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.

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.

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.

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 around 7 or 8 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

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:

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.

Packing HINTS:

What we CAN'T do

Shipping Restrictions

DO NOT SHIP -- No Exceptions

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.  

2.   All items must be valued. 

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.

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.   

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%.