Car Ownership in Costa Rica:

Things to consider...


For us, having the ability to travel Costa Rica, whenever and wherever we want is extremely important.  To accomplish this we need a car.   So our big decision became... (1) Do we buy a car in Costa Rica or (2) Do we ship one in from the US. 

This can be a tough call.  While I'm not saying our decision was the right one, it was the decision that best suited our conditions.  Your situation may yield a different answer.

Consider This:

  • FACT:  Costa Rica's import duty on automobiles is insane!  Shipping a 5 year old car to CR whose perceived retail value is about $30,000, may cost you an additional $20,000 in duty, shipping and insurance.

  • FACT:  Securing replacement parts for most American built cars are either impossible to get, very expensive and/or will take a very long time to get here.

  • FACT:  It can be a bureaucratic nightmare making sure your imported car is properly credentialed for legal use within Costa Rica.

  • FACT:  It is a sure bet that many of the odometers on used cars purchased within Costa Rica have been "rolled back."

For us, having a car at our disposal (24/7) was essential.  It affords us the freedom to come and go on "our schedule" and not that of the public bus lines.

While we wanted the security of owning a new car, financing one was out of the question.  Paying cash was our path to mobility and now being on a fixed income, Fran and I needed to keep our costs low.


Buying a car in Costa Rica can be a real crap shoot and "caveat emptor" (buyer beware) is the operative word.  Surprises are inevitable and should be expected.

  • How do you know the nice shiny car you are looking at is NOT a recycled piece of trash imported from the US and simply cleaned up to look good?

  • You need to know what you are looking at and you need to have the ability to know if you are buying a good vehicle or one that is destined to take a dump in the first 1000 kms. 

  • Be ready to experience Costa Rica's dual pricing model... Ticos pay one price, Gringos pay more!

I learned that if I want to be successful in buying a car in country, I needed to speak the language, know the laws and have the ability to navigate through a quagmire of bureaucratic red tape.  However there was only one problem... my Spanish skills sucked, my knowledge of what constitutes a "good car" sucks, and my knowledge of Costa Rican legal requirements was severely lacking.


As a business professional, I practiced the art of "out-sourcing", engaging the services of others when it best suits one's needs.  Such was the situation regarding the purchase of a car.  Since Fran and I were busy closing out our US based lives, we had no time to shop.  On a recommendation from Rob and Deb Klipper, I retained Jacqui Monacell from Your Costa Rica Contact.  Jacqui's job was to locate, vet, and negotiate the purchase of my new Costa Rican chariot.  As part of our deal, we asked that the car be delivered to us at the airport upon our arrival in country.  Like waving a $350 magic wand, all the paperwork, taxes, inspections, insurance... EVERYTHING was taken care of.  If this would have been left up to me, I guarantee you I would have screwed it up in the most royal of fashion.

We gave Jacqui our requirements, small 4x4 SUV that gets exceptional gas mileage.  Our maximum budget was $10,000.  That was not such an easy task... especially in Costa Rica.

Over the period of several weeks, Jacqui presented us with several potential vehicular candidates.  Unfortunately, the only cars we were seeing averaged 10 years old and had 150,000 + miles (not kms)!  We needed to GET REAL so we expanded our budget to $15,000. 

Within days more opportunities began to roll in.  We finally agreed on a 2007 Daihatsu Terrio with only 33,000 km.  We knew the mileage was correct because the seller was the original owner and there were service records to back up the claim.  The original asking price was 10,000,000 CRC (around $17,500 USD).  We finally agreed on $15,800.  Although it was a tad more than we budgeted, this was a very good deal. Jacqui presented me with a detailed spreadsheet that included the price of the car and all required taxes and certifications.  The deal was sealed when I wired her the money. 

I have to admit this was a painless process but still very scary.  I've never paid so much money for an item having never even had the opportunity to touch or see it!

Upon our arrival at SJO (San Jose Airport), Jacqui was waiting for us with keys in hand.  After loading 5 huge suitcases and four carry-on's, the three of us drove to a nearby hotel where we met with the lawyer (Abogado) to sign the necessary papers. 

From there, Jacqui went took a taxi back to her office and we began our new lives in Costa Rican home!  PURA VIDA.




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