(Rico’s TICO BULL) Buying online – internet purchases – may be cheaper as retailers do not always offer the same deals in brick-and-mortar stores or as in the case of Costa Rica, the product or a similar is not available at all in retail stores.
Buying online can also be a quick and easy way to shop. No waiting for stores to open, fight the traffic and have to deal with rude sales staff.
Although I prefer to shop in-store personally, especially when it comes to groceries, there are times when there is no other option but to go online and press that ‘buy now’ button.
But, buying online is not for the inexperienced. Especially buying online from Costa Rica for products from China, the US or Canada. There are pitfalls that could negate any advantage unless there is no other option.
Before setting out in my online buying adventure I make absolutely sure that I cannot get the item here in Pura Vida. And if perchance, the item is available, I do a comparison cost that includes government regulations on the import, taxes, shipping and other costs and time. Yes, time.
I will give you a personal example. A new keyboard for my laptop.
This is my second experience in replacing my keyboard. Two years ago was the last, the original keyboard went after less than 12 months in use. First, one key began to stick. Then another and so on.
So, with that experience I knew exactly where to buy and the costs. But wait, my keyboard went on the fritz just about the time I was planning a visit to Toronto (Canada). Amazon here I come.
The experience is quite different north of the much-touted wall by the U.S. president. Before leaving Costa Rica, I made my purchase. Amazon Prime free trial is great. My new keyboard arrived the day after my arrival, as planned.
I had purchased the item with “shipped from Canada”. The US ship would take much longer, even with Prime. It didn’t have the backlit feature, didn’t know I would miss it that much and was a regular and not a ‘chiclet‘ keyboard. When you spend as much time online as I do, these little things, I learned, really matter.
Back to my old faithful, eBay.
The vendor of 2 years ago was no longer. eBay was nice enough to recommend others. I scoured the various offers, settled on one from China, though all were from China.
Since I now had a working keyboard I could wait the time, the estimated between Nov. 14 and Dec. 5 to my Florida forwarding address and then 7 to 10 days to arrive in Costa Rica.
Interesting, Aeropost (formerly Aerocasillas) advised me the package was already in Miami way before the Nov. 14 date. In fact, I had the item in my hands on Saturday, Nov. 10. It has arrived in Costa Rica a couple of days earlier.
Which brings this to the point of the article, the fees and process.
The eBay purchase was for US$13.99 with Free shipping my Miami. One in Miami, Aeropost required an invoice from me before they could ship to Costa Rica. A screenshot of the eBay purchase was good enough.
In Costa Rica, costs were added.
In this case,US$6.60 for ‘freight’, US$1.25 for ‘fuel’, US$1.50 for ‘warranty/returns programs’ (never asked for it) and US$2.83 for ‘customs service’. An amount of US$2.10 was added for ‘impt sales tax’ and US$2.10 for ‘government fees’, for a total of US$14.28.
My total cost was US$28.27 (US$13.99 US$14.28).
Actually cheaper to the CA$39.95 I paid for the Amazon bought keyboad when taking into account the exchange rate. (The current rate is CS$1.31 Canadian to one US dollar).
The moral here is that there pitfalls for online purchases in Costa Rica for shipments from abroad. Knowing the pitfalls is the key.
My tips (based on my experiences) for online shopping in Costa Rica (for items coming from abroad):
- Be Secure. When shopping online, plastic is the preferred method of payment. However, you must remember that your credit card number is static. It doesn’t change unless you close and reopen an account, and once your credit card information is online, it can be compromised if it falls into the wrong hands. I use my Paypal account wherever I can. Never send your account numbers or any other personal information via e-mail, which isn’t secure.
- Beware the Return Fee. Once you have the item in Costa Rica, it is not like up north, on sites like Amazon, where you just send it back at minimal cost. You may find that sending the item back from Costa Rica could be more expensive than the original cost of the item. I once sent back a handful of defective electronic cigarette heaters to China (for another business venture). DHL charged me US$75. To send the entire batch back to China it was in the hundreds, more than the original purchase cost. In the case of my Amazon “Canada” bought keyboard, Amazon is allowing my CA$12 if I choose to return it. I will probably end up keeping it as a spare.
- Bargain Hunting. Online shopping can mean great deals. Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals can seem attractive. But before you click on the ‘buy’ button, get all the costs in line. Ensure that the item you are contemplating purchasing can be imported and know the costs of import taxes. To that add the other costs, including the 13% sales tax, as laid out earlier. Some items, like cosmetics and medications, require a Health permit. As far as I know, computers don’t have an import tax, yet accessories, software and parts do. If you buy a computer get all the accessories shipped as part of the computer purchase.
- Plan your purchase. Don’t just click on ‘buy’ and hope for the best. The best can become really expensive.
- Record purchase details. After making a purchase, always record the details of the time, date, receipt number, and order confirmation. If you cannot print one off, take a screenshot as proof of purchase.
- Avoid making purchases in public. Do not buy anything on public computers, including those available at hotel lobbies. If you do, your private information will be saved where others can access it. You should even be careful about making a purchase with your own laptop in a public place. Someone might see you input your data or be able to get information from a shared Wi-Fi connection.
- Buy from established companies. Ebay, Amazon and big box retailers with an online presence will mean you are working with a real website. Some scams will pretend to be big box stores, so check the domain names carefully to ensure that it is the correct website. Fake websites will also replace a “.com” with a “.net”. Verify that there are no misspellings. Only make purchases on secure websites. Secure websites start with “https:”. The ‘s” and the little lock on the address bar are key.
- Read and understand clearly the terms and conditions of purchase. Be clear on the price and the shipping costs.
Happy and safe shopping!
Edit: I have been an Aeropost customer for like forever, like when they were the only game in town. There are other services now but they have treated me well over the years, earned my loyalty.