Costa Rican License Plates

New License Plates features

Starting in January of 2012, the National Property Registry began using new license plates for cars being registered in the country for the first time.  During the next 3 years, all existing vehicles had to update their old plates to the new design, and add the sticker too.

The most distinctive feature of the new plates is that they have letters!  Prior to 2012, the plates were numbered in consecutive order.  Late in 2011 the numbers were over 900,000, so the question was would the registry move to 7 digit plates, or do something else.

The powers that be decided to go with the new plates and add letters to the mix.  If you know your statistics, you know that a 6 digit passcode made up of only numbers has a possible 1 million combinations.  Whereas a 6 digit passcode, made up of 3 letters and 3 numbers that may be repeated, has a possible 8,000,000 combinations. (only 20 letters may be used – since the registry excluded vowels)

However, the new license plates aren’t just pretty permutations.  They have other new features as well, intended to prevent falsification and “cloning”.

Laser and hologram images engraved on the plates.

  •  Visible seals.
  •  A matching sticker must be placed in a visible location on the windshield.
  •  They cost more: 8,000 colones for motorcycles and 15,000 for cars and trucks.

All vehicles in the country must change their license plate within 3 years, according to a timetable that will be established by the registry.  The good news is that the Registry plans to open new facilities to deal with the more than 1,000,000 vehicles that will have to go through this process.

Another feature is that vehicle owners may now choose their plate number, for an additional fee.  This means that you will be able to choose your ending plate number, which could be useful if there is particular day of the week you don’t normally need to drive in San Jose. It could also allow you to buy a second vehicle that still has the old number-only license plate and matches your current vehicle. You could change to the new format and specify a different ending number to avoid having both vehicles with the same restriction day of the week.

Published by Russ Martin

Helping expats locate reliable used vehicles since 2006. I have lived in Costa Rica since 1994.

4 thoughts on “Costa Rican License Plates

  1. Hi,

    I have a question, I got my number plates changed but my kid screwed up by windshield sticker, is there a way I can get another one? I just pasted it as it is but its looking horrible on the windshield and highly unreadable.


    1. That’s unfortunate! The National Registry would have to issue a new one. If the sticker isn’t damaged, just looking bad, you could try going to a windshield repair shop, they know how to remove them and replace them.

      If you have to replace the sticker, I found an article in the Diario Extra that states that you just go to the National Registry with the damaged sticker and they will replace it. The Registry has several offices around the country. I also found a link on the post office site, that says you can get the new sticker delivered to any of the listed post offices.

    1. Yes and no!

      Yes in the sense that you are able to specify 3 letters and 3 numbers, ever since they switched to the new numbering system. This is convenient for people who have to drive downtown on certain days of the week to avoid the license plate restriction on that day — they can specify an ending plate number to allow themselves to drive every week day except Monday, for example.

      Another case is for people who are here only part of the year, they might choose a number that ends in 3 so they can have the RTV inspection done while they are here in March of each year.

      The answer is no in the sense that they didn’t want to allow people to spell out words or phrases, so the license plate only can have 3 letters at the beginning and three numbers at the end. The letters cannot be vowels, but they do allow “Y”. So you can make some words, but not really what I would consider “Vanity” plates.

      Although I think they should auction off vanity plates on a yearly bases to raise more money for taxes, IMHO.

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