Drive To Costa Rica 101
Can You Drive to Costa Rica?
Yes, you can drive to Costa Rica from the US. The journey will take you through some beautiful scenery, and you’ll get to experience the culture and customs of Costa Rica firsthand. However, there are a few things to keep in mind before embarking on your road trip and this site will answer all your questions including but not limited to the following: travel insurance, gas stations, road conditions, road signs, speed limits, river crossing and many more.
Costa Rica is full of national parks (Manuel Antonio, Monteverde), live volcanos (like Arenal), has two distinct coasts (Caribbean & Pacific), and amazing touristic areas to explore (Guanacaste & Liberia)
This entire website is dedicated to your drive to Costa Rica—there is no doubt that you can drive to Costa Rica from the US. Please also check out our book for a deeper dive into this fantastic journey written by someone that has actually done the drive to Costa Rica from California several times.
Do I need my Driver’s license to cross the border into Mexico?
A: Not technically, but you will need it if you are pulled over and once you get to the Guatemala border crossing.
What is the best route through Mexico?
A: See this post.
Can I take my household good to Costa Rica?
Q: I am moving to Costa Rica and debating flying or driving. I want to take my time and a few things from home. 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.
Do I need to know Spanish to take this trip?
A: No, but having some skills will help. However, most border crossings have scouts that will help you for a fee.
I don’t speak Spanish, can I read the signage on the Costa Rica roads?
A: Most of the road signs are visual and by learning a handful of words you will be able to decipher the signage without issues.
How long can I stay in Costa Rica?
Q: Hi, My wife and I will be driving to Costa Rica in January and staying in the country for six 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. You may do a side trip to Panama or Nicaragua to renew your visa or pay a bribe to the local authorities for an extension.
Can I use Google Maps and Waze on this trip?
A: You may if you have a phone that has data and accessibility in all locations—like a satellite phone. However, there are many dead zones where you will have no cell reception on this trip and thus having a guide or good map is part of an important toolset for this journey.
What is the right price for bribes?
Q: What is the “right price” when offering a first-time bribe?
A: The price you are willing to pay to continue on your journey. I’d start with a 200 peso note and go up from there. Don’t let the cops scam you out of a large bribe unless you actually did something illegal and paying the higher penalty seems worth the hastle.
Can I camp on this trip?
Q: Do you have info on camping on the side of the road while traveling through Mexico? 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, and hide well from the main road. However, to be totally safe I’d recommend approaching a hotel and asking to camp on their property. Pay them a few dollars and get the safety of being close to the hotel or other local establishment.
I am from Canada. Can I buy a car in the USA and drive it to Costa Rica.
Q: As my home country is Canadia, can I buy a car in the USA and drive it over the border into Mexico?
A: It would be better to buy a car in Canada, then you would have ownership papers for the Mexican border—which is what they require upon entry.
I am from Europe. Can I buy a car in the USA and drive it to San Jose, Costa Rica.
Q: As a European, can I buy a car in the USA and drive it over the border into Mexico?
A: Yes. The best way to do this is to put the vehicle in the name of an LLC (which may be owned by a European) and then get the vehicle registered in South Dacota which has very liberal car registration regulations.
Can I take my ATV to Costa Rica?
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: You can take your ATV, but they will make you pay for the ATV -recreational vehicle tax – you pay to play.
Can I drive a rental car from California to Costa Rica?
A: Every car rental company that I know forbids you from taking your rental car across the border. In fact, you will need the car title to cross the border crossings and unless you could somehow get this from the car rental company it would be impossible to process the paperwork.
What is Costa Rica driving like?
A: The roads in Costa Rica are ok in most areas—the roads in Honduras, Southern Mexico, and El Salvador are not good.
Do I need my car’s ownership title to drive to Costa Rica?
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 the car’s title 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.
Do I need a credit card at the Mexican border?
Q: Can you tell me if it is true that a credit card is mandatory to cross into Nogales? I don’t have one and don’t want one. I read this info on another site.
A: Yes, or you can leave a deposit at the Bank of Mexico.
What types of cars do you recommend to drive to Costa Rica?
Q: I am very interested in driving 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 Larado and travel towards the pacific for some good surfing. I’m in the middle of purchasing a vehicle, and I’m thinking of going with a 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 but my new girlfriend is also a Costa Rican and thus I don’t have much choice. My vehicle is a diesel any problems getting Diesel in this drive?
A: No problem, all the big trucks in Mexico are diesel, and it’s 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.
I have a new car, should I drive it to Costa Rica?
Q: I am planning to drive to Costa Rica to visit my father who has recently retired down there I have been reading your website and it is full of tons of useful information. I have a couple of questions. What kind of vehicle did you bring down there, was it a newer one or an older one? I have a new 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. Roads are safe, the big cities are the only areas where your car is more of a target. Once you are away from the border towns there is less of a problem.
Should I buy a car in the USA, Canada, or Mexico?
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, Mexico)? How does it work with insurance traveling through countries?
A: Buy a car in the 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.
I am European—how can I buy a car for my trip to Costa Rica?
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 a pink slip in your hand as a member of that LLC.
How much will it cost to ship a car to Limon, Costa Rica?
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.
Should I buy a 4X4 to drive to Costa Rica?
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 a four-wheel drive?
A: 4×4 is not that important, it’s 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. There are tons of potholes so your suspension needs to be in great working condition. A solid van is an ideal car to have for the trip, a van 4X4 like those Ford Conversions is the king daddy of all which will allow you to travel on dirt roads and playas. The rainy season in Costa Rica devastates the Costa Rican roads and most of them don’t get fixed until the dry season.
Are Toyota trucks good cars to drive to Costa Rica?
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?
A: 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 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 the car so are open to suggestions. Resale value, ability to get parts and ability to stretch out / sleep in the back are the major considerations.
A: Anything Japanese is excellent. I like having the option to sleep in the vehicle—a better option for this trip.
Selling My Car Along the Way to Costa Rica
Q: What are the 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? For example, if we drive into a country as tourists, can we sell the car using the USA paperwork/title, etc without telling the authorities that we are “importing”.
A: 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? You would have to be ready to explain the situation or pay and hope they accept—risky, but possible.
How do I get around the Darien Gap by car?
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?
A: 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 it 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 on one of my trips. It was cheaper for me to ship the car home and sell it in the USA than find a buyer in Central America and make a profit (or loss because of high taxes).
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.
Will I be held hostage by driving to Costa Rica?
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 express to cross from Panama to Colombia still in service? Where can I get more information?
A: Yes, search the articles on this site.
Can I drive my car to Nicaragua?
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 4-Runner. 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.
Can I drive my car to Panama?
Q: We’d like to drive to Panama City from Arizona. To do it comfortably spending a couple of 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.
Can I drive to Mazatlan from the USA?
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.
How long does it take to drive to Guadalajara from TJ?
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.
Are three months a good to get to Panama from USA and back?
Q: Is three months enough time to drive down to Panama and back to Houston?
A: Three months is a good time frame.
I want to take a fire truck to Costa Rica. Is that possible?
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 shiny 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 an 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 a wonderful adventure. Some people might look at you along the way, but I don’t think you would be any more of a target than any other gringo—definitely not more than 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 a ton in gas to get to Costa Rica. Therefore, you should expect to consume a shitton 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. Nonetheless, if you are in no hurry then 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, The letter will give you instant credibility.
Should I take my gun to Costa Rica?
Q: Do you know the laws regarding 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.
Can I buy insurance for the complete trip through Mexico and Central America?
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 the insurance listed in the sidebar of this website. 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.
Can I buy longterm car Insurance for Mexico?
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 reenter Mexico on a 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 and this you won’t need to worry about staying longer on your trip.
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.
Can I drive to Costa Rica in two weeks?
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 isn’t much time, I’d recommend going into Baja, California? Baja is a wonderful place for a shorter trip.
We want to drive to Ixtapa and Zhiuantenejo from the USA—is this recommended?
Q: Your website 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 and 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 Puerto Vallarta to Ixtapa looks a lot shorter than it is on a map. From Puerto Vallarta 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 Michoacan, I highly recommend stopping in La Ticla and Troncones along the way.
Long Term Accommodation in Costa Rica
Q: I am moving to Costa Rica in August. Most things I have in order. However, 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.
How long does the trip take to drive from the USA to Costa Rica?
Q: A buddy of mine and I are thinking bout flying to the USA from Costa Rica—we want to 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.
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.
Can I ride my motorcycle to Costa Rica?
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 particularly about riding motorcycles through Central America?
A: You are a brave man with an arse of steel, watch out for speed bumps. All the documents required for a vehicle also apply for a motorcycle.
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 hotel?
A: Make a list of items with approximate values (lowball 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. Also, try crossing in the late evening between 7-9 when things are super busy and most of the time 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. Always tip the guard to ensure extra attention, and 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. It’s my hope that we simply just need to be that much more conscious of our situations and surroundings (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.
Should I take my wife and child to Costa Rica by car?
Q: Would you consider taking your wife and child on the drive to Costa Rica?
A: Yes, but it would be a great trip away from the family too.
Can I drive to Costa Rica alone?
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 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?
A: 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 the 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.
By Gringo Guru | updated: May 31, 2022
I can’t find your contact info on your website so I apologize if this is the wrong place to post our questions.
My partner and I are thinking of driving through central america start from LA. Is it possible to drive through all seven countries (Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama) ? Is it safe ? How many days do we need if it is possible ? We will fly back to LA from the last country. Do you happen to know the visa requirement for each country ?
Yes, you can drive through all the countries you listed.
Is it safe? Well, that’s up to you . . . the guide has lots of tips and suggestions on how you can be safe.
You cannot drive down and fly back without arranging a sale or shipment of your vehicle.
Visa info in guide.
Does the author of the Gringo’s guide book still do escorted trips ? Whom should I contact for this matter ?