San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

How Do You Renew a Car Permit/Sell a Car?

I am hoping you can give me some information on renewing car permits in Costa Rica. I need to renew mine soon and am wondering if I can just do it in Limón instead of crossing the border. Also, can I sell my car here?

Lyn Owen

Playa Chiquita, southern Caribbean

and San Francisco, California, USA

Do you have any information about how the amount of tax on a car is determined?

Dennis Smith

Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Customs grants temporary car permits to car owners who are in the country on a tourist visa for the same amount of time as that visa. For those entering Costa Rica from many countries, including the United States, tourist visas last up to 90 days, according to Jorge Sánchez, an agent for the Customs broker Servica.

Temporary car permits can be renewed by driving the car across the border; however, car owners may also request an extension on a car permit at any of Costa Rica’s five Customs offices: in Limón, on the Caribbean coast; Paso Canoas, on the southern border; Peñas Blancas, on the northern border; Calle Blancos, in San José, and at Juan Santamaría International Airport, in Alajuela, northwest of San José. The temporary permit can be renewed as long as the owner is a tourist, Sánchez explained.

Once the owner becomes a resident, or if he or she wishes to sell the car, it must be nationalized. This process requires working with a Customs broker. Customs agents determine the import tax on the vehicle and gather all the necessary paperwork, including the title (to prove ownership), along with the proof of when it entered Costa Rica, for the owner to take to one of the Customs stations listed above.

Import taxes are determined depending on the car’s age (the older the car, the more it is taxed) using a formula established by the Finance Ministry, Sánchez said. For example, the tax on a car up to three years old is generally 52%, while cars four to five years old are taxed 63.91%. Taxes for energy-conserving hybrid vehicles are sufficiently lower (15%), thanks to a recent decree (TT, May 12). The Finance Ministry Web site has a calculator to determine taxes on imported cars:

Once the necessary papers have been presented and taxes have been paid, Customs will give the owner a document proving the car has been nationalized. This shouldn’t take more than one day, according to Sánchez. However, the car still cannot be legally driven until it has undergone inspection at Riteve, the Spanish-Costa Rica company with an exclusive contract over vehicle inspection, and the driver has applied for Costa Rican license plates.

The car must be registered under the owner’s name (a lawyer can take care of this process for a small fee).Within eight to 10 business days, the owner should receive his or her license plates and may drive with a temporary permit until then, Sánchez said.

Those who plan to sell their car once it is nationalized do not need to register it under their name, but will not be able to drive it legally, Sánchez said.


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