This is a crummy photo taken through my windshield as I was driving. I wanted to get a shot of a tag that was issued YEARS ago (but probably not that long ago in North American comparison). Tags here are issued to the car, not the driver. Meaning, when you buy another car, you don't change the plates from the old car to the new car. The license plate stays with the car and that VIN number in Costa Rica. When you buy a used car, you can do a search on the tag number and find out if it was ever in an accident or has any liens. Since car insurance isn't mandatory here, an accident may or may not be on the record since it may have not been reported. I've seen some really low tag numbers but didn't have my camera at the time. We are currently in the upper six digit numbers and I am wondering will they go to seven digits are just start over with the numbering system since most of the low numbers are off the road.
Recently, San Jose adapted a system to cut down on the inner city traffic.
They go by the first number on your tag. Let's say if it's a "3", then you can't travel in the city on TUUUUesday. Different numbers for different days. It has cut way back on the traffic around the city. There's a $20 fine for violating this restriction. You can Google this to find out specifics. There was a write up in the Tico Times not too long ago, among many other notices. This restriction is fairly new.
The last number on your tag is when it's due for a car inspection. If it's a "4", then April is your inspection month. That's how Transito (traffic police) can tell if you've had your car inspected in the correct month from far away. The colored sticker is on the front windshield and the color plus the number tells them all they need to know.
Taxes are paid in December (Marchamo) for your vehicle. That's another sticker and one you don't want to neglect. They can tow your car away for violation.
With credit on a rampage here in Costa Rica, lots of people buy new cars and hold them until it's time to pay for the taxes. My tax on my car is more than the tax for my property. Typically, they can't really afford the car on their income and the Marchamo tax payment forces them to sell. Buy a car in December if you're looking for a deal.
Well, that's about all I know about license plates. I had a "MACHA" U of F Gator tag in Florida and everyone thought it meant I was a 'Macho girl'. Not at all, Macha is a blond here. I had a lot of fun with that tag for two years and after much convincing the FL DMV, they let me take my tag to CR with me when I sold my car. Usually, in Florida, you have to turn the tag in if you don't have a car to transfer it to. I have many tags from previous cars but now, they want their tag back. I put up a big fight and got my MACHA tag. After all, I did pay for the special tag -twice!! When I first moved here in 2002, my car was garaged so I let the insurance lapse. Well, in Florida, they suspend your driver's license and force you to return the tag if you don't have insurance. I didn't know this and had to pay for the tag again when I was getting it all straightened out.
So, now you may understand why Costa Rica does not have personalize plates. It just wouldn't work unless they change the whole system. Personalized plates would generate a lot of revenue for improving the roads but chances are, it wouldn't go to the roads.
Next time you're on the road here, check out the tags. SJB is a designation for a licensed tour bus. They have all sorts of codes that denote the class of the vehicle. Just so you know, trucks pass inspection much easier than cars because they are considered a work vehicle. Trucks have a special tag (CL). I've failed inspection over my tag light not working when the truck with bald tires in front of me passed with flying colors. Go figure.
Did you notice the sign to the right of the vehicle in the photo? That's a reminder to buckle your seatbeat. They also paint a yellow heart with a halo on the road where someone was killed in an traffic accident.
Around here, you practice defensive driving. That's a whole other post on how the locals drive. Although this is a boring post, I hope it was helpful. It's very different here and it pays to know the rules (and law).