Next stop, Costa Rica.

Bienvenidos a paraiso! At this juncture thoughts almost immediately turn to the rigors of moving ...... and moving to a new country may seem particularly daunting. Do not fret, it is only as difficult as you make it, and you have choices. The haunting questions become ‘what do I take with me?’ and ‘how do I get it here?’. We can help you with this latter question. You can ship everything in your own container or you can ship pallets, crates, boxes or packages of belongings that we then consolidate with other loads -- but -- determining HOW to get it here will boil down to WHAT you are bringing. Certainly the container option seems to afford inexpensive opportunities for bringing more things down. After all, if you’ve already bought the space why not fill it up? The cost per item goes down as you add items, and then there's only the import taxes which, as the reasoning goes, is a lot less than buying it again in CR. All of this is absolutely true. Per that logic I can further lower my cost per item by lining the bottom with lots and lots of bricks -- many more items to share the cost, right? The readily apparent question is “Why?”. Does it make sense? Do I need bricks?” Those same questions should be asked about every item you contemplate bringing with you. You may very well find that you actually have less to ship down than you originally thought. The take-away here is that you start with the WHAT and then, in something of an iterative process, we design a HOW that is best suited to your needs. So, let's begin with the first iteration of WHAT.......

What to bring with you

What shall I bring?

Our experience has been that the people who bring less are often happier with their move -- not just the physical moving experience but also their overall experience with adopting a new life in a new country. A small minority will divest themselves of virtually everything but their clothes and backpacks. Not all of us have the wherewithal, financial or emotional, to make such a cavalier decision. A roughly equal portion quite literally brings everything, right down to their snowboards and toilet paper. Like the first group this approach requires a substantial commitment that is difficult, if not impossible, to reverse. Those who try to turn around and return with their household belongings will generally find it to be more difficult and more costly.

That brings us to the great majority of immigrants, where most likely you find yourself, …… but still no closer to answering your question. I believe it was Mark Twain who said “experience may be the best teacher, but the tuition is just too damn high”. So let’s start with what other people have already learned. Here are some general observations:

First and foremost, if you use something every day you will likely use it every day in Costa Rica. The toothbrush is obvious but following are some other things to consider.

  • If you enjoy cooking you will find that quality cookware is very expensive and difficult to replace.

  • Tools, and power tools in particular, can “cost twice as much for half the quality”, and you will always find yourself repairing something.

  • Linens and towels commonly available in CR often have a high content of manmade fibers such as polyester. This aids in drying but many find the feel and texture difficult to accept.

  • You will probably find that you need far fewer clothes in CR (keep in mind, you must bring all used clothes and shoes in your personal luggage).

As you look around the house it is probably the larger things that grab your attention first. This is where the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ processes become iterative. The large items can quickly push you into container territory, so you should probably hold off on deciding their fate just yet.

  • Shipping your furniture should be contemplated carefully. You must ask yourself if your furniture is well suited for your new climate and if the style is right for your new house. Homes here are often smaller and may have a lot of outdoor living. It’s easy to bring the wrong furniture and too much of it.

  • Mattresses are very personal. If however, your beloved mattress is the only thing pushing you towards an entire container of shipping, you might want to consider a ‘bed in a box’, a compressed memory foam mattress. They have proven extremely popular, and loved, among our customers. These can be ordered and shipped directly with our consolidated cargo, removing them entirely from your packing delima.

  • Appliances are again large and can quickly push you into a container solution. You should consider that importing appliances can force you to import repair parts also. If you are adept at repairing your own appliance this may not be a big problem but if you are reliant on local repair resources it can sometimes get frustrating. Most reputable service companies can handle it all for you but it will be much more expensive and you will be without your e.g. washing machine for weeks. High end appliances are difficult to find and expensive, but mid-grade and upper mid-grade appliances have become far more available than even just a very few years ago. You should also consider whether a given appliance is appropriate for your new home. For example, a gas dryer is far more economical than an electric but you must swap out the bottle of propane from time to time adding to the hassle factor. Most areas of CR suffer from frequent power outages. A gas range allows you to cook even in the dark. Also, you should note that refrigerators, freezers, dehumidifiers and anything else with refrigerants are restricted from importing.

How do I decide?

OK, this is all great stuff, but WHAT do I bring?” We hear your frustration but, unfortunately, the answer to that question is unique to each move -- fortunately however, we can offer up a process that may help you answer that question for yourself in a way best suited to your particular circumstances. It has the added benefit of also helping you understand the financial implications of your decisions as you go.

  1. Prepare a packing area with lots of space in the garage or an unused room.

    • Place a 40x48” pallet, or tape out those dimensions on the floor, in a corner where you can stack against two walls.

    • Make a bunch of copies of a pre-formatted inventory sheet.

  2. Take on one room at a time. We recommend beginning with the kitchen or the workshop because they contain the most items likely to go with everyone. Sort everything into one of 3 piles:

    • Pile #1 -- in this pile place everything that definitely has to go.

      • Maybe it is used every day, maybe it is too dear to part with. For any reason at all, if it is going it needs to be in this pile.

    • Pile #3 -- in this pile is everything that is NOT going.

      • If you can’t imagine why you would bring it, put it in this pile.

    • Pile #2 -- everything else.

      • This is where everything goes that you haven’t YET rationalized taking along, or aren’t ready to sell off. If you can’t make up you mind, put it in pile #2. It will sort itself out later.

  3. Begin packing everything in pile #1. It is very important that these piles remain fluid. Don’t hesitate to change your mind….often. You may be packing an item and suddenly realize that thingy you are holding can’t work without some other thingy that is in pile #3. If there’s something in pile #3 that you just aren’t ready to sell off, but haven’t yet thought of a good reason to bring it, move it to pile #2 (you can decide later :-)

  4. Make your inventory as you go, box by box, bundle by bundle. This is critical. We must have an accurate inventory to import your belongings and you don’t want to go back and repack every box later. It is very important that you log the item values as you go. Total the values as you close up each box. Number each box/bundle so it can be matched to the inventory sheet

  5. Weigh each box or bundle as best you can and place it onto the pallet in the corner. When you reach 7.5 ft in height, including pallet, it is full. You can put about 10 such pallets in a 20’ container or about 20 of them in a 40’ container.

  6. Not everything fits on a pallet of course, but if it can it should. Large pieces (furniture, mattresses, etc) can be arranged in another corner to make it easier to assess the volume required.

Now that you have a pallet full you can input the dimensions total weight and total value into our calculator, then select “medium” for the value category. This will provide you with a pretty accurate estimate of the cost of shipping that pallet via our freight forwarding service (if over 50 cubic feet you must contact us for an estimate).

We suggest building up pallets so that you can get a visual reference of volume and a cost baseline. In terms of volume you should be able to determine rather quickly if you will need a container, and what size. In terms of cost, depending on where you are moving from, the crossover between container and freight forwarding is between 5 and 7 pallets. We have probably been in communication with you throughout this process but when you have a solid feel for your volume we should focus on getting you some reasonably solid quotes. Shipping a container is very hands-on. You probably don’t want to make that decision lightly.

You can repeat the process above until you have packed everything in pile #1. Some consider themselves finished at this point. Most prefer to go through pile #2 one last time before they call it good to go.


Finally, here are a few thoughts that might be helpful as you ponder the fate of your possessions

  • While it can vary by region, everything requires more maintenance in Costa Rica and I think it is safe to say that all maintenance is more difficult. Maintenance is also more time consuming. So much so that, if not careful, you may soon find that you are an over-employed handyman.

  • Your new home will likely have more and larger windows than before. That translates to fewer walls on which to hang art, pictures or nicknacks.

  • Fine china and silverware tend to be eschewed in favor of more utilitarian pieces. This can hold true for most things in the household.

  • Your new home may have far less space for storage. Two or three-car garages are rare and many homes do not have closets but instead use wardrobes. Self storage facilities are few and far between, and never convenient.

  • If you are in one of the more humid zones you may find that leather turns green and often begins to smell like the dead animal it is. Everything else mildews.

  • Almost everything costs more, if you need anything except the lowest quality.

  • Everything is more plentiful in the central valley. Elsewhere you may find shopping is limited to low end, utilitarian choices, if you can find it at all.

  • Electronics die more quickly. Washing machines with dials and knobs, for example, usually last longer than those with digital controls.

  • If you like to barbecue, bring a good one made to last many years. An inexpensive grill will rot out twice as fast in this climate.

  • Air conditioning your home will prolong the life of your possessions but electricity costs 3 to 4 times what you pay now, and you may find you have little desire to close up the house.

How do I get it to Costa Rica

What are the options?

A great many customers end up shipping just 2 or more pallets. These can be accommodated with our Freight Forwarding services, as described on the PACKAGES & FREIGHT page.

Many others, while sorting it all out and inventorying it, actually divide it into two shipments. The first group, usually a pallet or two, is to be sent immediately, and the second shipment, the majority, stored with a family member or in a self storage unit. We highly recommend this approach if, for any reason, you will not be ready for the cargo right away. This is an excellent option for several reasons:

  • Storage is much more available in the States and Canada

  • The climate in much of Costa Rica is not conducive to long term storage.

  • And, most important, when you finally return to prepare those belongings for shipment you will have the benefit of hindsight and experience as you review what you had planned to send. You will ship less, guaranteed.

If however, a full container load is in your future you need to review our CONTAINER SHIPPING page. Containers come in a couple sizes and you may discover that after completing the process above there is space to spare in the size you choose. If you find yourself wanting to fill that “extra” space you probably want to focus on things that will be needed and used, not just convenient or just because you already own them. Extra linens, quick-dry towels, DC ceiling fans or maybe a new Weber or patio furniture. Does your new house need a different or new dryer? Are you a baker and will need a decent oven? Are you going to install electric gates or maybe refurbish the pool pump system? How about a car, moto or SUV? Yes a vehicle will plug a big hole and importing a vehicle can be a good idea. Whether a vehicle makes financial sense will largely depend on the vehicle. We discuss this in some detail on the IMPORTING A VEHICLE page

Packing, just a part of the adventure

Some packing guidelines:

It is definitely worthwhile to consider how your things need to be packed, before you start, if for no other reason than having the necessary materials at hand for a proper job. Packing for Freight Forwarding and for Container Shipping is fundamentally the same. You should also review the PACKING SUGGESTIONS in the PACKAGES & FREIGHT pages. Remember, except for the inventory nothing is more important to a smooth customs process than organized and orderly packing.

  • First and foremost, know what you CAN’T bring to Costa Rica and keep that list always handy, and reference it frequently, throughout the packing process. It’s easy to lose track when in the fits of making it all fit.

  • Your belongings should be suitably packed, for extended and sometimes rough shipping and multiple handlings by mechanized means; i.e. forklifts and pallet stackers and cranes. We take great care with your belongings but things can shift and fall in a container ride, and poorly built pallet loads can collapse and/or slump to the point of collapse when being moved.

  • Remember that heavy boxes tend to be handled roughly and get set down hard. If you are sending your packages via e.g. FedEx, UPS, etc, do not expect that they will be handled gingerly regardless of any warnings on the package.

  • Typically, more damage is done by other items in the box than by external battering. For example, a heavy stone carving, if not properly secured within the box, will break loose and crush other items. We cannot be held liable for breakage within a package due to inappropriate packing.

  • Remember that packing boxes are meant to keep items contained. Their shape and construction afford some degree of structural support but after the stack or pallet is jostled a few times it is the contents, and not the cardboard, that will end up supporting any weight stacked atop them. If the boxes on one side of a pallet collapse more than the other the whole stack can sluff sideways or collapse entirely. Lots of shrink wrap helps lots.

  • Disassemble furniture where you can. Furniture and other large pieces can be wrapped in large sheets of cardboard or furniture blankets and shrink-wrapped.

  • Pack drawers very lightly, if at all. The weight of a drawer’s contents can triple or even quadruple when containers or pallets are inadvertently set down a little hard.

  • Tape down or tie shut anything that moves (e.g. doors, drawers, etc).

  • Bag or wrap mattresses and upholstered items in plastic. Add a couple cardboard wraps for a lot more protection, especially during your container loading and unloading.

  • Consider crating delicate items. You may want to have particularly valuable artworks crated by professionals. You can check with local museums or art dealers for ideas or referrals.

  • Everything that can be boxed or bundled should be boxed or bundled

  • Every box, bundle or solo item, whether on a pallet or loaded individually, should be numbered. (put numbers on Blue painters’ tape to avoid tape damage to furniture and such, but it should be removed promptly upon arrival at your final destination.)

  • If possible, all boxes are best shipped on a pallet, and the pallet heavily shrink-wrapped. In this way they become mutually supportive, collectively stronger and better able to handle the rigors and jostling of shipping.

    • You can palletize and shrink-wrap them on the ground if you have a forklift or some other means of getting pallets into the container. They can also be built inside the container if not -- but you will still require equipment to position them.

  • Do NOT lock any cabinets, tool boxes, chests, etc. Locked items will force your entire load to be held until a key is provided. Crates must be easy to open or enter. If you make it difficult you will just upset the very people you need to treat you favorably.

Packing HINTS:

  • you can use a different color tape or marker for each room. When you are unloading into your new home everyone instantly knows where it goes straight off, without asking or looking inside.

  • Avoid putting more than 30 lbs in a standard strength cardboard box. Keep box sizes manageable. Extra or double strength boxes are available but loads should always be held to a weight you are yourself comfortable carrying about.

  • Use packaging designed for the job where possible. Have your favorite bike shop disassemble and repack you bike in their empty bicycle boxes, mattress bags can be found at the mattress store, etc. Arrange this in advance so they have an opportunity to save these items from the trash.

  • Consider asking local museums and art stores for suggestions on packing particularly valuable pieces

  • Plastic totes work well but often will not support as much weight on top of them as you might expect. Imagine yourself sitting on a one end.

  • Use more shrink wrap, and then do it again. It is the safety pin of shipping. It can be purchased in a variety of widths. Use very wide on pallets. Cover the entire pallet 8 or more layers thick. Shrink wrap boxes that are overweight or bursting at the seams due to pressure from e.g. cushions. Plastic totes can be shrink wrapped closed. Shrink wrap together like items that are difficult to pack; e.g. garden tools, fishing poles, stacked dining chairs, etc.

  • Pieces of wood, cut to length and stood up in the corners and middle of boxes will increase the stacking capacity of a box. Pieces of cardboard cut to fit against the sides, top and bottom will help for heavy or sensitive loads.

  • Some people like to list the contents on each box. We recommend that you instead print your finished inventory for each box and, by box number, tape it to the end after it arrives at your home. That way the list will be readable and it will be on the side you need it on. One customer took pictures of the open box before she closed it up. She taped it to the side of each box when she got here so she knew at a glance what was in it.

What we CAN'T do

Shipping Restrictions

  1. The following can be shipped by AIR FREIGHT ONLY. They cannot be included with personal belongings destined for ocean shipping. See the HEALTH & BEAUTY AIDS discussion on the PACKAGES & FREIGHT page.

      • Food, supplements, essential oils, edible seeds, salt,

      • Ointments or medicines.

      • Cat food, dog food, cat litter or pet meds.

      • Makeup, powders, perfumes, lotions, creams or colognes.

      • Soaps, shampoos, detergents, softeners or dryer sheets

      • Seeds for growing

  2. Our address CANNOT BE USED TO FORWARD US MAIL. That said, we can bring your mail to you. We are not an authorized handler with USPS for purposes of forwarding US Mail. If however, you receive the mail elsewhere you can then deliver it to us 1) included in a package with other items; or 2) in a UPS or FedEx (or hand delivered) padded or cardboard shipping envelope.

  3. Liquids MUST be in factory sealed containers.

  4. NO SHIPMENTS IN BOND CAN BE ACCEPTED AT OUR REGULAR WAREHOUSE. In other words, shipments coming directly to our Florida warehouse from a THIRD COUNTRY must be 'duty paid' on arrival. IF YOU HAVE A SHIPMENT IN BOND PLEASE LET US KNOW SO WE CAN PROVIDE YOU AN ALTERNATIVE ADDRESS.

DO NOT SHIP -- No Exceptions

  • NO Used shoes or clothing (sheets, towels, pillows ARE allowed)

  • NO Explosives

  • NO fuels,

  • NO weapons, archery bows, crossbows, firearms of any sort or ammunition. Yes this includes BB guns, pellet guns and even Airsoft guns. If it even looks like a gun DON'T SHIP IT.

  • NO Compressed gasses. This includes spray paint, hair spray or any other aerosols, CO2 canisters for Soda Stream, compressed air for cleaning your computers, WD40, etc. If it is pressurized DON'T SHIP IT.

  • NO Solvents, paint, stains, sealers, inks, corrosives, caustic compounds, glues.

  • NO Refrigerators, Dehumidifiers, Air Conditioners or any item that requires refrigerants.

  • NO Tires or Motor Oil

  • NO Self-propelled vehicles or equipment, or anything with a VIN number may be shipped via the shared container. Please contact us for a separate quote

  • NO Larger Batteries NOT specifically manufacturer labeled "Non-Spillable" on the battery itself as well as the packaging. Consumer batteries such as AA, AAA, C, D, 9volt or batteries in laptops and other consumer products are permitted. Please ask if unsure.

  • NO fertilizers or other chemicals

  • NO cremated remains, sea shells, corals or taxidermy

This is only a general summary of maritime, US and Costa Rica restricted items and may change at any time without notice.

Restricted items that show up at the warehouse, included in this list or not, will be held for up to 30 days pending your instructions for removal. In general, if it is chemical, volatile, edible, used on your body or is otherwise consumable (e.g. cat litter or detergent) please ask first.


Participants will be held responsible for all damages and costs, including but not limited to repairs, replacements, fines, penalties, fees, taxes, and loss of business resulting from 1) smuggled items being discovered by Costa Rica Customs in packages to their name or 2), damage to other cargo, container, vehicles, warehouse, equipment, ships or freight carriers resulting from smuggled goods.

Receipts & Inventories

Receipts and inventories are critical to successful clearing of your belongings through Aduanas (customs) . Costa Rica taxes and tracks every item imported as freight into Costa Rica. We discuss taxes elsewhere but below we discuss required documentation. We must declare every single item, and we must declare a value for each. More information relative, including examples and instructions can be found on the RECEIPTS & INVENTORIES page.

The following applies to all cargo, regardless of the method of import, unless otherwise noted.

1. All packages with items for import must have an inventory.

      • A receipt also serves as an inventory if the package comes directly to our receiving facility from the vendor.

      • If the package is a repack, i.e. packed by anybody but the vendor then a detailed inventory must be submitted.

        1. If there is more than one box then each line item should also include the box number

        2. If you are shipping larger volumes each line item should also include the pallet, master pack or crate number.

      • A model name or model number is required for all electric items such as a kitchen mixer, a battery operated tool or a ceiling fan (but not e.g. lamps).

      • A serial number is also required for all electronic items such as TVs, computers, iphones, gaming consoles, and stereos.

2. All items must be valued.

      • If an item is new you must provide a “valid receipt” along with the inventory.

        • “Valid” receipts will show either a method of payment or show a balance of zero. They just want to know that you actually paid for it.

      • If the item is used then you must declare a value. Most people use garage sale prices for used items.

        • Hint: if unsure check Ebay or Craigslist -- in Ebay check the “Sold Items” box (under “Show Only” heading) in the left column to see actual sold prices as opposed to asking prices.

        • This may sound like a chance to take advantage of the system ……. but don’t! The customs agents clear these items all day, every day. They have a good sense of value, and they know that we don’t like taxes -- they don’t like taxes either. They understand that we will use garage sale prices and they will accept that -- until they feel that the system is being abused. The repercussions can be very costly and can tie your belongings up for months.

        • A value of $0.0 is not considered valid. Cost Rica’s attitude is that if it was worth zero then you wouldn’t be shipping it.

3. Electronic only. All receipts and inventories must be submitted to us in an electronic format, preferably Excel and PDF. That is also how Aduanas requires them.

      • We cannot use receipts or inventories inside the packages. We contract with a warehouse to receive our packages and bundle them for shipping. We prepare customs declarations before the packages are shipped. The warehouse charges for retrieving your package and photocopying the receipt. Their standard rate is $60/hr, ½ hr minimum.

How taxes work

Costa Rica taxes everything entering into the country as freight. Regardless of whether they are new or used, identical items are taxed at the identical rate. The difference will lie in the items' value. For example a new set of cookware will be taxed at 29% of e.g. $450 while the same set, but used, will pay 29% of the used value of e.g. $150.

  • Personal items in your personal luggage are not taxed. While Aduanas has the authority to tax non-personal items in your luggage it is not typically done. Nevertheless, on occasion, Policia Fiscal will set up a check station at the exit from the airport scan area and check luggage for taxable items. If you are carrying new items you would be well advised to always have your receipts with you for new items in your luggage. This will help to speed up the process of paying the taxes and being on your way in a timely fashion, should such a stop occur.

There are a total of 19,788 tax classifications that must be negotiated to arrive at one of the 10,677 partidas, covering the gamut of products. Each partida applies from 1 to 11 different taxes (including the IVA sales tax) in a specific order and manner. The 6-digit framework of classifications is subscribed to by every industrialized nation in the world. The final categories (4 to 6 more digits), as well as the tax rates, are country specific. In Costa Rica the final tax classifications can turn on characteristics as seemingly minor as country of manufacture, color or some performance capacity or another. For example, there are at least a dozen different partidas for washing machines, depending on attributes as obtuse as the types of textiles they are intended for, commercial applicability, capacity, whether they are for resale and whether they have integrated spin. A common household automatic washing machine of the sort you are probably most accustomed to, with a capacity of 10kilos or less, has a combined tax rate of 42.83% whereas a capacity of 11 kilos or more only nets 14.13%. For reasons such as this a comprehensive list of tax rates that would be comprehensible to the layperson is impossible. In the end the partida that is applied, and its associated tax rate, will be whatever the aduanas agent deems it to be. While tax rates can range from as little as 1% to 165% the vast majority of partidas affecting anything you or I might be importing will fall between 20% and 40%, with the average for any assortment of household items being 30%.