Buying a Vehicle in Nicaragua
Buying a vehicle in Nicaragua as a foreigner? Here are a few things you should consider first.
Let's start with the legalities of purchasing a vehicle in Nicaragua. Owning and registering a car in Nica are two different things. Purchasing a car as a foreigner is easy. A lawyer can write up a contract in an hour transferring position from the seller to yourself. They then provide the prior deed and the new one stating you are the owner of the vehicle. Getting a circulaccion (registration card) and a seguro (insurance), however, requires a cedula (identification card). This identification card can be either an ID card or drivers license, both issued by the national government. In order to get a cedula you need to either be a citizen or resident of Nicaragua. Acquiring residency takes about a year and costs anywhere from a couple hundred to over a thousand dollars, depending on whether you do it yourself or hire a lawyer.
Once you have your cedula card its a simple process to purchase the vehicle and have a lawyer register a vehicle in your name. If, however, the previous owners have not paid the fee to get the registration updated, there are fees involved. There fees have to be paid by the new owner, and apply for each time it was sold and not properly re-registered.
For example: Person A buys a new car from a dealership. Later he then sells it to Person B, who then again sells it to person C. During this entire time the seguro and circulaccion cards were still in the name of Person A. You then decide to buy this used vehicle from Person C. If you want to have the vehicle registered in your name you have to pay the fees to transfer the vehicle from Person A to B to C to you, which can end up being over a thousand dollars depending on the assessed value of the car. If you are lucky enough to find Person A and get them to sign a contract transferring the vehicle to you, without mention of B or C, the taxes are much lower. Alternatively you could buy it and continue to have it registered in the name of Person A.
Once it is registered (or not) there are a number of companies that offer insurance. Lafise Bank, BAC Bank, and Seguros America are the three most popular options. Basic insurance starts around $55 per month.
Assuming you don't yet have, or don't want to get residency, how do you go about purchasing a vehicle in Nicaragua? Well the next legal option is to open or buy an existing corporation and and then purchase the vehicle under the corporation.
There is a final option for those that don't want to get residency or open a corporation. Its a gray area but it is how most foreigners purchase vehicles in Nicaragua. The buyer purchases the vehicle but registers it in the name of a nominee, someone with either citizenship or residency. This process this puts a lot of trust in said nominee. Most people have no problems doing putting a vehicle in a nominees name, but you should think deeply about how much you trust the person beforehand!
If you're considering using a nominee you should still have a deed written by the lawyer. At the time of purchase a lawyer writes up a separate contract saying that you yourself are the legal owner of the vehicle. Thereafter in the government records the nominee is the owner of record, but you would have a contract affirming you are the legal owner. Be aware there is a fine from the police can apply for not having the vehicle legitimately registered. The fine is almost never enforced, but the police do give it out from time to time.
The author is an agent with Century 21 / Nica Life Realty in San Juan Del Sur. Originally from Alberta, Canada he has been doing business in Nicaragua since 2014. A serial entrepreneur, surfer, and outdoor enthusiast he is an expert on both the real estate and investment markets in Nicaragua. Thanks to his lovely Nicaraguan wife, a medical doctor, he is also well informed on health care services in the country.
Century 21 / Nica Life Realty
San Juan Del Sur
(+505) 8176 8624