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John and Mandi

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7 yrs and 6 days - end of the road

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Vehicle Storage in Costa Rica

Jul 1, 2017
by John

We needed to check the van into an Almacen Fiscal storage facility and suspend our vehicle temporary import permit (TIP) at the Aduana prior to flying home to the US, so we decided to stay at the Country Inn & Suites San Jose Aeropuerto for two nights, plenty of time to get everything in order. Two days before our flights, prior to checking in to the hotel, we drove around to see which storage facility we thought would be best suited for us, but became frustrated by the language barrier and big city traffic, gave up checking around, and decided to drop the van the next day at an Almacen Fiscal used by some of our friends.

Bright and early the day before our flight, we drove the nine kilometers from the hotel to the Almacen Fiscal and were promptly told by the lot security guard that the facility was closed and we couldn't drop off our van. He directed us to his associate near the main office and after a short discussion we determined that the closure was due to a holiday, fortunately only one day, and we could drop off the van the following morning after 8am. Oh joy! We had to drop off the van, visit the Aduana office to suspend our TIP, and make it to the airport in time for a 12:30 departure.  No problem, pura vida!

Well, after a day of freaking out and trying to keep each other from losing our shit, it really was no problem-thankfully. While a massive runaround, the personnel at the Almacen Fiscal were super helpful, calling us a taxi and telling us how much it should cost to get to the Aduana. Even though when we arrived at the Aduana we were told that we would need to wait until the appropriate official had finished her coffee break, our paperwork was processed quickly enough for us to get to the airport by 10, seated at our gate by 10:30, and our flights went off without a hitch. In hindsight, we broke our own rule of checking the holidays for the country we are in. One little search could have saved us a ton of angst and anxiety. Even though we were able to store the van and catch our flight, we don't recommend doing it all in one day.

Storing the Van

We arrived at the storage facility early (Terminales Unidas), almost 45 minutes before they opened, and waited impatiently in the van. At 8:00 we entered the door at the far left of the building and started the process with one of the two Servicio Al Cliente clerks sitting behind the safety glass. We explained that we needed to store our vehicle and showed him our TIP. He typed our information into a system which generated a document and then instructed us to take the document to someone in the adjoining lot to be completed. We already knew we wanted to store our van in the secured lot, which is further away, so after badly explaining this in Spanish we were directed to another person who was in charge of that lot. He was busy using a forklift to unload a truck but a random supervisor walking by took pity on the stressed out gringos and asked him to handle us first.

Terminales Unidas, San Jose, Costa Rica

Not exactly what we were expecting

We were instructed to drive the van into the adjoining lot, even though that was not where it was to be stored, so it could be inspected and photographed before being signed off on. To our surprise, and contrary to everything we had been told by other overlanders, we were asked if we were going to leave our keys or take them with us. This caused us a bit of confusion. We had repacked the van in an effort to secure all of the stuff 'we couldn't live without' in the days leading up to storing the van, so we asked if the question could be repeated. Yup, we were given the option to take our keys with us...which we did. This is huge to those of us that live in a van, handing over our keys would have given the recipient access to pretty much everything we own, excluding the things we had locked into cabinets.

Once the document was completed we returned it to the Servicio Al Cliente clerk. A few keystrokes later and we had our official storage document in hand. We returned to the van and drove it to the secured lot, showed the attendant our form, and parked the van in the back of the lot. The worst part was having to carry all of our luggage up the dirt road back to the office. 45 minutes after we started the process, 8:45, we were being picked up by a taxi driver called for us by the kind employees. Step one complete, now for Aduana.

Terminales Unidas, San Jose, Costa Rica

Van camp

Shortly before 9:00 we arrived at the Aduana Santamaria office, less than one kilometer from the airport entrance. The clerk we needed was on her coffee break, something everyone in the office knew solely based on the time. 20ish minutes later she returned to her desk and called us over. We explained that we were leaving the country and handed her our TIP and our storage facility document. She asked when we'd be returning and requested our van's proof of insurance for Costa Rica. She proceeded to calculate how many days we had left on our TIP, 72, and entered everything into a system. After making some copies she explained our suspension document. We were so elated that everything was completed in such a short time, it was 9:45, that we walked from the Aduana office to the airport entrance. That day we were definitely two lucky bastards!

Retrieving the Van

Our return flights landed in Costa Rica at 11:30 but we had already booked two nights at the Country Inn & Suites to give us ample time to retrieve the van. While we were prepared to show our suspended TIP to any customs agent that might try and deny our entry, we didn't have any onward travel out of Costa Rica booked, we were never asked to prove how we would be leaving the country. By the time we checked in to the hotel and grabbed some lunch it was well into the afternoon. Our attempt to locate an Uber driver to start the retrivial process was thwarted by a glitch in switching back to our Costa Rica SIM, an Uber representative would need to review our number change, resulting in us meeting the most wonderful taxi driver - Flori (84503922). We knew we needed a new insurance policy before heading to the Aduana so Flori took us to the Instituto Nacional de Seguros (INS) building in Alajuela. She offered to come in to help us translate if we needed, we told her we'd come get her if we did. Using the ramp to access the correct office on the second floor we began the process by getting a number and waiting for our turn.

Once called we explained that we needed an extension to our policy, another 90 days, but that somehow caused the agent some confusion. We then asked if we could get a new policy since all we were needing was coverage for at least 72 days. She said she could not start a policy from that day since the van wasn't present but she could write an additional 90 day policy beginning when our original policy was expiring. That effectively gave us coverage well past anything we needed but it was only $20.44 and it would satisfy the Aduana office. Even though it only took about 30 minutes to get our new policy, the traffic was so bad in San Jose we decided to call it for the day and resume the next morning.

We got a later than expected start, luckily Flori was available to take us to the Aduana Santamaria office, and arrived just after 9:00. Within 15 minutes, we were seated with a clerk to whom we handed our suspended TIP and proof of sufficient insurance. He started pecking at his keyboard and referring to the calendar on his desk. 30 minutes later he was satisfied with his calculations and explained we only had 70 additional days remaining on our TIP. No shit Sherlock, let's see... 72 minus the number of days we had been back (2 counting that day) equals thirty minutes of our lives we'll never get back. We smiled and agreed, which confused him, so he explained it again, we acted like we had an epiphany with even bigger smiles, he seemed pleased. He said he needed to clear some things with his supervisor, we said no problem, he disappeared for an hour, really - one entire hour.

When he finally returned he seemed anxious to complete our new TIP, surely as lunch was fast approaching, but still managed to waste another 25 minutes. Another clerk pulled over a chair and helped him data enter our information properly, 4 minutes, before he printed, stamped, and signed our new TIP in less than one minute. Two hours for five minutes worth of work. We checked our new TIP, making sure everything was correct and that the Movimiento number was printed on it as that could cause problems with retrieval at the storage facility.

Leaving the Aduana office we caught a taxi to the storage facility (Terminales Unidas). We showed our new TIP to one of the Servicio Al Cliente clerks and they calculated what we owed for storing the van on their lot for 50 days, $195.74, which we paid by credit card to the cashier located further down and around the hall and received a receipt. We returned to the clerk and gave him the receipt in exchange for two copies of our release form. We were supposed to get signoff from the adjoining lot but instead we walked to the secure lot giving one copy of the release form to the attendant. While warming up the van, the attendant informed us we needed a signature from someone in the lot adjoining the office, so Mandi took back his copy and walked back to get it. We were worried we'd hit lunch hour due to Captain Draggy Pants at the Aduana but somehow we managed to get it all completed before noon, meaning it took less than 30 minutes to complete the process at the storage facility. With big smiles we drove our baby out!

Additional Resources

We used several resources to help us navigate the process as best as possible. While not the easiest to compile, we relied heavily on the individual entries in iOverlander for the different lots and the Aduana Santamaria office. We also read through the links listed in the Wiki Overland Costa Rica Entry under Storing a vehicle and temporarily leaving the country. The biggest help was from two detailed entries with tons of photos on the blog Freedom With Bruno:

Navigating by 'Costa Rica' tag - Navigate by Date
Say what? (3)
Jul 1, 2017 at 08:35 PM
glad this complicated vacation worked out! We left a truck in a secured lot in New Orleans in 1985 while we took the Amtrak to the west coast- yes, it was kind of weird..
Sandy in San Diego
Jul 2, 2017 at 08:21 AM
I'm glad you got your van back. I was on the edge of my seat reading this, hoping for a good outcome. You're braver than I am - I could never leave my van anywhere. Again, your photos and writing are superb. I hope there's a book in your future - this journey is so well documented. Safe travels!
Jul 6, 2017 at 02:28 PM
Thanks George and Sandy!

We've kicked around the idea of writing a book one day but right now the thought of it is too much work ;)
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