Often, there is confusion on the process of getting a vehicle from one country to another. Dealing with Customs (in both countries) can seem pretty daunting. Here I will outline the process for you step-by-step so that you can better understand how to successfully purchase, export, and import a vehicle from Costa Rica. Other countries are a bit different and I can explain that to you if we’re getting you a vehicle from Brazil.

Export Process / Shipping

  • Purchase – If you’re purchasing a vehicle from Costa Rica a document will be created by an attorney and registered with the National Registry. Since that document is in Spanish it is important to create an invoice or bill of sale in English for the import process below.*
  • Remove Vehicle from Registro – During this process, the vehicle plates and stickers will be turned into the National Registry. Since the plates are off of the vehicle it is illegal to drive it.  Thus, you will need a place to store the vehicle while you await the shipping clearance.*
  • Create export documents – For this process, you will have to hire an agent in Costa Rica. Agencies are licensed to create export documentation called a (D.U.A.) in Costa Rica. *
  • Wait for ship to come in – Literally. Costa Rica is not a major exporter. Most exports are bananas, coconuts and pineapples. Thus, Dole, Del Monte, and Chiquita own most of the cargo space leaving the country. Costa Rica doesn’t produce much else other than agriculture. We have to buy the remaining space available to us on vessels that port in the country. Some ships can take 3 months to make a round trip journey to and from the United States because they make multiple stops along the way.
  • Load ship – I can’t talk about this process without mentioning the ISF or “Importer Security Filing” that is required by the United States. That process is detailed below and REQUIRES a licensed import agent in the US to file.  (see below)  When the ship arrives, the vehicle is taken to the port for roll-on/roll-off shipping OR loaded into a container for shipment. Prior to loading the ISF must be filed with US Customs (see below)

At this point, the export process is complete. Other than paying for the shipping to take the freight, we are done with the necessary legal requirements to ship the vehicles to the United States.

Import / Receiving Process

The import process of a vehicle into the United States is fairly complicated for those who’ve never experienced it before. There are several requirements that need to be met.  If we are shipping for you, then YOU have responsibilities that we cannot meet for you. If you do not complete them, then you may face penalties & delays from US Customs.

  • Hire an import broker (fee) – Importing a vehicle is most likely a “formal” entry into the United States. Officers with Customs and Border Patrol will want to know if you’re bringing a car back into the States that was here before or if the car was always in Costa Rica. For our purposes, the car was always in Costa Rica.  Thus, it will be considered “formal” by US Customs.  “Formal” means that there will be an import duty due. That duty is 2.5% and will be paid by your hired import broker. (you will pay them back)
    • Files your ISF (see above) – In the area above where it says “Load Ship” I mention the Importer Security Filing or ISF. This ISF is fully implemented now and must be filed with US Customs prior to loading on the ship. US licensed import brokers have software to interact with US CBP to file these for you. They simply need a few data points from you and the shipper to get it done.So, you HAVE to hire a broker PRIOR to the ship being loaded in Costa Rica. This is by far the hardest concept for most importers to grasp but it is vitally important.
    • Pays your import duty to US Customs – The 2.5% will be paid and submitted by the broker when they file the formal entry.
    • Completes and pays for your single-entry bond – Because you’re not continuously importing vehicles, you will be paying for and submitting a one time bond. The brokers can file this for you and it costs $75+.
    • Completes form HS-7 – This is the DOT form that states that the vehicle is over 25 years old and doesn’t have to comply with federal safety regulations.
    • Completes form 3520-1 – This is the EPA form that states that the vehicle is over 21 years old and doesn’t have to meet EPA emission standards.
    • Gives you a completed form 7501 – This form will allow you to go to your state and register the vehicle as it will have the chassis/VIN number and show that the vehicle has been cleared by CBP.
  • Transport to you – Unless you live near a port, you will probably have to have the vehicle transported to you where you live. Since it is not registered yet, you can’t legally drive it in the United States. We could, however, broker the registration to one of our US partners and get a title quickly for you. This way, you could pick up the vehicle and drive it home.


You will need certain forms and items to complete your import.

  • You will need to assign a broker as your Power of Attorney in the States.
  • ONLY licensed brokers in the US can file your ISF for you.
  • You will have to have a bill of sale or invoice in English showing that you own the vehicle
  • You will have to sign EPA form 3520-1
  • You will have to sign form HS7

Don’t be confused. If someone says that they can ship a vehicle to the US for $1,500 that may be true. Unless the process is done properly, however, you will have tons of trouble registering the vehicle and you may even run into fines and penalties through US Customs.

*Note: If you’re purchasing a vehicle through us, you will not have to do many of these processes as our vehicles are fully imported into the United States PRIOR to going up for sale.