San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

How do I sell a used car in Costa Rica?

From the print edition

Like anywhere in the world, expats in Costa Rica frequently want or need to sell their vehicles. Doing so is a process that can be particularly problematic when different languages and cultures are involved. Added to that, so many used vehicles are available here that they can be difficult to sell at all. Following are tips that may help readers do so quickly and profitably.

First, determine the market value of the vehicle. Don’t base your price on emotion; instead, go to several websites and look for comparable models and use them as a guide. Also, look in the newspapers – check The Tico Times and La Nación, which has a large used-car section, once a week. 

Exposure is key to selling – you can’t expect buyers to beat a path to your door if they aren’t aware of what you are offering. Put signs on your vehicle (white liquid shoe polish is good to write on windows, but not on painted surfaces). Make sure your telephone number is prominent, and if you don’t speak Spanish, include a number of someone who does. 

Post listings on the Internet anywhere you can think of –, Craigslist, Yahoo bulletin boards for Costa Rica (Costa Rica Living, Central Valley Living, Young Expats and Escazú News). Also, find Costa Rican used-car sites, such as

Give a good description and add pictures where you can, but be honest. Mention anything that would add value or entice a buyer. Make sure you specify what part of the country you are in, and give good contact information. Here’s an example:

2008 Nissan Sentra. San José. V6, automatic transmission, 45,000 miles (30,000 km). Four doors. Original owner bought new in U.S. and imported. Car maintained to perfection. Leather interior with custom wood accents, special (factory installed) stereo system with CD, USB port, and AM/FM radio. Alarm system. Original floor mats. Cold A/C. Aluminum wheels, new tires. Never wrecked and no major dings or scratches. Priced below book for quick sale: $5,000 USD. For more info in English, call 5555-1234, Spanish 8901-2345, or email at:

When listing the price, do not include the phrases “Or Best Offer” or “Negotiable.” That alerts potential buyers you will accept less than your asking price.

Prepare signs listing the vehicle’s strong points and post it in a window. Create handouts in English and Spanish to give to interested buyers. You can put the same ad in both languages on two sides of the same sheet and save paper.

Here’s another tip: Have your car professionally cleaned, inside and out. Think about what you’d like to find when you go look at a car. 

Also, have minor problems repaired before putting the vehicle on the market. A buyer will use anything to beat your price down. Be prepared to bargain, but don’t let the buyer be in control of the process by noting defects.

If possible, leave the vehicle outside in a high-traffic area for drive-by exposure. Drive it around your neighborhood and park it on a busy street during the day, where people can see it. 

Be patient and expect it to take time. Don’t become discouraged early and lower your price too fast – you are looking for the right person who wants your car. Be prepared to close the deal right away when a legitimate buyer appears.

 If you advertise on Craigslist, be aware that you might get “phished.” Craigslist is especially prone to this. For example, an email might claim the sender wants your car but is “offshore” and doesn’t have access to a bank account. They may offer to pay via PayPal. Then – and this is a key phishing phrase – they’ll have their “agent” take delivery of the vehicle for them. Believe them and you’ll end up without the vehicle or the money.

Take reasonable precautions. Don’t meet potential buyers alone or in isolated areas. Meet them during the day, in an open, high-traffic area such as a mall parking lot (preferably one with security). Take a friend along. 

It’s legitimate for a buyer to want to drive your vehicle, but never let them drive your car alone; always ride along. Don’t let them bring anyone along for a test drive, even if they say the person is their mechanic. Two of you can control a situation, but two of them change the odds greatly.

But what if you are leaving the country and the car hasn’t sold?

This can be a big problem for some expats, who may have had a vehicle on the market for a while, are scheduled to relocate, but nobody has purchased their car even after the price has been reduced considerably. A vehicle is a sizable investment and can’t just be abandoned or given away. What to do? 

Unfortunately, Costa Rica doesn’t offer many alternatives. The best and most common option is to leave the vehicle with a designated representative, along with the Costa Rican equivalent of a power of attorney, to sell it for you. A few things should be remembered when doing this:

Find someone you trust implicitly, because the power of attorney allows them to “own” the vehicle and do anything with it, including controlling the proceeds from a sale. (One option is to give the power of attorney to one person, and leave the car to be sold with another. That is a bit cumbersome, but it avoids putting all the power in one person’s hands.)

Have a clear agreement with the representative on what is expected: Can they drive the vehicle? Where will the car be stored? What’s the bottom selling price? How will communications take place? Who will pay for what, such as advertising, new Riteve inspections, marchamo (vehicle circulation permit), etc.?

Leave all documents (current marchamo, ownership papers, etc.) behind; don’t take them with you. Make arrangements to maintain insurance on the vehicle, especially if it’s being driven.

Establish how money from the sale will be transferred to you. If the amount exceeds $10,000, you may be required to pay taxes and follow bank-transfer rules. Also, if the representative is to be paid, it may require an additional step. Check with a reputable attorney so this information is known up front.

Lastly, be patient. The representative isn’t going to be able to do more than you could when you were trying to sell it. Be realistic, be cautious, and good luck selling your vehicle!

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