So, you’ve now decided after living here in Costa Rica that life is good—almost too good, in fact—but missing something. Ah, yes, it’s time for your own set of wheels. It’s time to decide to “Ship it or Buy it off the Lot,” essentially. Which is to say, should you ship your ’94 Volvo GLE or ’96 Toyota that you hold so dear to your heart? Or, should you go buy a new or used car off the car lot here in Costa Rica? Both are realistic options. Which is the right choice for you?
It all comes down to HD: How much Headache can you handle? And, How many Dollars can you spend? You’ll soon know. Read on.
Let’s start with the H: Business in Costa Rica neither works in much of the same manner as back home nor does it run consistently. The most extensive port in Costa Rica is Puerto Limon, on the Atlantic side. Port Caldera (Calderon) lies on the Pacific side and deals with sea vessels coming in from the Western half of North America (see below for U.S. port info). Your car can either be placed into a shipping container or can be parked on the deck. The first choice seems to be the safest, as all the containers look the same and have less of a chance of getting robbed.
The difference in shipping your vehicle by ship or vessel—whether stored in a container or parked on deck—can cost you a hundred or more dollars. It may be worth the money and opt for the container. The overall costs for shipping a four-door sedan recently made (lighter in weight) can start as low as $800 USD to what The May 2008 Tico Times newspaper quotes as high as $5,000 USD.
The time it takes to ship your vehicle can be less than a week to more than two. If you’ve loaded your jalopy onto a banana freighter in Florida, for example, it may call port in Honduras or Nicaragua. This makes the delivering time to Costa Rica much later. If you don’t like paperwork, then you’re better off to hire a custom’s broker to help you organize all this.
Most cars taken to the Atlantic port can be brought to San Jose. It seems that the customs processes here are more identical and formal rather than different and unofficial. Having your car taken to San Jose will, not surprisingly, cost you more. Your container will not be opened until it reaches San Jose. Besides, in San Jose you’ll be able to clear the vehicle yourself through customs in less than a day. If you try to clear the car yourself in either of the two coastal ports, it could take more than two days.
According to The Tico Times, moreover, the real costs don’t start until you land in the country. You’ll have to then pay some taxes.
“Vehicle import taxes start at 52.29 percent of the CIF (cost + insurance + freight) value or the value established by the Finance Ministry’s Car Tica System. Whichever is higher, for vehicles three years old and newer. That amount goes up to 63.91 percent for cars four years old, and 79.03 percent for cars six more years old. Ultimately, bringing your car into the country is a pricey process.”
However, when you first get your car to Costa Rica, you’ll have up to three months when you arrived to pay taxes and get the proper permits. If you leave the country for forty-eight hours, the three months can start over (this may be speculation). The Tico Times have it right when they say that this option—the Headache option—“is a pricey process,” but certainly doable.
Let’s finish with the D option: If you got enough money to bring down some vintage model that costs a lot, then by all means bring her down. If, however, money does not grow on your family tree, then buying or leasing (or just renting) a car might be an easier option.
You’ll find the process of buying a used car from a lot—try the used lots at rental agencies too—a lot (pun intended) less nerve racking. Perhaps that Volvo or Toyota we spoke of earlier will cost you a lot less to buy used here. At the car lot, you’ll have to sign some papers, hand over some cash and drive your car home. Certainly, the D option can save you some H in the long run.
Car Shipping Companies:
U.S. Shipping Port Info:
Cars leaving from the US generally leave from Port Everglades & Port Orange in Florida.
Cars leaving from the western US generally leave from the Port Of Los Angeles in California.
Cars leaving Canada are generally shipped from Vancouver Port in Vancouver.
The Tico Times newspaper, May 2008 edition
World Headquarters at http://www.worldheadquarters.com
*There may be other car shipping companies and US ports not covered in this article. Costs will vary too.
Reporting by Sara Ford
• Freelance writer for Vamos Rent-A-Car