Drive To Costa Rica 101
Q: I am moving to Costa Rica and debating flying or driving…taking my time and taking a few things from home. Do you think travel with 2 big dogs will be a problem? What about pulling a trailer?
A: Take an inventory of the things you are taking and be prepared to give some creative fees to the police and border guards.
Q: Hi, My wife and I will be driving to CR in January and staying in the country for 6 months. I know that the tourist visa is for 3 months only and one way around this is to leave the country for a few days and then head back. Is this possible with a vehicle or will this be viewed as suspicious by the authorities?
A: It is possible; people do it all the time.
Bribes or ‘Donations’?
Q: What is the “right price” when offering a bribe?
A: The price you are willing to pay to continue on your journey.
Q: Do you have info on camping? We’re planning on traveling down in a campervan with our dog for a few months and probably won’t get into hotels too much.
A: I have camped on many trips, pull off the road and climb into the vehicle or pitch your tent, hide yourself well from the main road. However, to be totally safe I’d recommend approaching a hotel and ask to camp on their property, pay them a few dollars and get the safety of being close to the hotel.
Q: As a Canadian can I buy a car in the US and drive it over the border into Mexico?
– Taking My ATV
Q: I plan to drive to Costa Rica with my Ford E-150 Van and a trailer containing an ATV. Am I allowed to do this? Can I pass the various borders without paying duties? Maybe on a transit permit?
A: U can take it but they will make you pay for the ATV -recreational vehicle tax – you pay to play.
– Car Titles
Q: You stated that you must bring the title of your car with you, so does this imply that one cannot drive a financed vehicle to CR? You must have paid the vehicle off?
A: You need the title, you can only get if you pay it off or a letter from your bank authorizing you to cross the border with the car—fat chance any bank will do it.
– Credit Car At Border
Q: Can you tell me if it is true that a credit card is mandatory to cross in Nogales? I dont have one and dont want one. I read this info on another site.
A: Yes, or you can leave a deposit at the Bank of Mexico. (Buy the Gringo Guide for a few tricks and options).
– Car Types
Q: I am very interested in the drive through Mexico and Central America this summer. So I’m wondering is a car suitable for the drive?
A: If it runs it is suitable; 4X4 with aircon is the best.
Q: We will cross in Larado and traveling towards the pacific for some good surfing. I?m in the middle of purchasing a vehicle, and I?m thinking of going with a 00 or a 01 Nissan sentra. Would this 4-door sedan be sufficient for the roads?
A: Not unless you lift it.
Q: Did your vehicle stay in relatively good shape cosmetically?
A: Yes, unless you hit something.
Q: I am thinking of driving to Costa Rica for an operation, all my friends think I am crazy!! My vehicle is diesel any problems getting Diesel in this drive?
A: No problem, all the big trucks in Mexico are diesel and its cheaper too.
Q: Can a retired couple drive to Panama using a 4WD PU and a 13′ trailer?
A: Sure, you?ll have a blast!
Q: I am planning to drive to Cista Rica to visit my father who has recently retired down there and I have been reading your website and it is full of tones of useful information. I have a couple of questions. What kind of vehicle did you bring down there, was it a newer one or older? I have a 2007 ford ranger 4×4 I was planning on bringing, but I am concerned that it is too new and maybe too much of a target. Did you feel safe on the roads? Is there any risk of being robbed and having your vehicle stolen?
A: Great questions, a new car like a ford ranger is fine, a Porsche or a BMW would draw more attention. Road are safe, the big cities are the only areas where you car is more of a target?once you are away from the border towns there is less of a problem.
Q: I am planning a trip through Central/South America. I was wondering if you could give me some information. Where is it best to buy a car (Canada, USA, M?xico)? How does it work with insurance traveling through countries?
A: Buy car in USA and get insurance before you leave. Craiglist.org is a great place to find a used vehicle, give yourself time to collect the title from the dmv.
Q: I’m hoping to drive from the US to Panama from May next year, trouble is I’m from the UK and don’t know if it will be possible to buy a vehicle in the US, register it and go in a reasonable time – do you know anything about the practicalities of doing this?
A: Find a friend in the USA to set up an LLC, put the car in the name of the LLC and drive south with pink slip in your hand.
Q: About importing a car. Is it safe to figure about 100% cost for importation? I am looking at property and will probably make up my mind this summer and I wanted to buy a vehicle to get around when I’m down there. I was thinking about buying something old for a few grand and shipping it to Limon.
A: You will pay big duties but it may be worth it if you want a specific type of car, the market for used cars is really growing these days and you may just want to buy one while there.
Q: I am about to buy a van for our trip through central and South America and really need your valued opinion. The van is not 4 wheel drive but it does have good clearance. How important is 4 wheel drive?
A: 4×4 is no that important, more valuable to have a solid mechanical vehicle with above average clearance. Other elements worth upgrading are tires, shocks, tinted windows, air con and a good stereo. A solid van is an ideal car to have for the trip, a van 4X4 like those Ford Conversions are the king daddy of all.
Q: I have heard that Toyotas are common and will therefore have good resale value. I also understand it is easier to get repairs done if needed. Have you found this to be the case?
Yes, I took a Toyota on one of my trips and I found it to be a wonderful car for those reasons you mention, good resale and easy to work on—parts are readily available and not too expensive, an older model (like 2000-2005) would be best.
Q: Are there any other types of vehicles you would recommend i.e. an SUV (Forerunner, etc). or another make like Nissan? we have not yet purchased hte car so are open to suggestion. Resale value, ability to get parts and ability to stretch out / sleep in hte back are the major considerations.
Anything Japanese is excellent, I like having the option to sleep in the vehicle—a better option for this trip.
Car – Selling it Along the Way
Q: What are resale values of the cars/trucks in comparison to America? ie % value we should expect to get back (estimate).
A: You will pay large duties to sell the vehicle along the way (35-55% tax on top of the sale). My experience selling vehicles only applies to Central America but I do know that once a tax is applied to the sale it will be difficult to recoup the original investment. The rules and laws are complicated but it can be done—but don’t expect to make a large return.
Q: Are there import or export duties and can we get around these? ie if we drive into a country as tourists, can we sell the car using the US paperwork/title etc without telling the authorities that we are “importing”.
Yes you can in some of the more rural areas, everything is possible in Central/South America with the right money behind it. I would try and find a private buyer and have him give you cash—that would be the most lucrative option. Your next issue is getting out of the country because the officials will stamp the vehicle into your passport. So once you get to the border and exit the country they will ask about the vehicle and you?ll have to be ready to explain the situation or pay and hope they accept—risky but possible.
Q: I read your section on crossing the Darien Gap via container but due to the high cost I am thinking of using a Role-on-Role-off ferry, do you have any advice on this, is it a good idea, are there any contacts you can give me so that I can arrange this ahead of time?
This is your only option actually; the Darien Gaps can’t be crossed by land.
The most recent contacts are on the site. I would suggest you purchase an older vehicle and look at is as an investment for the trip, buy something you would feel comfortable walking away from or ditching if that is your only option.
If you really want to take a new high end vehicle, one other option you have is to ship it home—this is what I did. It was cheaper for me to ship the car home and sell it in the US than find a buyer in Central America and take a profit (or loss because of high taxes).
Do A search for Darien for more article on this.
Q: I am doing the prelims for a trip to Central America and hopefully down to Brazil. I’ve heard you can’t get through Columbia…any ideas?
A: Sure you can, I write about it in crossing the Darien Gap in the Guide.
Q: My driving partner/brother/mechanic is concerned that we might be taken hostage at some point; he’s more concerned about Central America. Could you offer any words of advice, as I am fresh out of ideas?
A: Life is a journey, take the journey and find out.
Q: Hi, I am planning to drive from Canada to Argentina. Is the cru cero express to cross from panama to Colombia still in services? Where can I get more information?
A: In the Guide.
Driving Time & Directions
Q: My gal and i driving down to Nicaragua this summer. I?ll be working there for a year and want to import my car. I have a 1990 4runner. Great truck for the trip, but the current policy on importing cars in Nicaragua does not allow anything ten years or older. Do you have any suggestions on how to get my truck in the country and make it legal?
A: Take it out every 90 days or pay the border officials to stamp you in and out?money always talks in Latin America.
Q: We’d like to drive to Panama City from Arizona. To do it comfortably spending a couple days here and there not driving how long do you think we should give it? We thought Mexico 3- 4 weeks and the rest 2 weeks this includes there and back.
A: This is tight, would be a great trip for two months but can be done comfortably in six weeks.
Q: We plan to drive from Houston to Neuvo Laredo where we will cross the border and then to Mazatlan in the first leg, after this we will follow the pacific coast down, do you have a route that we could follow? How long will this take approximately?
A: You can go as fast or as slow as you like, I like your proposed route, that is the route I have taken several times and I think it offers the most to see and do. I’d recommend keeping away from Mexico City.
Q: How long would it take to drive from the Tijuana border to Guadalajara if driving straight thru?
A: I?d estimate about 35 hours.
Q: Do you have additional info on getting to Costa Rica?
A: There is detailed info in the registered section
Q: Is three months enough time to drive down to Panama and back to Houston?
A: Three months is a good time-frame.
More info on the printed book or ebook here.
Fire Trucks (yep, you read it right)
Q: I’m want to drive a fire truck from Minnesota to Costa Rica and give it away and fly home. the most direct route is the gulf coast of Mexico. The truck gets about 8 miles to the gal. but is in good shape am I crazy to do this. Would I be respected for this or just be a big shinny red target to pick on.
I’m 57 married for 30 years my wife said I was crazy but now she is thinking she does not want to miss out on the adventure. I was wondering about contacting fire departments along the way. Also the fire truck has some equipment on it. Do I have to declare all of it or can I say it is part of the truck. I can get a official letter from Costa Rica saying that they are expecting the truck.
I would love to load this truck up with clothes to give away as I travel or am I just asking for trouble.
A: This is a fantastic trip and wonderful adventure. Some people might look at you along the way, but I don’t think you would be anymore of a target then any other gringo—definitely not more then some 50 foot RV that hogs the entire road. Taking the gulf route is the quickest route but has the least to offer.
One traveler estimated that he averaged 14MPH and spent about $850 in gas to get to Costa Rica. Therefore, you should expect to consume about $1800 in gas probably. Also, on my ‘fast trip’ I averaged 10 hour days, moving at a good clip, and I spent 8 days. I expect you are going to be closer to 14 because that truck just isn’t going to be able to make the speed—but if you are in no hurry than enjoy the trip and take your time.
You should categorize everything you have on the unit and also the clothing or other gifts that you are taking.
Give the clothing away to border officials and police if you get stopped—make it a joyful exchange and tell them about your vision and spread the generosity.
Get the letter from Costa Rica regarding the truck, it is always a good thing to have a letter that looks somewhat official—it will give you instant credibility.
Q: Do you know laws of bringing guns into the country?
A: I don?t think you can legally, try hiding it in the hood compartment if you want to take it or in the spare tire region at border crossings.
I did it back in the day but haven’t crossed with a gun in years. If you want to take a handgun carry on you, they rarely check your person.
When I was a kid my father used to put a 22 in the engine compartment and we never got caught.
Q: We’re having a hard time finding a straightforward way of getting car insurance in central and South America. I’m not as worried about damage to the car or theft, but am more concerned about having good legal assistance if I get in an accident. I don?t want to sit in jail, and I want liability coverage in case someone is injured.
A: Car insurance is available in Mexico and Costa Rica (at the border). For Mexico I highly recommend Oscar Padilla’s car insurance. I have been working with them for years and have never had an issue.
You can fill out their form online and have your insurance in 10 minutes–print out the insurance card at home and you are ready to go.
Q: I am driving from Nogales, Arizona to panama around April 10. I expect to be in and out of Mexico in 2 weeks.
Can I get a policy to enter and exit Mexico and then re- enter Mexico on return trip. Or should I just get a new policy when I come home from Central America also any info on insurance in Central America?
A: Many insurance agencies offer year insurance for Mexico these days; I’d just get the policy for a year at about $300.
How Does the Author Know All This?
Q: How did you come to know so much about traveling through and around Central America?
A: I have spent 35 years traveling to every corner of Mexico and Central America by vehicle, and I am a bit loco.
How Much Time Do I Need?
Q: Hello! Your website is great! I plan on taking a road trip to Mexico, and possibly a couple of other Central American countries in august. I will be driving from southern Ontario, Canada. Any tips? Any idea how far I can expect to go in a 2 week trip (return home within 2 weeks?
A: That?s isn’t much time, I?d recommend going into Baja, California?
Baja is a wonderful place for a shorter trip.
Q: Your web site is the most perfectly matched name to how I feel right now trying to plan a trip from Puerto Vallarta-Ixtapa.
We have been having an insane amount of conversations about driving to Ixtapa/Zhiuantenejo from Puerto Vallata or flying. After having done the trek, what are your thoughts?
A: I love this part of Mexico, if fact I go down every year to the very area you talk about. The drive from PV to Ixtapa looks a lot shorter than it is on a map.
From PV to Manzanillo will take about seven hours and then from there to Ixtapa is another five to six.
This is a wonderful drive along the coast through the mountains of Michocan, I highly recommend stopping in La Ticla and Troncones along the way.
Long Term Accomodation in Costa Rica
Q: I am moving to Costa Rica in August. Most things I have in order.
But, I am still searching for a residence there. I plan on staying for at least 12 months. Do you know of any resources where I can find inexpensive, but more importantly safe 1-bed apartments or studios?
A: There are several online resources on the Internet, search for the region and desired type of accommodation and you will find something easily. One site that I always recommend is the Tico Times.
Q: A buddy of mine and I are thinking bout flying to the US’ west coast, buy a car and drive back home. Thing is, time is of the essence. So I was wondering what is the shortest time I can expect for the trip to be made?
A: You can drive from the US border to Costa Rica in 8 days if you drive non-stop and hit all the border crossings just right?give yourself more time and enjoy the drive.
Q: How current are your travels? I am heading to Honduras next month to live and need all the up to date help I can get!
A: Yes, our author took his last trip to Costa Rica in March 2008.
Q: How much time should I allocate for a trip from Vancouver BC, toCosta Rica and back?
A: Figure out the mileage and multiply by the cost of gas. Figure out the length of your trip and add $100 per day for meals and hotel. That will be a good estimate.
Q: When bribing an officer, how much should we give him?
A: Start with 100 pesos and never go above 200 unless you did something really bad.
Q: I am driving myself rather than flying. I noticed the section you have of maps. Which maps do you recommend I need to drive to Costa Rica and around C.R.?
A: I recommend the B&B map series, order maps here .
Q: Help! I read your guide, but I need maps and your suggested (daily) destinations, itinerary, etc. I’m driving to Costa Rica from California down the Pacific Route.A: If you download the Gringo’s Guide you?ll get all that and more.
Q: Hi! I’m thinking of taking a trip by motorcycle along the pacific route that your site discusses.
The motorcycle is dual-sport meaning that it is capable of on/off road driving and is built for adventure. Is there anything you think I should know particular to motorcycling through Central America?
A: You are a brave man with an arse of steel, watch out for speed bumps.
Taking your Possessions
Q: I’m moving to Puerto Angel and plan to drive down. I’ll have some belongings with me ie TV, laptop, clothes and some other items.
Having a few valuables like that in the car with me, what kind of issues should I expect to run into with the aduana, police, and keeping my car a hotels?
A: Make a list of items with approximate values (low ball the prices) including serial numbers and place at the top in large letters FOR PERSONAL USE ONLY.
If you get stopped at the border let the agents look through things and then if they start to make an issue out of the items pull out the list.
You might have to pay a small duty or pay a bribe on the sport, I’d try a $10 spot if they look like there are starting to hustle you—don’t give them more than $20.
Also try crossing in the late evening between 7-9 when things are super busy and most of the times you’ll just slide through without being stopped.
Once you are in and on your journey the police won’t bother with your goods, however when you stop to sleep search for hotels with secure parking—locked gates and a LIVE security guard.
Tip the guard to ensure extra attention, take your laptop and other valuables that can be easily transported into your room.
Travel with a Friend?
Q: I have one issue that I am concerned about that isn’t really addressed on your site. I am planning on traveling with my girlfriend.
I wanted to get your opinion on how much traveling with a female friend escalates the existing dangers of the trip. Its my hope that we simply just need to be that much more conscious of our situations and surroundings…ie absolutely no night travel.
I wanted to check with you to make sure you wouldn’t tell me that I?m nuts for putting her or myself in that kind of situation.
A: I think it is fine, in fact in some cases it may be better . . . have her talk to male police officers when possible and they?ll be easier on you.
Q: Would you consider taking your wife and child on the drive to CR?
A: Yes, but it would be a great trip away from the family too.
Q: Is safe to drive alone, or should you have a partner?
A: It is safe but can be boring. I did my first trip alone and loved it.
Q: I will be traveling northward from Nicaragua where I’ve lived for the past couple of years back to the US.
The biggest issue of my concern is the entrance of vehicles to the US. I acquired a guide from the US embassy here but geez the rules are overwhelming. Have you imported a vehicle into the US that was not purchased in the US?
Any recs on what type of car I should purchase or how I can be sure it will be accepted prior to heading northward? If not , could it be sold in Mexico and then rent a car to drive across the border as an option?
This site has some info and everything else I have seen doesn’t make it easy for you to do this. I don’t think the regulations are any less complicated for Mexico, considering that the aduana in Mexico is super corrupt.
I think you are going to have a hard time with this but if I can dig anything up I’ll let you know.
You might want to fly to US and take a car back home or another thought I had was to buy a car here and then have someone drive it down to you.
Q: Great website! Do you know of others like yours that are of use?