Shipping a car is best done as part of a container shipment, meaning you can bring other things along at the same time. A 20 foot container runs about $1400 from Longbeach to Puntarenas or $900 from Miami to Limon.
You’ll still need to get the car or container contents from the port to you and also need to clear customs (takes time) but the tax on the vehicle is the real issue. If the car is 4 or 5 years old or older and has low miles, it might make sense since Costa Rica taxes new vehicles coming into the country at about 20% of value.
When you import a used car, the age of the car determines the import tax due. Therefore an older car with low mileage might be worth importing but again you also have to add the cost of transporting the car from the US. The tax adds value to ALL cars in Costa Rica and the tax paid adds to the basis. As the car ages, the value of the car depreciates and so does the value of the tax paid.
So for example if you bought a brand new car in Costa Rica and used it for half its expected life, half the value of the tax you’d paid when new would still be included in the value of the car when it was sold as a used car. So if the car was $20k when you bought it and you paid 4k in tax and then sold the car when it was half used up, it would theoretically be worth 10k for the value of the car and 2k for the remaining value of the tax, so would likely sell for 12k (half the $24k you’d paid for the car and tax when bought new). If you import a used car into Costa Rica and pay $2000 in import tax, the car becomes worth in effect $2000 more than the base value of the car.
We typically recommend people sell their car in the US and just buy another in Costa Rica. One issue to also consider is will the car you intend to import be readily serviceable in Costa Rica. There are very few US made cars in Costa Rica and therefore servicing them is an issue. Also some luxury cars like Acura, BMW, Mercedes and Lexus don’t have many service options other than in San Jose.
The most widely driven cars in Costa Rica are Japanese vehicles, Toyota, Mitsubishi and Nissan. Buying a car locally will also give you a local dealer to service your vehicle.
In conclusion, though you may love your current vehicle, it most likely makes more sense to sell it before moving to Costa Rica and to buy a new or used car when you get there.
Click for other information about Costa Rica.