Solving the Mystery of Missing License Plates in Costa Rica

Missing license plates in Costa Rica can be a frustrating and confusing experience, and the bureaucracy involved in resolving the issue can add to the frustration. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the steps you can take to solve the mystery of missing license plates promptly and efficiently. Whether your plates were stolen or removed as a sanction, this guide will provide the necessary information to navigate the process successfully.

Parking Recommendations for Plate Security

Parking in secure locations such as parking garages, paid parking lots, or private driveways is highly recommended to minimize the risk of taking or stealing your license plates. However, when street parking is unavoidable, there are certain precautions you can take to protect your plates:

  1. Be vigilant of parking signs, yellow-painted curbs, and private entrances.
  2. Watch out for unofficial parking vigilantes, known as guachiman in Costa Rica, who may request a specific amount of money in exchange for watching your car. They might also assist you in parking but expect spare change as a token of gratitude.
  3. Take note of the surroundings, including other vehicles, and capture pictures of the parking area, any signs present, and the immediate vicinity of your car for future reference.

Dealing with Missing License Plates in Costa Rica

Discovering that your license plates are missing can be alarming, but remaining calm and taking immediate action is essential. Follow these steps to handle the situation effectively:

  1. Document the Situation:
    • Take photographs of your vehicle, focusing on any damage and the area where it was parked.
    • Inspect your windshield and hood for parking tickets.
    • Capture images of other cars, nearby signs, and the parking location.
  2. Ensure Safety:
    • If it’s unsafe to make phone calls on the spot, find a nearby hotel, restaurant, or gas station where you can safely contact the relevant authorities.
    • Driving without license plates may attract the attention of traffic police and result in fines or even impoundment of your vehicle.
  3. Reporting the Theft:
    • Contact your insurance company to file a report and request an agent to inspect your car, document the incident, and provide a written statement.
    • File a report with the local police station, specifically the Fuerza Pública, responsible for handling theft and other criminal activities. Obtain a written statement from them as well.

Understanding COSEVI

COSEVI (Consejo de Seguridad Vial), an abbreviation for the Council of Road Safety, operates under the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation in Costa Rica. Like the Department of Motor Vehicles or the Department of Transportation in the United States, COSEVI plays a crucial role in ensuring the proper use of the country’s roadways.

COSEVI’s Authority to Remove License Plates

COSEVI has the authority to remove license plates as a sanction to ensure the payment of fines. While it was traditionally reserved for severe or repeat violations, instances of license plate removal have become more common. Removing your license plates by COSEVI does not involve towing your vehicle but serves as a deterrent until the fine is settled.

Paying or Appealing the Ticket

You must pay the fine or appeal the ticket to recover your license plates. Here are the steps involved in each process:

  1. Paying the Fine:
    • If you pay the fine, deposit it into COSEVI’s bank account through the Bank of Costa Rica (BCR).
    • Paying within 10 business days will automatically qualify you for a 15% discount on the fine amount.
  1. Appealing the Ticket:
    • To appeal the ticket, you must follow a specific process within 10 business days of issuance.
    • Send an email to [email protected] and include the following:
      • A written appeal stating the reasons for contesting the fine.
      • Any supporting evidence, such as photographs or reports, can strengthen your case.
      • Proof of your vehicle’s most recent registration and inspection.
      • Copies of both sides of your valid ID.

Retrieving Your License Plates

You must schedule an appointment with COSEVI to retrieve your license plates. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Making an Appointment:
    • Ensure you arrive at the COSEVI office 15 minutes before your appointment to avoid losing it.
    • Failure to attend your appointment will result in the cancellation of the slot.
  2. During the Appointment:
    • Bring proof of payment, a copy of the appeal submission, and your valid ID (Cédula, Dimex, or Passport).
    • The COSEVI agent will verify your payment or appeal and provide you with the necessary forms to sign.
    • Sign the forms acknowledging the receipt of your license plates, and agree to stay in touch regarding the appeal.
    • The agent will retrieve your license plates from the back room and return them to you.


Dealing with missing license plates can be a frustrating experience, but by following the appropriate steps and understanding the processes involved, you can resolve the issue effectively. Remember to document the situation, report the theft to your insurance company and local police, and contact COSEVI to pay the fine or appeal the ticket. By being proactive and patient throughout the process, you can recover your license plates and get back on the road with peace of mind.

Always prioritize parking in secure areas, remain vigilant about your surroundings, and take necessary precautions to avoid the theft of your license plates. Safety and peace of mind are paramount when dealing with such situations.

-Written by Glenn Tellier (Founder of CRIEand Grupo Gap).

[email protected]

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Frequently Asked Questions


What should I do if my license plates are missing?

If you discover that your license plates are missing, the first step is to take pictures of any damage and the surrounding area where your vehicle was parked. Then, contact your insurance company to report the incident and request an agent to assess the situation. Additionally, you should file a report at the nearest police station to document the theft.

Can the authorities remove my license plates?

Yes, the authorities in Costa Rica, specifically COSEVI (Consejo de Seguridad Vial), can remove license plates as a sanction for certain traffic violations. This measure ensures payment of fines and acts as a deterrent to repeated offenses.

How do I replace my stolen license plates?

You can work with COSEVI to obtain replacements if your license plates were stolen. It’s essential to report the theft to your insurance company and the police, as they will provide the necessary documentation for the replacement process.

What if I received a parking ticket but never received it physically?

If you suspect you received a parking ticket but never received it physically, it’s advisable to contact COSEVI directly. They can issue a duplicate ticket copy containing information about when, where, and why your license plates were removed. You can then choose to pay the fine or appeal it.

How can I appeal a traffic ticket in Costa Rica?

To appeal a traffic ticket in Costa Rica, you must submit a written appeal via email to [email protected] within 10 business days of the ticket’s issuance. Include a detailed explanation of your grounds for contesting the fine, along with any supporting evidence and relevant documents, such as photographs, reports, and proof of vehicle registration and inspection.

How do I make a payment for the fine?

To pay for the fine indicated on the ticket, you must deposit the required amount into the COSEVI bank account through the Bank of Costa Rica (BCR). If you pay within 10 business days, a 15% discount will be automatically applied.

Can I schedule an appointment to retrieve my license plates?

Yes, you must make an appointment with COSEVI to retrieve your license plates. Arrive 15 minutes early for your appointment and ensure you have proof of payment or appeal submission and your valid ID (Cédula, Dimex, or Passport). Failure to show up for the appointment may result in its cancellation.

Do I need to provide a power of attorney if the vehicle is not in my name?

If the vehicle is not registered under your name, you may need to provide a notarized power of attorney to replace or retrieve your license plates. This ensures that you have the legal authority to act on behalf of the vehicle’s owner.


Please note that the information provided in these FAQs is based on general guidelines and procedures. It’s always recommended to consult with relevant authorities, such as COSEVI or legal professionals, for specific and up-to-date information regarding your situation.



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