Driving in Costa Rica with a Foreign Drivers License
If you are visiting Costa Rica as a tourist or intend to live in the country and will be applying for residency you may need to drive a vehicle while you are here.
The Traffic Law # 9078
According to Article 91 of the Costa Rica Transit Law (Ley 9078) the country will recognize and grant reciprocity to foreign driver’s 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.
What if you have a Residency application pending ?
For those of you that have a residency application pending before the Department of Immigration 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 driver’s license valid for driving in Costa Rica while the residency application is 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 two separate pieces of legislation and it seems that nobody contemplated that these two 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 driver’s 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 3 month tourist visa.
What is the penalty for driving with an expired License
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 secondnd is that the transit police are authorized to remove the license plates from the vehicle so you can no longer drive it on the streets (Article 151)
How do I get a Costa Rican Driver License ?
Once your residency has been approved you must wait an additional 90 days before you can apply for a Costa Rican driver’s license. The apparent logic (or lack of it) for this is that the applicant must let the 90 day tourist status expire before they will be elgible to obtain the Costa Rica driver’s license.
Where do I process the Drivers License and What are the requirements ?
Requirements to obtain a Costa Rica Driver License with a Foreign Driver License
1. Have legal residency in Costa Rica
2. Demonstrate your nationality (copy of passport)
3. Original foreign drivers license (must be valid)
4. Must have been present in Costa Rica for 91 consecutive days. Show the passport entry stamp or obtain a certification of entry and exit issued by the Department of Immigration.
5. If you have a drivers license from a country other than then the one you are coming from or were born it you will have to demonstrate your residency in that third country.
6. Obtain the required medical certification. To do this you will have to visit a doctor that is authorized to issued medical certifications for driver’s license.
7. If your drivers license is in a foreign language other than Spanish or English you will need to have it officially translated.
8. Bring 2 copies of the driver’s license (both sides) and write on them your local address and sign it.
9. Pay the fee for the driver’s license. This is done on the spot when you are authorized to make the payment.