Sticklers for Stickers

New License Plates features

If you are driving in Costa Rica, one thing you should know is that the traffic police are always on the lookout for vehicles with out of date stickers. It’s not only a hefty fine, it can be extremely inconvenient as they have the option to remove the license plate from the vehicle, which they quite often do.

If you are unlucky enough to get caught and have your plate taken, it’s a messy procedure to retrieve your license plate. The registered owner must go personally, or you have to spend money on a power of attorney. And the plate will be in a regional depository, it goes to a unique one depending on where the ticket was issued. Which of course if you happened to be traveling may not be exactly in a convenient location.

In Case of Purchase … HOT TIP!

Stickers Every Vehicle Needs

These stickers also have documents associated with them that must be carried in the vehicle. So you have to make sure that the document is current, as well as the sticker. If the documents are not current, then it isn’t necessarily a deal breaker — but you need to know what you don’t have and make sure the negotiation is clear as to what is included and what is the new owner’s responsibility. At the dealers we normally work with, the price is given including all paperwork being up to date. If a particular vehicle doesn’t have the marchamo paid, or the inspection is coming up — this will be taken car of before the vehicle is delivered and any paperwork is signed.

None of the stickers have an obligatory designated location on the windshield. Although the passenger side is a good choice, so transit officials can see the sticker clearly when they are stationed roadside. You avoid having them stop you by mistake because the sticker is valid but not visible. But many vehicle owners put the sticker along the top of the windshield, behind the rear view mirror so they don’t interfere with visibility. If you have a larger vehicle with ample mirror real estate, this is a good choice as well.

There are 3 required stickers, following is a section explaining each.

License Plate Sticker

Security features and a guarantee !

The license plate sticker is issued along with the new metal plate by the National Registry when vehicles are nationalized. (New Plate Procedure Article) This doesn’t expire and the associated document would be the property title. If you recently purchased the vehicle, then you may not have your own property title as yet. Not to worry! Anyone can drive any passenger vehicle, so the driver identification doesn’t necessarily have to match name the property title. You can show authorities the old title in the previous owner’s name. And if you like, you can carry a copy of the sales document the lawyer gave you when you did the paperwork. If you didn’t receive the property title, then you may check with the lawyer who did the paperwork to have them send it to you. If that’s not possible for some reason, you can get a duplicate title at the regional branches of the National Registry. (See Costa Rican Vehicle Title Replacement article)


The marchamo is paid every year from the beginning of November until December 31st. This is the mandatory insurance required by every vehicle, it is valid from January 1st to December 31st of the current year. This insurance covers people outside the insured vehicle injured in a traffic accident and is designed to defray the expenses incurred by the public health care system emergency facilities due to these accidents. The payment also contains a few different taxes that have been added over the years, and the payment for these are based upon the fiscal value of the vehicle, newer and more expensive vehicles pay more.

A fun fact is that you can no longer pay your marchamo in November and put the new sticker on the windshield, if you also remove the old sticker. You will get a ticket! You have to remove the old sticker after January 1st, but then you will probably have awkward spacing on your front windshield if you put the new sticker below or beside it. If you are a neat freak, that will bother you. But if you peel off the old sticker to maintain order, it will break apart (an anti-theft feature). One option is to go ahead and peel off the old sticker, but have some transparent tape ready to reassemble the sticker and paste it back on for the remainder of the year. Or make sure to switch on EXACTLY January 1st, you can make it part of your New Year’s traditions!

Also, beware of the little square that you have to detach from the marchamo document, this must be applied with the numbers facing out to the sticky part of the marchamo sticker.

Another interesting quirk is that quite often when you go to pay the marchamo in November or December, the vehicle appears to be in the old owner’s name! Not too worry, it’s just that when you’ve purchased a vehicle during the year the INS database doesn’t match the actual information in the National Registry. This makes sense if the vehicle was purchased towards the latter part of the year, to some degree, but it’s inexplicable why 1, 2 and 3 years can pass under the old owner’s name. But it’s not so important, as the marchamo is required on the vehicle regardless of who the owner or driver may be, so there is no penalty for having a misnamed marchamo, so to speak.

Revision Tecnico Vehicular

San Miguel, Heredia, RTV inspection station

The RiTeVe (or RTV) inspection is the third sticker, the inspection is due once a year for passenger vehicles not involved in public transportation. The ending number of the license plate tells you what month the inspection is due, the last day of the month is the final date. So you can image that around the 30th of each month the stations get very busy with last minute inspections, that continue through the 1st and 2nd of each month. A good thing to know is that you can take the car during the month prior, so the middle of that month is an excellent time to have your car inspected.

The RTV inspection involves almost everything you can measure quickly on the vehicles. It began in the late 1990s after the emissions inspection was deemed insufficient and is modeled after what takes place in many European companies. RTV invested in multi-million dollar stations around the country that perform the inspections, each has 6 lanes with designated lanes for diesel vehicles. The stations contain sophisticated equipment to monitor the vehicles and the inspection process.

First, an RTV minion will visually inspect your vehicle: turn signals, other lights, windows, seat belts, tires, engine oil, engine compartment, belts, battery terminals, chassis number, engine number, and fluids. From there you continue through the guantlet where machines check the state of your shocks and suspension, vehicle braking capacity, the carbon monoxide and oxygen levels in your vehicle’s emissions. And you drive over a pit where they inspect the under-body and steering linkages.

The defects that they find in the vehicle can be classified as major or minor. Major faults result in a failed inspection. These can be big or small items, any light not working is a major defect, as well as a single tire worn past the tread wear indicator, and oil leaks. Some faults are a matter of opinion — how worn exactly are the belts? is there oil leaking below or is it just residue from a leak? While others are clear cut measurements, like the emissions test.

If it sounds difficult, don’t worry — it is difficult! RTV won’t turn a profit in any given year if they don’t fail a specified number of vehicles. So they are always asking the government to add items to the inspection, and train their operators to have sharp eyes and closed fists. (no open palms for greasing, if you know what I mean) So the inspection tends to be really nerve-wracking, and usually results in a failure on the first try. Many people have a local mechanic take the vehicle for inspection, this will cost from $30 to $50 depending on the area and the mechanic. Plus the cost of the inspection (currently around $25) and the repairs necessary for passing.

If your vehicle fails the first inspection, then it has to go through a partial inspection of the noted defects. You pay 50% of the price for each additional inspection. Once the vehicle passes, you get a clean inspection report and a sticker — which also has a detachable square that has to go face out on the sticky part of the sticker.

If you are looking to purchase a used or new car in Costa Rica, can help you with our PASS service. Click here, used car buying assistance in Costa Rica for details. Click here, New Cars in Costa Rica for information on the peculiar process.

If you would like to see information about other vehicle types and models, click here — Vehicle Makes and Models in Costa Rica — for a list of articles on our site.

Published by Russ Martin

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

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