Cote de Pablo was born in Santiago, Chile as María José de Pablo Fernández, but was raised in Miami, Florida by her parents, Maria Olga Fernandez and Francisco de Pablo. Cote has a sister named Andrea and a brother named Francisco. She attended Arvida Middle School in Miami and then Carnegie Mellon University. She graduated in 2000 after studying music theater. Whilst at Carnegie Mellon she appeared in several theater productions, including Indiscretions, The Fantasticks, The House of Bernarda Alba, And The World Goes 'Round, A Little Night Music, and Cloud Techtonics. Her first television role was hosting the 1994 show Control, alongside Entertainment Tonight host Carlos Ponce.