San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

A Christmas Gift: The customs exemption

It’s time to start thinking about the Christmas gifts you are going to give others, and where you will get them. If you plan to order presents from outside of Costa Rica and have them shipped here, now is the time to plan the logistics for their delivery – not just the time needed to get them here, but also the added cost for getting them through customs. 

Costa Rican Customs (Aduana) applies import duties to all items brought into the country, which can be as much as 100 percent of the purchase price. There is, however, a way to lessen the burden of those import duties.

Costa Rican law allows each person to import up to $500 worth of goods every six months without having to pay import duties. That process works well if you fly in or come across the border by land. It does not work so well if you order by mail; mail shipments are almost always assessed import duties. 

But, rather than leaving the country to do your Christmas shopping, there is a way you can avoid paying the import duties: Ask your mail forwarding service to claim the exemption for you. 

According to Gabriela Apuy, customer service manager for JetBox, you can go to a JetBox office and tell them you are expecting a package and that you wish them to request the exemption for you. You will need to provide them some information about the shipment and a valid passport or Costa Rican cédula, as well as sign some forms allowing them to process the shipment through customs on your behalf.

This works for other shipping services as well; both Marco Calderón at Mail Boxes Etc. and the customer service desk for Aerocasillas report they can do the same thing for their clients. Check with your forwarding service for the exact details.

One additional, important detail that needs mentioning: The $500 exemption is not cumulative. Customs considers each package separately, and any one package activates the total exemption for the whole six-month period. That is, if you order two $29.99 soccer balls, and they are sent in two separate packages, the first of those packages through customs uses the whole $500 exemption.

So, if you plan on ordering your Christmas gifts via mail, here’s a tip that may help you get some of them here under the exemption: Simply make sure all the items are purchased from the same outlet, are packaged together, and that all the items in that parcel are listed on one purchase invoice. 

Problem: Although you may order everything at one time, businesses like Walmart or Amazon will sometimes send multiple-item orders in several shipments.  

The solution? You will need someone back home to receive the individual parcels and combine them all into a single carton before sending them on to you. Then, when your package arrives at customs, all the contents can qualify under the single exemption request. (Just make sure your friend or relative knows to take the items out of their separate shipping containers and remove any shipping documents before repacking them. However, a copy of the invoice showing all items in the package, and their prices, should be included.) 

Once everything you ordered is ready to send, have it shipped to you by a traceable method, via a service that will provide a tracking number. Once you have the tracking number, take it and a copy of the invoice to the forwarding service; they will need to supply both to customs. Again, check with your service provider for their exact requirements. And be prepared to pay them a small fee for their services.

With a little planning and some help, you can get much of your holiday shopping delivered here without having to pay lots of import duties.

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