Duty Free Shopping in Golfito, Costa Rica
The duty-free zone was designed in 1990 for Costa Ricans and residents.
Most popular goods sold there are domestic electrical appliances ranging
from refrigerators, freezers and stoves to sound systems and television
sets. Many brand names are available in a variety of models. Although
you may find many of them cheaper in the United States, they are good
buys compared to San José’s prices—up to 50 percent off on some large
appliances. When you add shipping costs from the United States, taxes and
possible headaches, it is more practical to buy your appliances at the free
port or look for sales at Importadora Monge, Casa Blanca or El Gallo
Some restrictions and paper-work may irk you, but this will be easier for
you than importing things from the United States. You can purchase only
$500 worth of items every six months. The first period of the year ends on
June 30 and the second begins on July 1. You are limited to $500.00 during
the first six months. You cannot carry it over to the second period of the year
and buy $1,000 worth of merchandise. You can, however, combine your
card with a family member’s and buy $1,000 per period. You must furnish
proof that the person you do this with is really a family member.
You may pick up your Purchase Authorization Card or “TAC” (Tarjeta
de Autorización de Compra), as it more commonly called, at the booth in the
duty-free zone in Golfito. You must be over 18 years old and have a Costa
Rican ID or passport to do so.
To find out information about shopping, contact ACODELCO in San
José at Tel:2 232-1198, Fax: 232-2692 and in Golfito at 2775-0717, Fax:
775-1940. Golfito is open everyday except Monday. Stores open promptly
at 8 a.m.
Here is what one resident says about his experience in Golfito: “There
are two routes to Golfito: one is through San Isidro de El General through
Dominical and Palmar Norte. The other way is along the coastal highway
through Jacó. The stretch between Quepos and Dominical used to be unpaved
and in terrible shape. It is now paved and flat so you can avoid taking the
sometimes treacherous route over the mountain. “
Travel time is about three hours from San José to San Isidro and three
and a half hours from San Isidro to Golfito. If you go through Jacó, Quepos
and Dominical, you cut about an hour off the trip.”
“The duty-free shopping is at the far end of the main street going
through Golfito,, The main street circles around the duty-free-area, one
way. You can’t miss it.“
“Rules say that you have to stay overnight in Golfito. So, you need
to arrive in Golfito one day before you shop because you need to buy a
purchase form. You must take your passport if you are a foreigner or your
cédula if you are Costa Rican. Each person has the right to buy $500 each
semester (January through June and July through December). The trip will
take approximately seven hours from San José. “
“There are many hotels available in Golfito but I recommend one that is
very close to the duty-free shops. It is good quality and costs only $50 per
room with everything included. Each person can buy a maximum of $500
for one or more products. If you go with a relative (wife, husband, sibling,
etc.) you can pay for two cards and buy up to $1,000 worth of articles.
There is a wide variety of products, but appliances are really worth buying.
They cost about half of what they do in San José. You can also buy articles
by using another person’s name. There is always someone hanging around
the facility waiting to sell you extra tickets.”
“One word of caution: Make sure you know the retail prices of what you
want to buy, and try not to buy on impulse. Stores are numbered 1 through
50, and if you want something special just ask any of the store clerks; they
are happy to direct you to the right place.
“Ask for discounts!! Banco de Costa Rica, Banco National, and Banco
Popular are all represented and have cajas to get cash. The Duty Free Stores
will not give you a discount if you pay for it with a Credit or Debit card. On
some larger purchases it is possible to get up to 5 percent or more discounts
with cash. We used both debit card and cash depending on what we were
buying. Also, if you buy a lot of items from one store, ask for a discount on
the total purchase versus each individual item.”
“If you only have a few small items ( like me ) then find one of the many
helpers that have the big hand trucks and pick up all of your purchases
going from store to store. I found these guys to be really helpful and
honest, they do this everyday, watch it , they will try to take advantage
of a gringo in the free zone.” You will need two hand truck guys, one to
pick up your purchased and take it to the check out station and another
to take it from the check out station to your car. We paid ¢1500 ( a little
less than $3.00) each which is a bargain. The second day, it took about
3 hours to complete the shopping,, checking out and packing up and we
were on our way home, after paying the parking attendant a little over a
dollar per hour.”
“If you need delivery service to San José for stoves, washers, dryers
or refrigerators, contract someone directly from a cargo company. Just
ask the people where you bought the merchandise. They will be happy to
recommend someone. You can find these people close to the stores and if
you cannot find them, ask anyone and they can help you out. The cost of
delivery is two to three percent of the price of the products. It isn’t worth it
to take any products back with you that were not bought under your name.
There are many police stops and check points along the way and they ask
for documentation of the purchase, so make sure to keep all paperwork and
receipts. You will need your papers at check out time.
For small items, many foreign residents go to the town of David, Panama,
near the Panamanian border. Prices on everything including household goods are
nearly as low as in the United States. However, because of taxes you will have to pay on
large electronic goods and appliances, it is better to shop at the duty-free
depósito across the border in Golfito. Nevertheless, foreign residents living
in Costa Rica on a 90- day tourist visa can go to David for 72 hours to
renew their papers for another three months. (Be aware that many frown
upon this status of “perpetual tourist,” and the government is looking at
changing this possibility.)
Duty Free Shopping in Golfito
By Martha Bennett
Appliances are very expensive in Costa Rica because of the import tax.
Large appliances are more affordable in Golfito, comparable to U.S. costs.
After pricing an American washer in San José at $600, I went to Golfito
and bought a washer and dryer for $600. Golfito is near Panamá and
used to thrive with the United Fruit Company. When this outfit left, the
Costa Rican government allowed the residents to set up a free-zone to
maintain their economy.
The procedure for buying appliances is not too difficult but there are
steps to follow.
1. There are many excursions which take you there and set up your hotel
arrangements. The cost is about $15 round trip plus hotel. You can drive
there in about 8 hours. You may also fly, but this uses up your savings.
You must stay overnight. This is one of the economy boosting rules. It
is hot, but the area away from the freeport complex is quite beautiful.
2. At the shopping complex, get your boleto. This form is your permit to
buy about $500 on each passport every six months. If you want to buy
more, residents of Golfito will sell you their boleto for around $25.
3. Proceed in an orderly fashion while shopping. The stores are numbered
but they all look alike and you won’t want to hit the same one twice.
Each shop will give you a paper with their price and store number.
Discounts do happen but only for cash. It’s worth trying to bargain.
Prices vary for the same brand of appliance so throw away papers with
higher prices immediately. This saves confusion. If you can decide
what you want on the first day, pay for it at once. You can pay the
next morning, but lines are long and there are other things to do.
4. Go to your hotel and relax.
5. Return to the stores early, 7:30 a.m., to retrieve your stuff and pay if
you haven’t. They inspect everything. For big items, there are boys with
trolleys to gather everything in a waiting area. Then these boys will take
your purchases through the gate where you need to show your passport,
boleto and sales slip one more time. Do not lose any papers. Your life
will be a nightmare. Tips are expected for trolleying your stuff around.
6. Outside, are trucking firms that will deliver your purchases the next day
to a warehouse or directly to your house for less than $20. Everything
is guaranteed and inspected again. Smaller items can go with you on
the bus. If this sounds exhausting, it is. But remember, you can sell
these appliances for more than you paid five years down the line. I
don’t want to do it again, but I’m glad I did it once.