Importing Containers into Costa Rica: A Comprehensive Guide

Living in Costa Rica offers a myriad of attractions for foreigners worldwide. The allure of the “Pura Vida” lifestyle and the country’s breathtaking beaches, majestic mountains, and rich biodiversity make it an exceptional choice for those seeking a high-quality life in a tropical paradise. If you have decided to make Costa Rica your new home, it is crucial to navigate the immigration process smoothly and safely. One aspect to consider is the transportation of goods necessary for your permanent settlement within the Costa Rican borders, particularly the import of containers containing household items and vehicles.

The Importance of Understanding the Import Process

The import of containers in Costa Rica is multifaceted, and its intricacies vary depending on the type of goods being shipped. In this article, we will primarily focus on interests related to households and vehicles, shedding light on the essential aspects of the process.

Approved Law to Streamline the Import Process

In terms of taxes, it is essential to mention that the Immigration Department (DGME) is in the process of implementing a law that will benefit temporary residents in categories such as investors, rentistas, and pensionados. This law will grant them an exemption from import taxes when importing containers carrying household goods, professional instruments, or materials for scientific purposes. Furthermore, beneficiaries can import up to two air, land, or maritime vehicles without incurring import, customs, or value-added taxes.

To qualify for these tax exemptions, individuals must fulfill specific criteria, including staying up to date with all tax and social security obligations (Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social or CAJA), possessing a migratory status as a rentista, investor, or pensionado, and being registered in the Exonet System.

The Current Container Import Process: A Detailed Overview

The Ministry of Finance (Ministerio de Hacienda) oversees and regulates the procedure for importing household goods and vehicles in containers into Costa Rica. This institution plays a vital role in supervising and controlling all actions involved in the importation process.

It’s important to note that the following items are not considered household goods: luggage, construction materials (such as jacuzzis, ceramics, and switches), office equipment (e.g., photocopiers, folders, and binders), books, tools, clothes, or shoes. Therefore, household goods exclusively refer to articles intended for domestic use.

Until the new regulation is officially approved, each article will be subject to an individual and specific import tax stipulated by the existing law. Consequently, no universal rate encompasses all goods within the same category.

Regarding the importation of vehicles, it is crucial to ensure that each means of transportation possesses its original title of ownership and an appropriate Spanish translation, if necessary. Furthermore, it is of utmost importance that titles do not contain labels such as “salvage – parts only,” “destruction,” “total loss,” “fire damage,” “dismantlers,” “junk,” “crush,” “scrap,” or “not rebuildable.” The presence of such labels would invalidate the importation and registration process. Additionally, vehicles with right-hand steering wheels cannot be imported.

Reporting Damage to Cargo: An Essential Procedure

In the unfortunate event of damage to any cargo during transportation, it is crucial to follow specific protocols and compile a comprehensive report, including the following details:

  1. Date and time of the incident
  2. Name of the ship
  3. Container number
  4. Bill of Landing number (document serving as evidence of the contract of carriage between the shipper and the shipping company)
  5. Type of cargo (“commodity”)
  6. Nature of loss or damage
  7. A specific value of the cargo or damage
  8. Report the final disposition of the cargo
  9. Approximate date of the incident
  10. Commercial invoice for the cargo
  11. Packing list
  12. Cargo survey report authorized by the service provider
  13. Container survey report approved by the service provider
  14. Color photographs of the cargo or container
  15. Proof of cargo salvage procedures or certificate of destruction
  16. Depreciated value of the container (if applicable, in cases of material damage)

What to Expect During the Importation Process?

Many shipping lines utilize containers from Costa Rica or neighboring countries when transporting goods of this nature. This practice enables them to unload and collect the merchandise within a single trip, making the service more cost-effective. However, choosing an experienced and reliable company that aligns with your needs is always advisable.

Please feel free to contact us if you require assistance arranging this type of import. We would happily provide you with trustworthy contacts who can offer further information and guidance.

Choosing the Right Shipping Company

Selecting a reliable shipping company is crucial when importing containers into Costa Rica. Working with a reputable and experienced provider that can meet your specific needs and ensure a smooth transportation process is essential. Here are some factors to consider when choosing a shipping company:

  1. Experience: Look for a company with a proven track record in handling container imports to Costa Rica. Experience in navigating customs regulations and providing efficient logistics solutions is vital.
  2. Reliability: Ensure the shipping company has a reputation for reliable and timely deliveries. You want your goods to arrive safely and on schedule.
  3. Services Offered: Check if the shipping company offers a comprehensive range of services, including customs clearance, cargo insurance, and door-to-door delivery. Having a single point of contact for all your shipping needs can streamline the process.
  4. Customer Reviews: Read reviews and testimonials from previous clients to get an idea of the company’s service quality and customer satisfaction.
  5. Cost-Effectiveness: While cost shouldn’t be the sole determining factor, consider the pricing and value for money different shipping companies offer. Request quotes and compare them while considering the overall services provided.

You can ensure a smooth and hassle-free container importation process by conducting thorough research and selecting a reputable shipping company.


Importing containers into Costa Rica is essential when establishing a new life in this beautiful country. Whether you bring household goods or vehicles, understanding the import process, complying with regulations, and working with reliable service providers are key to a successful transition. The allure of Costa Rica’s “Pura Vida” lifestyle, stunning landscapes, and exceptional quality of life make it an attractive destination for individuals seeking a fresh start.

Please note that this article has been written to provide general guidance and information. It is always recommended to consult with immigration and customs authorities or seek professional assistance to ensure compliance with the latest regulations and requirements.

-Written by Glenn Tellier (Founder of CRIEand Grupo Gap).

[email protected]

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the requirements for importing containers into Costa Rica?

Importing containers into Costa Rica requires compliance with local customs regulations, documentation, and licensing requirements. Additionally, you will need to pay customs fees and taxes.

How long does it take to import containers into Costa Rica?

The timeline for container import into Costa Rica can vary depending on customs clearance, shipping delays, and documentation processing. It’s best to plan for several weeks to a few months.

What documents do I need to import containers into Costa Rica?

Required documents may include a bill of lading, commercial invoice, packing list, import license, and other customs-related documents. Check with local authorities and your shipping provider for specific requirements.

Can I import any goods into Costa Rica?

Some goods may be restricted or prohibited from being imported into Costa Rica. Examples may include certain hazardous materials, counterfeit goods, and endangered species. Check with local authorities and your shipping provider for specific restrictions.

How much does it cost to import containers into Costa Rica?

The cost of container import into Costa Rica can vary depending on customs fees, taxes, shipping costs, and insurance. Ensure quotes from multiple providers and factor in all associated costs.

What should I consider when choosing a shipping provider for importing containers into Costa Rica?

When choosing a shipping provider, factors may include experience importing into Costa Rica, reputation, pricing, and customer service. Be sure to research and compare multiple providers before making a decision.

Do I need a customs broker to import containers into Costa Rica?

While hiring a customs broker is not required, it can be beneficial for navigating the complexities of importing into Costa Rica. A customs broker can help with documentation, compliance, and communication with local authorities.

What are some common challenges I may face when importing containers into Costa Rica?

Common challenges may include language barriers, customs delays, compliance with regulations, and unexpected costs. It’s essential to be prepared and work with experienced professionals to overcome these challenges.



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