Ship your stuff or not?


Shipping to Costa Rica

Your move to Costa Rica is a chance to start over, start fresh. Surely you won’t need to ship all your personal belongings to Costa Rica. You are going to get rid of everything and live the simple life. Well, not everything. In fact, there are a few sentimental things you simply can’t part with, like pictures and that antique vase. Those things will fit in a suitcase, you decide. Should you ship the rest?

But what about Grandma’s dresser? In fact, maybe it would be better just to ship down all your old stuff and not have to buy all new things when you get here. Wouldn’t that be simpler? Surely, they wouldn’t charge much for my old junk. What would it cost? How long will it take? Which items will they tax? Will they arrive damaged? Suddenly life doesn’t not seem so simple.

So which is better—ship items to Costa Rica or buying them here? You will need to ask: Is what I want, and/or need, available in Costa Rica? How do I go about shipping things to Costa Rica and what does it cost? How much will I pay in import taxes?

With the exception of Grandma’s dresser, most of what you need or want is available in Costa Rica. International retailers like Walmart and Pricesmart (similar to Costco) are countrywide. Appliances can be found there as well as in local appliance chains such as El Gollo and Casa Blanca or Monge. Well-known brands such as Samsung, Whirlpool, Oster, Frigidaire, GE and others are available . Check out these stores’ websites to compare prices. Many household items–from linens to lamps–can be found at inexpensive prices in Pequeno Mundo, a national chain with a store in Liberia, Guanacaste. Better quality home goods can be found in stores such as Cemaco and Aliss in the Central Valley. Unless you have a favorite platter or vase you cannot live without, it is unnecessary to ship household items. You will find what you need here at comparable prices.

If you choose to ship Grandma’s dresser and that oh-so-comfortable recliner to Costa Rica, your possessions can be packed in an ocean freight container. Stackable steel cargo containers measure approximately 8 feet wide by 8 feet tall and come in 20- and 40-foot lengths. The 20-foot model will accommodate a 1- 2 bedroom household, and the 40-foot model is large enough to hold the items from a 3 -5 bedroom household. A vehicle can also be shipped in the container, but it takes up a lot of floor space and you can’t pack up to the ceiling unless you build some sort of framework over it. If you have just a few items to ship, you can place your items on one or more pallets and ship them in a shared container. This is called a “less than container load” (LCL).

As far as cost goes, when you opt to use an entire container, you pay a set price no matter how much or how little you pack into it. The cost of a shared container is based on volume and weight. You will want to contact a shipping company and ask for a quote.

I did a quick search for the cost to ship a container from ports on the East Coast of the United States to Puerto Limon, Costa Rica’s Caribbean port. The search revealed an average cost of $1200 for a 20-foot container and $1700 for a 40-foot container. However, the costs don’t stop there. You will need to pay warehousing fees until your shipment can be inspected and import duties calculated. Customs officials will review the inventory of your shipment and assign a value to each item, whether new or used. Generally the tax is between 13% and 49% of the assigned value. A list of items and their tax rate can be found at Reviewing these lists will help you decide whether an item is worth importing. After paying the import duty, you will need arrange for transportation of your goods from the port to where you live, and if that is Guanacaste, the land transportation could be as much or more than the ocean passage.

If you are considering importing a vehicle, be sure to consult the official government website Enter the make, model, and features of your vehicle, and the calculator will tell you how much the tax will be. Be warned that vehicle import duties range from 52% to 79% of the Blue Book value. You are better buying a new one here.,

As you can see, it is extremely important to do your due diligence before deciding to ship everything you own. Knowing what is and isn’t important to you will be a lot easier when analyzed in the light of time, effort and costs. The answer to the question of whether you should ship your things or not is very individual, very personal. If you make an informed, well-thought-out decision, your move to Costa Rica will be as easy and refreshing as you always dreamed it would be!

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