How to Buy a Car in Costa Rica: A Complete Guide


Costa Rica, the small Central American paradise, attracts millions of travelers every year, thanks to its natural beauty, interesting culture, and outdoor activities. And if you’re one of those people who need a car to explore the stunning landscapes, beautiful beaches, and vibrant cities of Costa Rica, you’re in luck! In this guide, we’ll walk you through the process of buying a car in Costa Rica, so you can enjoy the open road and explore the country at your own pace.

Buying a car in Costa Rica is relatively straightforward, but there are some crucial things you should know before taking the plunge. From researching different options and financing to examining the car and registering it, this guide will provide you with all the essential steps and tips to make your car-buying experience in Costa Rica a success.


Before buying a car in Costa Rica, you’ll need to do some research. Start by deciding on the type of car you want and the budget you’re willing to spend. Keep in mind that different regions of the country may have different prices.

You can begin your research by searching online for local dealerships or private sellers in your area. Online marketplaces like Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and Encuentra24 are also great places to find the best deals. It’s essential to browse through different options and compare prices to ensure you’re getting the best value for your money.


Once you’ve found a car that you’re interested in, it’s vital to inspect it thoroughly. Whether you’re purchasing from a dealership or a private seller, it’s essential to confirm that the vehicle is in good condition, has no outstanding fines or penalties, and is not stolen.

You can either hire a mechanic to inspect the car or have an independent inspection company do it for you. A trained mechanic will check the engine, transmission, suspension, brakes, and tires for any issues.


If you’re not purchasing the car outright, you’ll likely need financing. You should start by researching different financing options, including local banks, credit unions, or even personal loans. Make sure to compare interest rates, terms, and conditions to choose the best option for your needs.

Registering The Car:

After the purchase, you’ll need to register the car with the local government entities. This includes obtaining a title, transferring ownership, paying taxes, and getting new license plates. Keep in mind that the process of registration can take several weeks up to a month.


Buying a car in Costa Rica can seem overwhelming, but with the right knowledge, preparation, and research, it can be a smooth and enjoyable experience. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you’ll be on your way to purchasing a car that will allow you to explore all the wonders that Costa Rica has to offer.

Research and Preparation

Before buying a car in Costa Rica, it is important to do your research and preparation. This can include determining your budget, researching car options, and checking the necessary legal requirements.

Determine Your Budget

The first step in buying a car is to determine your budget. This will help you determine the type and model of car that you can afford. Take into consideration not only the purchase price of the car but also the associated costs such as insurance, taxes, registration fees, and maintenance. It is important to keep in mind that cars in Costa Rica can be more expensive than in other countries due to high import taxes.

Expense Cost
Purchase price
Registration fees

Research Car Options

After determining your budget, research car options that fit your financial capabilities. Consider the make and model that you want, as well as any amenities or features that you prioritize. Be aware that some cars may not be available in Costa Rica due to import restrictions or market demand.

It is also important to research dealerships or sellers to ensure that you are buying from a reputable source. Check reviews and ratings from previous customers to ensure that you are not being scammed or overcharged.

Finding a Seller

When looking to buy a car in Costa Rica, you can either purchase from a dealership or a private seller. Both options have their advantages and disadvantages, so it is important to do your research before making a decision.

Dealerships in Costa Rica

There are a variety of car dealerships in Costa Rica, ranging from large franchises to smaller, independent dealers. Many of these dealerships offer financing options and warranties. Additionally, purchasing from a dealership can offer a level of peace of mind knowing that the vehicle has been inspected and serviced before being sold.

Some popular car dealerships in Costa Rica include:

  • Purdy Motor: Offers various car brands and financing options.
  • Grupo Q: Carries several car brands and has locations throughout the country.
  • Toyota: A well-known car brand with multiple dealerships in Costa Rica.

Private Sellers

Buying a car from a private seller can often be cheaper than purchasing from a dealership. However, it is important to exercise caution when buying from a private seller, as there is no guarantee or warranty. It is recommended to have a trusted mechanic inspect the vehicle before committing to a purchase.

There are several online marketplaces in Costa Rica where individuals can sell their cars, such as Encuentra24 and Craigslist. It is also common to see “Se Vende” (For Sale) signs on cars parked along the street. When negotiating with a private seller, be sure to do your research on the market value of the car and be prepared to haggle.

Conducting a Test Drive

Once you have narrowed down your choices and found a car that you are interested in purchasing, it is important to conduct a thorough test drive. A test drive allows you to get a feel for the car and assess its overall condition. It also enables you to detect any potential issues that may not have been obvious during your initial inspection.

What to look for during a test drive

During your test drive, pay close attention to all aspects of the car’s performance, including:

  • Acceleration: Test the car’s acceleration ability on both flat and uphill roads. Make sure it accelerates smoothly without any jerking or hesitation.
  • Braking: Test the car’s braking ability by applying the brakes firmly and steadily. Make sure the car comes to a complete stop without any noise or vibration.
  • Handling: Test the car’s handling by driving on winding roads or sharp turns. Make sure the car responds quickly to the steering and doesn’t sway or jerk.
  • Suspension: Test the car’s suspension by driving on rough roads or over speed bumps. Make sure the car absorbs the shocks smoothly without any noise or discomfort.
  • Noise: Listen for any unusual noises during your test drive. Pay close attention to the engine, brakes, suspension, and tires.
  • Comfort: Assess the overall comfort level of the car. Check the seats, legroom, and headroom to make sure they are comfortable for you and your passengers.
  • Visibility: Make sure you have good visibility from all angles. Check the mirrors, windshield, and windows to ensure they are clean and unobstructed.

By paying close attention to these aspects during your test drive, you will be able to make an informed decision about whether the car is a good fit for you. If you notice any issues during your test drive, don’t hesitate to bring them up with the seller and ask for clarification.

Negotiating the Price

Once you have found the car you want to buy in Costa Rica, it’s time to negotiate the price. While negotiating, keep in mind that prices may not be as negotiable as in other countries, but it is still worth trying to get a better deal.

Tips for successful negotiation:

  • Do your research beforehand to get an idea of what the car is worth and what similar cars are being sold for in the area.
  • Begin negotiations by offering a price lower than your target price.
  • Stay polite and respectful even if you don’t reach an agreement.
  • Consider non-monetary incentives such as offering to pay cash or to close the deal quickly.
  • Be open to compromise and remember that both parties should benefit in a successful negotiation.

Keep in mind that in Costa Rica, the final price may include additional fees such as transfer fees, legal fees, and other charges. Make sure to clarify any additional fees before agreeing to the final price.

Registering and Insuring Your Car

Once you have found your dream car in Costa Rica, the next step is to register and insure it.

Required documentation

Before you can register your car, you will need the following documents:

  • Proof of ownership: This includes a bill of sale, a transfer deed (if you are buying from a dealership), or a purchase agreement.
  • Personal identification: This includes your passport and a valid Costa Rican ID, known as a cédula.
  • Inspection certificate: Your car will need to pass a technical inspection to ensure it meets safety and emissions standards.
  • Payment of registration fees: The cost of registration varies depending on the age and value of your car.

Once you have all of the required documents, you can go to a Registro Nacional office to register your car. You will need to provide the documents and pay the registration fee. The registration process can take a few hours, so be prepared to spend some time at the office.

After registering your car, you will also need to purchase car insurance. Third-party liability insurance is required by law in Costa Rica, and it covers damages you may cause to other people or property while driving. You can purchase insurance from a variety of private companies, and it is recommended to shop around for the best rates and coverage options.

Once you have registered your car and purchased insurance, you can hit the road and enjoy all that Costa Rica has to offer!


What are the legal requirements for buying a car in Costa Rica?

To legally buy a car in Costa Rica, you need to have a valid passport and a residency status, either temporary or permanent. You also need to have a Costa Rican driver’s license. If you do not have one, you can apply for a temporary driver’s license that is valid for three months. Additionally, you need to have proof of insurance and a vehicle inspection certificate that is less than six months old. It is recommended to work with a reputable dealership or a trusted seller who can guide you through the legal requirements and paperwork involved.

Where can I buy a car in Costa Rica?

You can buy a car in Costa Rica from a dealership or through a private sale. There are many dealerships located throughout the country, especially in larger cities such as San Jose, Heredia, Alajuela, and Cartago. It is recommended to do some research and compare prices and reviews before making a purchase. Private sales can be found through online classifieds websites and social media platforms. When buying from a private seller, it is important to inspect the car thoroughly and ask for all necessary paperwork, such as the title, insurance, and inspection certificate.

What types of cars are available for purchase in Costa Rica?

There are many types of cars available for purchase in Costa Rica, including popular brands such as Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai, and Honda. Since Costa Rica has rural areas with rough terrain, many cars are equipped with 4-wheel drive. Additionally, due to the warm climate, many cars have air conditioning. Hybrid and electric cars are becoming more popular in Costa Rica due to their fuel efficiency and eco-friendliness. It is important to determine your needs and preferences before choosing a car and to consult with a trusted mechanic to ensure the car is in good condition.

What is the average price range for buying a car in Costa Rica?

The average price range for buying a car in Costa Rica is between $10,000 and $20,000. However, prices can vary greatly depending on the make, model, and year of the car. Additionally, import taxes and fees can increase the final price of the car. It is important to have a budget in mind and to negotiate with the seller before making a purchase. It is also recommended to include the cost of insurance, maintenance, and repairs into your budget when considering the overall cost of owning a car in Costa Rica.

What should I look for when inspecting a car before buying it in Costa Rica?

When inspecting a car before buying it in Costa Rica, you should look for signs of wear and tear, such as scratches, rust, or dents. You should also check the tires, brakes, and suspension for any signs of damage or wear. Additionally, you should check the engine and transmission for any leaks or unusual sounds. It is recommended to take the car for a test drive to check for any issues with handling or performance. You should also ask for all necessary paperwork, such as the title, insurance, and inspection certificate, and verify them with the appropriate authorities.