National postal servicesEdit
The national postal service is run by a state owned company called Correos de Costa Rica. If you ask around for “el correo” you will be directed to one of these offices locally. They're all over the country, in most of the bigger towns.
Correos de Costa Rica offers several varieties of service, among them regular mail, registered mail and courier service (also known as EMS). For most letters and postcards regular mail is more than enough, registered mail should be used for packages or when you need confirmation that your letter was received (this type of mail offers a tracking number which you can use online to check the status of your delivery). EMS should be used for very urgent parcels, preferably inside the country since this type of service tends to be rather expensive especially for international mail.
For more information see their website at www.correos.go.cr , or visit the local post office in your town.
PO Boxes in MiamiEdit
Another alternative for getting packages sent to you, especially if they're coming from the United States, is to use what's known as a “box in Miami”. This is simply a post office box located in Miami, Florida, belonging to a local courier service. The courier service will receive your package in Miami, bring into the country, take care of any customs services, and hold it at their office or have it sent to your home. They charge a rate that's based on weight and size of the package, and it normally takes anywhere from three days to two weeks for a package to go from Miami to your house in Costa Rica (depends a lot on the courier service and their conditions).
This is the usual method for buying stuff through the internet and getting it sent to Costa Rica. It's normally much less expensive than using the international shipping option most sellers have.
There's many companies which offer this service, the most popular being Aerocasillas and Jetbox. The state postal service also has PO Boxes in Miami, their service is called Box Correos .
Private couriers, the most popular being UPS and DHL, also operate in Costa Rica. You can find their offices mainly in the downtown area, and most of the time they'll come to where you are to pick up the your package. Their prices are much higher than the postal service's.
Customs in the national postal serviceEdit
Packages sent through the state postal service have to go through customs inspection when they are received, and if they determine that there's something inside that constitutes merchandise (which for the most part is anything bigger than a postcard sized envelope or package) they'll get sent to the customs office in Zapote where you'll have to pick them up personally, and pay applicable tax (anywhere from 13 to 50% of the market value including shipping and insurance). It does not matter if what's contained inside the package is a gift, it will still get detained in customs and have to pay tax. If there's no invoice inside the package, they'll estimate what the market value is.
If you decide to have a package sent to you over regular mail, you should take the following precautions to make your experience with customs as painless as possible:
- All packages should be addressed to you personally, and not to the owner of the P.O. Box or the house you're staying in. If you're packages sent to customs, or if it won't fit in the mailbox, they'll send you a notification. The post office (or customs) will only hand over the package to the person listed in the address, once a passport or other valid ID is presented. Taxes and declarations can only be filled out and paid by the person listed on the address label. So if the package is not addressed to you personally, you're going to have to get the person it is addressed to, to go and pick it up for you.
You should be aware of substances, materials or merchandise that it is illegal to import without a permit. Generally anything that might constitute hazardous chemicals, food, seeds, medications, cosmetics, weapons or similar items cannot be brought into the country by just anyone. Use common sense: if they will let it through an airport, it's very likely they're not going to let it through at the post office.
The highest value package that can go through customs under the name of an individual, is $500. That means that if the price of what you're importing, plus transport, plus insurance is over $500, you cannot bring it through customs without the help of a registered agent. A registered agent is normally over $50 to hire, sometimes even more depending on what exactly it is you want to import. So it's always better to separate large packages into several smaller ones, so the market value of none of them will go over $500.
If you get called into the customs office in Zapote to go pick up a package, set aside at least half a day for the experience. It will normally take you anywhere from 2 to 6 hours to get your package, depending on how many people are in line and what exactly it is the package contains. If the package contains a purchase you made over the Internet, don't forget to print the invoice out at home and bring it with you, otherwise they will not be able to estimate taxes on the package.
Post office boxesEdit
Since street addresses here are so complicated, most of the time the post office will not deliver a letter or package to your home. Instead, the solution they've come up with is to hold packages and letters at the post office or have people purchase post office boxes, where they can receive their mail.
Post office boxes are available at most mail centers, and cost about $20 a year. The amount of mail you can receive through them is unlimited, and there is no limit on size or weight of packages (although if they are usually large or heavy they'll probably be sent to the customs office in Zapote and you'll have to pick them up there).
If you're having something sent to you through the mail, and don't have a post office box, it's a good idea to have your phone number printed on the label, so that if the package is being held at a post office, they can let you know about it. Otherwise, be sure to stop in every so often and ask for the package. Most post offices don't have an unusually large amount of customers, so they can track packages that arrive and get held pretty easily.