Getting My First Costa Rican Drivers License...

by Roseanna Boyer

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Getting your Costa Rican drivers license can be a hair pulling event for those who are not prepared.  See how two New Yawk expats did on their first trip to Costa Rica's DMV.  The bottom line is

If THEY can do it, SO CAN YOU!


My husband Scott and I have lived in Costa Rica for 5 years.  During this time, we managed to obtain our legal residency, but for some inexplicable reason, we never managed to get our Costa Rican drivers license.  Since the law states that if you have lived in country for more than 3 months, you need to obtain a drivers license.  So we thought, since it is the law, maybe it would be a good idea if we got ours; and besides, we have heard loads of stories from people stopped by the traffic cops and were hassled.  Several were even issued heavy fines for not having their license.  This was one situation we really wanted to avoid.

Most of the people we know who live here have gotten their licenses by hiring a Tico, a local person,  to (literally) walk them through the licensing process by holding their hands and guiding them every step of the way.  But Scott and I decided “we don’t need no stinkin’ guide.”  We decided to do it ourselves, without any outside assistance.  We realize this will be a daunting task especially since our Spanish skills are near zero.  Understand… I am a Type-A, New York Italian gal with a short fuse.  This is going to be an interesting journey.      

We live out by the beach in Guanacaste Province.  On a good day, it takes us four hours to drive into San José.  OK… I know what you are asking yourself, “What does San José have to do with this story?”  Well in Costa Rica, all first time drivers license applicants must go to the COSEVI, Costa Rica’s equivalent of our DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles).  Unfortunately, their only office is located in the San José suburb of La Uruca.  We set our trusty GPS for the COSEVI Headquarters and away we went.

By the time we arrived, the early afternoon monsoon rains were in full force.  We assumed parking was going to be a problem and (as suspected) we were not proved wrong.  We drove up and down a very busy boulevard but eventually parked in front of a nearby business.  When we did, an armed security guard swiftly told us that we were not allowed to park there.  Ok, on to the next spot.  Again we found a parking spot and again another armed guard told us we were not allowed to park there.  But at least this guy directed us across the street to a location where we would be allowed to park.

With our parking no longer an issue, we made our way (in the rain) to the COSEVI offices.  There, a young fellow came over and gave us a piece of paper and directed us inside to an official looking guy seated at an official looking desk.  Apparently Scott and I looked like two drenched and confused gringos.  But we know we were going to be in great shape when the man spoke to us in English! 

The gentleman began by explaining the entire (and somewhat convoluted) process to us. 


  • Step 1 - Go to the cashier to pay for our medical documentation and for our blood to be typed.  Holy cow… she spoke English too! Scott and I were now thinking that this was going to be a piece of cake.

  • Step 2 - Take our paid receipt to the Doctor’s office just a few steps away.  Again… the doctor even spoke English.  We did the usual height, weight, blood pressure and vision  thing.

  • Step 3 - Move to the next room we had our blood typed.  All drivers licenses in Costa Rica must contain a person’s blood type in the event of an accident.  We’re batting 1000%... even he spoke English.

  • Step 4 - Returned to the original cashier and she made copies of all our documents that we would need. This included all the pages of each of our passports (including the blank pages) , our Cedula (if you have one), our U.S. Drivers License (both sides) and the medical form the doctor just filled out.

Now that we got all the medical stuff out of the way we now needed to get our actual license.  But when we asked the nice guy at the desk where to go, he told us that (unfortunately)  that office is only open from 7:00 - 11:00 AM.  Well, that ship had already sailed!  Thank goodness we planned ahead and had already decided to make this trek to San José an overnighter. 

After a good night’s rest and visiting with friends who lived nearby, we were up bright and early and ready for the challenges this new day would bring. 


We arrived at COSEVI’s main gate right on time and were directed (in Spanglish), to where we needed to go.  We found the line to stand in and began our wait.  Soon we realized that the doors don’t actually open until 8:00.  Oh well… not a problem.

As we waited patiently on line I was beginning to feel a bit anxious, worrying about all the things I was told by my gringo friends back home.  I was beginning to think that maybe we did not have everything we needed.  As my anxiety was growing, I struck up a conversation with a gringa (North American woman) standing just in front of us.  She shared by fears (in near perfect Spanish) with a nearby COSEVI employee.  She reported back to us that we were fine except we were standing in the wrong line.  Not a problem for the line we needed to be in was very short. 


Promptly at 8:00 am the doors opened.  We were directed to go over and wait in line at cubicle #10.  There was only one other person in front of us.  Again we lucked out, for the girl behind the desk who was entering all our information into the computer, also spoke English.  When she was finished, she handed us a slip of paper with verbal instructions to go pay for our license at the bank.  Now as great as this process was going (so far), this part seemed ridiculous to me but then I remembered where I am… I’m is Costa Rica, the land of the inefficient process! 

We now had to exit the COSEVI, and walk next door to the Banco Nacional.  There we stood in their line, paid for our licenses, and returned to the COSEVI.  Thank goodness the lines were short and the daily rains had not yet started.


With our paid receipt in hand, we are now back at Cubicle # 10 where we had our pictures taken and licenses issued.  Only one problem, Scott’s picture was on my license and my picture was on his.  After sharing a big laugh over the mistake our pictures were retaken and new (correct) licenses were reissued.

Before we undertook this adventure, Scott and I were extremely apprehensive.  Based on what we had heard from our friends, we were scared that this was going to turn into some sort of game changing event.  But in the end we were pleasantly surprised.  I think this experience was great for my confidence. 


To accomplish such a process driven task as this, in a foreign country where we don’t speak the language, made us feel that if we can do it… anyone can.   Also I strongly believe that even if we did not encounter any English speaking employees, the Ticos who surrounded us were very friendly and very willing to help us. 

Now that this is all over, I feel we can do damn near anything.  BRING IT ON!

 

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