Some folks that are planning for an extended stay in Costa Rica decide to bring a vehicle to drive around while they’re here instead of paying for expensive rental cars.
You can also bring a travel trailer to avoid the cost of hotels or housing rentals. If your travel trailer has a solar system that is sufficient to power a refrigerator, microwave, TV, and radio, you can go totally off-grid! Additionally, a travel trailer with wheels can be parked on properties where typical construction is not permitted and if you import one here, you can move it around on Costa Rican roads for 90 days without paying the import taxes.
If you own a property here, you can park your travel trailer there and forget about the hassle of building permits, and the bureaucracy that can cause a lot of stress. However, there are no distributors here for new travel trailers so you will need to import one or purchase a used one that was previously imported.
When traveling to Costa Rica, people from most countries are given a 90-day tourist permit at the immigration desk in the airport, seaport or at the Nicaragua or Panama borders and the officials put a stamp in your passport.
When you drive a vehicle into Costa Rica through the Nicaraguan or Panamanian border or if you ship a vehicle into one of the seaports, you will be given a 90-day Temporary Import Permit (TIP) to drive the vehicle while you’re here.
Because Costa Rica is such an awesome place to live, many people want to extend their stays here, so they travel to the Nicaragua or Panama border every 90 days to extend their tourist permit. Many people have done this for years and they are referred to as “perpetual tourists.”
If you want your vehicle to stay here longer than 90 days, you have to keep it in an official storage facility or take it out of the country for 90 days. So you can drive or ship a vehicle to Costa Rica and after 90 days here, you can drive it to either Nicaragua or Panama, and after 90 days you can return to Costa Rica if you like.
Here are the options for keeping a vehicle in Costa Rica for longer than 90 days.
Legally import a vehicle – In order to complete this process, you must pay import taxes that will be a percentage of the vehicles current value as established by the Costa Rica aduana. Then the vehicle will qualify for Costa Rica license plates and registration. Additionally, to maintain a vehicle’s registration, it must be inspected annually at one of the RTV Inspection Stations located throughout the country. NOTE: You cannot import a vehicle that is more than 12 years old.
You can utilize the Ministerio de Hacienda website to find the value that the Costa Rica aduana establishes for vehicles. Once you’re on the website, you must fill in the required spaces on the form. If you want positive results, do not put more data in the form than these four:
- Vehicle brand, (Marca in Spanish)
- Model, (Estillo in Spanish)
- Year, (Año in Spanish)
- Transmission, (Transmisión in Spanish)
For example, let’s use the following data for this vehicle:
- Marca: BMW
- Estillo: 335i
- Año: 2009
- Transmisión: Automatic
After entering this data into the form, click on the “Search” (Busqueda in Spanish) button to obtain the following results:
As can be seen in the previous image, there are two results for the BMW we are searching for. Now we must select in the Extras box if the car is Full or Semifull. This BMW 335i is the Semifull version.
Now click on the Valor button and the following screen will appear:
In the image above, you can see different years with the Valor Hacienda and Valor Importación values. The second value (Valor Importación) for the 2009 BMW is the one we need to select in order to calculate the import tax. As you can see, the import value for this BMW is ¢ 11,361,600.00 colones.
This amount is the total import value, not the import tax you have to pay. In Costa Rica, there are two types of tariffs applicable to the import value and they are governed according to the year of the vehicle.
- Vehicles more than six years old pay 73%
- Vehicles less than six years old pay 52.5%
The import tax for the 2009 BMW 335i will be 52.5% of ¢11,361,600.00, or ¢5,964,840.00 colones.
In addition, a shipping company will charge around $1000.00 to ship a sub-compact vehicle like a BMW
335i, depending on the port of departure.
Furthermore, there are two more considerations; Registration of the vehicle in Costa Rica’s National Registry and legal fees. The registration fees will be 0.9% of the tax value, and the legal fees should be around ¢55,000.00 colones. For this BMW 335i, the total will be ¢189,360.00.
As you can see, the costs to register a vehicle here are expensive. If you bring a vehicle here and you need to leave the county, you can store the vehicle in a registered facility.
Legally store a vehicle – You can store a vehicle in a government-bonded facility, (Almacen Fiscal, in Spanish), and a registered warehouse can suspend the TIP while it is stored in their facility. If you store a vehicle for less than 90 days, you’ll have the same remaining days left on your TIP as when you stored it. If you store your vehicle for more than 90 days, then you must get a new TIP when you pick it up.
In Liberia, Guanacaste there’s a company called HA Logistica that can store your vehicle indoors and take care of all the Costa Rica aduana paperwork. All that is necessary is to fill out a form and sign it. Then the company will send the form to the aduana and coordinate everything on the phone to confirm that your TIP is suspended. Once the aduana completes the process, they will send the suspended TIP paperwork to the storage company and you should keep a copy for your personal records because this form will indicate how many days will be left on your TIP when you return to pick up the vehicle.
In Costa Rica’s Central Valley there are a variety of companies that can store a vehicle and help with the aduana paperwork as above. Here’s a list of some Almacen Fiscals around the Central Valley, in Puntarenas and in Penas Blancas near the Nicaragua border.
Name: Terminales Santamaria
Location: International Airport in Alajuela
Notes: Uncovered storage for 90 days is $660 USD.
Name: Terminales Unidas – Aeromar
Location: San Jose, Alajuela, Caldera, Penas Blancas
Notes: Uncovered storage for 90 days is $300 USD.
Name: Deposito Aduanero Lagunilla
Location: Lagunilla, Heredia
Notes: Storage is 3000 colones per day ($5.00/day)
Name: Almacen Fiscal del Pacifico, Alfipac
Location: Puntarenas Area
Notes: Storage is 2500 colones per day ($4.20/day)
Name: Depósito Aduanero Peñas Blancas
Location: Penas Blancas Area
Notes: Covered storage is 3000 colones per day ($5.00/ day)
The writer, Tom Rosenberger has lived and worked in Costa Rica since 1992 and from his travels throughout the country inspecting land and construction he has acquired a wealth of knowledge about housing and solar systems in Costa Rica. If you would like to avoid the hassle of importing and find out about travel trailers for sale in Costa Rica, contact Tom by clicking here.