Whether you are moving to Costa Rica or already living here you can possibly need to make the decision on whether to ship a car to Costa Rica and pay the taxes or purchase a car in Costa Rica. Although there are always exceptions to the rule, it is recommended in many cases to import the vehicle as it usually saves time and money in both the short and long term.
If you are planning to purchase a vehicle in Costa Rica instead of shipping your current vehicle, you should get all the facts before making this decision. This also holds true for those people planning on purchasing a vehicle in Costa Rica. There are 2 major reasons you should ship a vehicle to Costa Rica: money and vehicle dependability.
Before your journey to start your new life in Costa Rica if you plan on leaving your vehicle at home you are going to need to sell it. This has many potential downfalls. First, In order to get the best price for your current vehicle you are going to have to start the selling process 5 to 6 months ahead of time in order to get multiple offers to get the best price for your vehicle. This is going to require you to spend time and money on selling your vehicle. Secondly, when you get a good offer this could mean that you are without personal transportation for a period of time before your journey to Costa Rica. Finally, if you decide to wait until last minute to sell your vehicle you could have to take a loss on the vehicle to sell it quickly or if you are unable to sell it pay for storage or a friend to try to sell it after you leave. These are just a few of the disadvantages of selling your vehicle.
The next step for when you arrive in Costa Rica is the purchase of a replacement vehicle. If you have looked on craigslist or other auto vending websites in Costa Rica you will notice the large price discrepancy between the USA/Canada and Costa Rica. An auto that you could get outside of Costa Rica can and usually is about double the price in Costa Rica. For example a 2000 Grand Cherokee which in the USA would go for about $5,500 would sell for about $11,000 or $12,000 in Costa Rica. When you do the numbers it is actually less expensive to ship your current car than to sell it and buy another one in Costa Rica.
Purchasing a vehicle in Costa Rica is a bit different than buying one in the USA or Canada. In the USA or Canada you are given a breakdown of any damage or repairs done to the vehicle or when normal yearly maintenance took place, oil changes, etc. Also if you decide to ship your current vehicle you already have all these records and data for your auto. Finally, when you buy a vehicle in the USA/Canada you usually get a warranty for a period of time that covers you if it breaks down and normal repairs that need to be made due to wear and tare.
Now let’s go through what you are going to possibly experience (70% of the time), in purchasing a vehicle in Costa Rica. The truth is you do not know anything about the vehicle you will be purchasing. In most cases people keep their autos down here forever unless there is a problem and know that they need to sell it as it is no longer a reliable means of transportation. You will be told a history of the car but in most cases it is not true or truth be told if they might not know. After Hurricane Katrina, Costa Rica was flooded, no pun intended, with flood damaged cars that were worth pennies on the dollar in the USA, but that used car dealers were able to sell for about 75 to 80% of the Bluebook value in Costa Rica.
Also you are not protected at all against buying lemon vehicles. After you purchase and spend money transferring title and getting the auto “street legal”, if it breaks down or you are stuck with a huge mechanic repair bill, you are just out of luck. There is no way to try to get a refund on the vehicle nor is it worth the time, money and effort to try to push a case through the judicial system in Costa Rica.