Monday, March 7, 2011

E-Commerce in Rural Costa Rica

My headlamp broke. Here it's not hard to buy a flashlight, or an el cheapo headlamp in Ciudad Quesada, but since I bike on rural roads I need a reliable, super-bright, hands-free, energy-efficient light. That leaves two options:

-11 hours busing to the Colombia store in the mall in Escazu, in San José
-Have someone mail me a headlamp

Since I'm a site rat, I chose the second option. Ah, glorious online shopping! So many options! But:

Hiccup #1: Amazon wouldn't accept my Costa Rican shipping address. But that's ok, because Sierra Trading Post did. Still sailing high: I get $10 off a $40 headlamp! And I've saved myself an overnight trip to San José!

Hiccup #2: Sierra Trading Post only ships by UPS. That's a shame, because they charge a $27 flat fee, whereas I've received padded envelopes of the same weight for $5 or $10 via normal mail. It's also a shame because I know both my mailmen by name (Edwin and Roberto), whereas UPS had to both call and email me to ask directions and coordinate delivery. I thought about asking a friend to buy the headlamp and ship it via normal mail, but I figured that just the time waiting in the post office wasn't worth saving $10 or $15. 

Hiccup #3: Import Duties. The Government of Costa Rica demanded $20 for the privilege of bringing the headlamp into the country. That's 67% of the headlamp's value. Maybe I should have asked a friend to send me a headlamp. If they opened the package and sent the "used" headlamp as a gift, I doubt it would have been subject to import duties. 

Hiccup #4: Costa Rica also charged me $40 for "Storage and Customs Services." 

Final price of the nominally $40 headlamp? $117, or 28% of my monthly budget. 


  1. That sounds about right. It might have taken a quarter of your monthly budget, but it probably took a quarter of the month to work your way through all the difficulties.

  2. Coulda, woulda brought one from home - wish I'd thought of that in Jan.