Persistence, Patience & License Plates

Persistence, Patience & License Plates


After two years of planning our move, we truly thought we had every little thing nailed down from bills put on auto-pay (as we still have a business that runs in Texas) to making sure our first three to four months of air bnbs were rented and confirmed, not to mention all the other little details in between. Once we arrived in Costa Rica after the freshness sunk in that we were actually staying and not just on vacation, we had some responsibilities that we had to take care of in order for us to be vehicle legal. One of those things was importing the truck. From what we had read, we came to the conclusion that we had six months to prepare (money wise) before having to cough up the taxes which include paying 52% (and up to 79% depending on year of vehicle) of what the vehicle cost us back in the States. We knew it wasn’t going to be cheap, but we also knew what kind of vehicle we had versus buying a much older model that would end up being just as expensive.

When we first arrived in Costa Rica, our truck was granted a 90 day temporary vehicle permit, with the purchase of insurance. The only way to lengthen the permit was for the vehicle to sit in government parking where it suspends the temporary vehicle permit issued at the border for the duration of the vehicles stay. One mistake we made was not having our passports re-stamped out and back into the country before taking our vehicle to government parking. The problem was that the vehicles temporary permit cannot extend longer than the tourist visa. We wanted to give ourselves a little longer than six months, so we decided in between our air bnb moves, to take our vehicle and park it for a week at a time. Luckily, each of our houses was within walking distance to a store, so getting necessities was pretty easy, being truck-less. We learned pretty quickly that what we had read was not in fact the way it would go. We didn’t have six months to import, we had ninety days (three months). It totally sucked the breath out of us the day we were aware of the law. We knew what we had to do .. buckle down and get it taken care of one day at a time. 



What happened next is something I could never in my life have imagined.

A quote I made on a social media post👇


 ‘Today we dropped off our vehicle at the government parking lot due to the fact that we still need to import the vehicle over and get Costa Rica plates. As long as it sits in government parking, the days will not count against us for our vehicles ‘visa’, if you will. We are allowed 90 days to pay the import tax. As we drop off the vehicle, we learn that my kids are not allowed passed the gate in which we drop off the truck. As me and my kids get out and walk about 5 steps, a security guard walks towards me to ask me something. I couldn’t understand, so I pointed to BJ who was sitting in the truck waiting to go through the gate. He makes his way to the truck and as they are speaking, we hear what sounds like glass breaking on the concrete. It couldn’t have been any more than about 15 seconds. I turned around, grabbed my mouth and repeatedly say ‘oh my gosh, oh my gosh’ as I walk to towards the truck. BJ was just fine other than being shook up from what had just happened. Here we were, have driven it through 7 countries and thousands of miles and not even a flat tire. A man that was leaving, backed into our truck at full force, on accident of course, not seeing us. Time stood still. It has only body damage, and is still drive-able. Long story short .. the guy owns a car dealership and had insurance to cover our truck.


 (His truck only had the tail lights broken, no scratches at all.). The insurance and police came to get everyones information.



We ended up being able to park it in the government parking like we wanted, and will go next week to get a quote and time limit on fixing it. Good thing is, we don’t have to pay a dime. Even crazier, we were told the days will not go against our trucks ‘visa’ while it’s getting fixed. Hence the entire reason we want to leave it in government parking to begin with. We took a bus back home, and even got a few snacks along the way.





The only thing that chaps BJ, is that he said he didn’t even get to wreck it, someone else did it for him. This kind of thing happens every day to so many people. Today, it just happened to us. We get back up, wipe off those dirty knees and keep on keeping on. As we got home, 14 macaws flew over. Although #%* happened, it was still a good day in paradise.’ 



I couldn’t have made that up if I wanted to. We got hit and somehow it managed to work out in our favor?! I know that sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But that’s exactly what happened. Because of getting into an accident, we were able to get our permit extended to give us time to get it repaired. Parts had to be ordered, some they had in stock, others were back-ordered for months. We got in a wreck in January, and finally had all the truck parts in and completely fixed like new in May. It took a lot of time, a lot of patience and many trips back and forth to San Jose. While gas isn’t cheap, our spirits were kept high with each visit we made, getting closer with each step marked off.


How to store your vehicle in Costa Rica:







The steps below break it down if you decide to have the vehicle shipped. We drove from Texas, so we had a 90 day temporary import before having to take these next steps. If you want to import a car into Costa Rica you will need some patience to deal with the different agencies that are involved in the process. Let me break it down for you.





The first step you need to undertake before you even ship the vehicle to Costa Rica is to hire the services of a licensed Costa Rican Customs Broker (Agencia Aduanal). The Customs Broker is licensed to interact with the Costa Rican Ministry of the Treasury Customs service on behalf of third parties.

As part of that process you need to provide the customs broker with all the relevant information about the vehicle. That way they can give you a rough estimate of the import taxes that the vehicle will have to pay along with their quote for the services provided.

Once the vehicle has arrived in Costa Rica your customs broker will coordinate with customs so that the vehicle is unloaded at an approved bonded warehouse (Almacen Fiscal). The broker will require the Bill of Lading (BL) from the shipping company and the original title to the vehicle (titulo de propiedad). With this documentation that can initiate the vehicle nationalization (nacionalizacion) process. It starts by them obtaining the tax classification for the vehicle which is based on the information provided by the VIN number. This in turn will be the basis for the import taxes that will have to be paid on the vehicle.



How Much Taxes Do I Pay ?

Once your customs broker has obtained the tax classification they can give you the final resolution from the tax department as to the taxes that must be paid. These funds are paid to your customs broker or directly to the Treasury Department. As part of this process the Customs Department will issue a document called a DUA (Documento Único Administrativo) and the information is entered into the electronic database of the Customs Department known as TICA where you can search information about your import.






When is the Vehicle Released ?

Once the DUA has been accepted by Customs and the taxes for the vehicle have been paid then the vehicle is either sent to verification system where it is generally assigned a green, yellow or red light. Green means you don’t have to do anything else and you can proceed to the next step. With a yellow light it means that a customs officer will manually review all the documentation to ensure that it complies with the information provided. With a red light the vehicle will be subject to a physical inspection by a customs office who will check the vehicle to ensure all the information provided matches up with their physical inspection. Once the Customs Officials are satisfied with the inspection then they will authorize the release of the vehicle and issue a document authorizing the vehicle to leave the bonded warehouse.

At this stage you will also have to pay for the services provided by the bonded warehouse and that amount depends on the amount of days the vehicle spent in their custody.

I have my car now what ?

Now that you have your car it means that you have complied with all the import requirements and the tax obligations. However you need to title your vehicle so that it is legal to drive it on the Costa Rican roads.

The DUA that you were given by the Customs Department becomes your temporary title for 24-48 hours just so you can take the vehicle to the mandatory inspection station known as RITEVE.



In Costa Rica every vehicle that circulates on the road is required to have a valid inspection sticker to circulate on the roads. The process is referred to as RITEVE.
If you want to know what they test in RITEVE they have series of videos that explains their testing process.  To get the vehicle inspection you can contact Riteve or make an appointment on their website. There are several locations around Costa Rica. In this initial stage you will only be give a temporary document for registration purposes. You will then need to return when the registration of the vehicle is complete.
((This is where our lawyers came in and was a tremendous help to us. I highly recommend hiring one, but make sure to do your research because you’ll want to hire one that will be of help to you, not hurt you in the long run.))

It is very important that you verify that the information contained in your DUA matches exactly the information for your vehicle. If RITEVE determines that there is an error in information during their inspection they will send you back to customs to have it corrected. This correction can take months so do not leave customs until your are satisfied that all the information in the DUA is correct.

Once you have your RITEVE documentation in hand then you will have to hire the services of a Notary Public so that they can draft the legal document which requests the National Registry to register the vehicle. To do this the owner of the vehicle will have to personally appear before the Notary Public or have provided a third party with a Power of Attorney to do so.

The amount of registration costs and fees is based on a sliding scale of the value of the vehicle as it was determined by the tax department. A rough estimate expect to pay around 4.5% of the value of the vehicle to get it registered. 

In addition to the registration fees you will also need to pay the vehicle Marchamo which is the annual road circulation tax and mandatory liability insurance. The Marchamos is handled by the National Insurance Institute (INS) and you can determine the amount that needs to be paid on their website.



It can take anywhere from ten to thirty days to get the vehicle registered. This depends if the deed is accepted during the first presentation or if it is defected for any reason and requires correction. Once the vehicle is registered it is inputted into the recording system and assigned a license plate number. Once that is completed then you can request the issuance of the license tags for the vehicle. You are not done yet. Once you have completed the registration, paid the marchamo and have your license plates you need to go back to the vehicle inspection station RITEVE so they can issue you the final report and the actual sticker proving that the vehicle is now compliant.




You are now done ! At then end of the process your vehicle will have:

A valid title registration (titulo de propiedad)
A RITEVE inspection document and window sticker
A valid Marchamo and Tarjeta de Circulacion (road tax plus mandatory insurance)



It may sound painful to some, however taking it one step at a time is the best (and only) way to go. We felt overwhelmed at times, but in the end it is worth every setback you may encounter.
  • 2017 Toyota Tacoma Import Tax: $14,724.19
  • Reteve: $24.00 (+ $12.00 we had to go back and pay for an additional 1/2 inspection due to our LED light bars we had on the truck. They had to be removed. 
  • Marchamo: $875.00 (yearly road tax) 
  • Vehicle Registration: $1210.00
  • Vehicle Insurance: (will update, currently unknown) 
  • Lawyer Fee: (will update, currently unknown) 


Happy Importing! 

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