Often, I get contacted to help find and export diesel BJ and HJ Cruisers from Costa Rica.  Buyers sometimes want to “fact check” me and the prices I quote them to get them a cruiser. They send me links from Craigslist Costa Rica. They feel that they’ve caught me or shown me something that I don’t already know.  They point out the lower price on Craigslist as if to imply that the price I quote them is off base.

Perhaps it’s time to write an article about the reality of exporting a vehicle from Costa Rica. It is most likely as complex as other C. American countries.  I don’t have experience in other countries, so I can only speak about CR.

The best way to describe this process is to provide a recent customer-inquiry example.

A customer sent me this vehicle from an ad on Craigslist.

2-6-2016 10-26-47 AM

Pretty nice looking HJ huh?  And for only $11,250?  Can’t you just see the wheels spinning in the customer’s head.  “These things are twice that in the States.” “I have looked for years and they’re always $30k+ to get a good condition FJ pickup.”  “I am going to save a fortune and when I do, I will show them guys on MUD!” The internal mutterings go on and on.

I had my business partner Steve go and check out the vehicle. When he checks them out for me, he does some pretty thorough photography. Here are the photos Steve took of this truck.

As you can see this truck is pretty rough, has some rust cracks, Bondo floors and a lot of issues. It would be a truck that I would avoid buying and importing into the States. The work involved in getting this truck up to snuff far exceeds profit potential. And since I have two HJs that are in far better condition, I wouldn’t consider this one.

But for this article, let’s say we are going to buy this truck. Here are the steps involved in getting the truck to an address in the US.  For our purposes, we’re going to assume delivery to the East Coast of the US.

  1. Buy the truck – This is a bit more complex than it sounds. To buy a vehicle in CR, you have to be phsically present. If not, there are some sub-steps. You have two different routes you can take.
    • Set up power of attorney – If you cannot be physically present to purchase a vehicle, you will have to set up a POA for someone in CR to do it for you.
      • Prepare POA documents – PRIOR to visiting the Embassy in person, you have to have the legal documents drawn up by a CR attorney. They will then send the documents to the Embassy via FedEx, DHL or UPS.  The person who you assign POA will have to appear in person in front of the CR attorney for the attorney to verify their identity and sign the registry.
      • Go to the Costa Rican embassy to sign documents. It is in Washington DC. You have to physically appear before the consulate with your passport to assign POA to someone in Costa Rica. You will bring the official document mentioned above that was prepared ahead of time.
      • Send documents to CR attorney who will handle the transfer.  Your POA document will then be sent down to CR so that your assignee can receive the vehicle.
      • Wire transfer money to the assignee.  You will need to pay for the vehicle and that is done in front of an attorney.
    • Travel to Costa Rica to make the purchase – A second way to purchase the vehicle will be to travel to Costa Rica to make the purchase.
      • Report funds to US Customs – Because you’re traveling with over $10,000 in cash you must report it to US Customs. Failure to do so can result in fines and/or confiscation.
      • You cannot use a check or bank – You aren’t allowed to set up a bank account in Costa Rica if you’re not a citizen or resident. Since you’re traveling to CR as a visitor, your only option is cash.
      • Costs – At this point, you’ll have airfare, hotel, rental car, GPS and eating costs. They can be kept to a minimum but I estimate it will be no less than $1,000 for a 3-4 day trip. You will have to travel when an attorney is working which is generally M-F which means you may have to take vacation time from your workplace.
      • Meet up with seller at attorney’s office – Unless you have a POA in place and a trusted person in CR, you will need to make the purchase as the new owner. Without the POA, you will also have to title the vehicle in your name. Re-titling a vehicle in CR takes time and is expensive.  Estimate about $700-$900 in fees. You will also need to stay in CR for the waiting period to get this done or pay your attorney to do it for you.
  2. Now that you own the truck – The purchase is made. You own the truck. Now there are some steps you’ll need to take to legally export it.
    • Title is in your name.  With title in your name, you now will need to take the plates and stickers to the National Registry of Costa Rica to remove it from their system. This takes 8 business days. You could have an attorney do it with a POA, but make sure you trust them 100% because they can take your vehicle from you and you’d have no recourse because they’re your POA. You don’t want to use the same attorney as the one who makes the transfer just to be safe.
    • Remove from Registry – As mentioned above, this takes 8 business days.You can check the national registry website to make sure it is done.  The site is in Spanish.
    • The vehicle must be parked – When you remove plates from a vehicle, it is not legal to drive. You could use a bonded, secure warehouse like Aduana (which means Customs).  There is one near the airport and it costs about $250 per month to store your vehicle there. Your vehicle MUST be titled in your name to store it there. You must transport the vehicle there.  You could have someone drive it there or you could drive it and then take a taxi back to your rental car.
    • Take all of your original documents to your shipping agent – Your shipping agent/broker in CR will prepare the export paperwork called the DUA. Costa Rica requires that all DUA documents are prepared by licensed agents. You cannot and are not allowed to prepare this on your own. Most agents charge $500-700 to prepare the documentation for export (if you find one that will do it.)  Many agents avoid it because it is a lot of work for them.
    • Agent prepares shipment – At this point, all of your original documentation is in the hands of your shipping agent. He/she will prepare the legal documentation you need to get the vehicle out of Costa Rica and onto a ship.
    • Hire US Broker – Early in this process, you want to hire a US broker. This broker will be working with you to file your entry into the United States. You cannot file your own entry.
    • Transfer vehicle to port – Unless you have a POA, you will need to go to the Aduana to retrieve your vehicle from storage and pay the storage fees. They will NOT release your vehicle to anyone except the titled owner or the owner’s POA.  You will arrange a flat-bed tow truck to meet you there so that you can drive the vehicle out of the secured area and onto the truck. Remember, the vehicle is not legal to drive on the streets of CR as it is not licensed. Traffic fines are extremely hefty and if you cannot pay them, they can take your vehicle on the spot. It is a two hour journey to either port. Towing a vehicle two hours on a flatbed is expensive.  It costs hundreds of dollars in Costa Rica as gas is nearly $6 per gallon.
    • Containers are different – There is a different scenario for ports that only receive containers and vehicles in containers rather than roll-on/roll-off.
  3. Receive the vehicle – If all went well in CR and the vehicle made it to port and onto the ship, then it is on it’s way to the US. From there, your US broker should take the lead, file the necessary paperwork with US Customs, and file your entry payment.

If you’ve been adding up the numbers, that $11,250 truck has gotten a LOT more expensive than just $11,250. Between attorneys, agents, shipping, transport and storage it will be thousands more. That doesn’t even include traveling there to actually make the purchase or traveling to DC to set up a POA. Plus a person has to be present to do certain parts of the shipping process. There’s just no way around that. Are you going to travel there multiple times or do you have someone you trust completely to help you at those points?