15 Oct

Storing your vehicle in Costa Rica at an Almacen Fiscal – Part II

The time has come! Bruno is to be freed from the chains of bondage. Well, that may be a little strong-worded. I’m pretty sure he just sat idly in a grass field during the bulk of Costa Rica’s rainy season. Could be worse.

What did it take to jail-break Bruno? A lot of patience, paperwork, and an entire day to waste away… at least, this was our experience. With these handy tips, we hope you can do it a lot faster!


Quick recap: upon entry, Costa Rica issues temporary import permits to foreign vehicles for a maximum of 90 days. No extension is possible. In order for Bruno to stay in Costa Rica longer than 90 days, we stored him at an Almacen Fiscal, which is a government bonded warehouse. He’s been there since June. This is the legal way to keep your car in the country while you party it up taking buses, bikes and bumming rides.

The Part I post covered how to put your car into storage for an indeterminate amount of time. Now it’s time to talk about getting your vehicular friend back out of the government’s hands!

First, there are two separate sets of steps. One set for vehicles stored less than 90 days and another set for vehicles stored longer than 90 days. Why? Well, if the vehicle has been stored longer than 90 days, the Customs computer system will automatically cancel your Temporary Import Permit (TIP) and you must get a new one, along with all that that entails. Wish we had known this up front. More details below!

Thanks to reader Sara M. who shared her experience getting her car out of storage just a few days before we went to get Bruno. Her car was only stored for 11 days and the process seemed rather smooth.

A. Getting your car back – stored less than 90 days

Before you start:  Make a copy of your suspended permit and receipt from the Almacen Fiscal.

Step A1 – Aduana Santa Maria

Goal: Reactivate temporary import permit (TIP)

Documents needed:
1. Suspended permit
2. Receipt from Almacen Fiscal
3. Costa Rican Insurance receipt

Opens at 8:00am and is a 10-15 minute walk from the airport in Alajuela (GPS: 9.997424, -84.210994).

Tell the agent you’d like to reactivate your vehicle’s suspended temporary import permit. Hand over your TIP and receipt from the Almacen Fiscal. Show your insurance receipt with valid coverage dates. Answer a few basic questions (Where is your car? How long have you been gone?). The agent will calculate the new end date for your reactivated permit based on the duration of suspension. The agent will make two copies of your reactivated permit, sign both and keep the one with the official-looking stamp.

Recommendation A: Ask the agent to confirm they have entered the “Movimiento” number into their computer system. It appears on the receipt from the Almacen Fiscal and seems to be the unique identifier for your car between these two offices. Without a Movimiento number entered at the Aduana office, the Almacen Fiscal will not release your car, as Sara M. experienced. The Movimiento number does not appear in print on your reactivated TIP; just something to confirm verbally before you leave the Aduana. Save yourself from having to make a trip back here!

Total time in the Aduana office was 30 minutes.

Step A2 – Almacen Fiscal

Goal: Pay for lot storage and get car!
Terminales Unidas (GPS: 10.000500, -84.197167)

Heading back the way you came, you can very easily catch a cab or city bus from the main street outside the Alajuela airport.

Documents needed:
1. Reactivated TIP
2. Receipt from Almacen Fiscal

Tell the guard you’re here to take your car out of storage. Make your way to the Servicio Al Cliente office (map: Part I). Hand over the reactivated TIP and receipt from their office that you received when dropping the car off. The agent will type away, then return your reactivated TIP, along with two copies of the same. One copy has a special stamp on the back.

Go down the hall to the right of his window to the cashier. Hand over the copy of your TIP with the special stamp. Pay for your vehicle’s storage (they accept credit cards) and get a receipt.

Head to the shack inside the car storage lot (map: Part I). Hand over your receipt of payment and the stamped copy of your TIP. They will ask to see your driver’s licenses and then take one person in your party to retrieve your car. Drive away happy!


B. Getting your car back – stored more than 90 days

Here’s our experience getting Bruno out of storage at Terminales Unidas after 96 days.

Step B1 – INS (Instituto Nacional de Seguros)

Goal: Buy more car insurance

Check the car insurance you bought from INS when you crossed the border. Depending on how long you’ve had your vehicle in storage, this will likely be expired. You need to head to the INS office to purchase more insurance. The closest one is in downtown Alajuela and you can do this a day or more ahead. It’s a hell of a lot like a trip to the DMV, and an additional 90 days of insurance cost us about $15 USD.

Tell the insurance agent that your TIP is no longer valid (has expired) and that you are going to the Aduana Santa Maria to request a new one. They will likely ask when you expect the car to leave the country. Make sure that your insurance will cover you for the rest of your trip, since the Aduana will use the insurance dates as a basis for your new permit. Later at the Aduana, you will be issued an entirely new TIP and you are entitled to another full 90 days, if you want it.

Now for the meat and potatoes!

Step B2 – Almacen Fiscal

Goal: Pick up Formulario Vehitur document
Terminales Unidas (GPS: 10.000500, -84.197167)

Start your day with a hearty breakfast and an optimistic outlook! Then go visit your friends at the Almacen Fiscal.

  1. Tell the security guard you’re here to retrieve your car and that you’re headed to the Servicio Al Cliente office (map: Part I).
  2. Hand over some ID, along with the receipt you received when you dropped off the car. Request a document called Formulario Vehitur. They may send you over to the Customs office within the Almacen Fiscal to get it. It is on the opposite end of the warehouse. If you get a friendly customer service agent, he may take you there himself.

**NOTE** We started the day at the Santa Maria Aduana, where they requested the Formulario Vehitur. Not having it of course, we had to take an extra trip to the Almacen Fiscal. It is therefore recommended to pick this up first thing.

Step B3 – Aduana Santa Maria

Goal: Request new temporary import permit (TIP)

Documents needed:
– Receipt from Almacen Fiscal
– Formulario Vehitur from Almacen Fiscal
– Car Title
– Passports & Drivers Licences
– Costa Rican Proof of Insurance

We handed everything over and let the agent do their work entering it all in the computer. They asked a few questions about when we had left the country (because it is assumed this is why you left your car in storage), where the car was located, when we plan to leave the country again, etc. It took about 30 minutes, but if you meet all of their crazy demands (like having the Formulario Vehitur paperwork) they will issue you a new temporary import permit without much trouble. As mentioned above, be aware of the dates on your insurance paperwork – your new permit will likely be issued for these same dates.

Same as Recommendation A above: have the Customs agent verbally confirm they have entered the “Movimiento” number in their system. It appears on the receipt from the Almacen Fiscal, but it will not appear on your TIP. Without the Movimiento number entered into the Aduana computer, the Almacen Fiscal will not release your car.

Step B4 – Back to the Almacen Fiscal

Goal: Pay for lot storage and get car!

With your new TIP in-hand, the rest of the process is quite simple and identical to “Step A2 – Almacen Fiscal” above. Head back to Terminales Unidas, pay for storage and get your car! Travis reconnected Bruno’s battery terminals in the rain and he started up like a champ. The lot lizards guys who work there have a portable jumpstart, if you’re having problems.

One final piece of advice, repeated from Part I:  If at all possible, use the same person to do all car paperwork even though you may both be owners and drivers. We ran into some additional issues because the car was in Travis’ name on our original TIP from the border entry. Then we put Bruno in storage and Amanda did all of the paperwork in her name. This caused mucho confusion. Right off the bat, from the time you first enter the country, it’s best to stick with one primary person on all car documents and confirm that the other is a valid driver.


All in all, getting Bruno back was done in one very long day. We started at 8:30am and were constrained on the back end by the Santa Maria Aduana closing at 4:00pm. We had to work around office lunch hours (could be anytime between 12:00-2:00pm), and some documentation blunders that caused lots of back-and-forth travel. Following the steps above should allow you to avoid most of our mishaps! Let us know how it works out for you!