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Moving to Costa Rica is an exciting prospect. On the other hand, moving an entire household of goods to Costa Rica is not. What does it cost to ship things to Costa Rica? How long will it take for my things to arrive? Are there importation taxes? On what items and how much? Will my possessions get stuck in customs? These troublesome questions regarding shipping lead many to the fundamental issue of which is better--shipping items to Costa Rica or buying them there. To decide what’s best for you, you do well to analyze three factors:

  • Is what you want available in Costa Rica, and at what cost?
  • How do you ship household goods to Costa Rica, and how much does it cost?
  • How much will I have to pay in import taxes?

What Products are Available in Costa Rica?

Icon representing shipping things worldwide

As the Costa Rican economy has expanded and the infrastructure has developed in recent years, so has the selection of products. International retailers like Walmart and Pricesmart (similar to Sam’s Club and Costco) are well established in Costa Rica, and both recently opened stores in Guanacaste. They offer a wide variety of electronics, home appliances, housewares, and furniture. Pequeño Mundo, a national chain with a store in Guanacaste, sells all the foregoing items except for larger home appliances. You’ll find well-known brands like Samsung, Whirlpool, Oster, Farberware, Frigidaire, Apple, Sony, and HP. Check availability and compare prices on their websites.The prices may be higher than what you are used to paying. If so, it’s likely because the import tax is already included in the quoted price. That is especially true of entertainment electronics like televisions. The import duty on TVs is a whopping 49%, and of course, the stores pass that cost on to the consumer. But more on taxes later. Golfito, a port town in the southern Pacific region of Costa Rica, is a duty-free zone. Distributors there sell the same home appliances available elsewhere in the country but without the added import tax. Shopping there can be well worth the trip if you’re buying a big-ticket appliance or multiple items. 

How to Ship to Costa Rica?

If you choose to ship your household to Costa Rica, your possessions will be packed inside an ocean freight container. These stackable steel cargo containers are approximately 8 feet wide and 8 feet tall. The 20 foot long model has the volume for a 1 to 2 bedroom household, and the 40 footer is large enough to accommodate a 3 to 5 bedroom household. A vehicle can be shipped in the container, but it greatly reduces the space available for other goods. If you don’t have enough items to fill a container, you can place your items on one or more pallets and ship them in a shared container. International Sea & Air Shipping and Shipping Costa Rica offer both full container and LCL (less-than-container-load) shipping service. 

How much does it cost to ship to Costa Rica?

The cost of LCL shipments is based on volume and weight. Check with the shipping company for a quote. When you hire an entire container, you pay a set price no matter how much or how little you pack into it. A recent search for the cost to ship a container from ports on the East Coast of the United States to Puerto Limon, Costa Rica’s Caribbean port, revealed an average cost of US$ 1,200 for a 20 foot container and US$ 1,700 for a 40 foot container. Those basic costs don’t include the cost of land transportation to and from the ports. If you live a long way from the port, trucking could cost more than the ocean passage. When inspection and warehouse fees are added, the total shipping cost can balloon by thousands of dollars. 

How Much Are Import Taxes?

Large ship filled with containers

Once your shipment arrives in Costa Rica, it will be taken to a secure warehouse and stored until the import duties are paid. Customs officials will review the inventory of your shipment and assign a value to each item. Used items are given a lower value than new items. For most items the assigned value is taxed at a rate between 13% and 49%. The list of tax rates at <a data-cke-saved-href="" href="" rel="nofollow" "target="_blank&quot;">Costa Rica Tax is helpful to determine whether an item is worth importing. If you are considering importing a vehicle, consult the official government website Servicios Net. Enter the make, model, and features of your vehicle, and the calculator will tell you how much the tax will be. Be warned that vehicle import duties range from 52% to 79% of the Blue Book value



So, should you ship your goods to Costa Rica or not?

So what’s the bottom line? Is there a definitive winner in the shipping vs. buying battle? The answer depends on your circumstances. If you have a one-of-a-kind item or a sentimental family heirloom that you want to be a part of your new life in Costa Rica, shipping may be for you. Or if you have many appliances or a vehicle that are in used but very good condition, shipping your household can save you money compared to buying. But if you are looking to downsize or simplify your life, moving to Costa Rica is a great opportunity to do just that. Seize the opportunity for a fresh start by selling or giving away what you’ve accumulated and buying new in Costa Rica. Then use your trips back home to bring smaller items like laptops and linens that can fit in your luggage.