Everyday Life In Costa Rica: RTV

There are three initials that cause nearly every Costa Rican to groan when they hear them. No, I’m not talking about TQM (te quiero mucho), although many do groan when they hear that since it’s cheesy. I’m talking about RTV: The annual vehicle inspection required for all Costa Rican cars, trucks, vans, taxis, buses, and basically anything else with wheels except wheelchairs and oxcarts.


This picture is actually about 4 or 5 years old but trust me: it’s still just as depressing of a place. And you are still always going to choose the wrong line. They also replaced the signage: it’s now a bit less Kindergarten-y, and I believe it now reads “Abandon all hope, ye who drive into here.”

Having a car in Costa Rica is very useful, and I actually couldn’t envision living where I do in the mountains without one. It’d theoretically be possible to take a bus to work, but I’d have to leave something like 6 hours before work. And that’d just be the first bus. So a car it is. It’s a bit of a necessary evil. Necessary for the aforementioned difficulty of getting around without one, but evil because they’re expensive as hell.

To start off with, almost any car, whether new or used, will cost about twice as much as the same car in the US. Interestingly, that seems to be even more true for used cars, since they’re almost always imported from the US, and therefore have to pay high import taxes. New cars may be able to skip the middleman of the US (and about 5 years of use in some salty, car-rusting place like south Florida), although they are still more expensive here. Then there’s gas, which is currently about $5.70 a gallon. If you’re a good Costa Rican–and I’m not–you also have to pay for water and soap to diligently wash it every week. And of course there’s also insurance, the annual registration, and the annual inspection, known as “Riteve” or “RTV.”


The RTV station in Cañas. I stupidly decided to get my car checked there one year when I was teaching a class in Guanacaste once a week. I had the required appointment, but I still had to wait two hours. As did all these other saps.


Another one of the RTV station in Cañas. I’m thinking the single inspection bay might have something to do with the terrible service. Might.

RTV stands for “Revisión Técnica Vehicular,” the meaning of which you should probably be able to work out. Rather stupidly, its also referred to as “Riteve,” and that’s even its internet domain name, despite the fact that it should clearly be “ReTeVe,” with an “e” instead of the first “i.” But then again, we also abbreviate combination as “combo” and not “combi,” so sometimes all logic goes out the window.

In fact, throwing away all logic is a good mindset to get into before going to the RTV. We have a (crappy) 1999 Nissan Sentra that often passes, but it hasn’t always. Today was one of those days, unfortunately. It apparently has tires that are too worn down and some exhaust problems. I asked about the tires, and he said I should have them checked if necessary. I pointed out that the purpose of the inspection was to check for things like tires, and asked, “But if it failed, doesn’t that mean that you guys determined that they need to be replaced?” And the guy responded, “Yes, but check them out to see which ones need it.” Well, that’s kind of a non-answer, but oh well.


“This is where the magic happens.” They’ve also updated the inside a bit, with flatscreens and everything. It’s a Spanish company that runs RTV, so they’ve probably got to make it seem like the money they’re fleecing us out of is used for something.

I’m more concerned with the emissions part. Some gas or what-have-you called “CH” or “HC” (I forget) was apparently measured at 200 something, but it can’t go over 100. So now I need to find someone who can actually measure that crap and take some kind of actions to fix it. And then return to Alajuela to re-inspect it. That’s actually the worst part. It’s about a two-hour round-trip ordeal to get our car to the closest inspection place, and you need to find a time when you’re not working to get it done, of course. And there’s a $20 charge for the first time, and re-inspection will cost about $10. I’d actually be happy to pay double that if I could just do it closer, but that’s just the way it is.

I do think there should be some kind of inspection to keep shitty vehicles off the road, but this inspection obviously is not it, since the roads are flooded with shitty cars belching out all kinds of crap way worse than my car. I’m not trying to make excuses for my own car, but I do smell something in the air that’s not my car’s CH/HC: it’s a rat.

Anyhow, if you have a RTV story you’d like to share, or if you live somewhere else that also requires inspections (or doesn’t), feel free to leave a comment.

Thanks for reading!

The following two tabs change content below.


Just One Monkey On One Of Infinite Typewriters at Costa Rica Outsider
Hello, and welcome to Costa Rica Outsider! My name is Ryan Sitzman. and I'm the proverbial "man behind the curtain" for this site. I hope you like it, and I'd love to hear any comments or feedback you may have. I also have a language learning blog at sitzmanabc.com, or you can check out my personal site at sitzblog.com. Thanks for stopping by!

6 thoughts on “Everyday Life In Costa Rica: RTV

  1. Riteve in Liberia has three bays, computerized emissions testing and we were in and out in an hour. Got taken within 10 minutes of our appointment time (book early in the morning when they are less grumpy). Our thirteen year old Hyundai passed no problem. Maybe you get what you expect …just saying.

    • Hi there,

      Thanks for your comment! You’re probably right that the timing affects things, although I’m not sure I could have changed the emissions test even with positive expectations.

      On the whole, I think that both RTV and many other obligatory institutions have improved here in the last few years. Nonetheless, I try to find weird, interesting, cool, or different (sometimes frustrating) aspects of life here to talk about, and I don’t generally mean things too seriously. This post has a lot of exaggeration and more than a bit of frustration at not having passed. But I am actually concerned about how I’m going to figure out the emissions problem, and especially about how to fix it. And I’d prefer to not have to use a day off of work to go to Alajuela again, but so be it.

      The one in Liberia sounds good. Frankly, it was just dumb of me to go to Cañas that one time. And who knows; I think that a few years ago there was a lot more discontent surrounding RTV and that seems to have helped them improve, so maybe even Cañas is better now, too.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. OMG Ryan you had that yearly RITEVE experience!! What a joy!! Excellent article and painfully TRUE!! Thijs can tell you all about his yearly fun trip to Alajuela or Puntarenas! We had that same problem with the emission part some months ago! If you need someone to help you with the emission gasses (or what’s the name?!) we recommend a nice guy called Manfred, he is from La Granja and he helped us. Take care!

  3. Only marginally related, I suppose, since I’m in the US, but I do feel your pain!

    Different states in the US have different vehicle inspection rules. When I was a freshman in college, my car came due for inspection. The college where I lived was in Virginia, but the car was registered in my permanent address state, Florida. To get a complete Florida inspection, I needed an emissions test, something they don’t require in Virginia. No requirement = no one nearby invests in the equipment, so I was forced to just let the inspection expire temporarily. A couple weeks later, I drove with my now-husband to New Jersey for Thanksgiving with his family. NJ requires emissions testing, so I had it done there. It’s not free there, though. So in the end, it cost me two weeks, a NJ emissions test fee, 300 miles’ worth of gas for the VA to NJ trip, a late/expired charge from the state of Florida, a fee for the rest of the inspection which I’d already had done in Virginia, plus Florida’s usual renewal fee to get it done.

    Needless to say, when I went home to Florida for the summer, I had a new inspection done to reset the inspection clock. I wasn’t going to do that again for the next three years!

    Have fun in line this next time…bring a book….

Leave a Reply