Your First Costa Rican Drivers License

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For extended tourists looking for an official form of identification, other than their passport, a Costa Rican drivers license may be the best and most painless of solutions.

Apart from driving purposes, a driver's license is accepted as proper identification in many other circumstances, such as credit card transactions, entry to certain night spots and many government buildings and hospitals that require proper identification.

Although national officials sometimes say tourists should always carry their passports rather than a copy, that's not always a good idea because replacing one, should it be lost, damaged or stolen, can be a major hassle. Having a local driver's license can alleviate much of that hassle of always leaving with the passport, especially if going out for the night or running small errands.

By law, a visitor is able to use their "native" driver's license in Costa Rica for their first three months before being required to obtain a national one. For citizens of Colombia and other Central American countries, a foreign license can only be used for one month before getting a Costa Rican one.

For about $50, including the vision and blood tests, expats with an up-to-date immigration status and a valid driver's license from their own country, can obtain a Costa Rican drivers license. The entire process takes about three hours.   Unfortunately, the only place that issues new drivers licenses is located in Alajuela in the town of La Uruca.  They are only open from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. so, if you live far away (as I do), you will need to plan well ahead.  Although they process citizens all day, foreigners seeking their first Costa Rican license must come between those times or they will be turned away.

The required documents are a passport and valid driver's license, from the applicant's country of origin. Provisional, international licenses and learning permits and do not suffice. Those without valid licenses or with an expired travel visa will have to take the required classes, a written test, and a driving test - todo en espaņol.  A driver's test or road rules test is not necessary provided your current drivers license is valid.

BRING PHOTO COPIES

You will need lots of photocopies of everything when you apply for your license.  Although the drivers license office has a photocopy machine, they will not  make our needed copies.  Come prepared, bringing three photocopy sets of all pages of your passport (even the blank pages), showing your legal immigration status as well as your current drivers license (front and back). 

I know, it sounds stupid and unnecessary but learn and adopt rule #1 for a successful life in Costa Rica... DON'T ASK WHY! 

All the proper medical tests can be done at a clinic about 50 yards from the license office and consists of a cursory vision test and a very brief health exam (height, weight, blood pressure) and costs about $30.  No appointment is necessary. The blood test is done to determine blood type, which appears on the face of all licenses.  If you bring a document which substantiates your blood type, you may be able to avoid having to pay for a portion of this medical test.  

The actual license only costs $8 and is good for three years.

There are usually representatives of the clinic in front of the driver's license building to show people where the clinic is.  Be careful of people willing to help you for a fee.  Some (not all) are scammers and they might take your money and your passport , tell you that they are getting the necessary photocopies and never be seen from again.

Since Fran and I are members of ARCR, the Association of Residents of Costa Rica, we used their services to assist us in getting our licenses.  For a small fee ($35.00 each), one of their employees took us in his car and lead us through the entire process.  We followed him like baby duckling following their mother.  He did everything and just told us where to stand.  Two hours in and out.

HERE IS A SHORT VIDEO OF OUR EXPERIENCE

IMPORTANT NOTE:  at 2:00 minutes into the video I mistakenly said that "if you are not a legal resident, then you cannot get a license." 
This is INCORRECT information given to me by my tour guide.


LICENSE RENEWAL

Renewing one's drivers license is significantly easier than obtaining a new license.  For starters, you can go to any MOPT office, anywhere in Costa Rica - not jut the main office near San Jose.  That right there saves us a 4 hour drive (each way).  For a detailed account of our experience renewing our drivers licenses, check out this article from Issue #6 from the Boomers Offshore Newsletter.



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