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It is not wise to import a vehicle that is not in excellent condition. The formula to calculate the duty is based on the year, make & model and accessories, but not the condition. It is a complicated formula, so it is best to get a quotation in advance of importing. As a Costa Rican resident you will not be permitted to take delivery of the car from the shipper until all taxes and duties are paid. It may be best to hire a customs broker to do this.
This is the obligatory liability insurance carried on all vehicles in Costa Rica. It must be renewed annually between November 1 and December 31. A car without an insurance decal on the windshield is illegal after the 1st of January. When the marchamo is paid, it is necessary to pay any parking or traffic tickets (plus interest) that were issued against the car during the year and to prove that the vehicle inspection sticker is current. The cost of the marchamo depends on the year, make and model of the car.
Vehicle Technical Inspection
Each vehicle must have a certificate in the car and a decal on the windshield that proves the vehicle inspection is current. Inspections are done at one of the many specially constructed locations around the country. They were built and are operated by the Spanish firm Reteve that won the contract to perform motor vehicle inspections.
The month of the inspection depends upon the last digit of the license plate. Vehicles are tested for exhaust emissions, brakes, lights, turn signals, windshield wipers and a list of other safely related features. Vehicles without a valid decal on the windshield and document in the car are subject to a fine. It is not possible to get the next marchamo without proof that the inspection is current. There is a charge for the inspections. Inspections are necessary each year on older vehicles, and every two years for newer vehicles.
A car dealer will assist a purchaser to acquire the metal plates for the first time, but you will be able to drive the car with a temporary permit that must be displayed in the window.
It is illegal to operate a motor vehicle without a valid cédula or passport (or a copy certified by a lawyer), a valid drivers license (either Costa Rican or foreign) and the original of the paper license if metal plates are not on the car. A foreign driver’s license is valid for tourists only if their visa has not expired. The entry stamp in the passport determines the start date of the visa. It is possible for transit police to impound a vehicle if any of the documents are expired or are not in the vehicle. With a rental car the rental agreement needs to be carried. To pick up a rental car you will need your driver’s license, passport and credit card.
It is not permitted to drive a car within the circunvolucion (ring road around San Jose) on certain days, dependent upon the last number of the license plate. Licenses ended in 1 & 2 or not permitted on Monday, 3 & 4 on Tuesday, etc/
Traffic enforcement falls to the transit police. Most speed enforcement is done with a hand-held radar gun from the side of the road. If you are exceeding the speed limit the officer will motion you to stop. He may request the paperwork mentioned previously and is required to show you the radar gun to confirm your speed.
If fines are paid before the end of the year when the marchamo is purchased it is necessary to pay at a specified bank in the national banking system. A service charge for receiving the payment is in addition to the fine.
Speed limits are usually 80 KPH on major highways, and are 60 KPH at all intersections and in populated areas. School zones are usually 25 KPH when students are present and 40 KPH at other times.
Most transit police are polite, and if they feel the driver is a confused tourist, they may simply give a warning provided all papers are in order.
Traffic fines are outrageously high in Costa Rica, but are changing continually due to Constitutional court cases. If a traffic fine is appealed within 10 days it will take years to get to court.