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Important Tips For Buying A Used Car in 2023 in Costa Rica!

Updated: May 24

"What is one of the biggest surprises when moving to Costa Rica? #1 Answer: "The cost of buying a vehicle.".

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Moving to Costa Rica is without a doubt an exciting and adventurous experience but it also comes with its share of challenges and surprises. One of the most common and significant challenges that ex-pats face is the surprisingly unexpected high cost of buying a reliable vehicle.

The primary intention of this article is to help you understand how the process of buying a car is different in Costa Rica and to help you navigate those challenges while avoiding expensive lessons along the way. Please Like and Share this blog with friends if you find this article helpful!


Import Taxes: Adjusting To The Sticker Shock, Don't Worry, It's Not Just You!

The sticker shock on vehicles here is without a doubt due primarily to steep import taxes when importing vehicles into Costa Rica. This significantly drives up the cost of all vehicles in Costa Rica. Import taxes can believe it or not, actually cost as much as 85% of the Costa Rican value of a vehicle which is already assessed high compared to the states. This means it could actually cost more than the car is worth. #SorryJustFacts!


As a result, many people opt to purchase used vehicles in Costa Rica which were imported at one time new by a dealership and are now being sold a second or third time used, which can certainly be a more affordable option, however, can also come with its own set of challenges, and obstacles which we will also go over briefly in other blogs, such as odometer rollbacks, and smooth dealership tricks.


One Thing To Know Is That Car Culture In Costa Rica Is Different!

Mostly due to the high cost of buying a vehicle in Costa Rica thanks to the import fees, the culture around car ownership and maintenance in Costa Rica can be quite different from what people are used to in other countries. It is not Cuba as a large percentage of the cars are very modern and state of the art, however thanks to lower labor cost, the higher parts costs (again due to import taxes) makes repair cost about the same as in the States.


Since the value of the vehicle is a lot higher overall, this means it's worth fixing more times than not, so cars are often repaired for much longer here. It is very common in fact for people to get a new motor or take on major repairs instead of buying a new car. This is partly due to the high cost of buying a new vehicle, but also because many people view cars as long-term investments that can be repaired and maintained for many years since the resale value stays high. Some cars even appreciate over time, believe it or not, especially Toyotas. you may buy a Hilux for $45,000 drive it for two years and sell for $47,000 so technically the cost could be extremely low if done right.

"Cars are often repaired for much longer here, and it's common for people to get a new motor or take on major repairs instead of buying a new car."


Here are some basic tips for choosing a brand of used car in Costa Rica:

  1. Research Brands and Models: Do your research before you buy. Check out different car brands and models commonly sold in Costa Rica, read reviews, and compare prices. This will help you get an idea of what you want and what you can afford. Click here for our current inventory to get an idea.

  2. Check Maintenance history: Check the car's maintenance history. If it has a good maintenance history, it is more likely to be in better condition and more reliable. If the records are missing which is almost always the case on cars older then 5 years old, then a good dealer or third party who inspects and repairs the vehicle to a warrantable condition is extremely valuable. Take them up on the warranty if available and they have a good reputation.

  3. Check the mileage of the car very closely: The lower the mileage, the better condition the car is likely to be in, but not always the case. As to whether it can be trusted, please stay tuned for our other blog that is coming out soon, covering the unfortunate truth that reveals why many cars have had their odometers rolled back in Costa Rica and how to avoid problems in this area.

  4. Look Closely At The Condition: Inspect the condition of the car. Look for signs of wear and tear, rust, and damage. Check the interior, exterior, and under the hood. An unworn driver seat and the steering wheel are two of the best indications of actual low mileage. A Car that says 50,000 kilometers and whose steering wheel and drivers seat is worn out is an easy to spot sign of rollbacks. Con artist will replace them both though so look out for looking to good as well.

  5. Brand Reputation: Consider the reputation of the brand and the dealer. Some brands are known for their reliability and longevity, while others are known for being less reliable. Listed are the most reliable brands in Costa Rica: Toyota, Suzuki, Hyundai, Honda, Isuzu, Mitsubishi, and Daihatsu.

  6. Availability of parts and services: Check the availability of parts and services for the brand you are interested in. Some brands may have limited parts availability, which can make repairs more difficult and expensive.

  7. Resale value: Consider the resale value of the car. Some brands hold their value better than others, which is important if you plan to sell the car in the future. Toyota is the brand to hold its value the most.

By following these tips, you can make a more informed decision when choosing a brand of used car in Costa Rica.


Rumor Confirmed You Can Import For Free Now, But...

There is a way to import up to 2 motorized vehicles per family without import fees thanks to a new law which will soon be covered in a blog we are writing on the topic. The bottom line that you need to know is that it is possible, but it is not easy to qualify for. There are some strange caveats such as needing to own the vehicle for 10 years after you bring it in for example which may make it not make sense for you based on your plans, as it could make it very hard to sell.


Pro Tips For Buying A Car In Costa Rica!

All Vehicle Transfers happen through attorneys in Costa Rica. An attorney can tell you if there are tickets or liens on the vehicles which will follow the car to the new owner if transferred before being cleared up. We will have a blog linked here shortly going over the process you need to understand to buy a vehicle here. Of course, a good attorney can help you with this however it is good to know what is being done. When you buy at Price Auto Sale Uvita, we complete the entire process for you. We have a staff member dedicated to making sure this process goes smoothly.


Buying At A Dealer Versus A Private Party In Costa Rica!

When it comes to buying a used car in Costa Rica, you can choose to work with a trusted and reputable dealership or a private party. At Price Auto Sales in Uvita, Costa Rica we thoroughly inspect every car and perform all necessary repairs before selling it on the lot, ensuring our customers receive the best possible experience. Additionally, we offer an optional warranty to protect our customers and give them added peace of mind. By choosing to work with a reputable dealership, you can be confident in your car purchase and rest assured that you are getting a reliable vehicle at a fair price. If from a private party, there is no buyer protection in Costa Rica. For more information on reasons why it makes sense to use a good dealer, check out our other blog that goes into more detail: Buying Used Cars in Costa Rica, Dealer Vs Private Party.


The # 1 thing to keep in mind, ( Ask around you will find out this is true) is to factor in car repair cost to the price especially if buying without a warranty from a private party. The most common horror story you hear from people who have had bad experiences is having to do major repairs like get a new motor months after they buy a car so we do everything we can to make sure that does not happen.


Real Horror Story!

In one instance we know of the guy who bought a car from a dealer, (A Model we avoid) and the dealer was basically a small mechanic shop and in hind site maybe a little shady. The car actually belonged to a dead guy but hadn't been filed yet, and this happened after the new owner unofficially paid for not only the car, but also 2 new motors out of his own pocket as the first one seized up, and the second one died 3 days after the warranty expired.


The first motor was supplied by the dealer/ shop and was not covered under a limited warranty. So after a second motor by another shop, he gets stopped he then gets stopped by the police and has now lost his plates so cannot drive his $20,000 car he now has $36,000 in and may never own it legally.


Be careful, deal with someone you trust!


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