, good luck with your move!

  22. Hey there! This is really helpful as someone who is starting to think about how to get around when I get there. It sounds like there’s some barriers whether you ship a car or buy one there. I’m curious, did you find any companies that move cars there from the U.S. that you liked? I’ve been speaking with A-1 Auto Transport about the prospect of having my Toyota shipped. I’m aware of the cost, but I might rather pay than deal with trying to find something there, what with the all day bus trips and everything. Aside from the high taxes, is there anything else that was a deal breaker for you?

    – Jason

    1. Hi Jason, we had a small car (a Civic) in the US so didn’t even entertain the idea of bringing it with us. A lot of people say they are happy they decided to bring theirs though. Like you said, either way you’re going to have some hassle, whether you buy here or ship, and the price will probably be around the same. Not sure if the procedure has changed, but some people we’ve spoken to had to make multiple trips to customs to retrieve their car and it ended up taking a month to actually get it. One benefit of bringing your own though is that you know it has been treated well- we’ve had good luck with ours but have heard some horror stories of people buying lemons here. Good luck!

  23. My wife and I are finalizing plans to move to Playa Del Coco in April this year to build our retirement home. A builder by trade, that really enjoys building and am very much looking forward to getting started on our next project. We have enlisted a local architect to design and permit the home the goal being to start construction soon after we land and settle in.

    Your post on moving property specifically your car are much appreciated please keep them coming. Would you have any comments and or know a place to look for information on the following?

    Long term rental property (6MO)
    House sitting would also be a option.
    International movers. We are in Colorado.
    Import tax on household goods.

    Have a Happy New Year and thank you in advance for any info you may have.

    Pura Vida

    Dave & Manny

    1. Hi David, Congrats on your upcoming move. Here are some thoughts on your questions: (1) Finding a rental– Your best bet is to find a good real estate agent in the area. We don’t have any connections up in Coco but a good place to start would be the Playas del Coco Facebook group or the Expatriates in Costa Rica Facebook group to see if anyone has a recommendation. (2) House Sitting: This is a great option and what we’ve been doing for the past year and a half. You first need to sign up for some house sitting websites. Here’s a post we wrote about it with more info and the 3 best sites to use: https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/how-to-live-in-costa-rica-for-2000/ (3) International movers and import taxes– We didn’t use shippers and only brought what fit in our luggage so can’t help with these ones. The ARCR forum will have info though, and again, search the Facebook groups. I know these questions have been asked before.

      Hope that helps. Best of luck with the move and building your house!

  24. Awesome article, could you share the mechanic info? My husband and I want to buy a car in Costa Rica so we don’t have to rent cars every time we visit there…. We always visit San Isidro Perez Zeledon.
    Thank you!

  25. Hello, we are in exactly the situation you were and so appreciate your story and info. We owned a condo in Herradura and recently traded up to an oceanfront in Esterillos Oeste. Its time to buy a car as 2 weeks is not cutting it anymore!lol could we ask you for the name of the mechanic that helped you? We simply need a compact that is good on fuel. But it would be great to contact someone we could trust. Thank you again

  26. Hi Jenn & Matt, thank you for this great resource! We’d also like the names/contact of the mechanic and the lawyer please. He should be paying you guys commission now!

  27. Thanks for the great information. I am considering a move to Costa Rica with my family and whether or not to bring my 2003 Chevy diesel truck. We would be located in the central mountains near Turrialba and would want the 4wd and ability to haul that the truck provides. Since you purchased a Chevy, have you had problems with finding parts? I know a mechanic there but have been nervous about getting broken down and not having the ability to make repairs.

    1. Hi Bryan, we haven’t had any problems getting parts for our Chevy but our model is also identical to some Suzuki and Geo cars. We have seen some Chevy trucks around but not sure how available the parts are for the model you would bring down. There is a Chevrolet dealer in San Jose so getting parts through them is a possibility, although it might take a while if they aren’t in stock and be expensive. We have had to get some parts from San Jose before and our mechanic had them sent on the bus to his shop. Diesel cars and trucks are common here though so I feel that a good mechanic would be able to fix most things and get the parts one way or another. One other note: whenever we go back to the States, we bring back parts that we know are wearing out or on the brink of failure. If you have visitors, they might be able to bring some stuff too…

  28. We just moved here and are getting frustrated with the buses. Took us 6 hours to go from Escazu to Belen de Heredia. Going to church should have been an hour round trip but took all day. Your post was very, very helpful. Can’t believe how much it costs to rent a car, too. Egad!

    1. Been there, Trent. We didn’t have a car for the first month and it was grueling at times. It’s fine if you live in a place where the buses run a lot but a lot tougher if you don’t. Car rentals are a little expensive here. Hope you have taken a look at our rental car discount – keep in mind that rates go down the longer you rent if you’re going to need one for a while.

  29. Hi Jean & Matt,

    very interesting and helpful sharing your experience with us!

    I would like to ask you, if you have any engineers’ contacts near Paraiso, Vázquez de Coronado (areas) and San Jose city that I’ve found three interesting SUV’s and I want to check them.

    Also, could you share any lawyers’ contacts for the transfer and the approximate cost?

    I am willing to transfer the title and immediately hit the road for the road trip I am going to have heading to the north (salvador, guatemala); do you know if I can pass the boarders with the temporary licence and get the original one when I come back.

    Thank you in advance : )
    Dimi

    1. Hi Dimi, We bought our car in San Isidro de El General so don’t have any mechanic or lawyer contacts in your area, unfortunately. It has been a while but I think our lawyer’s fee to transfer the title was $400. Some people split that between the buyer and seller. We are really not sure about if you can use the temporary papers to cross the border but your attorney should know. Best of luck with the process!

  30. Hi Jenn & Matt, first of all thanks a lot for the wealth of information on your blog. We are planning to stay a year in Costa Rica from July 2017 to June 2018 and everything you guys wrote has been tremendously helpful. Quick question about the car purchasing process: we’d be in CR on a normal tourist visa (i know, we`ll have to travel out of CR every 90 days…), do you need a residential address in CR before purchasing / registering a car? If possible i’d like to 1) land in San Jose 2) buy a car 3) drive down to Buenos Aires / Puntarenas and then look for housing. Any input would be greatly appreciated. Thank you again!

    1. Hi Marcel, You do need a physical address for the title. The lawyer will include it when they do the transfer. It isn’t a big deal, though. We just used the address for the place we were staying temporarily (we were house siting), so as long as you have something to give them, your plan should work fine. Best of luck!

  31. We are in the same situation, living outside of San Isidro de El General. Would you be able to tell me the mechanic you went to, or the notary/attorney. We drove down and after much debate have decided to try and sell our vehicle before the import permit is up and buy something here. It’s totally overwhelming! Many thanks to y’all!

  32. Hi, I really enjoyed your post! My husband is a traveling minister/part-time missionary who goes to CR at least once a year. We have become very close with a Guatemalan family who are also ordained ministers living in CR. Aside from their own missions work, they help US ministers like us with setting up events, distributing aid, hosting people in their home, and translating during church services, radio, etc. They have tried to buy a car twice privately on payments and have had the owner repossess it due to the first owner’s bankruptcy and then the 2nd owner simply stealing it back (even though they paid faithfully on time). I would like to try to raise funds for them to buy a car outright, but I want to do some homework first before I include them in on the conversation. How much money minimum would you recommend to raise to get them a clean looking vehicle that is fairly dependable? An SUV would be perfect because they travel around with music & sound equipment and haul toys, groceries, medical supplies, etc for various charitable events.

    1. Hi Beth, That’s great that you want to help your friends out with a car. It sounds like they need one with that type of work and I imagine it takes them all over. The cost for a dependable 4×4 SUV really depends on the year and make/model of the car. Very broadly, you could probably get something from the early-to-mid 90s (probably not too dependable) for around $3500-$5000, Late 90’s maybe something like $5000-$7000, and early 2000s for between $7000-10,000. A good place to look at the going rates is the CR Autos website we mention above. Hope this helps you with your plan.

  33. Thanks for this info, it is helpful. I am wondering if you or any readers here have heard of wheelscr (dot com) and the service they provide in San Jose? It sounds very useful, particularly if one is short on time and unfamiliar with the whole process. It appears legit but there is not much to be found on the internet to support that, from a quick’n’dirty google search anyway.

  34. Hi, thanks for the write-up, very helpful.

    Can you comment at all on the process a non-resident would undertake to get their hands on the cash needed to consummate a car purchase? Is bringing a sizeable amount of dollars down and exchanging the best option? I’ve read that we should be able to open a BCR account as non-residents, but the deposit limit is $1k per month so that’d mean an awfully long wait to put in the $12-15k we plan to spend on a vehicle.

    1. Hi Myles, A lot of people do a wire transfer directly into the seller’s bank account. This avoids having to deal with the limits on non-resident bank accounts. We did this recently from our bank in the US to an account at BN, and the money was in the recipient’s account in around 4 business days.

      1. Ok, thanks. Did you arrange the wire through a lawyer, and if so, how did hat work? (Did the lawyer draw up some sort of pre-sale contract? And what safeguards were in place with a transfer directly into the seller’s account I assume before you had the vehicle?)

        1. Hi Myles, We purchased the car from someone we knew personally so it was a different situation. I’m sure a good lawyer could advise you on the best way to do the wire so that you are well protected.

  35. Thank you for all the info you guys have. I have been reading this for months since I decided to move here from Texas. I’ve been carless for about 2-3 months now. I have to walk about 900 meters to the next bus stop and they come only once every hour M-F. Different hours on weekends or holidays. I love the walks but my wife not so much since we have 2 steep hills and she has back problems.
    I was thinking about bringing my car from the US but I have a 2017 Dodge Journey. Someone that knows about this that has a contact in the import business told me it would cost me around $14 thousand in taxes to get in here because of all the extras. So I decided I will sell it in the US and I will buy a car here.
    Actually I am buying 1 today. A Checy Tracker-4×4 very similar to yours from a relative of the Lady that is leasing us the house we are in now. I will post a picture here later.

    1. Hi Jonathan, Thanks for posting. It is crazy about the import taxes here. For something newer, you’re usually better off buying it in CR. That’s great that you got a car, hope you like the Tracker. We just sold ours because it was getting really old but it treated us very well for several years.

  36. Hello Jenn and Matt,

    I just brought a car to Costa Rica. Received at Limon, paid customs and pass RTV.

    I am looking at different blogs, but still can’t find: what is the coast for an attorney for first-time registration of a car. First-time inscription, if I can say… getting the title and plates. The reason I am asking is because my custom broker appointed me to a lawyer that ask for $380 and now went to $280. This seems to me a little stip.

    Do you have an experience in this matter?

    Thank you in advance!

    Boyko

    1. Hi Boyko, We’ve never imported a car so aren’t totally sure. Usually the way fees are set up for certain required transactions, like registering a car, the government sets a price that the service provider (attorney) can charge. They can probably offer lower than this if they want. That does sounds reasonable, though. We paid more than that to register our newest car, a 2015 model. I think it’s based on the age of the vehicle.

  37. Hi Jen & Matt!!
    Hope all is well. Thanks for sharing your story. I live in Chelsea Boston MA and thinking of moving to Costa Rica.. im so excited! May I ask what moving company you used to move?

    1. Hi Kris, We didn’t use a moving company, we brought all our belongings in 8 suitcases when we flew here. That can be easier because it avoids having to deal with importing items and customs.

  38. Suzuki sells a brand new Alto 800 for about $10,300
    You get a five year warranty. We tried living in the southern zone but the roads off the highway got the best of us, so we moved closer to Jaco and could easily get by with a two wheel drive vehicle. Our 3 cylinder engine (1 liter) gives the same mileage as a motorcycle, and we have lots of power to climb steep grades.
    Paying around $6,000 for a fifteen year old car didn’t make sense to us.

  39. Hello Jenn and Matt,
    My wife and I are looking at moving down to CR in the near future. We are in the process of looking at home currently. We are from the Dallas, TX area, and will maintain a residence in TX as well as CR. We are looking in the Dominical to Ojochal area, and would like to know if you come across homes for sale info? We do come down every couple of months to visit, but we stay in the Los Suenos area and commute down the coast. Hope to meet you guys soon.

    1. Hi James, There are lots of homes for sale in the Dominical to Ojochal area. It’s probably best to contact a real estate agent for specifics. We know a couple of agents who work for Blue Zone in Uvita (Ben and Susan) so that would be a good place to start. Best of luck with your plans!

  40. I am a little confused about auto insurance. At Adobe mandatory insurance runs about $600 a month ($7600/year). If you buy a car here, is the same mandatory insurance required or is there a less expensive “mandatory?”? Or are the car rental companies charging more than a typical insurance company like INS?

    1. Hi Paul, We think that the rental car mandatory insurance covers more than the INS insurance. The INS insurance is cheaper and has very limited coverage, so that could be it. You could ask Adobe for more clarification.

  41. Hello. Thank you for this helpful resource! We are looking to buy a vehicle.. most likely around San Isidro de General.. Is your trusty mechanic friend still around??

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