Test Driving Costa Rica...

Getting Around On A Budget


We have been preaching for years, RENT before you BUY.  That makes sense when it comes to where you are going to live.  However, when you are talking about transportation, strange as it may seem, it might be better to buy than to rent!

If you are contemplating relocating to Costa Rica, before you do the deed, it might be best to experience living here first.  Who knows, maybe expat life is not what you had in mind?

We urge anyone thinking about relocating to Costa Rica to first try us out for 6 months.  Find an area that you may like and then rent a place that meets your needs.  Make sure that it is comfortable and is centrally located.

How Will You Get Around...

Once the decision is made to move here for a "try it first" visit, begin thinking about how you will get around.  How will you accomplish daily chores like grocery shopping, going to the doctor or dentist?  Maybe you will want to explore other areas of Costa Rica.  Take day trips or extended overnight excursions.  All of this will require some sort of transportation strategy.

Those who live in larger, metropolitan areas, may be able to rely on taxi's and busses to meet basic transportation needs.  However, for those who live in less populous zones, having access to an automobile may provide the optimum solution.  And finding that cost effective solution is the subject of this article. 

If you accept the premise that you will move to Costa Rica for a six-month trial, your transportation strategy might involve...

  • Shipping your car to Costa Rica

  • Utilize public transportation

  • Rent a car from a local agency. 

  • Lease a car for the duration of your stay or...

  • Purchase a car for use while in country, then sell it when you leave. 

For the sake of this article, I am not going to address the pros or cons of bringing your car from home into Costa Rica.  This is a decision that would be better off discussed should you decide to move here for a longer period of time. 

I've analyzed three different scenarios, all providing transportation solutions while living in Costa Rica for a six-month trial period.  All involves acquiring a small 4x4 vehicle on the scale of a Suzuki Sidekick or Daihatsu Bego.

  • Scenario #1: Rent a small 4x4 vehicle at a standard monthly rate from a major auto rental agency.  This will include unlimited mileage and full insurance coverage.  The car can be turned in at any time short of the six month period.

  • Scenario #2: Contract for a six-month lease of the same or similar type of vehicle.  At the end of the lease period, the car would be turned in.  However, if turned in before the end of six month lease period, you would still be liable for the full amount of the contract.

  • Scenario #3: Buy a car and then sell it (if and when) you decide to leave Costa Rica.

In each case, the car would be fully insured.  All acquisition and disposition fees will be factored into the final price.  For comparison purposes, The total cost of the car would be reflected as a monthly average expense item.

Base rental fee for 30 days - $49/day $1,495
Airport usage fee * $45
Additional Liability Insurance  - $480/mo $480
Total cost for a six month rental $12,120

* 3% fee based on daily rental.  LIR = 3% - SJO = 12%

Monthly lease amount $809
Full insurance option $300
Lease Initiation Fee (one time fee of $270) $45
Total cost for a six month lease $6,924


Purchase Price of Vehicle $15,000
Sell Price (at 6 months) $13,500
Depreciation Expense (10%) $1,500
Purchase Fee $375
Consignment Selling Fee ($375 or 5% of sell price) $675
Additional liability insurance $200
Power of Attorney $100
Vehicle Inspection $195
Transfer Tax (4%) $540
Total cost for a six month rental $3,585


As you can easily see, buying a car while you are in country, even thought it is for a limited time, may prove to be the best option for you in the long run.  Buying a used car and reselling it when you return home can save you as much as 72% over renting a vehicle.

Should you go down the path of car purchase, my recommendation would be to select a company capable of delivering the following services:

  • Locate desirable automobiles based on your criteria

  • Submit suitable candidates to you for your review

  • Act on your behalf as your negotiating agent

  • Conduct basic and in-depth inspections to properly vet the car's mechanical status

  • Provide seamless turnkey purchase and consignment resale services including timely electronic transfer of all sales proceeds

One such company in Costa Rica is Your Costa Rica Contact, I have found to be an honest and reputable vendor and can do all the above.  This article is not intended to be a commercial endorsement of that company but rather a starting point from which you can do your own due diligence.  I mention this company only because I have personally used their services in the past and find them to be an honest and reputable vendor. 

As with everything in Costa Rica, you are always encouraged to do your own due diligence.  And one last caveat... don't leave anything up to interpretation, make no assumptions and get it in writing.

Good luck.



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