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On-line Shopping and Import Tax in Costa Rica

Costa Rica News – In the run up to Black Friday and Christmas, local television stations have been reporting the hidden cost of on-line purchases by consumers in Costa Rica, when they order items from retailers such as Amazon. Such products are usually ordered and posted to Miami where they can be sent to Costa Rica by secure air transport services- a common one is Aeropost.

What people don’t realize is that aside from the cost of purchase and shipping, there is invariably a hefty import tax which is the sting in the tail, since it is payable when releasing the goods in Costa Rica. As a result, many Ticos go to collect their items only to find prohibitive duty charges slapped on which they can’t afford. Last year a whacking 19,000 parcels were left abandoned in the Correo by customers who did not have the money to pay the import taxes.

Just how big are these taxes? Well, it depends on the items. You can get an idea of the duties from the Aeropost website. There must be some twisted logic behind the percentage duty payable, but what that is, is anybody’s guess. For example, party supplies will cost you 29.95%, but a vacuum cleaner will bump your bill up to an extra  49.27%. You are really splashing out when it comes to a Video Game console with an additional 55.71% tax, so maybe you should take up reading instead since books only attract 1%. Light bulbs are 19.78% (who buys light bulbs on-line??) and the king of taxes goes to the most bizarre product- hair lacquer, commanding an eye-popping 68.60% tax.

The TV reports have been urging Costa Ricans to check the full cost of their purchases using website services that estimate the import taxes, so I decided to buy a hypothetical vacuum cleaner for $100. Total cost to reach me in Costa Rica $211.76. Don’t think I’ll be buying that one. It’s an expensive process and a shocking waste of resources and money for those people unable to claim their goods.

Why is there import duty in the first place? Revenue generation is one reason, but another common one is protection of local industries that produce the same products, for example furniture from Sarchi in Costa Rica. You can understand a government that wants to safeguard jobs and industry by encouraging people to buy locally. However, this can be done in other ways, by giving tax breaks to local companies, so consumers can buy cheaper locally sourced items.

It’s hard to justify taxing items that are not produced here and even harder to reconcile why the government takes its slice from importing personal items. When I shipped my personal effects to Costa Rica ( all marked as used clothes, used books, etc) I was forced to pay one tax bill on the declared value of the goods and a second one based on how much I paid in freight charges to bring the things here. The further you come from, the richer you must be, so the more tax you can afford. A friend refused to pay duty on his box of toiletries and medicines, which were worth less that the duty imposed so he told the aduana to keep it! Maybe the box was full of hair lacquer.

Two years ago you couldn’t even buy an iPhone in Costa Rica; now the latest iPad minis are about to hit the stores (13% tax if you buy on-line). Young Ticos are becoming savvy shoppers and have different expectations from their parents’ generation. They grumble, they demonstrate. It’s only a matter of time before on-line shopping becomes the norm rather than a pastime for the well off in Costa Rica.

By Stewart Hird

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2 Comments

  1. Jaime G Vargas said:

    Disgusting, greedy government revenue collecting practices abound in in Costa Rica, some critical ticos have come up on Facebook pages and Youtube videos with the theme “Costa RISA es mi pais”, a play on words which translates as “Costa Laughter is my Country”.
    You should know every damn thing coming into the country be it via the mails, courier, forwarding service goes through customs: old magazines, photographs, catalogs, whatever. The incoming box or envelope is sliced open and inspected. I even payed an import duty, a few cents worth levied on a post card, a picture of the office building I used to work at, the Time-Life Bldg. in NYC. This pretty much did it for me, I hardly ever order anything anymore. Ah, one more thing, the mail forwarding company in my case Sociaco/Transexpress, collects not only whatever import duty is imposed but two additional charges, one of $1 per day warehouse fee (bodegaje) plus a $2.26 import processing fee (trámite aduanal).
    Remember we are talking envelopes here, not bulky items and a “warehousing” charge for an envelope sounds pretty ludicrous to me. Nothing but nickel and dime gimmicks which seem to abound and which I hate. Never thought “paradise” would be like that.

  2. Jaime G Vargas said:

    I just got my Transexpress bill today, one of the small items I ordered from Amazon was a
    Hello Kitty case for my daughter’s cell phone, sale price $ 4.99 with free shipping, here is what I was charged: $3.04 import duty, $2 warehouse fee $2.26 customs paperwork fee (tramite aduanal) TOTAL: $5.70 ok,it ain’t much but it is much more than what the item cost.

    hello kitty blue sit down case for samsung galaxy s2 / i9100 (not for Sprint & T-mobile)
    by Hello Kitty
    Price: $4.99

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