Here’s what you need to know about buying a new or used car in Costa Rica
How exciting! You’re moving to Costa Rica and you’re thinking about buying a car. Having a car will definitely make life easier- but, of course, you can get by without one.
Nevertheless, life is so much more adventurous when you’ve got wheels. Especially if you’re new to living in Costa Rica and looking to explore a bit.
Depending on where your new Costa Rica home is, you may want to consider an all-terrain sports utility vehicle (SUV)- but in most places, a regular car will do just fine. While it’s true that Costa Rica used to be notorious for it’s rough roads, that’s not so much the case anymore unless you’re just in a really out-of-the-way area like Mal Pais.
Buying a new vehicle in Costa Rica
Because import duties apply to all cars brought into Costa Rica, expect to pay 30% or so for import tax; that makes cars more expensive than what you’d pay in the States.
You’ll find that in Costa Rica, there is often only one authorized dealer per make and things are a little different here. You normally won’t see the sticker price written on the windshield of the car and you shouldn’t expect to haggle over the price unless it’s the end of the year and new models are coming in. In that case, they are eager to get cars off the lot and you may be able to negotiate the price down by a few thousand dollars.
Colors and features will be a bit limited, as well, in Costa Rica. That said, you can typically order what you want- you’ll just need to wait a bit to drive your shiny new wheels off the lot.
Most cars in Costa Rica are standard transmission, although that is starting to change. Options are getting broader all the time.
When considering what make of car or SUV to buy, it’s a good idea to lean toward the Japanese models, as parts and accessories are easier to come by and less expensive than American made cars. The one exception to that rule is Ford, which was just recently taken over by Purdy Motors who use to sell just Toyota.
Vehicles in Costa Rica tend to hold their value far better than in the U.S. That’s because of the robust used car market for specific makes and models.
Tips for buying a used car
For starters, ask ex-pats and locals about the best mechanics in the area. You’ll want a mechanic to give your new-to-you, used car a thorough going-over before you buy.
Pay attention to the make and model of the cars you see on the road. Hyundai, Nissan, and Toyota are popular at the low end of the market because parts are readily available, and mechanics have experience with these cars. Porsche, BMW, Audi, and Land Rover, at the upper end of the market, are popular for the same reason.
Where to look for used cars in Costa Rica
CRAutos.com is the go-to online clearinghouse for new and used cars. The site also showcases electric and hybrid vehicles, as well as premium used cars.
Grecia and San José are the best physical locations to find used cars. If you’re buying from a dealer’s lot, try to buy a newly imported used car—You’ll find that the car has less local wear and tear.
In both cases, you may like a car, test drive it, and make an offer. However, you’re unlikely to drive it home that same day. Keep in mind that a dealer may have the car on consignment, meaning the dealership doesn’t own the vehicle, which adds time to the process.
You’ve picked out your new car in Costa Rica; now it’s time to call your attorney for the paperwork.
Deciding on a car and negotiating the price and terms was the fun part. Now it’s time to turn it all over to your attorney to guide you through the rest of the transaction.
In Costa Rica, there’s little clerical latitude in accepting paperwork. Documents have to be in the specified format and detail the required information exactly.
Ask your attorney to check the fiscal value of the car. That’s the basis of the property tax, including marchamo (vehicle registration) that you’ll pay each year.
You’ll also want to make sure the annual vehicle inspection, Revision Tecnica de Vehiculos (RTV– pronounced “ree-te-ve”), and marchamo are up to date.
Finally, ask your attorney to check the National Registry (Registro Nacional) for a clear vehicle title. The seller may have used the car as security for a loan, or there may be unpaid parking tickets or an accident that hasn’t been settled between the involved individuals. Don’t try to rush the process; rely on your attorney to ensure everything is in order.
Buying a car in Costa Rica entails a lot of tire kicking and looking under the hood. With patience and good humor, you’ll have a lot of fun with it and end up with a vehicle that, down the road, will sell for nearly what you paid.
When doing any kind of business in Costa Rica, it’s important to remember it all takes time- but of course, that’s one of the beauties of living here. Pura vida, right? As they say here (and we love this) “tranquilidad ante todo” which, roughly translated, means: tranquility first.
Having a car in Costa Rica makes life more fun and adventurous
Buying a car in Costa Rica is a little more involved than what you’re used to in the States, but totally doable; especially if you’ve got someone reliable by your side.
Of course, you can bring your car to Costa Rica or import a new one from the U.S. Although that may seem more straightforward, it can also be very expensive. Import duties range from 52.29% to 79.03% of the retail value, plus shipping and insurance, and the Costa Rican government sets the value.
The vehicle’s age also matters; the older the car, the higher the percentage you pay as the government wishes to encourage newer vehicles in the country.
In reality, you’re better off buying a car that is already here in the country. Happy shopping and enjoy your new Costa Rica wheels- You’ll do a lot of exploring in them!