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HOME » Useful Resources » Costa Rica Used Vehicle Import Regulation
  Costa Rica Import Regulation
Importing a Motor Vehicle In Costa Rica
Many of you would like to bring their own vehicle because it’s such a great one, you’ve just bought it or because it has some kind of personal value to it.
Taxes On Vehicles
Import taxes on vehicles are very high here and are charged C.I.F. (Cost, Insurance, and Freight). Distributors of new and used vehicles pay the same tax percentages as you will but their shipping cost will be much lower because of the bulk, so in the end, the taxes charged will be lower too. That’s the reason for you to make sure you will want to pay the freight and the taxes (running a chance your vehicle gets damaged on the way) looking at your resale value in your home land and looking at prices of cars in Costa Rica.
Pay A Local Taxes
As a tourist, you are afforded the right to drive the vehicle for three months without paying taxes. The time begins when you enter the country, not when the vehicle enters the country. For example, if you enter Costa Rica on the 1st of October, but your vehicle enters on the 1st of November, you will only have two months to drive the vehicle, not three. This is very important to keep in mind. You will be required to pay a local tax, some additional fees, all of which add up to around $90.00 US (normally this is all part of the customs procedure). At the end of three months, you have the right to extend the right to drive the vehicle for an additional three months.
What The Law Stipulates
You have to leave the country prior to the three month limit, anywhere for 48 hours. When you re-enter, they will re-stamp your passport, which will allow you to drive the vehicle for three additional months. If you wait until the three month period is up, theoretically you are required by law to pay the taxes on the vehicle. We highly recommend that you do not drive the vehicle if the permit has expired. Any vehicle being driven after the permit has expired is by law an abandoned vehicle. The police have the legal right to confiscate the vehicle and not give it back. Most likely, they will compound the vehicle until the taxes are paid. Either way, it will not be fun.
Special Considerations
Before shipping the vehicle, take the license plates off the vehicle and either carry them down with you or ship them with a mail carrier. Plates are often removed (stolen) during transport or when the vehicles arrive; most likely after they arrive. Thieves use the stolen plates to place on cars stolen within Costa Rica, which are later driven out of Costa Rica to other countries, i.e Belize, Nicaragua, etc. It is a very large business. If your plates get stolen, you will be required to make up fake plates to place on the car, as you legally need plates to operate the vehicle(don't laugh, this exact incident happened to me). Driving without plates will most definitely get you pulled over.
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The Duty Is Determined By the Age Of Vehicle
The duty is determined by the age of your vehicle. If your vehicle is less than three years old, the duty rate is 59.33 percent of VCAV. If the vehicle is 4-5 years old, the rate is 70.63 percent. If the vehicle is more than 6 years old, the duty is 85.32 percent. (Courtesy of the Tico Times).
New regulations which went into effect as of February 7th 2001 resulted in higher taxes for used cars. Now in order to establish the value of a used vehicle you present the commercial invoice with the purchase value of the vehicle. In case you don’t have an invoice you have to declare the value.
Customs will compare this value to the Black Book and to their own Costa Rica market value. These values are extremely high and are based on the selling pric e of used vehicles in Costa Rica. They will multiply the sales price times 0.502, 0.469 or 0.432 depending on the model year to establish the import vale of the vehicle. They will accept your declared value as long as it is within 3% of their established value. If not they will apply their value.
For example, let’s assume that you import a vehicle model year 1993 and with the black book value of $10,000. Let’s also assume the shipping cost from the USA is $600, so the value is $10,600. Finally let’s assume the local market value times 0.502 is within 3% of the $10,600. The duties would be: $10,600 times 59.33% = $6239.00. (Courtesy of the Association of Residents of Costa Rica).
Need To Register The Vehicle
you need to register your car, which usually takes a few working days. First, get your paperwork from customs. Then have your vehicle checked at the Technical Inspection Department (Revisión Ténica) at INVU Las Cañas at the the entrance to the city of Alajuela. Drivers in rural areas can take their vehicles to regional offices in Puntarenas, Guanacaste, Limón, Pérez Zeledón and San Carlos. Then take the papers they give you to the Registro Público or Public Registry vehicle section (Registro de Vehículos) in the suburb of Zapote. Call 011-(506) 224-0628 if you need information.
The cost of your registration depends on the value of your car. Finally, take the documents from the registry to the Ministry of Public Works (Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes) at Plaza Víquez south of downtown San José. Your temporary paper license plates will be issued a few months later at the Registro in Zapote.
Because of the huge backlog you will have to wait a year or more for your permanent metal plates. When you find out your metal plates are ready you’ll need to take the following documents to the National Registry (Registro Nacional) in Zapote: the temporay paper plate (placa provisional), title of ownership (título de propiedad), yellow registration card (tarjeta de circulación) and resident ID card (cédula) or passport.
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