Buying a Car in Costa Rica


We discussed shipping a car to Costa Rica in a previous blog post. Have you decided it would be better to leave your Jaguar in the United and States and buy a vehicle better suited to the conditions in Costa Rica? You need to find something to get you around the country you now call home.

Selection of Costa Rica used cars

There are many affordable used cars in Costa Rica from a variety of sources. is the number one online clearinghouse for used cars. Craigslist Costa Rica is also a great resource, especially for fellow expats looking to sell their car before moving back home. Other sites with classified ads are Encuentra24 and Facebook Marketplace.

The car lots in and around San José have the biggest inventory. Alternatively, the small town of Grecia is famous for its used car lots that line the road from the Pan American highway into the center of town.

Many of the vehicles at the used car lots have been imported from the U.S. These are an advantageous choice because they have not yet been beaten to death on Costa Rica’s potholed back roads. Check any car’s history by looking up the VIN number on Carfax or similar online services. Many used car dealers buy vehicles at auction in southern states like Texas (no rust from road salt) for resale here.

Dealer gives a buyer the keys to their new car in Costa Rica

Asian brands like Toyota, Suzuki, Hyundai and Mitsubishi are some of the most popular vehicles on the road. Spare parts and qualified mechanics are readily available, making them some of the least expensive cars to repair. Honda and Subaru are great brands but parts are harder to find and generally pricier.

Four-wheel drive is not a necessity unless you live in an isolated area or have a steep, ungraded driveway. However, an SUV’s tougher, higher suspension is helpful when navigating rougher roads.

There are a few models of vehicles never sold in the U.S. that are great vehicles for use in Costa Rica. They include the Hyundai Terracan and Galloper, the Toyota Fortuner, which I have one, the Daihatsu Terios, or the Mitsubishi Montero Sport Turbo Diesel Intercooler.

Buying from a private owner can get you a better deal. Get to know the expats in your area and let them know you are in the market for a vehicle. As far as buying from Ticos goes, it is the same as anywhere else. There are honest people and scam artists. You need to be discerning and do your due diligences the same as you would anywhere. Be sure to have a trusted mechanic give it a go over before laying out any cash.

It is important to make sure that the registration (marchamo) and vehicle safety inspection (RITEVE) are current. Both stickers are located in the upper righthand corner of the windshield. The marchamo is paid toward the end of each calendar year. The month the annual inspection is due coincides with the last number of the license plate (1–January, 2–February, etc).

Once you’ve decided on a vehicle, hire a lawyer. “But I didn’t commit a crime!” you exclaim. There, there, relax. A lawyer is required by law for a valid transfer of title. They search the government database to make sure there are no liens or fines on the car from the previous owner and they write the bill of sale. Usually, the buyer pays for this service, but it can sometimes be split between the buyer and seller. The lawyer’s fee is set by the government based on the value of the car.

Howler Monkey near Playa Hermosa Costa Rica

If you are just too nervous to buy a car from a used car dealer or a private party, you can also buy a new car at a dealership. Check online for the location of the dealer who sells the make of vehicle you are interested in. When buying a new car, the registration and inspection is taken care of by the dealership and included in the price. They also get the license plates for you.

In Liberia where I purchased my car there is a Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai, Kia, Chevrolet and a Ford dealership, all carry their brand names and some of the dealerships carry more than one brand.

The great news about buying cars in Costa Rica is that they hold their value. If you get a good deal up front and take good care of the vehicle, you may be able to sell it for the same price you paid or only slightly less a few years later. Another advantage in Costa Rica is that cars are cheaper to maintain. Repairs that would cost thousands back in the U.S. will only be in the hundreds here.

Whether or not you ship or buy a vehicle, or decide to walk everywhere, the important thing is to get out and start exploring this beautiful country you call home!

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