Once you move down to Costa Rica, you'll probably realize quickly that transportation is a key issue. In fact, you'll feel fairly isolated and "stuck" if you don't have a vehicle to get around, whether it's adventures at local beaches or just to the market during the rainy season. So, today I want to bring you some great facts and tips about buying and registering a vehicle in Costa Rica, as well as the pros and cons of importing your car.
The pros and cons of importing a car to Costa Rica
I get emails all the time from people who want to drive down to Costa Rica. Number one, I wouldn’t recommend that because it can be extremely dangerous going through Mexico and the southern route until you get to Nicaragua.
Secondly, although people want their own cars, it just doesn’t make financial sense. It’s almost always better to buy (or even rent) a car in Costa Rica rather than importing your own car because of the sky-high import taxes.
The tax for importing vehicles into Costa Rica is 52.29% for models that have been released in the last three years. But in Costa Rica, a car is considered new for tax purposes for up to three years after it was placed on the lot for sale, no matter what its mileage or condition.
The Ministerio de Hacienda (Treasury) regulates the value of imported cars and other vehicles the same way that Kelley Blue Book does in the U.S. – based on make, model, engine, and other features and accessories. However, in Costa Rica, mileage and mechanical condition aren’t taken into consideration for this tax process!
Import taxes for cars that are 4-5 years old are 63.91%, and cars older than 5 years must pay an import tax of 79.03%.
Buying and owning a car in Costa Rica
Owning a car is very expensive when you consider maintenance, insurance, and gas, which is stable now (over $4 a gallon as of 2018), but can get expensive. But if you want to buy a car, check out pricing and find local sellers search http://crautos.com or http://www.encuentra24.com
The best places to buy cars are:
• In and around San José and Grecia
• The best deals are found when you buy directly from the owner
• Get to know the local expats and you will likely find one when someone leaves
• One of your best resources for buying and registering a car in Costa Rica is: http://ticotimes.com/costa-rica/buying-a-new-used-car
• Ideally buy from a dealer or a private seller
• Either way (especially if privately sold,) have the car inspected by a competent and trustworthy mechanic before you sign the papers Inspections are done at one of the many specially constructed locations around the country. They were built and are operated by a Spanish firm that won the contract to perform motor vehicle inspections.
Understanding reteve or revision technica:
• When a car is inspected it is given a decal on the windshield, which needs to be valid in order to avoid a ticket
• Once a mechanic completes the inspection certificate (which is then renewed every year for older cars and every two years for newer cars,) you can get the obligatory limited liability insurance, marchamo, at the MOPT (Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes) or at any number of private locations, including all public and most private banks
• The only insurance required is the marchamo, an annual “liability insurance” fee that every car owner must pay
• To avoid a fine, marchamo must be renewed annually from November 1 and December 31
• The fee depends on the condition and year of the car, and the driver (age, driving record, etc.) which costs around $200
• You have to have this up to date because police are always looking for cars without marchamo sticker
More notes on car ownership in Costa Rica:
• Remember that outside San José, parts can be extremely hard to find!
• Try to purchase a model where you know parts are easy to get and it’s easy to fix – or very reliable.
• If you need work done or parts, it might make sense to order them from San José or even go get them yourself!
• There is no AAA and it’s easy to get stranded way out in the countryside if your car breaks down.
• In the provinces, roads can be really rough, with flooding prevalent in the rainy season.
• For that reason, many expats prefer a SUV or pickup truck. It might be a good idea to get one fitted with a “snorkel” to keep the engine safe during the rainy season
• Chains on tires and towing winches/lines are a good idea, too.
• Always carry a spare tire and your own tools.
The (Costa Rican) Rules of the Road
Expats, foreigners, and visitors who plan to drive in Costa Rica should be aware of the laws and rules of the road.
One important thing to know is that if a foreigner is involved in an accident, the Costa Rican government may prevent the driver from departing Costa Rica until all injury claims have been settled, whether or not the driver is at fault or covered by insurance. This process is often delayed until courts are certain of the damage and responsibility.
Travelers renting vehicles should make sure to have theft insurance that will cover them completely, always park in secure lots (and tip the parking attendant beforehand!), and never leave anything visible inside the car – whether it’s valuable or not.
Note that individual, unlicensed “parking attendants” are everywhere. Often, a local guy or old man just throws on a fluorescent-colored vest and a whistle and become the unofficial parking police for a certain area! Remember that although they may offer to park your car or assist you with finding a spot, it doesn’t ensure that it is a legal spot - your car may still be ticketed or towed.
It’s best to pay these guys a little bit. If you DON’T pay them, you’ll often be amazed to find your car broken into, damaged or something missing when you come back! I usually let them know I’ll pay them well WHEN I get back to the car and it’s in good condition and safe.
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