Buying a Used Car in Costa Rica

Information on the paperwork and processes involved when buying and registering a used car in Costa Rica...

There are several ways to find a used car. It is still very common for a seller to put a “For Sale” (Se Vende) sign in their car. Another option is to visit the used car dealerships in Grecia or Alajuela, both of which are about one hour from San José. There are also used car lots throughout the country.

Many sellers advertise used cars online:

Tips for Buyers

It is advisable that a trusted mechanic checks the car before it is bought. The car should be assessed according to the checklist used by Riteve SyC when evaluating the car at the roadworthy inspection (Revisión Técnica de Vehiculos - RTV).

It is also advisable to check the car’s title on the Vehicle Section of the Public Registry (Registro Nacional) to make sure that the car does not have another owner and that there are no outstanding fees due.

When a used car is bought from a dealer, the dealership is legally required to provide a 30-day guarantee on transmission and motor problems.

Documents

A lawyer can help with the paperwork process that is involved in transferring a car’s title; however, it is possible to do the paperwork using a Notary Public.

The following documents are needed to buy a used car:

  • The seller must provide the original car title (Certificado de Propiedad)
  • Both the buyer and seller must have official ID, which can be proof of identity or a passport
  • The Notary Public creates a bill of sale (Escritura de Traspaso) which is signed by both the buyer and the seller. This document is submitted to and recorded in the National Registry (Registro Nacional) which takes about a month
  • The Notary Public returns the new title to the new owner

If the buyer needs financing to buy a car, it is advisable to work with a bank or a lawyer who can draw up a contract for the payment system.

Roadworthiness

It is possible to buy or sell a car without a valid roadworthiness test certificate (RTV), but buyers usually negotiate a valid RTV as part of the transaction.

Insurance

A car must have a valid roadworthiness certificate for the owner to pay the obligatory liability insurance and car tax. This is called Marchamo, and is paid annually. It is illegal to drive a car which does not have Marchamo: the car can be impounded and there is a substantial fine.

  • For information about the Marchamo: Click here (in Spanish)