Calculating Taxes on a Vehicle in Costa Rica
Long-term imported vehicle duties are calculated by multiplying the Vehicle’s
Appraised Value (VCAV) at the Ministerio de Hacienda by following the
percentages according to model year. The VCAV is the sum of the vehicle’s
market value, freight and freight insurance. Freight is the cost of transporting
your vehicle to Costa Rica.
If an expat does ship in a vehicle, he or she will pay the following rates
on cars, SUVs and pickups:
Duties are determined by the age of your vehicle. If your vehicle is a
2009, 2008 or 2007, you pay 52.9 percent of the retail value plus shipping. If
your car is a 2006 or 2005, you pay 63.91 percent of its value plus shipping.
For any vehicle older than 2004, a tax of 79.03 percent plus shipping will
Brand new cars purchased at dealerships here have about 30 percent
worth of duties applied to the price. These rates are applied not only to the
black book value of the car (regardless of the purchase price), but also to the
shipping and insurance costs. If an expat would like to find out how much
a particular vehicle will be taxed, he or she can check with the Ministerio
If there is no bill of lading or if you drove your vehicle, freight will
equal seven percent of the market value of your vehicle, which could equal
thousands of dollars more than actual freight charges. Freight insurance is
the amount of money you pay to insure your vehicle. If you did not pay
insurance, Customs will multiply the sum of the market value and freight
first by 110 percent, then by 1.5 percent.
As you can see, taxes are now higher for used cars. In order to establish
the value of a used vehicle, you present the commercial invoice with the
purchase value of the vehicle. If you do not have an invoice, you have to
declare the value.
Do not think you can fool the Customs inspectors by putting an arbitrary
value on your vehicle. They have a list showing the manufacturer’s suggested
retail price of every vehicle manufactured when it was new, including extra
In the past, Customs agents would refer to the market value based on
the “Black Book,” a manual published in the U.S. with a listing of new and
used car wholesale auction prices for United States car dealers and loan
officers, but Customs agents no longer depend on this book. However, if
you want to get an idea of the value of your vehicle, contact National Auto
Research at 2620 Barrett Road, PO Box 758, Gainesville, GA, 30503, Tel:
(800) 554-1026, Fax: (770) 532-4792, www.blackbookguides.com.Another
good resource is www.crautos.com.
Duties may be checked at the Ministerio de Hacienda. (www.hacienda.
However, to obtain a better estimate of the duties to be paid, send a fax or E-mail
to the Association of Residents or Charles Zeller at E-mail: shiptocostarica@
racsa.co.cr, toll- free 1-866-280-9036, Fax: 258-7123. Be sure to include the
make of the car, model, serial number (VIN), automatic or stick shift, extras
such as air conditioning, power windows or other non-standard equipment.
Be sure to specify the country from where you plan to ship the car.
After reading the above, if you still decide to import a used vehicle, I
recommend using a Customs broker to run around, obtain all the necessary
documents and massive paperwork, and help with the taxes. After going
through this process, a friend of mine told me, “A good customs agent can
save you money.” A bilingual attorney is also important and will save you
days of running around from one office to another. He can take you step-by-
step through the whole ordeal.”
However, if you do decide to do this yourself, you will need to follow
the procedure below. First, you have to go to either the east or west coast
of Costa Rica to pick up your vehicle at the port of entry. This can be a real
pain in the neck, requiring a lot of paperwork and patience. It is best to have
a Customs agent do all of this for you or go with you in person to pick up
the vehicle. A good Customs agent will have all the paper work done and
your car out of the aduana when you arrive at the port of entry.
When I picked up my 1990 Montero in Limón, we arranged everything
beforehand. I took an early-morning bus from San José and arrived in Limón
with my agent three hours later. My car was waiting for me in a private parking
lot. We just signed one paper, got in the car and returned to San José. The
process would not have gone as smoothly had we not planned carefully and
coordinated everything with my Customs agent.
Next, you need to register your car, which usually takes a few working
days. First, get your paperwork from customs. Then have your vehicle
checked at the nearest Riteve SyC Inspection Center (www.rtv.co.cr). At
present there are 11 inspection centers scattered around the country. Call
800-788-0000 to make an appointment and to locate the nearest station to
your home. Cars also have to be taken to these stations yearly for general
inspections to assure they are roadworthy. Then take the papers they give
you to the Registro Público or Public Registry vehicle section (Registro de
Vehículos) in the suburb of Zapote. Call 224-0628 if you need information.
The cost of your registration depends on the value of your car. Finally, take
the documents from the registry to the Ministry of Public Works (Ministerio
de Obras Públicas y Transportes) at Plaza Víquez, south of downtown San
José. Your temporary paper license plates will be issued a few months later
at the Registro in Zapote.
You will have to wait for your permanent metal plates. In the meantime,
you will be issued a temporary paper plate that you have to affix to the
windshield of your vehicle. There is an expiration date on the temporary
paper plate. If your metal plates still aren’t ready you may renew the paper
plate. If you let it expire, there is a fine.
When your permanent metal plates are ready, you’ll need to take the
following documents to the National Registry (Registro Nacional) in Zapote:
the temporary paper plate (placa provisional), title of ownership (título de
propiedad), yellow registration card (tarjeta de circulación) and resident ID
card (cédula) or passport.
You can find information about vehicles and property by viewing the
National Registry’s website at www.registronacional.com.
Every year you have to pay your marchamo or sticker indicating you
have paid your obligatory liability insurance. It has to be renewed between
November 1 and December 31. This is a certificate that shows your vehicles
emissions are within the legal limit. It is like a smog certificate in the United
States. A car without a marchamo decal on the windshield after the first of
January may be impounded.
You may pay the marchamo in person at many banks and even on- line
with The Banco Nacional.
Here are the locations of the Registro’s Regional Offices with hours of
operations and phone numbers:
• San José (Oeste – West San Jose) 8:00 a.m. a 3:30 p.m., Centro Comercial
Plaza Mayor, Rohrmoser, Tel: 2290-2363,/2290-4914, Fax: 2290-2696,
• Alajuela 7:30 a.m. a 3:30 p.m., 50 metros al sur de tienda Llobet (50
meters south of Llobet department store), Tel: 2430-1697, Fax: 2430-
• Liberia 9:00 a.m. a 4:00 p.m., Segunda planta Banco de Costa Rica
(2nd floor of BCR), Tel: 2666-8096, Fax: 2666-8096
• Puntarenas 9:00 a.m. a 4:00 p.m., Primera planta Banco de Costa Rica
(1st floor of BCR), Tel: 2661-1503, Fax: 2661-1503
• Ciudad Quesada 7:30 a.m. a 3:30 p.m. Frente a los Tribunales de
Justicia (Across from the Court House), Tel: 2460-6300, Fax: 2460-
• Limón 9:00 a.m. a 4:00 p.m., Primera planta Banco de Costa Rica (1st
floor of BCR), Tel: 2798-1257, Fax: 2798-1257
• Pérez Zeledón 8:00 a.m. a 3:30 p.m., Segunda planta Banco de Costa
Rica (2nd floor of BCR), Tel: 2770-6584, Fax: 2770-6584