Home / Beyond  / Importing Vehicles to Costa Rica: An Updated Guide (2022)

Importing Vehicles to Costa Rica: An Updated Guide (2022)

If you want to import and register a vehicle in Costa Rica, be prepared for a slow and bureaucratic process

We have received many requests regarding information about importing and legally inscribing vehicles in Costa Rica. The following will help you understand the basics.

Importing vehicles to Costa Rica

The process of bringing a vehicle into Costa Rica is supervised by Customs — therefore, you need to be prepared for a slow and bureaucratic process.

First, the interested party will require documents that prove ownership of the vehicle and a customs document that proves that the good entered legally to the country.

The customs document is called in Spanish “Documento Único Aduanero” (DUA) and is delivered by Customs to the owner of the good when entering the country.

If your vehicle is not imported, bought at an auction to a government institution, or is a unregistered vehicle, you will not need a DUA.

Compromising items

Once you have the required documents, you must also check if the title of the vehicle has any items that would compromise its importation, such as:

  • Salvage note (part only, lemon salvage, letter-parts only, cert-lemon law buyback, certificate-No VIN, Katrina)
  • Destruction of vehicle
  • Non-repairable vehicle
  • Salvage/Fire damage to vehicle
  • Parts only
  • Total loss
  • Dismantler
  • Junked vehicle
  • Crushed vehicle
  • Scrapped vehicle

Naturalization

Once the vehicle arrives in Costa Rica, it will be placed into a Customs warehouse, which will require additional fees to be paid for it to be released. This is where the “naturalization” process starts by defining the tax class (according to the VIN number) and custom taxes.

(Important note: a certified Customs broker/agent in Costa Rica will be required for the process and all the documents required for this process are required in original.)

At this point, the Customs broker will require the DUA and other supporting documents in order to determine the correct classification and to pay all the required taxes. This is the point that the vehicle will be released from the warehouse.

Final steps

Once the vehicle is released from the warehouse, the next steps will be:

Riteve: mandatory vehicle mechanic inspection. You have up to 48 hours to complete this once the vehicle is released from the warehouse.

Every vehicle that circulates in Costa Rica is required to have a valid technical inspection. The inspection is carried out by a private company referred to locally as Riteve and which has inspection stations all around the country.

The intention of the inspection is to ensure that all vehicles comply with basic safety standards established by the manufacturer and with the applicable traffic regulations of Costa Rica.

Marchamo: Right of circulation tax on all vehicles, required to be paid on a yearly basis.

Every vehicle that circulates in our country is required to pay for the right to move and circulate. The owner of the car must go to the INS (National Insurance Company) agency to check the amount to pay.

Inscription: Once the import and naturalization process are completed, you are ready to register the vehicle with the National Registry and obtain the local plates for the same.

Note you will need assistance from a Public Notary to proceed. The notary will draft the deed and file it at the National Registry upon its execution. Once submitted, the process could take around three weeks.

Once approved, the attorney will obtain the definitive property car title, car deed, license plates, and sticker plates.

As a final step, once all documents have been obtained from the National Registry, a second visit to Riteve will be required so that they provide you with the corresponding sticker.

Exemptions

Regarding the exemptions, the main requirement is for those people who are authorized to enter Costa Rica under the immigration categories such as Investors, Retirees and Fixed income (Rentiers).

The Congress approved these exemptions on June 22, 2021. This was effective beginning July 14, 2021, and the government established that these exemptions would be valid for 10 years from the date they are granted.

Therefore, the beneficiaries can import a maximum of two vehicles, for personal or family purposes, so the exemptions include free import tax, customs and value-added taxes.

In addition, if any vehicle is stolen, totally destroyed by fire, flood, collision or accident, during the benefit period of the law, the person may import another vehicle with the exemptions.

Final consideration:Please consider the fact that if this process needs to be done for a corporation all corporate and tax obligations must be updated in order to proceed. As for the procedure, it can be completed under your personal name or the company name.

Share

karenulate@outlierlegal.com

Karen Ulate serves as the Senior Business Attorney and Notary Public at Outlier Legal. She has a Postgraduate Degree in Notary and Registry Law, and is currently studying her Master's in Business Administration. With over 10 years of experience in Corporate Law, Real Estate, Customer Service and Team Management. Positive and proactive, are some adjectives that fit her perfectly.

Review overview
30 COMMENTS
  • Kevin June 13, 2021

    Does a car dealer pay an importation tax on wholesale price of an imported car or on the value of the car determined by Costa Rica, and how does CR determine the value?

    • Stacey Jennings June 14, 2021

      If you would like, you can contact Sebastian, one of our attorneys, and he will be able to walk you through these regulations. salvarado@outlierlegal.com

  • Kevin June 13, 2021

    I recently called a new car dealer and asked if it had the vehicle listed online at the price listed online, they answered yes (four in different colors) but the price was 10% higher when I arrived at the dealer although was unchanged online. Is that legal in Costa Rica?

    • Stacey Jennings June 14, 2021

      No, is not legal, they are obligated to respect the listing price

    • max November 4, 2022

      Who knows this is Costa Rica.

  • DALE PEARMAN September 1, 2021

    Hi, Can you confirm the new law is in effect where import taxes are no longer imposed on shipping a vehicle into Costa Rica

    • Stacey Jennings September 1, 2021

      Hello Dale – its ready but cannot be used yet
      the agreement is that we can file if the investment is $150,000
      but aside from that, we cannot apply for any tax benefits.. we are not sure how much longer until it is in full effect

      • Eric Kleiman May 7, 2022

        Any news on this going into effect soon?

        • Alessandro Solis May 9, 2022

          Hello, Eric! We ask you to stay tuned. We will post an update about this soon. Thanks for reading!

  • Alexander Arrieta February 8, 2022

    I will be retiring in 18 months, how do I prove that when I ship my goods and vehicle into CR? is there a registration for my category as proof? plus I am a Tico returning home

    Gracias

  • Gina February 8, 2022

    Can you clarify if the new vehicle rules apply to ATV, motorcycles and boats?
    Thanks

  • James Huesmann February 8, 2022

    Hi, the updated article says the exemptions for tax purposes were effective July 14, 2021. Is that correct, or are we still waiting for the regulations to be posted for pensianado and inversionista?

    • Stacey Jennings February 9, 2022

      We are still waiting for the government to implement the new laws. They are signed – they still need to be implemented

  • Mark Goldstein February 10, 2022

    Your article mentioned that the exemptions are “valid for 10 years”…I am confused if that might mean that if I received my residency 9 years ago, if I still have another year to be able to import a car without being charged import taxes? Thanks.

  • Peter Hurtubise February 13, 2022

    Greetings,
    Does the exemption for the EV vehicle import taxes apply to hybrid vehicles.

  • Peter Hurtubise February 13, 2022

    Does the import tax exemption for Electric vehicles also apply to Hybrid vehicle?

  • Martin Cornelius February 17, 2022

    Will this new tax exemption apply to a new car purchase in Costa Rica if the buyer otherwise qualifies for the exemption? New cars are all also imported, correct?

    • Stacey Jennings February 17, 2022

      Not for cars bought within the country as they have already had the duty and taxes paid and that would result in a loss for the dealers.

  • Greg Rewis February 24, 2022

    Stacey — I’m confused by your statement “its ready but cannot be used yet the agreement is that we can file if the investment is $150,000”. Are you saying that there is a way to ship a car without paying the import tax?

    • Stacey Jennings February 24, 2022

      Yes there is a portion of the new law that will allow residents to import a car or other vehicle (boat etc) duty free – but they have not implemented that law as of yet. You can read about here

  • Michael O'Leary March 16, 2022

    So if I’m understanding this correctly if I am entering costa rica as a rentier I can import a vehicle for free as long as it meets the title requirements?

    • Stacey Jennings March 17, 2022

      Once that law has been implemented – which it hasn’t yet.

      • Julie January 19, 2023

        Hello Stacey – Thank you for your information. Are you aware of any news about the new rules?

        • Maripaz Soto Villalobos January 23, 2023

          Hello Julie,

          The ruling has not been approved yet. When there is important news we will publish an article about it.

  • Phil Hunt March 31, 2022

    This article is quite informative about cars of export. Thanks for sharing such informative ideas

  • Jon Storm July 15, 2022

    My family and I are in the process of getting residency and I’m wondering if you know what the rules on resale are for the cars. Do you or expect we will be able to resell them or if we do so will we have to pay the tax?
    I’m keen on bringing a car down to take advantage of this but I can see the potential for abuse if you just bring two cars and immediately resell them at local market values. On the other hand, I don’t want to have to keep it for 10 years

    • Rafael Valverde July 29, 2022

      Jon,

      If you sell the car, then the purchaser must pay the taxes. Thus, for a buyer, the cost will be comparable to any other car.

  • cash for cars July 17, 2022

    It’s really amazing!
    I read your great content, I enjoyed reading it, you wrote great and in French, we were looking for such content, I got acquainted with your website, this was the best, I shared your website address with my friends, always write like this.
    Good luck.

    • Rafael Valverde July 29, 2022

      Cash for Cars,

      Thank you for your message. Let us know what other information will be valuable to share.

  • Cecilia Lowenthal January 9, 2023

    Our car is still in Costa Rica since July 2021 . Customs took 7 months to assign a value and was only ready to release our car one month before we left to back to the US. They still have our car and won’t release it unless we pay approximately $7000 in taxes. This for a 2012 Buick in good condition with 30K. As a retirees we cannot afford to pay that amount.
    We were told the law hasn’t taken effect yet as recently as March 2022.
    We have given up while the Costa Rican authorities are still in possession. Our Costa Rican lawyer told us to not argue our case since it could turn out be even costlier.

POST A COMMENT