Taxes, Customs charges and restrictions can make shipping goods into Costa Rica a complicated business. But numerous mail companies offer services that can help residents navigate the sometimes confusing rules for bringing in goods.
There are few restrictions on what can be brought into Costa Rica, and restricted items can often be brought in with permission from the Public Health Ministry, said Kattia Arias, operations manager for Aeromarine (442-7200, www.aeromarine.net), an Uruguay-based shipping company.
Potentially dangerous goods such as fertilizer require special permission, and items such as food and medicine require approval from the Health Ministry.
Permits can be obtained in person at the ministry offices in San José, on Calle 16, between Avenidas 6 and 8. Some mail companies will retrieve the documents for a fee. Aeromarine, for example, charges $10-20 to secure Health Ministry permits.
Bringing in large quantities of restricted items also requires government approval, said Farid Barahona, who also works for Aeromarine.
Anyone who brings in large quantities of a specific restricted item more than once every six months will have to pay a $100 registration fee with the Health Ministry.
The ministry gives special permission for medicines that treat terminal diseases, he added.
International goods brought into Costa Rica are subject to taxes and Customs handling charges, which also make international shipping more complicated than sending packages domestically. Taxes vary widely based on the product being brought into the country.
Compact discs, for example, are subject to a 1% tax, while car parts are taxed at 30% and electrical parts at 50%, said Karla Rodríguez, an operations manager for Mail Boxes Etc. in Costa Rica (232-2925, www.mbecr.com).
Customs handling rates begin at $2 for books and items worth up to $25, and rise to $50 for items worth $1,000 or more, according to the Aerocasillas Web site (208-4868, www.aeropost.com).
A recent change in regulations allows Costa Rican residents to bring up to $500 worth of goods into the country tax-free once every six months, though the limit includes the item’s cost, the shipping charges according to Customs, and any insurance on the item.
The documents for the tax exemption are available from the Customs office at Juan Santamaría International Airport in Alajuela, northwest of San José.
Some mail companies, such as Aerocasillas, guide their customers through the process, which requires: an exemption alert form with information about the package and the supplier, to be submitted at least 24 hours before the package arrives; an original identification card or passport and three signed copies; a power of attorney form; and a commercial invoice.
Aerocasillas provides these forms on its Web site and charges $20 plus sales tax for the service.
For Costa Rican residents who frequently ship goods into the country, companies such as Star Box (289-9393), Aerocasillas, Aeromarine and Mail Boxes Etc. rent post office boxes.
For individuals who bring in goods from abroad frequently, it is sometimes cheaper to subscribe to a shipping company’s service.
For example, using Mail Boxes Etc. to ship a five-kilogram package from the United States would cost $90 for a nonmember and $38 for a member, Rodríguez said. A basic membership with Mail Boxes Etc. costs $24 per month and includes two kilograms of shipping.