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Buying a Camera in Costa Rica

June 29th, 2006

olympus_E10_front.jpgThose of you that know me know I like to take pictures. Until recently, I had two cameras, a little Sony P73 and an Olympus E-10. Notice I used the past tense. That applies to the Olympus. The Sony is just for “party use” and to grab for a quick no-brainer shot. The E-10 was my pride and joy. The big E10 is more for pros or serious enthusiasts (I fall into the second category) and requires setting lotsa stuff. Maria just wants to aim it a take it, so she uses the Sony.

When the E10 came out, it was REALLY expensive… like $4,000.00… and built for serious camera buffs. I paid a fraction of that from a good friend who wanted fast cash, but in my mind, it was ALWAYS expensive. It took incredible photos, and I had no desire to ever make a change.

Sadly, on or about Thanksgiving last,the E-10, instead of displaying the normal set of options in its little screen, instead displayed an error number. NOT a good sign. Nothing worked.

At the time, I was not too worried. I called Olympus in the US (there are no Olympus repair depots in CR), gave them the error number, and in about 1 minute, they told me the problem. The cost would be about $200.00 and I thought that was just fine. A $200 repair for a 5 years old camera seemed reasonable. I figured I’d just send it back to the USA by Fed Ex or DHL, pay my money and have my baby back home in a thrice. Oh little did I know!

It seems that sending a camera, and by extension probably any electronic device, back to the USA is not quite that easy… nor cheap. First, I did not declare this item when I moved here. Who does? No reason to (I thought). Well here is the little catch-22 courtesy of my buddy Charlie Zeller of ABC Mudanzas (movers). You can SEND the item back to the USA for repair or replacement, but to get it BACK means you must import it unless you declared it coming in! Duties then must be paid in addition to the freight (both ways).

So I say to myself, “Self? Let’s just do it! This should be easy.”.

Well as anyone who lives here can verify, nothing is “easy” in Costa Rica. I get out the calculator.

Fed-Ex wants about $100.00 to ship it.

Olympus wants $212.00 to fix it.

There is another $100.00 to get it back to CR, but it goes not to ME, it goes to aduana, (the collection location for duties). They will want another $100.00 or more, to import it. I cannot get anyone to tell me how much is that figure, but clearly we are now up to over $400.00 and the figure could get as high as $500.00 or more. Hmmm.

So I hop onto eBay for a quick looksy. Wowser! My $4,000 camera can NOW be had for about $200.00. What’s more, there are maybe 30 for sale! I love my E-10, but this does not seem to be good economics.

So now, my mind starts thinking maybe a NEW digital camera might be fun, so I begin looking at every digital camera review I can find. So much for my loyalty. That search turns out to be about 1,000 web pages of info. After maybe 2 weeks of reading, I narrow the search to 2-3 cameras, and I figure I’ll just buy it here in Costa Rica in case anything goes wrong. Also, I want to touch it, see it, smell it, whatever, before I buy.

Now you would think that someone who has lived here as long as I would know how things work. I’ll tell you, no matter how many years you live here, Costa Rica can always surprise.

Surprise one. There are no “real” camera stores in San Jose, and by extension, probably not in the country. I go to maybe 8 of those that advertise themselves as camera shops. They are not. Almost all sell the cheap little point and shoot stuff not even of the quality of my Sony.

25218_180.jpgIn two of the stores though, I was able to find Nikon cameras and two of the models I wanted to see, the D-100 and the D-70s. After searching everywhere, I could not find a Canon or Olympus dealer. However, as the two Nikons were 1-2 on my list, I was sort of happy. Happy until the P word came up. P of course, is PRICE.

Now I expected to pay more to buy the camera here. Costa Rica import duties are famous (and unfathomable). I spent about an hour playing with the two cameras, reading the box, the usual stuff. I decided on the Nikon D70s. That, of course. meant we needed to discuss PRICE! Well after all those hours of research, I knew what the camera would cost me in the USA. I saw many offers for about $1,000.00 including the 8-70mm AF-S DX and 55-200mm AF-S DX Lenses. In colones, that comes out to be a bit over 500,000 colones. I expected to pay maybe 15% – 20% over.
Thus, you might imagine my reaction when the sales clerk tells me I must pony up 2,300,460.00 colones. Yes folks, that IS 2.3 million colones or in todays dollars, Forty freaking five hundred bucks! $4,500.00. Four times the cost in the USA.
First Photo from the D70sAfter adjusting my pacemaker, I suggested that perhaps the clerk was making an error and pricing the more expensive D100 Nikon (or maybe had been smoking something back in his darkroom). No, I didn’t really mention the darkroom. He assured my that the price IS correct and that the D100 is closer to 4 MILLION colones. Gee!
I thank him politely and go to the other Nikon reseller in downtown San Jose. He quotes me his heavily discounted price of… oh… $20.00 less.

About the time I am leaving the store, my son Bill calls me to say his is traveling back to the USA for 4-5 days for a training seminar. I get his hotel info, surf the net for best prices on a D70s, find it at Beach Camera, order it (no sales tax) have it overnighted to his hotel in Mountainview ($48.00), he brings it back in 4 days for a TOTAL price of $1,100.00 including a TON of goodies, 4 lenses, memory, the works. He carries it through customs sin problemas. Oddly, there was no place at the airport to ask about how he could show it as imported to avoid the Olympus fiasco, but I’ll figure it out.

I now have my new camera, and I am a happy camper. At left is the very first photo taken with the D70. The subject is our bi-lingual, bi-polar Amazon Green parrot.

I’ll get better as I learn about this camera.
Lessons to learn.

If you are moving here, this may be a subject you may wish to discuss with your mover. Unless you KNOW that your camera, PC, laptop, DVD, TV whatever has local service AND will honor a US warranty (most do not), you should consider being proactive and getting this stuff nailed down in advance of the big day.

33 Responses to “Buying a Camera in Costa Rica”

  1. Aimee Valle on June 29, 2006 6:31 pm

    Assuming you were able to figure out where to declare an item as imported when entering Costa Rica, would there then be import taxes on the item you were bringing in? If not, then it seems the ideal way to handle this would be to declare everything when moving there. I’m really interested in this subject because we will be bringing a lot of items in on our next trip down.

  2. Tim on June 30, 2006 12:27 pm

    Aimee, I wish I DID have a good answer for you. I did not get into this with my mover when I spoke with him about sending it for repair. We only discussed here and now.

    I presume you are using a Costa Rica mover (and if you’re NOT, that is a BIG mistake), so discuss the issue with him.

    You definitely do NOT want to declare everything as you’ll needlessly pay a ton more duty.

    A good mover can save you literally thousands in duties. My household move cost me $600.00 or so in taxes. I have met others who paid $4,000 for the same stuff more or less (based on value).

    Ask your mover to assist you. I have tried twice to find out if I can declare this camera and nobody seems to know where, so I am probably just going to skip it. Why work hard to pay money?

  3. Julie on September 23, 2006 8:25 am

    I went to :
    Tecfot S.A.
    Calle 5, Avenida 7 y 5
    San José
    Tel 222-0996

    They repaired my Olympus Stylus 500 camera in a week for only $40 🙂

  4. Ed on February 13, 2007 5:29 pm

    I recently bought a new Canon Digital Rebel over eBay. When it arrived I paid a reasonable maybe $250 fee through aerocasilles (sp?). I then found the item to be defective and had to return it to the US for warranty work, $120. Then……I had to pay the customs duty again but this time it was $400.
    Happily it now works fine but on my next trip to the US I will buy a backup body which will come in my carry-on for free and save any repairs for when I am in the US.

  5. Mark on November 30, 2007 1:31 pm

    Can you post the 2 good Camera stores in Costa Rica? I`ve arrived here with no camera charger (it`s a Nikon D40X).

  6. Mark on November 30, 2007 1:43 pm

    Can you post the 2 good Camera stores in Costa Rica? I`ve arrived here with no camera charger (it`s a Nikon D40X). Or can anyone let me use their charger?

  7. Neville Els on February 7, 2008 1:05 am

    I am coming to Cr on a fact finding mission for 3 months. I will be taking a lot of fotos using a Canon digital Rebel. Where do I go to download from the memory sticks to CD’s. I will be travelling extensively – North, South, East & West. I would really appreciate some help with this.


  8. Tim on February 7, 2008 1:18 pm

    Well if you are not carrying a laptop which makes downloading and storing a snap, you could go to most any Internet cafe and do it there. Make sure you know if you will need an adapter to do this or just a cable you can connect to a USB (2.0!!!) port.

    However, as digital film is now dirt cheap, you could just buy 2-3 2-4GB cards which should provide enough storage for maybe 50,000 hi rez photos.

    Of course if you lose them….

  9. Neville Els on February 15, 2008 3:10 am

    Hi Tim thanx for the input. What about charging the Canon as I live in a 220V country?
    Cheers for now

  10. Sampsa on February 15, 2008 2:36 pm

    We need also information about the 2 camera stores that sell Nikon cameras (preferably D80) here in Costa Rica. Can anyone help us?! Our camera is gone 🙁

  11. Tim on February 16, 2008 6:45 am

    I have sent you an email

  12. meilin on October 22, 2008 12:04 pm

    Hi, I would like to know if there is any camera repair shop in San Jose? I need to get my camera fixed. It’s a Panasonic Lumix.


  13. Seb on October 30, 2008 4:23 pm


    I enjoyed reading your blog about buying a camera here. Recently I moved here and brought a camera with me. Unfortunatly I got robbed last weekend in Puerto Viejo and in that event I lost my camera as well. So I need a new one.
    If I order one online from europe or the us can’t I get it sent to a local PO box here, or does it always go to some custom office first? And how do I know how much the taxes will be, is it a set percentage?

    Hope somebody can help me out,

  14. Bill on November 1, 2008 8:21 pm

    I travel a lot between Florida & Costa Rica. I have done my share of hauling goods through the airports. I have brought every thing from laptops, stovetops, cameras, Prime Rib, Nathen’s HotDogs, auto parts, to portable air conditioners. The best way to get something down without the Aduana mistery is find someone comming down and have it shipped to them. It has supplimented my airfare or stay more than once!

  15. Kathy on November 8, 2008 6:52 pm

    I’ll be coming from Hartford, CT to Miami to CR on the10th-let me know what u need!

  16. moh on November 29, 2008 8:15 pm

    Thank you very much for your help

    really i live in costa rica now and purchased alot of electronics here , laptop, camera, and other small stuffs,

    when i am coming back are they going to ask me a tax
    or evedencial documents in the airport


  17. Blazej Kotelko on June 4, 2009 7:13 pm

    I really, really need contact info (email, addresses) of those photo shops in San Jose. I am comming there in a week I must but a battery and charger for my Nikon S600. I could not find that in Guatemala, Honduras and Nikaragua and Costa Rica is my last hope before I reach USA (but it will be in another 2 months). Can you mail me some info regarding those stores. Thanks.

    BTW: Great site of yours (www.therealcostarica.com), I have read a lot of the stuff you’ve got there.

  18. carly on July 20, 2009 12:08 pm

    hi there. i am currently in quito, ecuador and will be heading to costa rica in a week. i was robbed of my camera on one of the many overcrowded buses i took yesterday. i was wondering if yuou could email me the name and address of the camera stores in san jose as i really want to buy a new one. i found a store here in quito, but the camera i paid 90 dollars for on amazon is over 300 dollars here. thanks so much for your help.

  19. Oscar BLanco on July 30, 2009 10:09 am

    Hey guys. I’m a tico photo enthusiast. And as I was discussing with fellow nature photographers in fotonaturaleza.net it’s better to not even try to purchase photo stuff in the country (unless you’re looking for last year’s generation of point and shoots)
    As I confirmed on inquiry, being a new member of the cited online community, when I asked about shops here with a reasonable price, the answer I got was to go online to places I have already used in the past, like amazon.com adorama.com bhphotovideo.com etc.
    It’s a sad reality, but pro-camera stuff in this country is handled as a very expensive commodity, and the shops that sell them, take advantage of selling what become rare items.
    My advice, buy outside the country, or be ready to pay three or four times it’s value, even if it’s old technology!

  20. Kurtis Mitchell on October 5, 2009 6:53 pm

    Hey I know this is a little off topic but I’m desperate. My wife and I just visited Costa Rica on our honeymoon and got robbed. The thugs took our camera bag sporting two Canon 40d’s two lenses 18-55mm and 55-250mm and (4) 4GB Sandisk Extreme iii compact flash cards. Just a desperation search incase anyone comes across some used cards to find they have our honeymoon pics and my best mans wedding pics. Shot in the dark but worth a try. I’d do anything to get those cards back. Thanks.

  21. Kurtis Mitchell on October 5, 2009 6:54 pm