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Thread: Looking for info on Vehicles in NIC with US plates

  1. #1

    Cool Looking for info on Vehicles in NIC with US plates

    Hi there, first post for me! My wife and I are thinking of moving to NIC sometime early next year. We have a 2003 Mitsubishi Montero with Arizona plates and we're thinking of taking it with us. I wanted to know what your experience, problems, troubles or hassles have been with having and driving a foreign plated car in NIC. What's the process of driving it in, any permits you need to get...what about the sticker you get at aduana in Mexico when entering. Do you get that removed when leaving Mexico through Oaxaca and entering Central America? If you only have a 90 day permit do you have to take the vehicle with you to Costa Rica and then re-enter NIC? Sorry about so many questions, just want to be informed before we make the move. Thanks in advance, I would appreciate any info.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Looking for info on Vehicles in NIC with US plates

    Quick advice. Dont do it.
    My wife and i drove down about 8 months ago because we thought it would be nice to have our car here.

    The drive down wasnt bad. Good scenery, etc. Took us 5 days of actual driving. plus a few more more hiking and sightseeing. The borders are pretty rough in a car. The US license plates are a magnet. You gotta have a spine and ability to say no, as well as keeping your cool when people run aong side your car and bang on the windows to get your "business" when they offer to "help"
    As for costs.
    Mexico was about 50 bucks, plus mandatory insurance which was 40. Plus a 200 dollar deposit you get back when you leave the country (after going 3 places for different paperwork, and an inspection). They do take that sticker off when you leave. On my car it left the sticker outline and sticky stuff on the middle of my windshield, which i was less than pleased about.
    Guatemala was 25 bucks for the aduana. El Salvador, everything is free. Honduras was by far the worst. Very corrupt. They started by tryingto charge several hundred dollars saying my paperwork was wrong. We refused, and after several hours of back and forth, we got in for 35 bucks. (another american couple driving that came through around the same time were told 150, they offered 100 and got through in a half hour). I cant honestly remember how much nicaragua was cause i was exhausted and it was late at night.

    The most important thing. Your car is not a human. Its not treated the same. Your car only gets 30 days here. While you get 90. After 30 days, you can file for an extension at the DGA. Its 2 dollars a day up to 30 more days. Plus you write a full page (no less) letter to the commissioner telling them why they should give you an extension.
    If you leave the country, legally they dont have to let the car in for a full year. Most people say when they drive back and forth, they get back i if there is a gap of a few months. I had one friend drive out, and drive back in after 30 days, but only once. He tried again and they denied him.
    I have also heard pretty bad stories about the cops on the way down hassling US drivers. We got pulled over a few times at checkpoints, but never hassled and never paid a bribe.
    The only way to keep your car here after 60 days is to import it.....

  3. #3

    Default Re: Looking for info on Vehicles in NIC with US plates

    I dont recommend importing your car either. I will give you my experience (though everyone has a different experience here in Nicaragua).

    To import the car you get a lawyer to do paperwork. Then you get an agent to do paperwork. Then you get the DGA to do paperwork. All this costs a couple hundred bucks.
    Then you put the car in a government approved warehouse. They will "inspect" it for 1-2 weeks. And then they assign a value to your car. Not based on blue book value, but an arbitrary value depending on the size of your car, how nice it is, etc.
    You then pay 70% of your cars assigned value as a tax. (you can save 10% if you get an authorized official importer with a permit. But then you pay that official importer for that, which depending on their price, could even out in the end anyway).
    I was told that they wont import anything older than 5 years. But my SUV was 8 years old and they imported it no problem.
    After you pay your thousands of dollars in taxes, you now have a nicaraguan car. You still have to register it and get plates and stuff with the police.
    Here is where my personal problem came in. I was told by the aduana/import agency that i could not sell the car for 1 year. (this keeps americans from coming and selling cars here, taking the money, and leaving the country with the money). But i was told the car had to be imported in my name, since my name was on the USA title. OK, no problem. So i did. Except its illegal for me to own a nicaraguan car since im a foreigner. So when i went to get the plates and register the car, i was told that i could not, because it was in my name.
    So now i couldnt put the car in someone elses name for a year, and i couldnt register it in my name. So it was stuck. The police told me i could drive it, just keep the import paperwork in my car in case someone needed to see it, and it would be no problem. And they were partially right. The police didnt care. When i needed to show paperwork, i showed the import paperwork and the cops were cool with it.

    Then one day i was on the highway south of managua at a red light. Some guy was texting in his car and not watching and rear ended my car, pushing it into a bus in front of me. Smashing the back up and damaging the front. I showed the police my paperwork and they were cool with it. The guy had insurance. The police gave me the paper that proved my innocence, and said the insurance was to pay me.
    The insurance company refused to pay me. Because i cant legally own a vehicle here and the paperwork for the car was in my name, they wouldnt cut a check to me cause i was a foreigner. We went back and forth, with lawyers. nothing. no payment.
    ultimately i had to trade my smashed up SUV for a used motorcycle just last week. took a huge loss on it.

    Went to the police to see if i could do anything and the jefe in the office asks why i didnt put it in a locals name. I said i was told i couldnt for one year by the aduana, and the police at the desk said just drive with the paperwork. He laughed, and told me and my friend that the people who work the front desk dont know anything and give out bad information all the time. Also he said that the import people were lying, and that i could have came down, and paid the cops some money to put it in a local persons name. Then he laughed and said "well thats life", and asked what i was planning on doing with my car cause he knew a mechanic that might be interested in it for parts. I asked if he could give me a paper for the insurance company saying they told me my paperwork was ok, and he laughed again and asked if i was serious. no way would they give me a paperadmitting wrongdoing. Hell tell me all day long they lied cause they dont know the laws, but he wouldnt put it in writing.

    bought a 12,000 car in the states a couple years ago. spent a couple months driving and doing paperwork to import it. Paid 5 grand in taxes. had the option to pay another 6 thousand to fix the car. Ended up trading it off for a used motorcycle worth less than two thousand.

    Most everyone i came in contact with said "why didnt you just buy a car here". Vehicles here are more expensive in general, but are cheaper and much less hassle than importing it and paying taxes and dealing with the cops.
    Also, the US plates are a magnet. no matter what car you drive, when you stop at a stop light people will come up to wash your windows and sell you stuff. But if you have US plates, people will come running from a block away to hassle you. Its also a magnet for people who think you are going to automatically have valuable stuff in it when you park somewhere.
    I got pulled over 3 times as much in a car with US plates, than any nica plated car. (though strangely, never once asked for a bribe or threatened in my car.....on my moto every single time, in a nica car once or twice. but never once in my american car)

    feel free to ask any specific questions. i will answer them to my personal experience. I cant speak for everyone, just on my experience doing it first hand a few months ago.

  4. #4
    The Bard of Jinotega MizBrown's Avatar
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    May 2010
    Jinotega, Nicaragua
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    Default Re: Looking for info on Vehicles in NIC with US plates

    Quote Originally Posted by hurenapdx View Post
    We have a 2003 Mitsubishi Montero with Arizona plates and we're thinking of taking it with us.
    My understanding that you can't import a car that's that old, but this may be particular to the pensionado waiver cars. I thought that the maximum age was five years but that may be with pensionados claiming the exemption rather than a general import. (Note: with a car worth up to $20K US, which may be a considerable savings for a retiree given the OP's comments). You can import a car on the pensionado residency every four or five years -- again, ask Intur. If you're not retirees, other people have experiences with that.

    Have you visited Nicaragua yet? If you're not buying a farm and plan to live in a town or city, you can probably live quite well without a car. My advice to people is come down with money and some kitchenware (knives, really good pots, pretty much everything else is available locally) and set up a house with local things. Handmade furniture is about what Ikea particle board stuff would cost. The local equivalents of the Big Box stores (Gallo mas Gallo and Curasou) deliver the day you buy things for the most part, at least in Jinotega.

    I seriously recommend visiting first -- figure out what climate you can bear and look at places in that climate zone. Short on time? Esteli, Jinotega, and Matagalpa if you want the highlands. Leon, Managua, and Granada if heat doesn't bother you. More or less culture shock? More or less expats? Matagalpa and Esteli have more expats than Jinotega. Leon has fewer than Granada from what a friend who visited both said. Atlantic Coast -- couple of people here live there and can advise on that.
    Last edited by MizBrown; 07-11-2013 at 12:35 AM.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Looking for info on Vehicles in NIC with US plates

    Welcome Hurenapdx, what area are you all thinking of?

    Heck of a story Vinyl, very informative. I'd still be !

  6. #6

    Default Re: Looking for info on Vehicles in NIC with US plates

    Thinking of moving to Rivas area. Close to Granada! Just double thinking the whole car situation, gotta figure out what to do.....Thanks for all your replies and the warm welcome to the forum!

  7. #7

    Default Re: Looking for info on Vehicles in NIC with US plates

    I've driven twice in the last year, and I'm doing it again this coming November. I can offer this capsule description of the trip:

    Mexico is a piece of cake, very welcoming, easy entry. I crossed at Nogales. There is a toll road that takes you around Nogales from the US for $4. This will be the only Mexican toll road where you can use dollars. You leave a deposit of either $200 or $400, depending on the age of your vehicle, which can be charged to a CC. When you leave, the money is either refunded to you, or your CC is credited with the deposit. I've done both, this last time the money was handed to me in $100 bills.
    Mexico: stay on the toll roads, most like the interstates in the US, and you can make good time. Toll roads DO NOT accept dollars.

    WalMarts are everywhere in Mexico and change money with a purchase. Buy some snacks and hand them a $100 bill and request your change in pesos. They have the best exchange rate, bar none. Three very long, or four days if you're not sightseeing, it's almost 3K miles, long country. You'll find changing dollars difficult in Mexico because of money laundering issues, but you don't need that many.
    Guatemala: Friendly, but this is where the hassle with the tramites starts. Negotiate up front what you think is a fair price for assistance, maybe $20, point out that you will only pay one guy (or you will wind up with six), keep it business like. You CAN do it yourself, but for $20, you'll be out of there in half the time. Don't buy dope from the tramites, not even a joint. Watch your vehicle. You'll need a day to cross Guatemala, it's slow,, and unending topes.
    El Salvador: One of my favorites, again very friendly, welcoming people, honest officials. I went south, along the coast, pretty drive, good roads.
    Honduras: For me this was a very short crossing, but the entry point I use is corrupt. The exit is just the opposite, very efficient, competent.
    Nicaragua: Easy entry, honest officials. Immediately south of Somoto --(if you cross at El Espino) you will hit your first Tranisto stop, this is where the Nicaraguan corruption kicks in.

    Everywhere: Make sure you have all the documents before you start, original title and registration. Anything you lack will be an excuse to solicit a bribe. Use a debit card to buy your gas, all Pemex stations accept CC and Debit cards, and they are accepted everywhere in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. I mean, keep enough currency on hand to buy the tank in case the connection is down (happened to me once in Mexico). This keeps you from having to change currencies more than necessary -and carry- a large sum of cash. Just about any hotel you want to stay at will accept debit and CC's as well. Auto Hotels are also a good option, they rent the room in multiples of 3 hours, always had hot water and AC, and were very nice. Security for your vehicle. The ones I used all asked for cash.

    ALWAYS get out of your car at gas stops. I don't think it's possible to NOT zero pumps anymore, but there are a million other scams. Just standing there, watching, is important.

    Other considerations: Once you arrive in Nicaragua, having the car is a real bonus, safe place for your belongings, safe place for you, no hassles with buses and taxis, easy to visit out of the way places, easy to stay clean and comfortable. BUT, you need a safe place for your car. If you rent a place, make sure it has a gated, secure area for your car. Any decent hotel will have a garage with security, or a night watchman who will watch your car. You CANNOT leave a car on the street in Nicaragua overnight. You WILL lose anything that can be stripped from the vehicle. If there is luggage inside, a window will probably be broken and the contents of the inside of the car cleaned out. I would not leave car paperwork in the glove box, keep it with you and your passport.

    Consider replacing the fasteners on your license plates with some that are more difficult to remove, like pop rivets. Losing your license plates to a thief can be a real hassle.

    What can you bring with you? You can take any amount of food, clothing, and "personal items". That means tools, enough oil, some spares, for the trip. Unless you have some expensive appliance like a big widescreen, or a generator, the guy who comes out to look at your car will just glance in the windows and be satisfied. You are, after all, tourists.

    It's quite an experience, and not unduly difficult. I wouldn't do it like I did last time, towing a 24 ft trailer,,

    My problem with buying a vehicle in Nicaragua (as opposed to bringing your own down): If you buy used in Nicaragua, you are probably buying a vehicle with the same oil that came with it when it was first sold new. Maintenance varies from ,, not a priority to non-existent. If you bring your own car, you can buy new tires (I did on both occasions), and accomplish any other maintenance you think you might need prior to leaving. So, you wind up with a vehicle that you know is in good shape.

  8. #8

    Default Re: Looking for info on Vehicles in NIC with US plates

    I'd like to make that drive one day. Excellent summary, Thanks.

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