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Moving your Possessions to Central America

Moving your Possessions to Central America

When relocating, one of the biggest challenges can be figuring out how to move your possessions. Deciding whether it is better to send your belongings in a shipping container or bring your personal items in checked baggage can be a tough choice.  

Should I use a shipping container?

Sending a 20 or 40-foot shipping container from the United States to Costa Rica is expensive but maybe the best option if you want to bring your life’s possessions.


moving to costa rica

The moving and shipping fees alone will run into thousands of dollars. And the entire process can take up to a few months for the items to be shipped, inspected and delivered to your home.  Some of the items you bring may be subject to Costa Rica’s high import taxes.  Containers are typically sent to Port Caldera on the Pacific Coast or Port Limón on the Caribbean side. If you are bringing a smaller load, you can purchase a pallet rather than the entire container. 


Due to the complex logistics, you could hire a shipping agent to help you with the process.


Air cargo shipments are another option. Costa Ricans and foreigners alike are entitled to one duty-free shipment of up to $500 CIF value (cost of merchandise + insurance + freight) every six months.


If you are packing a lighter load, it might be easiest to check your most valued personal items on your flight.  While appliances and other imported items are more expensive here,  custom-built furniture can be more affordable. The quaint town of Sarchí in Costa Rica’s Central Valley is known for its handmade furniture.


Costa Rica is also home to numerous U.S.-style department stores and warehouses if you are looking to rebuild your household when you arrive.  There are 11 Walmarts in the Central Valley, as well as locations in Liberia, Pérez Zeledón, and Ciudad Quesada.  You can also sign up for a membership at Pricesmart, a Costco-style warehouse club. Other stores such as Crate and Barrel and Ashley Furniture are located in the trendy San José  suburb of Escazú. There are also local shops selling furniture and home décor around the country.


To save a bit of cash, head down to the duty-free shopping zone in Golfito by the Panamanian border. You are permitted to make purchases of up to $1,000 every six months there.


Should I ship my car or buy one here?

Having a car in Costa Rica is good for getting around town and useful for visiting some of the country’s more remote beaches and protected areas.  


ship my car or buy one costa ricaWhether you decide to ship your vehicle to Costa Rica or purchase a new or used one, a car will be aa major expense. Costa Rica’s substantial import taxes, high cost of gasoline, annual marchamo fees for registration and mandatory liability insurance, and additional insurance charges add up.


If you decide to bring your own vehicle, shipping costs from port to port will likely run at least $1,000, and could be substantially more depending on where you live. The Costa Rican government determines the import duties you will be required to pay which start at around 50 percent of the car’s value and could be closer to 80 percent for an older car.  You can use the Costa Rican Ministerio de Hacienda’s website to help determine your vehicle’s value. 


More information on the procedure and documents required for shipping your car to Costa Rica can be found on the website of the Costa Rica Embassy in Washington.


Also, bear in mind that it is difficult to find parts for certain models popular in the United States. While brands like Toyota, Hyundai, and Honda are common in Costa Rica, many European and American brands are not.  Your car also must be in good enough condition to pass the rigorous Riteve (vehicle inspection) process. 


Be prepared to spend significantly more than you would in the United States for both new and used cars.  For new cars, there are plenty of dealerships in the Central Valley and throughout the country. If you prefer to buy a used car, you can begin your search at www.crautos.com, a popular site where people list cars. Craigslist is another popular resource for expats looking to purchase a car. You might want to hire a trusted attorney to help with the paperwork for used cars and guard against any scams.  

When looking at what car to buy, consider that hybrid and electric vehicles receive  tax exemptions here. These incentives are part of Costa Rica’s overall strategy to decarbonize its transportation fleet.


Karen Ebanks

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