Back in the States, people do not really think much about owning a car. It’s such an easily obtainable and necessary (to some) component of daily life. Nancy and I knew that when we got to Central America we would want a vehicle. The ability to move about freely without relying on other means of private or public transportation was high on our list. Moving about in Central America is vastly more difficult and cumbersome as compared to the ease of mobility we experienced in Europe for two months last Fall – oh how we wish the same type of wonderful, easy and consistent train travel in Europe existed in Central America…but it does not – boo.
So, knowing all that, we accepted the energy and expense involved in buying a vehicle in Nicaragua, here’s how it happened. I had been researching the car buying process for months before our arrival, reading anything that had to do with purchasing a car in Costa Rica(CR) and Nicaragua as we did not know where we would be landing long term, Nicaragua is where we landed. The car buying process is much the same between CR and Nicaragua, the only difference, and it’s kind of a big one, is the registration process – in CR we could legally register a car we would purchase in our names, in Nicaragua, only residents can legally register a car. We did buy a car and by “working the system” a bit. We own the car but it is just not registered…yet!
Nancy and I were extremely lucky in buying our vehicle, we had two very helpful Nica’s, our Spanish teachers, literally hold our hands the whole way through this process. We honestly don’t know how we would have done this without their help, we surely would have paid a lot more than we did and would not have purchased a quality vehicle like we did.
The process starts with the search. Right from the start we learned never to buy a vehicle from a used car dealership, because, as a Gringo, you will surely be ripped off. So, no dealerships, private parties only. That’s not to say one cannot find a good car at a used car dealership, and the dealership takes care of all the paperwork in buying the vehicle (more on that later) and, as in the States, there is a convenience factor to buying at a dealership, this option was not for us. I started scouring encuentra24.com, this is the Central American equivalent of Craigslist. So began the long search for a vehicle using Google Translate as we looked at countless vehicles online. When we did find a vehicle we were interested in, next came the hurdle of, “how do I converse with the seller?”. Most likely the seller will not be bi-lingual, some are, and the minute the seller realizes the potential buyer is a Gringo, either there will be no negotiating in price or, as I learned, emails do not get returned. Our Spanish teacher, Eliezer, said to let him know what vehicles we were interested in and he would contact the seller and ask questions – this was a huge help!
Our focus on finding a vehicle was to look outside of the San Juan del Sur area where we live because the roads can be pretty rough around here. A vehicle from this area most likely has taken a beating. We were looking for vehicles in the capitol of Managua, a large city of 2 million and 2 hours away, the car buying process here is certainly not a walk in the park! We found a Toyota Hi-Lux (4 door, diesel pickup) we were interested in and it was in Managua. Eliezer spoke with the seller getting answers to all our questions, this sounded like our vehicle! Next came getting the vehicle checked out by a reputable mechanic…ha, good luck finding one of those! But wait, we are the fortunate Gringos who have our trusty Nica friends at our side. Eliezer has a mechanic, Carlos, who he has been working with for years and he lives in Managua! Eliezer calls Carlos who then meets the seller, checks out the vehicle and all checks out fine, whew! Next step, Negotiations; the sellers ad states the price is negotiable so we, through Eliezer, counter offer the $13,500 asking price to $12,500 which Carlos said was a fair price for the year and condition of the vehicle. The seller came back at $13,400, apparently negotiable means not really! We settled on a price of $12, 600 after much back and forth through Eliezer and agreed to go to Managua a few days later and complete the transaction with Eliezer by our side. Feeling as good as we can about committing to buying a vehicle sight unseen, assessed by a mechanic we have never met, we now needed to get funds from the US to Nicaragua – next hurdle, we do not have a bank account here. Easy fix, we wired $12,600 dollars into our Spanish teachers’ bank account. Part of which had to be wired into his mother’s account because of the dollar amount…yup, I’m sure as you are reading this you’re calling us crazy, it gets a little crazier!
Buying a car in Nicaragua requires the assistance of a lawyer, you do not just write a bill of sale, get the title and be on your way like in the States. When you buy a car in Nicaragua you need to make sure all the paperwork is in order – just as in the States. You need to make sure the equivalent of tabs and emissions are current, if not, you walk away from the vehicle as it’s a huge hassle. If not, in addition, it is required that all vehicles have up to date insurance and the insurance policy transfers to the new buyer. All checked out except for one item on our sight unseen purchase and that was the vehicle had never been registered by the current and previous 2 owners. What that means is for us to register the car, we now would have to pay the lapsed registration of all 3 owners. That would be over $1,000 dollars – this deal was officially dead because the seller was not willing to compensate for that expense. Lucky for us, Eliezer is studying to be a lawyer, so he knows what documentation is needed to register the vehicle. Upon his request to see all the documents needed for the lawyer to draw up the paperwork to sell the car, he noticed the lack of registration. I cannot stress enough how fortunate we are to have developed this friendship with Eliezer, and his wife Zaira, who also is studying to be a lawyer.
So here Nancy and I are, without a car and with $12,600 dollars sitting in our Spanish teachers’, and a mother’s bank account, talk about throwing caution to the wind! Car purchase phase 2 – spending the day in Managua. On a Friday morning at 6am, Eliezer, Zaira and Carlos picked us up at the little studio apartment we were renting and we drove for 2 hours to Managua to look at vehicles we had scouted out, along with looking at some used car dealerships that were friends of Carlos so in this case, a used car dealership was ok. In a nutshell, the day was a bust, nothing we looked at was the right vehicle for us. What a day that was, driving all around the large and hot city of Managua, 5 people in a Toyota Hilux without air conditioning and not getting back home until 8 pm that night, it was an exhausting day and at the end of it our glasses of wine never tasted so good! We were feeling very discouraged and dreaded another Managua car shopping day…the hunt was back on. I continued looking on encuentra24 and on about 4 different Facebook groups Eliezer told me about for used cars. I was not finding anything. So here we are, no car, money in our friends’ bank account and our 3 week stay at the studio apartment is coming close to an end. We really wanted to have a vehicle before finding our next long term housing. Looking online days later, I found something that interested us and it was in the city of Rivas which is only 40 min away, oh please, please, please let this be the one!!! Eliezer contacted the seller, asked all the pertinent questions and yes, this one was properly registered, he confirmed when we could go look at the 1998 Isuzu Trooper 4×4 Diesel with only 90,000 miles on it. On a Tuesday morning we went to look at the car, Eliezer could not go with us so we went with Carlos the mechanic, who does not speak English, this is going to be interesting. We arrive in Rivas and locate the car. The owner was a really nice Dr. who took great care of the car and drove it mainly on the paved highway between Rivas and Managua on the weekends. After a test drive, speaking with the Dr., who did speak English, and Nancy’s limited but useful Spanish, we were able to confirm the cars reliability, all documents were in order and price negotiated, we struck a deal! The asking price was $10,300, Carlos told us the fair value was $9,500 so we offered $9,000 and the Dr. came back politely with “$9,500, no other negotiating”, we were great with that! Cars hold their value in Central America, so if you move down here, throw out any ideas of paying US prices for used and new cars here, especially vehicles in good condition!
Now we just had to finalize the deal of our 1998 Isuzu Trooper. After a phone call with Eliezer, he instructed us to take pictures of all the documents and the sellers driver’s license and email it to him so he and Zaira could get all the paperwork/sales agreement in order and we would drive back that evening to finish the transaction. Eliezer and Zaira picked us up at our place with our $9,500 cash he had withdrawn from he and his mother’s account (yes, we got the rest back a couple of days later) and headed back to Rivas. The document Eliezer and Zaira had prepared for the sale of the vehicle was like a short story, legal sized paper, full with verbiage on the front and half on the back. After she read it in Spanish to the seller, we all signed the paperwork, handed the good Dr. his money and we were on our way back home feeling a huge relief that this car buying excursion was over…almost.
Eliezer and Zaira have a cousin in Managua who is an attorney, they graciously submitted all the documents for the sale to her to process. The car we purchased has not been registered yet but was recorded in such a way that once we have our residency established, which should be completed in the next 9 months approximately (story to tell there too so stay tuned) we can then finish the registration process in our names. The sale was structured in that it shows we are the legal owners and all our documents are in place…finally, we are free to roam about the country.
Our new vehicle’s insurance had expired 2 days previous to the sale. So two days later Zaira took us to a local bank to purchase an insurance policy. The bank is where you purchase home and car insurance. Zaira spoke with the bank representative about what we needed, pictures were taken of our passports, and then we were issued our laminated proof of car insurance card. Cost for car insurance for two people for a full year, $55 – shame on you US insurance companies…rip off!!!
The car buying experience in Nicaragua was very interesting, frustrating and fun at times. Definitely something we do not want to relive anytime soon. Buying a vehicle was actually more stressful and involved than buying a house. Stay tuned for our house buying story as there is some real interesting information we will share with you. So sign up and follow along by getting alerts when we have a new post to share, it’s great to have you along on this adventurous ride with us!