My friend Allen Dickinson wrote this piece on purchasing an automobile in Costa Rica. I have posted it to help future expat retirees who may be interested in purchasing an automobile when they move here. I have also added some comments of my own in the text and at the end.
We sometimes sell cars for people, coming and going at a car shop that I am associated with. Here’s my take on the question you asked about buying a 4X4: First, vehicles here are VERY expensive. Because of import duties and shipping, the average price of every vehicle here is sometimes double than the same vehicle would command in the USA. That’s because of the high import duties and shipping. That applies to all cars, new and used, imported in to Costa Rica.
What that means to you and is that a vehicle that is priced at $3,000- $5,000 in the USA will go for almost $10,000 here. And you know how hard finding a good $4,000 car is – you can’t get much for that amount of money! Consequently, the vehicles priced at the lower end of the spectrum here can sell pretty fast as Costa Ricans are always looking for a “cheap” vehicle. Cheap being relative. For example, a good mid-nineties Hyundai with less than 150,000 miles on it will be priced at $4,000 – $5,000 (or more.) A vehicle that would sell for $10,000 in the USA can cost upwards of another $8,000 – $10,000 to import and thus will be priced at $20,000, in Costa Rica. I recently looked up the price of a 2006 Honda CRV for someone wanting to sell theirs: market prices ranged from $6,000 – $15,000!
Also remember that buying a vehicle here is easy, but selling one can be very difficult (and becomes even more difficult as the value/price increases. I once had a very nice, $20,000 vehicle to sell for an expat and it took me eleven months to find a buyer!)
The sales difficulty has increased because of three things: 1) The credit market has blossomed in the last few years and it is now often easier for a Tico to buy new than to buy used. The used car market has been hit hard. 2) Unless you are fluent in Spanish, your market would be pretty much restricted to English speakers. Obviously, that’s a much smaller market. 3) The market is flooded with used cars. In the past, some older cars were imported from the USA, and one has to be very careful about buying them: vehicles which are functionally, not cosmetically, damaged from things as hurricanes or flooding, are “totaled” by insurance companies in the USA, and then transported and sold in other countries. Costa Rica is one. Buyer beware! So, there you ave a brief Primer on buying a vehicle here. I hope it is informative. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask me. allendickinson70 @ yahoo.com
An added word of caution. Christopher Howard says that ALL used cars should be taken to a reliable mechanic and be completely checked out before being purchased. There are good mechanics that will do this for you for a small fee. There are also several Americans like Allen who can help you find reliable vehicle in Costa Rica.