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This page describes much important information about the vehicle and traffic laws in Costa Rica:


IMPORT DUTIES

Currently, the import cost on a car from new to 3 years old is 52.29% of its value. A used car from 4 to 5 years old has import duties of 63.91%, and a car over 5 years old, 79.03%. The government sets the value of the car for tax purposes. The value placed on an older car has nothing to do with the condition of the car. Only the year, make, model, engine, and accessories are taken into account. It is, therefore, not wise to import a vehicle that is not in excellent condition. Because the formula to calculate the exact value is complicated, it is best to get a quotation in advance of importing.

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MARCHAMO

This is the obligatory liability insurance carried on all vehicles in Costa Rica. It must be renewed annually between November 1st and December 31st. A car without an insurance decal on the windshield is illegal after the 1st of January. When the marchamo is paid, it is also necessary to pay any parking or traffic tickets that were issued against the car during the year and to prove that the vehicle inspection sticker is current. This can be done at the MOPT offices or at a number of private locations including some private banks. The cost of the marchamo depends on the year, make, and model of the car.

A special vehicle tax on luxury vehicles valued at 7,000,000 colones or more became payable with the marchamo starting in 2003. This is a tax in the temporary tax package of January 2003 for the national debt reduction and is still in effect. The tax is 50% of the vehicle property tax. For example, a vehicle valued at 9,000,000 colones would have an annual additional fee of 100,000 colones.

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VEHICLE TECHNICAL INSPECTION

Each vehicle must have a certificate in the car and a decal on the windshield that proves that the vehicle inspection is current. Inspections are done at one of the many specially constructed locations around the country. They were built and are operated by a Spanish firm that won the contract to perform motor vehicle inspections.

The month of the inspection depends upon the last digit of the license plate. The vehicles are tested for exhaust emissions, brakes, lights, turn signals, windshield wipers, and a list of other safety-related features. Vehicles without a valid decal on the windshield and document in the car are subject to a fine if caught by the transit police. It is also not possible to get the next marchamo without proof that the inspection is current. There is a charge for the inspections.

Inspections are required each year on older vehicles and every two years for newer vehicles.

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LICENSE PLATES

A car will initially be issued a paper license (placa) which must be affixed to the front windshield. Because it fades in the sun, it is advisable to affix a photocopy to the windshield and to carry the original in the glove compartment. There is an expiration date shown on the paper placa. If you are caught driving the vehicle beyond this date, the fine is from 10,000 to 20,000 colones.

To renew the paper placa if metal plates are still not available, the paper license must be taken to the public registry in Zapote and they will put a seal on it to extend it. There is no charge for this service. The license cannot be renewed until the day it expires. There are services available to do this for you for a small fee. This avoids confusion at the registry and standing in line. The public registry in Zapote is famous for its line-ups.

When metal plates arrive, take photocopies of the following documents to the central registry in Zapote:

  • Provisional placa (paper original) — The original will have to be turned in.
  • Title deed to the car (Título de Propiedad)
  • Yellow registration card (Tarjeta de Circulación)
  • Resident ID card (Cédula or Carnet) or passport.

These documents are in case they are requested. They will sometimes need to keep copies of the resident ID card or passport, the title deed and the registration card. The two can be on one photocopy. It is recommended that someone with experience assist you with this service as it is well worth the small fee.

NOTE:  It is illegal to operate a motor vehicle without a valid cédula or passport (or a copy certified by a lawyer), a valid driver's license either Costa Rican or foreign, and the original paper license if metal plates are not on the car. A foreign driver's license is valid for tourists if the length of stay permitted (usually 3 months) in the passport has not been exceeded. It is possible for the transit police to impound the vehicle if any of the papers mentioned are not valid or are not in the vehicle. With a rental car, the rental agreement also needs to be carried.

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TRAFFIC OFFENSES

Traffic enforcement falls to the transit police. They wear khaki pants, white shirts and drive marked blue cars, blue or white pickup trucks, or a variety of motorcycle types. Most speed enforcement is done with a hand-held radar gun from the side of the road. If you are exceeding the speed limit, the officer will motion you to stop. He will request the paperwork mentioned previously and will usually show you the radar gun to confirm your speed.

Speeding fines are currently 5,000 colones up to 20 KPH over the speed limit and 20,000 colones if more than 20 KPH over the speed limit. The fine for going through a red light is 10,000 colones. If fines are paid before the end of the year when the marchamo is purchased, it is necessary to pay at a specified bank in the national banking system. A service charge for receiving the fine payment will have to be paid in addition to the fine.

Speed limits are usually 90 KPH on major highways and 60 KPH at all intersections in the Central Valley. 75 KPH is common on many secondary highways and outside the Central Valley. The speed limit in school zones is usually 25 KPH when students are present.

Most transit police are very polite, and on many occasions, if they feel that the driver is a confused tourist, they may simply give a warning provided that all documents are in order.

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All information is subject to change without notice and should be independently verified. www.MyZoneCostaRica.com is wholly owned and operated by MiZona Costa Rica, S.A., a Costa Rican corporation.  All Rights Reserved

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