Buying Your First Used Car in Nosara


Choosing the Vehicle

Nosara's dirt roads and rugged terrain are notoriously hard on vehicles. Here, you're forced to hold functionality and performance priority over style and looks. If your budget is high enough, you may be able to tick all those boxes. Many recent transplants are shocked to find the prices of new and used vehicles in Costa Rica are significantly higher than in the USA, Canada and other first-world countries. This is the result of Costa Rica's high import taxes that are applied to all vehicles, both new and used, when they're brought in to the country. The taxable amounts are calculated based on various factors pertaining to the vehicle, like age of the vehicle, and Costa Rica's calculated value. This topic alone could be an entire blog post, but for now, just be prepared to pay at least 30% more than you might've expected.  If you would like to learn more about these import taxes and fees click here

When it comes to choosing the make of your vehicle, you must keep some things in mind that might not have been an issue when buying a vehicle back home; particularly availability of parts and proximity to qualified mechanics. To get a professional opinion on the matter, we asked long time Nosara resident and mechanic, Rick Chalmers, "I highly recommend Toyota, and if you can't afford a Toyota, secondarily I recommend a Toyota. In terms of supporting the vehicle here in the country, Toyota is the only car company that has the depth of resource to hold parts in inventory and sell them. No other manufacturer has the agency here to stock parts, so you either end up waiting months for parts to be imported or you have to settle for poor-quality non-factory parts that don't last as long or they don't fit properly. What you end up with is a vehicle that is compromised very quickly versus a Toyota which you can maintain with the original parts." 


What the hell is RITEVE and Marchamo?

RITEVE (RTV) is essentially the Costa Rican name for an emissions test and safety inspection. Costa Rica requires this inspection annually or bi-annually depending on the age of your vehicle. When buying a vehicle in Costa Rica, you cannot legally purchase a vehicle without a valid, up to date RITEVE.  A vehicle with a valid RTV will have a sticker indicating when the next inspection is due, and a document that should be kept in the vehicle at all times. 

When it comes time to renew your RTV, you'll need to make an appointment. You can do that online here. The cost for the inspection is around ¢12,000 (≈$21) and you'll need to bring your identity card, driver’s license, title to the vehicle and a whole lot of patience. Their website has a series of videos (in Spanish) that walk you through the inspection process step by step. Even if you do not speak Spanish, you can get a feel for what to expect during your appointment.

The following tests will be conducted:

  1. Visual Inspection & Alignment

  2. Emissions Test

  3. Brake Test & Regloscope (headlight test)

  4. Suspension Test

  5. Slack Detector & Pit Inspection

Marchamo is similar to your annual registration or license plate tax in the U.S. It is due between November and the beginning of January every year and can be paid at any bank or in Nicoya at the INS office. Failure to pay before the beginning of January will result in penalty fees and can only be paid at INS in Nicoya. The amount you'll pay will depend on the year, make and model of your vehicle. To find out exactly how much you can check the INS website starting in November. If you have any outstanding traffic violations you will be forced to pay those as well. Like RTV, you cannot legally purchase a vehicle without a valid, up to date Marchamo. It's also worth noting that anyone with the vehicle license plate number and a passport or cedula can pay the marchamo on a vehicle, not only the registered owner. So if you happen to be out of the country during Nov-Jan you have options. 


The Low Down on Insurance

There are two types of vehicle insurance in Costa Rica. The first is Compulsory Motor Vehicle Insurance (SOA), which covers the injury or death of people, both pedestrians and vehicle occupants, of traffic accidents regardless of fault. In essence, it provides major medical coverage in the event of an accident, up to ¢6 million (≈$10,500) per person, with some exceptions in which the maximum is doubled. Conveniently, this insurance coverage is incorporated into your Marchamo payment every year. Click here to learn more, then use the menu on the right side of the screen to navigate the page. 

The second type of insurance is Voluntary Automobile Insurance, and as the name implies, it is voluntary but typically purchased by those who want to protect their asset, have liability coverage and 24/7 roadside services. This insurance is customizable and depending on your policy. It can cover injury and death of people, damage to property of third prties, collision, legal expenses, theft and other mishaps and expenses. Click here to learn more, use the menu on the right side of the screen to navigate the page, or you can contact local insurance broker Phil Eitman at


The Transaction

The legal transfer of ownership must be conducted by a licensed attorney. There are several in Nosara. You will need to make an appointment ahead of time and both the seller and the buyer (or legal power of attorney) must be present at the time of the transaction. You will need the following documents for the transaction:

  1. Tarjeta circulación up-to-date a.k.a. Marchamo (seller)

  2. RITEVE up-to-date (seller)

  3. Cedula or passport (seller and buyer)

Unless you know and trust the seller, NEVER send payment in any form prior to meeting at the lawyers office to complete the transaction. In addition to the agreed upon sale price, there is an additional transfer tax, register stamps, and a fee to the lawyer that must be paid. These amounts are a percentage of the value of the vehicle as calculated by the Ministry of Finance, totally independent of the sale price. You can find local lawyer, Gerardo Brenes', contact info below to set up an appointment. 

We hope we've helped decode some of the mysteries of the local car buying process and wish you the best in your quest to purchase your first vehicle in Nosara. 



Written by:

Reagan Grant