IMPORTING A VEHICLECARS, TRUCKS, UTVs, ATVs & MOTORCYCLES
THE WHYS & WHY NOTS?
Given the high cost of vehicles in Costa Rica many people expect importing a vehicle to save them money. It can often work that way but it largely depends on the vehicle. Many people are immediately scared off by the high import taxes but one must remember that the taxes you pay, as well as the shipping costs, are carried forward in the resale value of the car. If your car is chosen carefully you will end up with a more desirable vehicle for less than you would have paid for a similar vehicle here.
Why would you consider importing?
The selection of used vehicles in the US is many times what you will find here
You can trust that your mileage is accurate.
You can track accidents and repairs.
You can reasonably expect that repairs were made by knowledgeable people and with quality parts made for that car.
Why wouldn’t you want to import?
If you are living in CR already it is difficult to ‘kick the tires’. If you have found a prospective vehicle online you must locate an independent mechanic to assess the vehicle for you, and arrange all of that over email and phone.
If you want a brand new vehicle or a car less than e.g. 3 years old. If the vehicle you want is sold in CR you will probably want to buy it here for purposes of warrantee. Yes, auto brands are international and they don’t technically restrict your choice of authorized service centers but I have had recent reports that Nissan will not honor a Canadian warrantee in CR. You should research that carefully before importing a brand new car
If you want it immediately you should at least look for it here in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica will not nationalize vehicles with a salvage title.
What are the best vehicles to import?
That really is a tough question. I can’t say that there really is a ‘best vehicle’ but there are things you can look out for to help make it the best vehicle for you. Beside the obvious -- low mileage, no dents, good engine performance, no serious repairs, etc -- here are a few things you might consider
You will want to buy a car that is supported well in Costa Rica and/or your area. If not you run the risk of having to import many of your repair parts yourself. You may be without your vehicle while you wait on them.
Base models will have lower taxes. Options can have a big effect. "EXTRAS" can include any option not present in the base model.
Models 6 years and older will be taxed at a higher rate.
Mileage and condition are not considered at all in the tax valuation.
The fixed costs -- brokers, ocean shipping, lawyers, transport, et. -- are proportionally higher for a low value car than a high value car. That is, $3,000 for a $5,000 car is a lot. On the other hand, that $3,000 doesn’t amount to much when it is a $60,000 car.
If repairs are required you would be best advised to have that done in the States, particularly service points like the timing chain. You might also consider replacing brakes and rotors if they are worn, as well as any aging rubber part like hoses, bushings and tires.
It used to be that standard transmissions were always recommended for ease of repair. In most of the country automatic transmission repair is no longer the problem it was. The exception may be the more remote areas of the country.
If you tend to keep your vehicle a long time and are living in an area such as I do (Uvita) where most people live on very rough, and sometimes steep, dirt roads, you will probably be looking for a 4x4 or AWD. You may also appreciate having a vehicle on a truck frame as opposed to a car based SUV. An example would be a 4Runner as opposed to a RAV4. They will be bigger but they are easier to work on and will generally hold up better to these conditions.
Driving in CR can sometimes be treacherous. The worst is probably driving in the dark in heavy rain. While airbags and antilock brakes are going to be standard equipment in most vehicles, AWD and 4x4 are usually optional where available. Unless you will be driving exclusively in the city I highly recommend these features.
UTVs or Side x Sides must be equipped with turn signals, windshield and wipers to be licensed for the road. Install those before importing. The selection of optional equipment is much better up north.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
You provide us with the details of your vehicle and we provide you a quote. Once you have accepted the quote we agree on general timeframes.
We will send you a packet of forms to complete and sign. A Power Of Attorney to allow the US Broker to represent your interests before US Customs in the matter of this export, will need to be signed and notarized. The completed packet must be submitted to the vehicle consolidator with, or before, the vehicle arrival at the intake facility.
The packet must also include the original title (leave the plates on the vehicle), a color copy or photo of the owner’s passport and a copy/photo of the owner’s drivers license.
The vehicle must be delivered to either our Florida or Delaware location. If you are unable to drive it there we can help arrange transport.
The vehicle must be cleared through US Customs. This takes 2 weeks.
The vehicle is placed inside a container and shipped by ocean. It takes a week to 10 days to get to CR and be unloaded into the bonded warehouse.
The vehicle and title are inspected to ensure there is no funny business and that it has never been a salvage vehicle. This can take from a day up to a week.
The broker pays the taxes and transfers the vehicle to a holding warehouse while it is nationalized, inspected, registered and licensed. This takes about 3 weeks.
As soon as the plates are received the vehicle is available for pickup in Cartago or it can be delivered for an additional charge.
Hacienda assigns a class to every vehicle based on year, make, model, trim level, transmission, drive type, engine size, body style and more. One of the attributes is called “Extras”. Extras are options not often included in most base models. This can include backup cameras, sunroofs, leather seats, electronics, etc. There can be as many as four levels of Extras for any given model. Which options are associated with which levels is unknown to anybody it seems, as even the agents that ultimately assign the level to your vehicle don’t always apply them consistently. Depending on the vehicle, Import Taxes can almost double from the lowest (Estandar) to the highest (Super Full) level.
Each class is assigned two values -- ‘Valor Hacienda’ and ‘Valor Importacion’. The latter is usually somewhere between 40% and 60% of the former. How either number is determined is unpublished. The Valor Hacienda, the higher value, is used to determine registration and Marchamo. The latter, Valor Importacion, is multiplied by a tax rate between 52% and 75% (35% to 58% for motorcycles), based on the age of the vehicle to arrive at the ‘Import Tax’. The sum of these is typically lumped together as simply “Taxes”.
Due to the peculiar way in which Valor Hacienda is depreciated by model year, we have found that new vehicle classes may suffer an unexpectedly high valuation in the first year that the vehicle class is introduced, resulting in a higher Import Tax. It self corrects at the next turn of the model year.
Registration and Marchamo are not prorated so you pay the same whether you import at the beginning or the end of the year. This means that if you import in December, you will have to pay Marchamo again in January. So, you might want to just wait another month if you are thinking of importing that late in the year.
WHAT IS INCLUDED IN THE SERVICE?
Our quotes are full service, from our intake facility in Florida, Houston and Delaware to Cartago CR. You give us the vehicle and we return it to you nationalized, inspected, Marchamo paid and registered with plates -- ready to drive away
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE?
For more details you can see the process summary above but, on average, it takes about 6 weeks from the time we receive it at our facility.
CAN I SHIP MY BELONGINGS IN THE CAR?
This is not permitted by the vehicle consolidator, nor our brokers. Vehicles and personal household effects are processed very differently in CR. Anything in the vehicle that is not a part of the vehicle runs a high risk of being lost in the process.
IS MY VEHICLE INSURED?
Ocean Shipping Insurance is available by separate quote. This insurance covers your vehicle from the time it is delivered to our intake facility until it is unloaded at the bonded warehouse in CR. We use only insured warehouses and transporters.
WHAT KIND OF VEHICLE CAN I IMPORT?
Any kind of vehicle can be imported. The most popular are of course cars, pickups, UTV/ATVs and motorcycles, but we have also imported excavators, tractors and forklifts.
CAN I IMPORT ELECTRIC VEHICLES?
Yes, EVs can be imported and enjoy some tax relief. As of this writing, brand new EVs are excluded from Import Tax but the registration and Marchamo taxes still apply. Used EVs pay Import Tax of 17.3% (of invoice value) plus registration and Marchamo. This is constantly changing however so check with us for the latest developments.
HOW DO I GET MY VEHICLE TO FLORIDA/HOUSTON/DELAWARE?
You can always deliver it personally. We can also include truck transportation in our quote upon request. We are happy to also help you locate a service on your own. If you are delivering it yourself you can take the opportunity to also drop off other cargo at our warehouse, only a few blocks away, and pay for the trip with saved cargo transport. Our warehouse is conveniently located immediately adjacent to FLL, Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood airport, where some of the least expensive flights to CR, from multiple airlines, leave every few hours. Miami International Airport, with even more airlines, is only a 30 min Uber ride away.
CAN I SHIP MY VEHICLE FROM CALIFORNIA/ETC.?
At present we are only able to ship vehicles from Florida, Houston or Delaware. Exceptions apply for some commercial equipment.
CAN I SHIP A VEHICLE IN MY CONTAINER?
Yes we can ship your vehicle in your container. Putting your vehicle in a container that you have already booked will save about $1,000 of the regular cost of importing it. Nothing that is not part of the vehicle can be shipped inside the vehicle however. You are solely responsible for loading and securing the vehicle. Any vehicle must be the last item loaded.
CAN I SHIP MY CANADIAN VEHICLE?
We are able to ship vehicles from Canadian ports on a limited basis. Contact us for details. We are not permitted by US Customs to ship Canadian registered vehicles from US ports however.