Costa Rican customs authority is organized as the Servicio Nacional de Aduanas. It has a General Director, which reports directly to the Treasury Ministry. The legal framework of customs regulations falls under the General Law of Customs and its Regulatory statement and the Central American Uniform Customs Code and its Regulatory Statement.
Costa Rican customs procedures are complex and bureaucratic. Improvements, such as electronic “one stop” import and export windows, known as Single Windows, have significantly reduced the time required for customs processing.
The Government of Costa Rica implements its TICA system in which customs brokers declares all goods that are being imported and exported by all means of transportation, in all the customs territories created in the country.
Customs might require the monitoring of the handling of shipments in person, depending on the “traffic light system”. This means that each shipment entering the country will pass through a random pre-studied system that classifies shipments into red (physical inspection), yellow (documental inspection) or green (no inspection). Sometimes customs requires that some shipments are handled internally with an electronic seal to monitor their delivery from the port to the customs warehouses and all the way until it pays the pertaining customs duties, and it is completely legalized.
There is also a new import procedure for most imports entering via APM Terminals Moin in which customs and Control Drug Policy (PCD) might be requiring shipments to be scanned. The government’s goal is to reach 100 percent of scanning of all imports and exports in the country through all ports, via land, water or air. This is a project in progress, right now only Terminal de Contenedores de Moin operated by APM Terminals is partially scanning the shipments pre-selected by government.
For more information on customs regulations, please see the Directorate General of Customs of Costa Rica’s webpage or the TICA webpage (https://www.hacienda.go.cr/tica/web/hCnConsVariasE.aspx).
Regarding documentation, Costa Rica only requires commercial invoices, bill of lading, and airway bills for the entry of goods. Mail shipments require only postal documentation. Bulk agricultural products require phytosanitary certificates. Imports of cosmetics, pharmaceutical, vitamin supplements, medical devices, chemicals, toxic substances, insecticides, pesticides, and agricultural chemicals require an import permit from the Costa Rican Ministry of Health. The permit can be obtained upon presentation of quantitative-qualitative analysis certificates, good manufacturing practices and free-sale certificates, which must be provided by the foreign exporter. The registration process for pharmaceuticals has become very slow, in some cases and depending on the product class and usage it can take six months for approval, the COVID pandemic has helped also to increase the waiting time since more people is trying to register and import products of sanitary interest.
The Ministry of Health is working to reduce the timeframes, along with Gobierno Digital, the government office in charge of managing the electronic system for government purchases. The Ministry has implemented an electronic platform for the digital registration of products which aims to make the process more agile and cost efficient for products with sanitary interests. The platform is called the Registrelo platform, and there is plenty information available on product registration here: registrelo.go.cr
Since 2011, the Costa Rican Ministry of Health recognizes U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorizations of medical devices without additional evaluation.
For imports from CAFTA countries, certification of the origin of the goods must be presented to Customs Authority. There is no specific format to present this information. The local importer can use any format available for this purpose. For more information, please see the Ministry of Foreign Trade of Costa Rica’s certification of origin webpage.
Violations of documentation laws carry heavy fines. Consequently, great care must be taken to avoid errors and infractions. All import processing should be carried out by a certified customs broker.
Questions pertaining to customs issues should be addressed to:
Edificio La Llacuna, Avenida Central
San José, Costa Rica
Phone: (506) 2522-9390
Information on Free Trade Zones and the Active Finishing Regime, as well as statistical information on Costa Rican trade and listings of importers and exporters, is available from the Costa Rican Foreign Trade Corporation (PROCOMER), an autonomous agency headed by the Minister of Foreign Trade. Contact information follows:
Av. 3a. Calle 40
P.O. Box 1278-1007
San José, Costa Rica
Phone: (506) 2299-4700
Fax: (506) 2233-575
Additional information can also be obtained by contacting the Costa Rican Association of Free Trade Zones:
Plaza Mayor Rohrmoser, Segunda Etapa
Segundo Piso, Oficina # 1, Rohrmoser, Pavas
San Jose, Costa Rica
Phone: (506) 2520-1635
Contact: Mr. Alvaro Valverde P., Executive Director