Buying and selling a car in Costa Rica

After living over three years in Costa Rica, I realized that perhaps I might have learned some things that can be useful to a international public, especially for people that are going to live in Costa Rica soon. Perhaps you have just arrived and consider buying a car, you might be just in time to buy ours!

To gain maximum exposure I choose to use a multi channel approach in advertising our four wheel drive and this blog is one channel I should not leave unused.

Before we arrived with our family to live in Costa Rica, I had been browsing a bit looking for information on importing or buying cars in Costa Rica. Forget about importing. It is complicated and expensive. You may consider buying a car from a dealer who import USA cars, but we just had our search in the local online market for used cars

A new car was not an option, because of the rapid loss of value in the first year, and taking into consideration that our stay will be temporarily. Renting a car is so expensive, that buying a car can be interesting as soon a you stay for a few months.

We hired a mechanic willing to assist us with checking 3 cars we selected as potential buys. One of those became our car during our wonderful stay in Costa Rica and we crossed the country several times with it. Never let us down.


Of-course there is maintenance. We had to change the radiator and battery, and had the engine gaskets replaced to make sure some small leaking stopped. This was to make sure it passed the Riteve, the annual mechanical check or ‘Revision Tecnica Vehicular’ in Spanish. Today I had it passed for the third time.

Compared with the Dutch technical check (APK) in Costa Rica the process is much more advanced and automated. They have developed a drive trough system. Perhaps they have this elsewhere as well, but for me it is quit an experience to see how quick but profound the assessments are performed. It took less than 30 minutes this morning.

Ok, fair enough, I had to drive to the nearest Riteve service station at one and a half hour distance. But that is the consequence of living in the rainy hills.

I was glad to put the new sticker on the window, because the check can come with unexpected surprises.

Window stickers

From top to bottom first we have the sticker from the ‘Instituto Nacional de Seguros’ (INS), this is one is obligatory for each calendar year and can be bought since every 1st of December at the local INS office. It is an insurance for damage to others and costed for us around 115.000 CRC. I suppose the amount depends on the fiscal value of the vehicle.

Next, the window stickers contain one to certify the licence plate belongs to the vehicle. Last year there was a national campaign to change all plates, so be sure the car has plates of the new type.

I now realize I can actually remove the 2016 sticker from INS, because below is the 2017 sticker. I put that one on the car in the first days of December, and it did not come to my mind to remove the old sticker on 1st of January.

The bottom one is the technical checkup from today, valid until end of July 2018. The costs were almost 11.000 CRC.

Licence plate restrictions

The licence plate of our ride ends in 7. Therefore the yearly technical check has to be done before end of July. It is allowed to do it in the month before. You have to make an appointment online were you can reserve time slots two weeks in advance of the required test date. In our case 1st of June was the earliest date possible, so we are selling the car with a 14 month valid Riteve sticker.

You should know that the end number 7 also limits access to San José on Thursdays. I was going to make a table, of licence plates and restrictions, but you can google that. One addition on the topic is perhaps that you do not have to worry about the restrictions with rental cars.

Buying a car in Costa Rica

So you want to buy a car in Costa Rica? Just bring your passport and make sure you have access to your money -that would be another topic-. Negotiations can be done in colones, or sometimes in US dollars. In general the buyer pays the administrative costs to have the car on his or her name. This hurts a bit in your wallet, because the lawyer fees and taxes that come with that are not cheap at all. For us it was over 200.000 colones. Again, this has to do with the fiscal value of the car, any lawyer can get you an abstract from the national register that shows the car- and ownership details, and also if there are any open fines or delayed taxes. The paperwork takes ten working days to complete.

Selling a car in Costa Rica

We are in the middle of the process of selling our car, so perhaps I will give an update on how we did it later on. We expect to sell considering a depreciation of 1000 USD per year.

So far we first send an internal mailing that reached 400 people. This resulted in 3 leads that came to have a look at the car. Last week I put it up on resulting in 133 views in the first 6 days. Some work needs to be done to bring it under the attention of potential buyers, but that is what I am doing just now. Next steps perhaps will be publications on other local selling platforms, or craiglist and further dispersion on social media, so please share this article! Suggestions are welcome, of course.

Also, I put these huge signs with ‘Se Vende’ up on the side and back windows. We are discussing whether these should contain the price, bluntly. Or just a telephone number? First questions would be ‘How much does it cost?’. But that can be a conversation starter. I do prefer to speak with seriously interested potential buyers.

For sure we will change the add in coming days to put it on my wife’s name because with a woman name you can expect a higher response rate, I should have know that. Some iterations in the one line of editable text on crauto’s, and print posters in our local town are part of the actions to take in coming days.

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