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How I Imported My Car to Costa Rica

by rpetersen

How I Imported My Car to Costa Rica.  In this article Jim Bickford shares his personal experience of shipping, importing and titiling his Toyota Prius into Costa Rica.


Unless you plan to drive the car down the Inter American Highway (2300 miles/50 driving hours from Laredo, TX to San Jose, CR – not interstate quality), you will need to arrange with an international shipper to get your car from your location to Costa Rica. The shipper must be able to answer the following questions:

  • What paperwork is required to import the vehicle to Costa Rica. This will be the following:
  • Copy of passport. A photocopy of the picture/detail page of the passport.
  • Original title in your name for the vehicle. This cannot be a copy. This cannot be in the name of the finance company. This must be clear title to the vehicle in your own name.
  • What is the estimated transit time from pick up of the vehicle to delivery to the final delivery point (which will not be your residence – see below)? This will vary depending on a number of factors such as pick up point, port of embarkation, port of entry into Costa Rica, and final delivery point. The final delivery point will be an approved bonded warehouse somewhere in the country. You should ask that this be as close to where you will be residing as possible. This may be more expensive than dropping the vehicle at Port Limon, but will mitigate issues with the pick up and registration process for the vehicle (more on this below)
  • Who is their in-country partner for arranging the import of the vehicle, dealing with in-country transportation, and customs clearance? This will be a licensed Costa Rican Customs Broker (Agencia Aduanal). The Customs Broker is licensed to interact with the Costa Rican Ministry of the Treasury Customs service on behalf of third parties. You should get a point of contact at this company complete with email and telephone number. You should contact this person and provide copies of all the documents you provide to the shipping company. They should be able to give you a rough estimate of the import taxes that the vehicle will have to pay along with their quote for the services provided.
  • What costs are included in their estimate/quote? This should cover all costs, to include at least an estimate of destination port operating charges/expenses and in-country transportation costs to the approved bonded warehouse. Harp on this point at least a little bit.
  • Will the car be containerized (shipped inside a 20, 30, or 40-foot sealed container) or open shipped (parked on the deck/in the hold of the ship)?
  • Will you be able to put items into the car for shipping or must the car be empty? If you are able to put items into the car, you will require a detailed inventory that customs will use during their import inspection process.

What Happens When your Car Arrives in Costa Rica

Once the vehicle has arrived in Costa Rica the customs broker will coordinate with customs so that the vehicle is unloaded at a bonded warehouse.  You will need to have your Bill of Lading (BL) from the shipping company and the original title to the vehicle with you.   With this documentation they can initiate the vehicle nationalization process. This has several steps.

  • It starts by them obtaining the tax classification for the vehicle which is based on the information provided by the VIN number. They might be able to start this process before the vehicle is delivered based on the copy of the title you have provided to them. If they were unable to get an early start, this may take up to two weeks. This in turn will be the basis for the import taxes that will have to be paid on the vehicle. Additional import duties for any items shipped in the vehicle may also be assessed
  • Once the import duty amount has been determined, you will need to wire funds for the importer to turn over to customs in order for the car to be released. Alternatively, you can deal directly with the Treasury Department to pay the customs duties Once the funds have been received, it may take another 5 working days to have the car officially released.
  • After the customs duties have been paid, the Customs Department will issue a document called a DUA (Documento Único Administrativo) and the information is entered into the electronic database of the Customs Department known as TICA where you can search information about your import.
  • Once the DUA has been accepted by Customs and the taxes for the vehicle have been paid then the vehicle is either sent to verification system where it is generally assigned a green, yellow or red light. Green means you don’t have to do anything else and you can proceed to the next step – this is the most common determination. With a yellow light it means that a customs officer will manually review all the documentation to ensure that it complies with the information provided. With a red light the vehicle will be subject to a physical inspection by a customs office who will check the vehicle to ensure all the information provided matches up with their physical inspection. Once the Customs Officials are satisfied with the inspection then they will authorize the release of the vehicle and issue a document authorizing the vehicle to leave the bonded warehouse.


It is very important that you verify that the information contained in your DUA matches exactly the information for your vehicle – particularly the VIN number. If it does not, this will have a negative impact on any further steps and could delay the process by months. Do not leave the bonded warehouse until you are satisfied that all the information in the DUA is correct.

Now you will have to go to the bonded warehouse to retrieve your car. Before you can do this, you will need to pay the warehouse fee, which will be based on the number of days your car has been there.

The DUA that you were given by the Customs Department becomes your temporary title just so you can take the vehicle to the mandatory inspection station known as RITEVE (see The Vehicle Inspection section below). You are NOT able to drive your car at this time. You or your customs broker will have to arrange for a vehicle tow/haul to a RITEVE inspection station. Try to get the inspection done on a day that is not the last day of the month. After the inspection is conducted (provided your vehicle passes), you will be issued a temporary inspection certificate – you will need this in the next steps. You will then have your vehicle towed/hauled to your residence.

This article does not cover what will be required if your vehicle does not pass inspection. In order to proceed to the next steps, the vehicle will have to be re-inspected and pass.

How do you get the Vehicle Inspection

In order for a car to circulate on the road in Costa Rica it must have  have a valid inspection sticker known as RITEVE.  The inspection process in Costa Rica is much more through than any conducted in most US states. Be sure your vehicle is in top shape before you ship it.

To get the vehicle inspection you can contact Riteve or make an appointment on their website.

I have my Inspection and My Car now what ?

Now that you have your car it means that you have complied with all the import requirements and the tax obligations. However, you need to title your vehicle so that it is legal to drive it on the road.

How do I get my Car titled ?

Assuming you have your RITEVE documentation in hand then you will need to hire the services of a Notary Public so that they can draft the legal document to title the vehicle. To do this the owner of the vehicle will have to personally appear before the Notary Public or have provided a third party with a Power of Attorney to do so.

The amount of registration costs and fees is based on a sliding scale based on the value of the vehicle as it was determined by the tax department. As a rough estimate, expect to pay around 4.5% of the value of the vehicle to get it registered.

How much is the annual circulation tax – Marchamo

In addition to the registration fees you will also need to pay the vehicle Marchamo which is the annual road circulation tax and mandatory liability insurance. The Marchamo is handled by the National Insurance Institute (INS) and you can determine the amount that needs to be paid on their website.

Take your temporary inspection certificate and go to the nearest full INS office. Do not go to a small INS agent’s office you might find in a local strip mall, find a main office on their web site. Pay the fee there.

It can take anywhere from five to thirty days to get the vehicle registered. This depends if the deed is accepted during the first presentation or if it is defected for any reason and requires correction. Once the vehicle is registered it is input into the recording system and assigned a license plate number. Once that is completed then you can request the issuance of the license tags for the vehicle. This should all be handled by your Notary Public’s office and they will also act as an agent to pick up the license plates for you.

Final Steps

You are not done yet.

Once you have completed the registration, paid the marchamo, and have your license plates issued you need to go back to the vehicle inspection station RITEVE so they can issue you the final report and the actual window sticker proving that the vehicle is now compliant.

After this, you will need to wait one to two business days for the systems to synchronize and then return to the INS office to obtain your Marchamo window sticker.

You are now done! At the end of the process your vehicle will have

  1. A valid title registration (titulo de propiedad) and window sticker
  2. A RITEVE inspection document and window sticker
  3. A valid Marchamo and Tarjeta de Circulación (road tax plus mandatory insurance) and window sticker

Your window stickers do not have to placed in any specific order but must be on the inside of your

Thanks to Jim Bickford for sharing this process with us.

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