How To Store/Retrieve Your Vehicle and Suspend/Unsuspend your Vehicle Permit in Costa Rica

Costa Rica only allows foreign-plated vehicles to be in the country for 90 days at a time.  If you use up your 90 days, upon exit the vehicle must stay out of the country for at least 90 days before returning. Lucky for us, their system allows you to store your vehicle in a government-bonded storage unit (Almacen Fiscal) and suspend your 90-day permit for as long as you would like. If you leave the country for longer than 90 days, you will get a brand new 90-day vehicle permit.  In our case, we left the country for only 52 days so we only got the remaining days on our permit.

We chose El Coco as our storage facility and were very, very pleased with everything.  Andrés, the customer service manager, spoke excellent English. He also made sure everything was as we desired. When we returned to pick up the vehicle, everything was the same as we had left it. Pictures of the storage facility and our truck inside it, are at the bottom of this post.

The following is the process by which we STORED AND SUSPENDED our permit:
  1. Find an Almacen Fiscal (government-bonded) storage facility that will store your vehicle. Here is a list of 4 that you can check-out.
      El Coco (N09.98625 W084.22301)
      -offers storage in their warehouse or outdoors (~$7.70 USD/day or outdoors ~$4.50 USD/day)
      -the contact is Andrés Vega, 2432-4648/EXT 209, and he speaks excellent English

      Unidas Terminales
      -only offers outdoor parking - seemed like a really cheap option
      -located behind the Denny's and big casino near the airport (just ask a security guy in the parking lot where it is)

      Ecatrons and Rex Cargo
      -we did not visit these nor could we find them, but were told they may store our vehicle for a reasonable price

      We had an extra day set aside to drive around to a few of the Almacen Fiscal facilities that we had heard about to get some quotes and check out their facilities.  This was easier said than done.  It was an extremely frustrating day because Costa Rica doesn't have addresses (seriously).  Our lack of good Spanish also didn't help.

  2. After you drop your vehicle off at the Almacen Fiscal facility, makes sure you have your vehicle permit, vehicle title, driver's passport and DL, and the paperwork that the storage facility fills out.  These items need to be used to suspend your permit at the Aduana near the airport.
  3. Get yourself to the Aduana Santamaria (N09.99788 W084.21550) near the airport.  We took a cab who didn't know exactly where the customs office was.  We had to walk about a block after he dropped us off. 
  4. Request to suspend your vehicle import permit at the office.  When we did this, we were the only ones there.  The process took about 5 minutes.  There was a white employee bus that traveled back and forth between the airport terminal and the customs office, that the security guard invited us to use.  It was free and leaves/arrives every 30 minutes. Luckily everything went as planned and we were able to store our vehicle/home on the same day that we flew out.

The following is the process by which we RETRIEVED AND UNSUSPENDED our permit:
  1. From the airport take a cab (~$6) to downtown Alajuela to the INS (institution nacional de seguro) office to buy more insurance for your vehicle
  2. From the INS office, take a cab (~$6) to the Aduana Santamaria to get your vehicle permit re-instated.  This process can be very fast.  For us, it took about 3 hours because we didn't do step 1 (above) at first, and then after we did step #1, we had to wait for the jefe to get out of a "meeting" so that she could "release" our vehicle from it's suspension.
  3. Get yourself to your storage facility (~$5 to El Coco).  Here, the young lady in the office processed our new permit and took our payment.  Get your vehicle and you're off!
Before we went through this process we had a couple of other overlanding bloggers to help guide us. Here they are for cross-referencing:


Jamie said...

My truck was badly looted of its contents at Almacen FIscal El Coco. Called the police but they didn't bother to come to the see the vehicle. I have a report which is largely useless.

Heather and Scott said...

Hey Jamie, That is awful - we are really sorry. I will make a note on our blog. Will you give some more detail about your situation - how long parked, how they broke in, etc.? I will direct readers to your comment.