From now until January 2016 motorists will have to get new license plates for their vehicles.
This is perhaps the longest-running changeover in history as Costa Rica introduces optional plates containing letters as well as numbers. There also are several security features that will cut down on registration cloning and other scams.
As with every long-term Costa Rican project, there also is a chance that the government will change its mind in midstream.
As it stands now, every three months plates can be sought for a vehicle when the current plate has the appropriate final digit.
Owners of vehicles with plates ending in the number 1 can obtain new plates through October. Owners with plates ending in 2 can do so in November, December and January, 2014. Those unfortunate enough to have plates ending in the number 0 have to wait until November and December 2015 and January 2016.
Clerks are sticking to that rule. The first question is “What is the last number of the license plate?”
There have been some changes that benefit motorists. The most important is that there is no need to turn over the current license plates and await new ones. Those who seek the exchange at the offices of the Registro Nacional are supposed to be able to get new plates in 45 minutes, so the motorist should carry the old plates for the visit.
Otherwise, the old plates are not required until the new ones are picked up. Correos de Costa Rica also is providing the service, and workers there appear to be more obliging than those at the Registro offices. They take the order and the fees, then instruct motorists to await a phone call.
Plates also can be ordered online via the Registro Web page. Then there is just a visit to pick up the new license plates.
Post office workers can do the entire procedure simply based on the license plate number. All the details about marchamo, driving infractions and similar are online. The only documentation needed is the identification of the vehicle owner, such as a cédula, if the owner is an individual. As long as the ID matches that on file and there are no pending traffic fines, the experience is quick. Then the vehicle owner must surrender the old plates in a return visit.
Postal service workers also can take payments, sparing the applicant a trip to the bank.
The postal service also had a delivery service in the metro area for an additional 10,000-colon charge.
Correos also collects a 4,600-colon service charge for delivery to metro area postal offices for pickup. So for the owner of a private car, the total will be 19,600 colons, 15,000 for exchanging the plate and the remainder as a Correo fee. Owners of motorcycles only have to pay 8,000 for exchanging the plates.
Of course, those who choose to exchange plates at Registro offices do not have to pay the 4,600 colons.
Banco de Costa Rica also will process plates, but the charge there is 5,000 colons, about $10.
Both the postal service and the Registro make clear that the owner of record must apply for the new plates. Anyone else must have a notarized document from the owner of record.
If the vehicle is in a corporation, the applicant must be the responsible party.
There also are provisions for situations where the owner of record had died. All of these detail are on the Registro Web page.
When news of the changeover came out, some expats went into a panic and sought immediate answers that did not exist. Now that the kinks have been ironed out, the only problem should be trying to get the old plates off that car. A large dose of Liquid Wrench is suggested.