Buying or selling a car in Costa Rica is a little more complicated than in Canada. You have to use a Notary. Most all lawyers are also Notaries so you can use just about any lawyer. The buyer and vendor can use the same lawyer since they’re not acting as a legal representative but as a notary. They’ll charge you about $30-$50. I’ve always thought that was pretty cheap since you couldn’t get a North American lawyer to give you the time of day for that price.
The lawyer will right up a full description of the car and you and the other party including name, passport number, birth date, current occupation, address, etc. They also record the amount paid, they witness the payment and they forward the documents over to the Registro (Registration Department). It can take several weeks before the vehicle is actually registered in the buyers name, especially if you buy a vehicle around the time of a major holiday like Navidad or Semana Santa.
Make sure you carry your copy of all the documentation with you in the vehicle so that you can prove that you have bought it even though its not registered in your name. I’ve been told that you can expect to receive a copy of the new registration in the mail. The longest I’ve waited so far is 2 months and I never received anything.
If you plan on taking the vehicle out of the country you have to go to the Registro and request a permit. You can’t get a permit until the vehicle is registered. If you can’t wait, you can ask the seller (who technically is still the owner) to sign a Poder (back to the lawyer’s office for this) in which he or she will give you permission to take their/your vehicle out of the country.
Then, you can request the permit.
You also have to have insurance (get ready to wait in line) and a mechanical certification.
There is a big yellow sticker on the top left hand corner of the windshield. This is the mechanical certification and it has an expiry date. If you don’t plan on keeping the vehicle for long then try to find one where the certification expires after you’re long gone. Then you don’t have to go through the hassle. I don’t know how big a hassle it is because so far I’ve been able to avoid it.
If you can’t sell the vehicle before you leave then you have to go back to the lawyer and designate someone that you can trust to sell it for you. This person has to have the legal authority to sell the vehicle on your behalf. You have to be able to trust this person to keep in contact with you during the time your waiting for it to be sold.
When you’re thousands of miles away it’s nice to hear how things are going once in a while. You also have to be sure that he’ll send you your money when the vehicle is sold.