Don’t let me be the bearer of bad news, but once again, Christmas is just around the corner. For those of you that have been lucky enough to survive another year of this recession, it’s time to start thinking about Christmas shopping. If you are considering some big ticket items, the duty free zone of Golfito might be just the place for you!
A Little History:
Once a bustling banana port, from 1938 to 1985, Golfito served as the headquarters of United Fruit’s banana operations in the southernmost part of Costa Rica. Creating an economy that had previously not existed, unfortunately the mid-1980s brought declining markets, higher export taxes, worker unrest and banana diseases forcing United Fruit’s departure from the area. Though some of the plantations successfully converted to the production of African Palm Oil, this move was not enough to sustain the job loss and economic blow caused when the company departed. Attracted by the World Class fishing within the Golfo Dulce region, Sport Fishermen have helped stimulate the development of new Costa Rica Hotels & Lodges, creating a flourishing tourist industry in the area. Nonetheless, the Golfo Dulce region and more specifically, the town of Golfito, have continued to struggle for survival, even after close to 20 years of economic stimulus in the form of a Duty Free Shopping Zone.
In the 1990’s, in an attempt to boost the region’s economy, the Costa Rica government approved a duty-free facility (déposito libre) in the northern part of the Golfo Dulce zone. Just the mention of the town of Golfito, brings the image of thousands of Ticos on any given day bustling around the rows of this fairly run down mega shopping complex, giving life to an otherwise dying town while shoppers hustle and hustlers shop. Keep in mind….the duty-free shopping is for Costa Rican Nationals and legal residents only, with the most popular purchases being the bigger ticket items. Unfortunately, as you will see below, this is not like a Sunday visit to the local mall, many restrictions apply which can complicate the shopping process, so be sure to read the details.
Rules and Regulations:
The Duty Free Zone was created to help stimulate visits to the region by giving Costa Rican residents a tax free zone to shop for their purchases. To get the most out of these visitors, specific rules were established in order to legally make these tax free purchases. First, exemption from sales taxes is only valid twice a year, with a total purchase amount that cannot exceed $1000 per buyer, per trip. Second, you must stay overnight in Golfito before taking advantage of the tax-free shopping, a requirement enacted to support the area’s family owned “cabinas” and boutique hotels. Third, as a guarantee of your overnight stay, a shopping authorization card (TAC) must be requested at the Customs Offices the day prior to shopping. Hours are Tuesday-Saturday from 8am-8pm, Mondays from 1pm-8pm and shoppers are required to present their valid Costa Rican “cedula” (identification card) when applying.
Hours and Shopping Limits:
When you begin your shopping at Golfito, its recommended to get an early start. Stores open from 8am-4:30pm Tuesday-Saturday and 7am- 2pm on Sundays. Stores are closed on Mondays. When checking out, you will be required to show the store personnel your shopping authorization card, so keep that handy. Remember, one card gives you the right to make a purchase for up to $1,000, though you can combine two cards (no more) for a total of $2,000. The other card can only belong to first-degree relatives such as parents, children, siblings or spouses. Naturally, there are “gavilones” or “tipos” that hang around the area that can arrange that you have sufficient “TAC” cards from “family” to make as many purchases as you need while in the area. Of course, I don’t condone or recommend these services, though they are amazingly efficient and quite convenient:-).
Why go Duty Free?
Though Golfito is no short drive, and the entire process is not exactly convenient, keep in mind that products are not subject to most import taxes, nor the normal 13% Costa Rica sales tax, as well as most products are highly discounted, so thrifty shoppers from around the country can save up to 50% on certain items throughout the year. For those looking for smaller ticket items such as perfumes, cosmetics, liquor, cigarettes, small appliances, tires, computer items, and an assortment of household goods, you might want to save going thru some of these inconvenient restrictions and drive a little further South to the Costa Rica-Panama border. At the border crossing, shoppers can purchase duty-free goods on a mystery strip of shops located between the two borders in the town of Paso Canoas. (You enter one door on the Costa Rica side, and exit the other side of the store on the Panamanian side!) No restrictions apply in this area, and both duty free zones can provide affordable delivery of your purchases throughout the country, but be sure to negotiate the price first!
So if you are planning a shopping jaunt to the port town of Golfito, consider making a short relaxing getaway out of the trip. (You’ll need it after the Golfito zoo.) With the new Costanera Sur highway, the drive is only around three hours from Manuel Antonio/Quepos Area Hotels, and the entire area offers small marinas, yachting and boating services, excellent sport fishing,
as well as easy access to some of Costa Rica’s most beautiful National Parks and protected areas. Although much of the tourism in the Golfito area focuses on the sport fishing industry, other water sports and beach activities are also popular pastimes, with incredible surfing beaches to the south of Golfito such as Playa Pavones; best known as home to one of Zancudo, Pilon and the famous the longest left hand breaking waves in the world. The friendly people of the area, and the fabulous natural wonders that abound make Golfito and the Golfo Dulce more than just a shopping excursion, the area is truly a
beautiful and relaxing place to stop and see more of fabulous Costa Rica! Happy Shopping!
Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and owns and manages her own Vacation Rental Home BusinessManuel Antonio Rental Homes.