San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Moving Companies Help Shoulder the Load

So you’re moving to Costa Rica and just can’t bear to part with your grandmother’s tea set, the living room armoire and your pet hamster?

Don’t fret; there’s hope – but dealing with this country’s almost interminable red tape and Customs headaches is best left to the experts. According to longtime resident and real estate agent Elizabeth Hand, a relocation specialist and founder of Portfolio Properties in the western suburb of Escazú (289-9496), numerous local companies can handle the many challenges of relocating your life to this developing country.

“A good moving company will mastermind everything,” said Hand, who years ago used such a company to move her own life from the U.S. city of Chicago to the wilds of San José, and has since recommended it to countless clients.

She warns against trying to move anything more than your personal clothes and effects on your own.

“Some people want to do it themselves, but I would never, ever do that,” she said.

“You can be over at Customs for days. Then you find out they don’t have it, or they stored it. Then there are the taxes.”

Do It Right

Moving companies such as Mudanzas Mundiales (224-2525) or SG Global (258-0018) coordinate with moving companies in countries throughout the world for seamless relocation, whether it involves a 20-room Beverly Hills estate or a one-room apartment in Singapore.

“We offer a door-to-door moving and relocation service, with more than 2,500 different agents worldwide that we work with on a continual basis,” said Jose Sueiras, general manager of SG Global.

According to Sueiras, the process is simple – at least, for the client.

“Let’s say you’re coming from the United States. You send us your phone number, address, inventory and packing list, and we’ll arrange a surveyor to come to your house, wherever you live. They will establish weights and volumes, and from there we start calculating the cost of handling and shipping,” he said.

The next phase is critical, because appropriate – and accurate – calculations on the front end will save customers money and time at Customs clearance here in Costa Rica.

Most companies, including both Mudanzas Mundiales and SG Global, also offer storage, often for 30 days after arrival in the country, allowing customers plenty of time to get acclimated, arrange for transportation and settle into a new home or apartment.

They also understand the subtleties associated with dealing with Costa Rica’s notoriously difficult Customs clearance process.

“There are a lot of misunderstandings when calculating values for Customs clearance purposes,” said Sueiras, who claims misinformed newcomers often find themselves charged excessive amounts because of a lack of understanding of the process.

“We inspect every document that comes into our hands,” he said.

For Customs purposes, the value of an object is determined using three factors: its value, the ocean-shipping freight cost and an insurance factor determined by Costa Rican Customs.

“You can expect import duties to average 22 to 27% of landed value,” he said, though he suggested people who don’t understand the process often end up paying much more.

And that savings, said Sueiras, is often enough to make the additional cost of hiring a full-service moving company worthwhile.

Prices vary widely from company to company, but also from client to client.

“There are so many variables; each move is different,” Sueiras said.

Among the most important factors is location, as an origin in a port city, such as Miami, cuts down on the cost of an overland move from, say, Chicago, or central Europe.

“If you have a one-bedroom apartment in Chicago and you need it in Costa Rica two weeks after, then the only choice is by air,” Sueiras said.

For planning purposes, most moving companies figure four to five weeks by boat, door to door, and about seven days by air –but even the best can’t offer unconditional guarantees.

“Ship owners have absolute control over itineraries. They’ll give us a sailing date, but they have the priority to change it, which may create a delay with the container,” Sueiras said.

For Tightwads Only

If your head is now spinning, or your wallet is making a run for the door, there is another, simpler alternative: Pack it all with you on the plane.

Instead of shipping things such as clothes, shoes, personal electronics and CDs, you can load up as many bags as your airline allows and make do once you arrive. Furnished apartments and even houses abound in both the Central Valley and coastal areas of Costa Rica, and while furniture is expensive, you can always buy used or build it yourself (remember, this was the cheap alternative).

Costa Rican Customs doesn’t charge taxes on such items, provided that a) they fit in your luggage, and b) they’re strictly for personal use, and not for resale. Don’t push it with a microwave, flat-screen television or desktop computer; that will just raise eyebrows.

If you do chose this route, be certain to check your airline’s baggage weight and quantity allowances ahead of time, and then again just before your flight, and expect to pay extra for over-weight and additional luggage.


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