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Driving in Costa Rica with a Foreign Drivers License

 This article is based upon the current Traffic Law of Costa Rica (Ley 9078)

 According to Article 91 of the Costa Rica Transit Law  (Ley 9078) the country will recognize and grant reciprocity to foreign drivers licenses.  In the case of tourists the foreign license will be valid to drive in Costa Rica for up to three (3) months.

 The most common question I am getting is “What happens after 3 months ?”.   Since the maximum amount of time that a tourist can legally stay in Costa Rica is 90 days (3 months) the validity of the foreign license was tied to that time frame as well.

 The answer which nobody really wants to hear is that you will have to leave Costa Rica and then re-enter to get another 90 day tourist visa which will in turn validate your license for the new period.

 For those of you that have a residency application pending there is no automatic extension.   I realize that in most cases getting residency approved can take more tan 6 months which means that the applicant would have to leave the country at least twice to keep the drivers license valid for driving in Costa Rica while the residency application being processed.   I know what you are thinking – that does not make sense and you would be right.  However the Immigration Law and the Traffic Law are 2 separate pieces of legislation and it seems that nobody contemplated that these 2 laws have impact on foreigners.   If the Department of Immigration would approve residency within 3 months then that would solve the problem but that is wishful thinking.

 Unfortunately the traffic law (Article 91(b) (ii) makes it clear that the only way to get a drivers license for more tan 3 months is to provide that the applicant has a residency status in Costa Rica which allows them to legally remain in the country for more than the three month tourist visa.

 What is the penalty if you get caught past the 90 day validity of the license ?  First off any insurance on the vehicle will not cover you if you drive with an expired license.  Secondly the law imposes two fines.  The first one is a monetary fine of 47,000 Colones (Article 146) and the 2nd is that the transit police are authorized to strip the vehicle of its license plates so you can no longer drive that vehicle on the streets (Article 151)

In addition the law the Transit authority has interpreted that in order to obtain the Costa Rican drivers license the foreigner must obtain residency status and then wait 90 days for the tourist visa to expire.   The logic (or lack of it) appears to be that you must expire the 90 day tourist visa and then on the 91 day if you have residency you are elgible to have the Costa Rica drivers license.  


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