Costa Rica, being a small country with a developed public transit system and inexpensive, accessible taxis, can still be surprisingly difficult to navigate without a car. Once you learn your city’s bus routes, public transit is a great way to move from one spot to another within your city, however out of town travel will still be slow and cumbersome. Many people on extended stays in Costa Rica will at some point choose to buy or rent a car. Having a personal vehicle will not only help you to make the most of any sightseeing trip, it will make life significantly easier for those of you living in the region. This being a popular opinion among out-of-towners, some of the most common questions we hear concern driving policies and how to obtain a Costa Rican driver’s license. The bad news first: you must be a resident of Costa Rica to apply for a driver’s license. The good news: you can still legally drive with your original driver’s license from your home country, but within certain limits.
Understanding the Laws
Costa Rica’s Transit Law Article 91 gives permission for visitors to Costa Rica to legally drive with their license from their home country as long as their tourism visas are valid. As any of you already in Costa Rica know, tourism visas are given upon entry with a validity of 90 days. After 90 days, you must leave the country. Many people on extended trips choose to leave Costa Rica right before their visa expires, and immediately re-enter, receiving another 90-day tourism visa. In this case, you’ve also renewed the validity of your original driver’s license. As long as you have a valid, up-to-date driver’s license and are in Costa Rica with a valid tourism visa, you’re free to drive. Keep in mind this may not necessarily mean you’re being covered by your insurance – you’ll need to reach out to your agency for your detailed coverage information.
Getting your License
For those of you now with your Costa Rican residency, unfortunately your home driver’s license is still only accepted for 90 days after your last entry into the country. Not to fear, getting your Costa Rican driver’s license is rather simple. 3 months after receiving your residency, you are eligible to apply for a national driver’s license. You will need the following documents to apply:
- Your Costa Rican proof of residency. Your cedula will be the best option.
- Proof of nationality. A copy of the bio page of your passport will be sufficient proof. Always bring an extra copy, just in case.
- A copy of the visa stamp given upon your last entry to the country. This needs to be 91 days ago without any exits.
- A copy of both sides of your original license from your home country. If this is in any non-Spanish language, you will need to submit a professional, certified translation. The best way to obtain a certified translation is through the English Services Department of a local national university. They may charge you up to $35 a page, a huge frustration for a bilingual applicant, but this is the only way they will accept the translation as legitimate.
- A current medical examination. You can obtain this at a private clinic for around $35. The certificate of health they offer you is valid for 6 months, so you can do this ahead of time. You are probably familiar with this process from your residency application.
- The fee for the license, which is approximately $22.
Once all these documents are in hand, plus extra copies just in case, you can head to the COSEVI offices in San Jose or a branch in your city. Often, handing in these documents and paying the fee is the entire process. After this you are instructed where to go to take your license photo and receive the license. Other times, you may be asked to take a vision and hearing test. This all depends on the administrator. If you do not have a valid driver’s license from your home country, at this point you will schedule your written exam and driving test.
Hopefully, after gathering the documents, you will be approved and handed your Costa Rican driver’s license in just one day. You’ll be free to drive for the next 3 years, at which point you’ll return to COSEVI with the same documents from the list above and be issued a renewed license.