What Do I Need to Bring to Costa Rica?

So, you’ve decided to make the move to Costa Rica.  You’re looking at a house full of things and are debating, what do I really need to bring?  What can I find there?  What can I not live without?  Of course, each person will have to make individual decisions on whether to bring the whole house and car or just the necessities, but here is my opinion:

Don’t Bring:

1.        Leather.  Leather anything—shoes, bags, etc.  Unless you use them on a daily basis, they will collect mold and get gross very fast.  I’ve put on a pair of leather shoes and walked right out of the soles.

2.       Car.  Now, there is an exception.  If you love your car, it’s less than 5 years old, paid off, and of an American or Japanese brand, you are probably ok.  You will still pay import taxes on the value that the CR government says it is worth and your shipping and import costs in general.  However, if it is a much older car, you will have higher taxes to pay or might not be allowed to bring it in at all.  If it is a European brand, you will have a hard time finding good mechanics and access to parts.  Yes, cars are way more expensive here, but I calculated on buying a 1-year old car at a good price, paying for the shipping, paying for the import taxes (54% on the value that CR values it at, not at the price you bought it), and the hassle, and I MIGHT have saved $500 over just buying the same car here, so it wasn’t worth it for me.

3.       Printers.  I brought a printer new from the States, thinking I would save money and then found out that the cartridges for same printer which is sold here, are configured or programmed differently and weren’t recognized by my printer.   I then spent the next two years buying the cartridges in the States and having people bring them down to me.  Then I finally realized I could buy a new printer here cheaper than doing that.

4.       Furniture.  In general, you can find most furniture here.  From used pieces to find hand-crafted wooden pieces in Sarchi, it usually isn’t worth the cost and hassle of bringing it down.  And most nice rentals are furnished, so then you have to find a place to put the furniture.  Also, many houses are sold furnished or with the furniture negotiable.

5.       Most of your clothing.  Leave or give away your suits and heavy coats.  I brought all of my suits down only to discover, I would never wear them again and the mold and moths finally wore them out.  If you go back to visit family in the winter, leave a couple of coats with them for your trips back.  Do bring clothes that you might have a tough time getting the fit you are used to here such as jeans or bathing suits.  I have a hard time finding jeans that give me the space I am used to (read as non-skinny, tight ones) and bathing suits that cover a little more of my behind.  It’s just not the style I am accustomed to.

6.       Food.  Bringing a few snacks (I have to bring Ranch dressing packets every time) is good and if they confiscate them, you aren’t out a lot of money.  But, the customs agents vary from day to day and sometimes, they are in a bad mood and will make you throw out anything at all related to food.  I was told tea bags are illegal to bring in and had to toss them.  Fruits and anything not sealed is definitely a no-no.

 Definitely Bring:

1.       Laptop.  As long as the airlines still allows you to bring it, pack it in your carry-on.  Laptops are twice the cost here.

2.       Your memories. Photos, etc you will want with you.  I rented a storage facility in the States for awhile and first it flooded which destroyed many things and then it was broken into and the “valuables” like my wedding photos were stolen. Who wants someone else’s wedding photos, I have no idea but bring those things with you or be able to leave them in a truly safe place.

3.       Documents.  Bring all documents you think you might or might not need:  birth certificates, bank account numbers, marriage and divorce certificates, etc. If you are applying for residency, you will need originals stamped by the authorities and you can bring them when you come. 

4.       Small electronics or kitchen appliances that you use frequently.  Don’t bring down the waffle iron if you only have used it once in the past 5 years.  However, if you do make waffles daily, bring it because it will cost 2-3 times as much here.

5.       Sunblock.  Although you can find sunblock, you won’t have as many choices and will pay around $30/bottle here, so bring it with you.  Lotions in general fall into this category.  They are expensive and you should stock up.

6.  Prescriptions.  If you are on prescription medicine, bring enough with you to last for a while.  There are many medicines that have equivalents here, but you may have something that is not readily available.  Extra sets of eye contacts and any solutions for those that you need should also be brought with you.

7.       Patience and a good sense of humor.  You will need it, especially as you adapt to the “Pura Vida” lifestyle.

Once upon a time, my list of things to bring would have been larger.  It used to be very difficult to get fluffy towels and nice sheets at a reasonable price. But with the opening of Walmart (as much as we claim to hate it, sometimes you just have to go), I just found really nice, fluffy towels for $8 each, so not too bad.

Something else to consider…leave someone you trust with the authority to access your bank accounts or who has a power of attorney to handle emergencies or things back home.  Even though most things can be done on-line, bank transfers will need a signature in person and it’s way easier to have someone there do it for you. 

I hope this list helps and if you have any questions, feel free to contact me.  I will be glad to give you my opinion.

Tina Newton is co-owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate in Atenas, Costa Rica and has lived there for 18 years, raising two children and a grandbaby.  She is always available for consultations, whether in buying a new home or just general questions.  You can contact her by email, through Facebook, or through the website.

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