Buying a Car in Costa Rica isn’t Always Easy

Buying a Car in Costa Rica



When you first arrive, buying a car in Costa Rica may be the farthest thing from your mind, especially since traveling by bus and taxi seems like the easiest option.  For one, you don’t have to navigate the poorly maintained and badly sign-posted roads, plus you’re saving yourself a whole lot of money.  As your confidence grows though, the expense of buying and maintaining a car is outweighed by your desire to head off the beaten track and the restrictions of bus routes and timetables.

There is a lot of information available online for the process of purchasing a car in Costa Rica — which is a more complicated legal procedure than it is in the United States.  However, when all totaled together, buying a car still appears to be a lot easier and cheaper than importing a vehicle.

If you do decide to buy a car in Costa Rica, there are a number of points worth considering:

  1. the make of car
  2. availability and cost of parts for that model
  3. the experience the mechanics may have with your vehicle

The most popular car manufacturers in the country are Japanese (Toyota, Suzuki, Nissan, Mitsubishi and Daihatsu) and Korean (Hyundai, Kia, and, although lesser know, SsangYong).  It makes sense to buy one of these popular makes since spare parts are usually reasonably priced and easily available.  Logically, mechanics are also used to fixing Japanese vehicles and therefore can do so quickly, cheaply and efficiently.  A big bonus of car ownership in Costa Rica is that private mechanics charge about 20-50 percent less than that of what you would pay in the USA!

However, be prepared to search long and hard for a good mechanic and then fight to keep him!  They are few and far between!  The last time I had my brake pads changed, I was given a handful of nuts that were ‘left over’ after my wheels were put back – hardly reassuring!

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Here’s a few tips when purchasing a vehicle. Take a mechanic with you when you go to buy a car, not only to have someone qualified to check the vehicle but to have a Spanish speaker too!  This might help you look a little less vulnerable — like you are naive enough to be ripped off!  Used car salesman are notoriously crooked the world over and nothing makes the dollar signs light up like the arrival of a gringo with pockets stuffed with cash to the gills!  So be cautious and compare car prices on sites such as before you begin your search for your perfect car.  Know what you’re getting into before showing up to look at it too!

Car prices are high in Costa Rica due to the import taxes the government heaps on vehicles, but the upside is that vehicles maintain their value and when you are ready to sell, you won’t be losing too much on your original investment.  Below is an approximate price guide based on cars advertised for sale on CRAutos and in the local press for March 2011 – check for yourself before buying though:

Budget: Try the Hyundai Elantra or Excel.  Older models (early 1990s) can be bought for under $2,000, but expect to pay 3 or 4 times that amount for more recent models.  A Suzuki Sidekick from the early nineties will set you back around $5,000 if you need more than a sedan.

Mid-range: A Toyota Yaris can be purchased for half the $20,500 cost of a new vehicle if you look for one that’s about ten years old.  A Daihatsu Terios of similar age can be bought for a little less than $10,000, a more up-to-date model usually has a price tag closer to $15,000.  A nearly new Suzuki Sidekick can be found at approximately $10,000.  A late 1990s Suzuki Grand Vitara can be picked up for around $10,000, but prices rise steeply for newer models.

High: Toyota Prado are popular purchases for those who have large families and tough terrain to cover or if you just want to travel in comfort and style.  You will be lucky to find anything priced under $20,000 and should expect to pay somewhere in the region of $45,000 for a more recent model.  Expect to pay about $30,000 for a nearly new Suzuki Grand Vitara.

I hope this will help you on your next car buying decision!  Drop me a comment below and let me know what you think.


Reporting by Sara Ford
• Freelance writer for Vamos Rent-A-Car


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5 Responses to “Buying a Car in Costa Rica isn’t Always Easy”

  1. Tee says:

    Parts, parts, parts! Make sure that what you purchase has parts which are available and not too expensive. For that matter I agree that the Prado is not a bad choice with many Toyota interchangeable parts and availability.


    Tee is the founder and senior editor of Costa Rica CLOSEUP — a Travel Guide to Costa Rica with Events, Articles and Information.

  2. Another point to think about is how long is you stay in Costa Rica? If you buy a car, but your trips is about 3-6 months, then I recommend that you buy a car that will be easy to resell when you return to your country.

  3. Pearl Sky says:

    You’ve got great insights about buying and selling cars, keep up the good work!

  4. CARLTON says:

    decide to live in CR.
    Need a good car….Any ideas?