Another view on importing your car to CR..

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    I enjoyed the article on shipping your own car down to Costa Rica < >, and would now consider shipping my 94 Toyota 4runner. I guess when you figure the high cost of buying and the uncertainty with where your used car came from it may make sense. Anyone have any strong arguments against this…maybe I’m missing something here? I mean even if I pay the tax on my truck it is still less than the cost of buying something similar there and I know I have a good vehicle.


    I think the issue of parts availability remains. In my own personal experience, I have had to deal with the fact that some Toyotas (and some years) are made in different places and of different parts. Our ’92 Camry was built in Japan. It was made of very different stuff than U.S.-source ’92s.

    The other thing to consider would be to buy an actual new car imported and supported by an authorized dealer here. New cars imported to Costa Rica are subject to the lowest (but still very high) import duties, but you’d be getting something with all new parts, a dealer’s warranty, and pretty much up-to-the-minute technology. It would be available when you arrive, and legal to drive. All the “nationalization” would be done in advance for you.

    We bit the bullet and bought a new 2006 Hyundai Terracan 2.9 liter diesel automatic in September of 2006. It has been absolutely perfect, so that’s at least one headache we have not had to face.


    How about shipping an older car? I have an 1985 Toyota 4runner that I have rebuilt myself, and I know inside and out, swapping in a new engine. Where can I find what Costa Rican import authorities would consider the value of my vehicle?


    You will find some useful links at the bottom of the following article:

    ‘How Do Import Taxes Work in Costa Rica?’ at

    Scott Oliver – Founder


    I’m not disputing any of the information in the “article” you quote…but keep in mind that it is written by people representing a company whose business is shipping things, including cars. That doesn’t make it wrong, in fact it may have even convinced ME to bring my vehicle when I move down there…just something to think about.


    You owe it yourself and your family to question everything that anyone – including me – tells you.

    Scott Oliver – Founder


    While there were many valid points in this article, I would disagree strongly with the conclusion that “…the rarest of situations when you will want to buy a car here. But these times are so rare that you can safely presume that that situation is not likely to apply to you.”

    Our web site is geared towards helping local dealers show their inventory on the Internet and we do have an associated business of assisting expats purchase a suitable vehicle in Costa Rica. However, I have often advised people that in certain cases it is advisable to ship their own vehicle to Costa Rica:
    – When it is a car they have had a long time and parts are readily available here.
    – When it is a unique vehicle that will serve them well here in Costa Rica and cannot be purchased readily here.

    But, the point David makes about parts is very good. And there were several other cases that I thought of immediately where someone would do well to buy a car here:

    – What if you don’t have a suitable vehicle currently (style or model)?
    If you currently drive a sedan and you are planning to live where roads are rough or travel around to see Costa Rica’s sights, then you probably want an SUV with real 4 wheel drive. Buying a used car back home will entail the same risk as buying a used car here, and you won’t have any guarantee you can enforce.

    – What if your car doesn’t have mechanics that can work on it here?
    The fact is that a large majority of mechanics are self-taught, or learned their trade on the job. Many brands, models and versions that are common in other countries are not popular here, therefore your car would be on the job training for the mechanic you take it to. This may not be an ideal situation, for you 🙂

    – What if you want to buy a new car?
    If you buy a new car from a dealer here it comes with a service plan and warranty, if you buy a new car and bring it here you won’t have any warranty.

    The second implication I have to disagree with in this article is that all the used car dealers here are bringing in junk cars and fixing them up for sale. This is absolutely not true. Many of the dealers travel to the U.S., Japan, and Korea to bring in cars that they have personally selected. Or they have partners who buy the cars for them. Some of our dealers take pictures of the cars they buy to import in order to prove that they were purchased in good condition.

    In summary, a very clear case in point is the Hyundai Galloper. This car was never sold in the U.S., although there are some in England (right hand drive!) and Australia. Many of our clients end up going with this car, since it is really the best value for your money. You get a solid vehicle for $7000 to $14000 depending on the year and features. It runs on diesel which gives you better fuel economy, and the price per liter is cheaper here. The 2500cc base motor is the same that Hyundai uses in the Grace, Starex and the Galloper. The Grace is the little minivan that you see everywhere with the “turismo” or “estudiantes” labels on them. This means that you can get parts anywhere and that any decent mechanic knows the motor inside and out. Plus the parts are inexpensive while being of good quality too.

    As long as you find a reputable dealer, there is no way you can go wrong with this car. So clearly it is a very solid alternative to buying a car back home and shipping it here.


    Do you know the percentage of cars sold here with standard transmission versus those with automatic? I have not seen this discussed on the forum and is quite important for those who do not/can not operate stick shift.


    It depends on the make, model and origin of the car, but in some models as many as 1 in 3 cars are automatic. These are in particular the large SUVs and 4 door sedans coming from the U.S.

    In the “good old days” it was very unusual to see cars with automatic transmission, and difficult to have it repaired. The fact is that in Costa Rica’s terrain the automatic will not be as economical as a standard transmission. However, nowadays, it is not such a big deal to find vehicles with automatic transmissions and there are several good shops that repair them throughout the Central Valley at least.


    Now to add more confusion on the topic. After reading the article on bringing your own vehicle, I was convinced that we should purchase a used SUV 4×4 here and ship it to CR, so I applied for a loan to buy an SUV here. I’m looking, but now I’m not so sure that we should buy here and ship.

    Would it be safe to say that if you purchased a vehicle here that most rental car agencies use, such as, Toyota 4-Runner, Isuzu Rodeo, that it would not be the same?

    Help, I’m really confused now.


    Is there a website where I can check the pricing of buying a new vehicle in CR, so that I can decide whether to buy in US and ship to CR or buy new in CR? Thanks.


    From what I have seen most of the new car dealers do not put prices on their web site. You can compare prices of used cars and check out what models are being imported from the US on our site

    That would be a good starting point to determine what model you might buy either here or there.

    If you get a loan on a car in the U.S. can you ship the car out of the country? If I was lending money that seems like a big loophole. 🙂


    I see several key issues which lead me to believe that buying a car in CR is too risky for the average person.

    1. Title history – While it is certainly true that not every car offered for sale by dealers here was wrecked or flooded before being imported, there are no consumer protection laws in place to keep the seller honest. The percentage of wrecked/flooded vehicles here is unbelievably higher than in the USA or Canada. Would you know the difference? Caveat Emptor is the rule here.

    2. Odometer tampering – A previous article published on this site showed 96% of the cars imported from North America had their odometers rolled back. That is not illegal here. Even honest dealers are often forced to participate in this practice in order to compete. While I would rather have a good vehicle with 120,000 miles driven on North American roads than a similar vehicle with 50,000 kilometers driven on Costa Rican roads, I also want to know the truth about what I am buying.

    3. Safety – I drive every day here. The safety of me and my passengers is of great concern to me. Driving in Costa Rica is far different than driving in Texas, and I find that I must pay 100% attention 100% of the time to avoid having an accident. Still I have many a close call. Knowing that I have side impact beams and two air bags is very comforting. Cars built for this market do not have the same standards. Not a big deal as long as I don’t have an accident, but I want to live through it if (when?) I do!

    4. Equipment – OK… I’m spoiled. I don’t have to drive a Lexus here, but I do want to have the same level of creature comforts I had before. ‘Equivalent’ models here are not always equipped like their North American counterparts. I didn’t know you could buy a Landcruiser with cloth seats before I came to Costa Rica, but I see them all the time here.

    I was a salesman, used car department manager and independent car dealer for 29 years in the USA. I know cars, and I don’t enjoy many things as much as I enjoy buying a good car at a bargain price. If I thought that CR cars were a better deal, I would be driving one. I don’t, and I won’t.


    Thanks for the great advice. I will be purchasing a vehicle here in TX and shipping it.
    Any particular 4×4 that you would recommend for CR? Thanks again, Jessica


    I drove Nissan and Toyota products, including pickups and SUVs, in the U.S. and never had one that didn’t treat me very well. The only drawback to these cars in Costa Rica is that they’re not very fuel efficient and as far as I know you cannot buy them in the U.S. with diesel engines. That said, when we moved here two years ago we bought a Hyundai Terracan diesel and it’s the best car I’ve ever owned. With forty thousand kilometers on the odometer it has never, ever had a repair. I’d buy one again in a heartbeat.

    Whatever vehicle you buy, Jessica, before you leave the U.S. cultivate a (very warm) relationship with the parts manager of a well established dealership for that make and model. If you can e-mail a guy who will ship you the parts you need, you’ll have overcome a large part of the problem with bringing a car here.

    My Hyundai came with a Spanish-language owner’s manual which was mostly useless to me. I found a parts manager at a dealership in Australia who supplied manuals for a friend and me in English. I plan to go back to him to see about other consumables. Just remember that fast shipping of parts won’t be cheap.

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