Owning a Car in Costa Rica

It is most assuredly NOT cheap to drive in Costa Rica.  Besides gasoline, which is very expensive, there are the costs for Insurance, Marchamo Inspection, Vehicle Inspections, and Plates.  Add maintenance and you can have a huge expense.  To fill my tank on my NIssan X-Trail 4X4 is now just over 43,000 colones, currently $86.00 US.  (2012)

Quick Links - Click and go!

To Bring or To Buy?
Vehicle Inspection
License Plates
Car Repairs

To Bring or To Buy!

Please see To Bring or To Buy.





Auto Expenses Costa Rica


Auto insurance is not mandatory, but if you buy it, prepare to pay a ton.  Coverage varies, and a web site like this cannot keep current, so I won't try.  What I will do is give you MY cost.  For my 2009 Nissan X-trail, nothing special, with Liability, Collision, and Theft (no comprehensive), the cost is $1,600.00 per year.  It is thus no wonder that if you are in an accident, the other guy probably does not have insurance.  You can buy a liability policy only to protect yourself for about 39,000 colones each six months.

What I have done is to just pay the 39,000 colones. I self insure and drive as defensively as I am able. I have saved $15,000+ and if I have an accident whether my fault or not, I am prepared to pony up for the car repairs. If I suffer a total loss... well that will be a bad hair day for sure.




This is the obligatory 'liability' insurance carried on all vehicles in Costa Rica. I think all it really does is fund the insurance monopoly!  It must be renewed annually between November 1 and December 31. A car without the marchamo decal on the windshield is illegal after the 1st of January may be impounded. Marchamo cannot be paid if there are any outstanding parking or traffic tickets  issued against the car during the year. It can be done at the MOPT offices, or at a number of private locations including all public and most private banks. The cost of the marchamo depends on the year, make and model of the car.  Do NOT wait to do this as everyone is paying these and long lines are even longer.

On my car (see above), I paid about $760 (December, 2011). Best not to forget marchamo as it is NOT a minor expense. Even an older car (1998) can cost $200 plus.

The amount of Marchamo you must pay will be available on-line Here.

**You cannot get your Marchamo without a current inspection certificate!  

** You also cannot pay marchamo if you have any outstanding traffic tickets though this is being disputed.

If you fail to pay, you will be ticketed, your plates confiscated and the car will be towed. Getting it back is a hassle you just would not believe! The above actions take place January 2nd and the police are everywhere. They do not mess around with this! Pay your marchamo on time.




Vehicle Technical Inspection (aka Revision Technica)

Each vehicle must have an inspection certificate in the car and a decal on the windshield that proves 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. This is what people mean when they speak of Reteve, or revision technica.

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 safely 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. There is a charge for the inspections. In January 2012 a normal car cost about ¢15,000.

Inspections are necessary each year on older vehicles, and after two years for new vehicles.  

Police are ALWAYS looking for cars that do not have the current window sticker. While not as nasty as marchamo, you really do not want to get caught without a current sticker.




License Plates

A car will initially be issued with a paper license (placa), which must be affixed to the front windshield. Because they fade 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 (it can take a while), 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. The public registry in Zapote sometimes has long lines, but there is another Registry is in the Plaza Mejor Mall in Rohmeiser (much faster!).

When metal plates come in, 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. (Titulo de propiedad)
* Yellow registration card. (Tarjeta de circulación)
* Resident ID Card (Cédula or carnet) or passport

Thankfully, the dealer does all this for you!  Let them... they are pros at this stuff!  



Car Repairs

One really piece of good news is the price for auto repair. There are a ton of body shops around the country, and time and again I see great work done. Prices can vary, so shop around. I have yet to find a shop that speaks English.

I had repairs done on my old car, a Mitsubishi Lancer. Two or three dents, a bad fender issue where the road ended and I didn't see it. Some chipped paint. Maybe 10 scrapes and stuff received in mall parking lots. In the USA, I estimate the repairs would have cost between $1,200 to $1,600.00... more at a dealer. I know this as I had a fair bit of experience in pricing body work. Here, all the work was completed perfectly for $199.20.

The same is true for mechanical work. Clearly you need a good reference here, but the same thing applies. Plan on paying about 10-15% of US prices.

The above figures exclude new car dealers who, like in the USA, give you a thorough screwing. Must be part of the franchise thing!





Email this page to a friend

page on your social networks. 

© Copyright 2003-2019  by Tim Lytle
Real Costa Rica Site Map  | Advertise on the Real Costa Rica
Link to Us 
| Odds and Ends | Contact Us
Design: Black Coral Design | Hosted by: TicoSites 

Sign our Guest Book and tell us what you think

JavaScript MUST be enabled to properly use this web site. To verify if yours is, click here.

The REAL Costa Rica is best viewed at a resolution of 1024 X 768 with Firefox or Microsoft Internet Explorer

Visually Impaired? Is our web site hard for you to read? Click Here