Costa Rica Drivers License
Read this carefully!
First, while Costa Rica issues visas to some visitors from a few countries, most visitors (like from the USA, Canada), get a stamp in their passport when passing through immigration. THIS is their VISA and the date that is hand written inside the stamp indicates when your visa expires, i.e. when you must leave the country. It is no longer automatically 90 (or 30) days.
If you are visiting Costa Rica, you may drive on the driver's license issued by your home country so long as your visa has not expired. Once your visa has expired, so has your license (regardless of its expiration date in your home country) and any insurance you may have.
This is important! Depending on the country you are from, your tourist visa may be as long as ninety days or as short as thirty days. See Entry to Costa Rica. However, once it expires, you cannot drive legally in Costa Rica unless you have applied for and received your Costa Rica license. (See below). To see visa regulations, click here then go to Visa Regulations. This may not be 90 or 30 days as in the past.
The validity of your home country license is NOT based on its expiration but rather the date handwritten inside your visa stamp! Also important. If you are not driving on a valid license, you have NO insurance coverage even if you paid for it.
If you "renew" your tourist visa by leaving the country and returning, your non-Costa Rica driver's license will be good for another period of time equal to the date in your visa. If you live in Costa Rica and your are a legal resident (or citizen), it is an excellent idea to get your Costa Rican drivers license.
Costa Rica law now prohibits issuance of a Costa Rica drivers license to anyone not a citizen or legal resident of Costa Rica. If you are pr plan to be a "perpetual tourist" (not legal btw), you will not be able to apply for a Costa Rica drivers license.
Getting your license.
While the process is simple enough, the time to do it may be a bit daunting. Plan on from one to two hours. See my recent experience here.
For NEW license applications, you MUST go to the Consevi location in Uruca located about 100M from the Banco Nacional on the main road through Uruca and about 200 meters west from the gas station. Big building - Hard to miss. For a detailed first hand explanation of the process, check the blog.
For renewals, you can go to all MOPT offices in Liberia, Limon, San Jose, San Ramon etc.
For a new or renewal license, you will need your a receipt from Banco de Costa Rica for the cost of the license, your current un-expired drivers license, your passport with a current entry stamp, and a doctors examination certificate, and cash to pay the doctor. **
There is also now a payment window just inside the gates of COSEVI.
If you have changed addresses or residency since your last license, you may have to travel across town to register those changes before you can renew. Make sure all info on your current license is 100% accurate before trying to renew it.
New info regarding drivers licenses for citizens! Please see this.
Note: In front of the Consevi building, (as in front of many government offices in Costa Rica) you will find a group of people who want to want to be your guide through this process. Many speak some form of understandable English. If you have come alone and speak little or no Spanish, and feel a bit daunted by all the movement and seeming disorganization, consider using one of these guys to sort of tell you what is going on and get you started. A couple of bucks goes a long way, and you'll catch on pretty quick.
You will need to take a physical. Total joke! Testing includes eyes, blood pressure and several other things. I renewed recently and they checked NOTHING but got me for 17,000 colones. There are several doctors office I could find near Consevi. You just go into it to get the exam. No waiting. The cost at this writing is 15,000 - 20,000. A total rip-off but nothing you can do. There are also others all over town and you can now take your physical "online". Nice trick, but you get the needed number.
Then you take the items above and the results of your physical to the licensing area about 300 meters behind the Consevi building where you will present your receipt, your current drivers license, your passport with a current entry stamp (or your cedula), and the doctor's examination certificate. You will go through at two separate lines and but they move along ok.
It takes about 90 minutes to renew a license. If you are 65+, go directly to the front of the line and show your ID. My renewal took less than 10 minutes.
There is not a lot of parking available, so either have someone take you or take a cab. Getting there is easy.
When done, you will have your first Costa Rica license. It will be for two years, but when you renew it (or if you are renewing now), it will be for five years.
Hint: If you have a Costa Rica drivers license now, do NOT let that baby expire. If you do, you will need drivers classes, plus will need to take the written and drivers exam (in Spanish). The inspector probably will not speak Spanish. being pro-active here will save you a TON of time and trouble.
** Note to perpetual tourists!
Occasionally, people come to Costa Rica and never leave. They are illegal, but don't think they will get caught. At the beginning, they leave every three months, but after a while, they just don't leave any more. One thing to remember... if you already have your Costa Rica driver's license, your CR license expires when your tourist visa expires, and that can get you into a bit of trouble.
If you currently have a valid current motorcycle license (or endorsement), you can apply for and receive the Costa Rica Motorcycle license without taking the exam. If not, then you must take all exams including the practical to ne licensed. I also think you should probably get your head examined as well as driving a a moto here is just plain dangerous.
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