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Buying a car in Costa Rica

Alejandro Amador

When moving to Costa Rica, after securing your dream property, probably the next need will be to buy a car. How to do it? Here are a few bits of advice. I'm going to break it down into points to make it easier:

1- The first thing that comes to mind is “hey we have a spare car back home why don't we bring it down?". Well, this may not make much sense due to a big government tax on car imports, these can go from 50% to 70% of the car's retail value. The central government has a page where you can find out more about import car duties:

2- Now, think of a brand new car (could be more expensive than in your home country but don't get disappointed because there are great deals on second-hand ones), or a second hand one, so here comes a challenge, to look for a good condition second hand one in good conditions.

3- I will recommend starting with your close group of people you already know in Costa Rica. It's always a good place to start as there may be a deal right under your nose and you don't realize it. My opinion is to look for Asian cars (Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, even Kia) just because they have a good resale value, better than Ford, GM, even European brands. Spare parts are also more readily available.

4- If you decide on the brand new car option, luckily we have most of the main brands' dealers in Liberia just a short drive from Tamarindo.  You can study all the options there in a day, plus you get to see the city of Liberia and eat at one of the many nice restaurants there.

5- If you want to evaluate second-hand car options and found nothing within your close group of people, then it's time to look on the internet.  A site I often use is

  • Here you'd have to call regular people like you and me, try to have all your viewings in one part of the city, try going to San Jose and Grecia because you will find more there.
  • Make a list and ask a Costa Rican friend that knows about cars to call the list of car owners and get the relevant data about the vehicle (Kms on it, to ask the owner where the car has been driven, the motivation factor and more). We Costa Ricans are generally super friendly and whiling to help a person in this need. I try not to go to second-hand dealerships because you really don´t know what you can find after, however, there is one I always use, I could also recommend it when you contact me.
  • When you find it, always check that the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) matches the one on the frame of the car.
  • Make sure the Marchamo (registration and mandatory liability insurance) and RTV technical inspection are current. These are 2 stickers on your windshield. Marchamo is paid annually from November 1st to December 31st. RTV inspection has to be done in the month that coincides with the last number on your license plate.
  • Bring the car to your mechanic. Some cars could have been driven in rough conditions or may have adjustments to make that are better to find now than after you buy it. The seller may want to drive the car personally to the mechanic of your choice.
  • Now negotiate the price with the seller.
  • After the negotiation is complete, you will get a public notary of your choice, choose one that also speaks your native language.
  • They will write the transfer deed and make sure there are no liens, tickets pending and more. After you and the seller sign the deed of transfer the attorney will send the deed to San Jose to the national Registry to be duly recorded. In the meantime, make sure to ask for a copy of the transfer deed signed by both.

I´ve bought and resold a number of cars in the recent years, so I've learned my ways into the system, the do's and don'ts. Feel free to contact me for more advice on real estate and the Costa Rica car buying process! Alejandro Amador, Re/Max Real Estate Agent.