Receiving packages in Costa Rica or purchasing online is both more expensive and complicated than in the United States. Many expats are quick to use freight forwarding companies, and don’t realize that the postal service does a pretty good job with small packages.
Traditionally the problem is finding a company in the United States that is willing to sell products to customers abroad and then use the regular mail to ship the package. For example, Amazon will only use regular and priority mail for books and some media. A limited number of other products, mostly clothing and small items can be shipped to Costa Rica through Amazon Global Export. The service simplifies the purchase by handling the import taxes and freight forwarder with just one transaction.
Import taxes became an issue in November of 2011 when the Costa Rica tax department eliminated a $400 personal tax exemption for online purchases. According to a legal interpretation at the time, the exemption may still apply to gifts sent from abroad, but does not apply to commercial transactions.
Avoiding the taxes can save a lot of money because they can be as high as 55 percent, taken from the invoice in the box upon arrival in customs.
Expats who have family at home can get around the restrictions and taxes by shipping their online purchases to relatives for repacking. Those who have a membership with Amazon Prime get free two-day shipping to the U.S. address, which reduces the overall cost. You need to have a credit card with a U.S. billing address and remember to ship to the address of your family member.
This approach works best when ordering many relatively small items at one time, and repacking in a medium or large box, provided by the United States Postal Service for international shipping. It’s important to fully unwrap the items, and remove the sales receipts.
If not, a customs inspector will likely reroute the package to the Zapote post office where taxes are applied to the full value of the item. When re-routed, a note is placed in the post office box and the recipient must report to the Zapote office to receive their package and pay any taxes.
I recommend using the central San Jose post office, and many expats keep a post office box in San Jose despite living far away. Unfortunately, packages have a tendency to go missing when they are routed to areas outside of the central valley or to smaller post offices.