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Dodged a Bullet Thanks to a Kind Transit Official

April 28th, 2009

whewFrom Tim May, 2014. 

Some things in this blog post have changed but some of the post still may be of interest… so after reading it, you should visit the the main web site where current info can be found.   Click here to read the latest.

Car owners every year must have their cars inspected. This is done by a private company, Reteve.  Information here.  There are locations all over Costa Rica and you must call first to make an appointment. The month of expiration is equal to the last digit on your license plate. Mine expired two months ago but when I went for the exam, I had a minor issue that needed to be fixed. Sadly, I let this go.  Dumb.

So I was at the airport last week and sure enough, I get flagged down by a transit cop. I am thinking that a ticket is a forgone conclusion but, as I have made a new appointment for another inspection, I thought I had a slim chance of getting by.  I DID, but the really important thing is that when handing me back my documents, he pointed out that my drivers license would expire tomorrow. He saved me just a world of hurt. While you do have some leeway in renewing it, if you let it go too far, you must start with driving school and then re-take the written and practical exams (in Spanish). While I do speak the language, the time lost would have been a disaster. So off I went yesterday to get my license renewed. If this topic interests you, read on!

For years, in order to renew your drivers license, you had to go to the MOPT facility in San Jose. The lines were long often taking 2-4 hours to get or renew a Costa Rica Drivers License (more details on that here). Not only was the  process slow, just finding the stupid MOPT building was a problem. I have lived here for years and I still get lost trying to find that place!  Well no more. New and renewal licenses are now issued from behind the Consevi building on the main drag through Uruca about 250M from the split at the Shell gas station. Easy to find, but very little parking. If you go, there is a little soda (small walk-up restaurant) right next to Consevi where you an park and eat if you wish.

In the USA and maybe elsewhere, your drivers license often expires on your birthday.  Here no! It is the date you got it. This is why I failed to notice or think about it. Further, my license was good for seven years.  2002 is a long time ago and I just failed to check.

Renewing or obtaining a new license (presuming you have a valid unexpired license) is a three step process.

  1. Pay for the license in advance at any Banco de Costa Rica office. There is one near Consevi. There is also a payment window just inside COSEVI
  2. Get a physical exam and blood typing (see below)
  3. Take your payment receipt, your medical exam paperwork, and other documents to the licensing offices behind Consevi.

The first step is to pay 6,000 colones for the license. This is done at any Banco de Costa Rica or at the payment window. They give you a receipt and you must have this when you go to get your license or renewal.

The second step for either renewal or getting a new license is getting the physical exam.  When the MOPT was the place to go, there were at least 10-15 medical offices within one block.  Now there is just one that I could find, located maybe 150M from Consevi on the same road.  Ask anyone. Easy walk.  They just test your eyes, blood pressure and ask some standard questions. If you have medical proof of your blood type, the cost is 10,000 colones.  If you do not, add 5,000 colones for the blood typing. I did not, so renewal for me was 25,000 colones, about $45.00.  Ugh! Further, renewals are no longer for seven years.  Now you must return in five years.    Check out the web site for changes.  Click here to read the latest.

After you have the medical exam paperwork, signed and ready, you return to Consevi, enter the property, then walk perhaps 300M to the back of the lot where the licensing facilities are located. You must have your Costa Rica license (or an unexpired license from your home country, your passport (or cedula if you are a resident), and your receipt from the bank.

Once inside, there are two line.  The first is to get your data entered into the system.  The second is to get a new photo. My total time inside was about an hour. Add thirty minutes for medical and I was done on about 90 minutes.

If you are 65+ go directly to the front of the line and show them your ID.  Renewal time dropped to 15 minutes for me!

I understand that renewals can also be done at Banco Nacional, but the last time I heard, only Costa Rica citizens could do this because there was an issue with residency cedulas having too many digits in the ID.  If anyone has done this, add that info in the comments below!


37 Responses to “Dodged a Bullet Thanks to a Kind Transit Official”

  1. miguel on April 28, 2009 6:26 pm

    Always a wealth of info…thank you!

    This blog took me to therealcostarica.com which answered a multitude of questions that that concerns me. Good to know my license is good for at least the length of my stay on my visa.

    I was considering doing a home-stay and language school in Chile, (I know the Spanish they speak there is different than Latin America) but am leaning toward Costa Rica again. I’m planning to stay at least three months, but that could easily be extended depending on how things go. The Central Valley outside of SJ is looking good. I have some loose ends here that have to be taken care of first.

  2. Christie on April 28, 2009 8:44 pm

    I love reading your blog. You always have SO much info. One question…Is anything EVER easy there? It seems like everything is multiple steps and takes a lot of time!

  3. Tim on April 28, 2009 10:17 pm

    Wow! THAT may one of the best questions I have ever been asked. After a bit of thought, the general answer is…. no. In fact it is that alone that causes many A-Types to either seek therapy or simply leave the country. The simple act of renewing residency makes the driver’s license thing a walk in the park. Last year, I am sure I spent 8-10 hours on that process. It should have taken about 2 hours max. Things often are just so much harder than they should be.

    If you live here, you just either learn to adapt or you leave. My first year here was pretty tough as I was the consummate A-Type. Now, I take my iPod when I know the lines will be long and I make do. I also learned Spanish and THAT allows me to chat and make friends while I am waiting. Now… I just do not even think about it much any more. The DL thing is MUCH better than when it was in the old location… so changes are being made. You mellow out.

  4. Tim on April 28, 2009 10:19 pm

    Miguel… Chilean Spanish is quite understandable. There is no issue. Now, if you want ISSUES, take a trip to Argentina!

  5. Cy Bolinger on April 29, 2009 7:33 am

    “The REAL Costa Rica” blog scores again! Thanks so much for that. The recent effort to streamline getting a driver’s license seems greatly minimized and a mere whisp of other “tramites” required to live in Costa Rica. I say this in comparison to personal experiences with issues like opening a bank account (corporate and personal), buying a car, dealing with RACSA, ICE, Cable Tica and on and on. Very often I get tired of ex-pats ranting about “the culture” or, “It’s their country!” neither of which apply. “Bureaucracy” and make-work jobs often performed by non-caring folks comes to mind. This is not just Pura Vida. It happens to be all over the world and Costa Rica is just one little country of many trying to survive in a sinking world economy. Methinks living in Italy, France, Germany or Spain, or Houston, Texas can be a real chore. And, on and on!
    Cy Bolinger

  6. Jerónimo Bollen on July 6, 2009 11:00 am

    Last week (7/2/09), I did this procedure to have my foreign license ‘turned’ into a costa rican one. It worked out well. One important thing: they ONLY attend foreign licenses before 12pm! Make sure you get there in time, because they’ll just send you away with the traditional ‘mañana’.

  7. Steve Freeman on October 18, 2009 7:11 pm

    Tim,

    A new procedure (imagine that!) seems to be in place for first time driver’s licenses that may interest your readers.

    My and my wife had come to La Uruca to finish the photos and signatures for the last step in the residency process. That had gone better than expected so we though we would try the licensing run.

    We had forearmed ourselves with multiple copies of passports and stateside drivers licenses. Found a small office (with parking) about 50M before the CONSEVI entrance for the required medical cert and blood typing. No line! My wife had her Red Cross donor card so she skipped the blood work (and it’s fee). A little Spanglish and a little Englais and that was all done lickety-split – so went on to a BCR just inside the CONSEVI entrance to make payment but was told that a new issuance required us to visit CONSEVI first to get a voucher as we were not in the system. This turned out to be correct – read on.

    Walked on down 200m or so to the licensing office and arrived at around 10AM. Found a nice long line – but there are always lines in Costa Rica, right?

    So shuffle and stand… about 10:50 a nice gentleman in uniform appeared and made some sort of mumbley announcement which my on-board (and not too stellar) Spanish translator caught only the word “internacionale”…. I should have asked “Repite? Por favor” but did not and so proceeded to shuffle some more. When we got the head of the line, attendant informed us that the time for extrajeranos had ended at 11:00 AND that we hadn’t need to wait in line at all – just come to the front – like they announced just before 11:00. Turns out they have a special crew upstairs that does nothing but “internacionale” first-time licenses but they shut down at 11:00. So come back manana. Side note – a group of the folks we had been on line with for the last two hours and trying to practice our Spanish on were VERY upset that we were being turned away. We had to really be insistent that it was OK for us to come back. Cool. I really am building a big “bueno” bank against the day when the inevitable “mal dia” happens.

    So we did. Went back to the head of the line, was sent upstairs where four other were waiting their turn. In due time got our required paperwork and bank voucher – so back to the BCR just in time to see the one window close (it was about 11:30) – waited around until they reopened about 12:45 and 10 minutes later we were headed back to the liscencio with our receipts. Again – went to the front of the line as we had been instructed upstairs and were sent to an area just inside where photos were being taken – 15 minutes later we were both leaving with our new licenses in hand.

    Had we known the right procedures and arrived at a optimum time (9:00AM should be about right) we could have done this in less than two hours.

    Everyone (official and otherwise) was nice – especially after the first few minutes of contact – while I think they were waiting to see if we were examplos of the “Ugly Americano” – once they saw us struggling to do the right thing and speak some halting Spanish – they were suddenly more than helpful. I do not consider it time wasted at all.

    PS: If you have a motorcycle endorsement on a US license and want the Costa Rican equivalent, it is a separate card and requires a second payment.

    Also, Costa Rica issues four “classes” of moto license. Almost anything that will keep up in US traffic will be a class four. Just ask for “maximum” – they will not bat a eyelash. Otherwise you will find yourself riding a 200cc flyweight.

    All new issues are good for three years.

    Of course, any of this is subject to change at any time.

  8. Tim on October 23, 2009 2:36 pm

    Thanks! Very helpful.

  9. Wren on December 30, 2009 7:54 pm

    Crap. Do I really have to go all the way to San Jose for this (first time CR license with valid foreign license)? Are there no satellite offices that can do it?

  10. Wren on December 30, 2009 7:56 pm

    Anyone know the cheapest public transport way to get to the COSEVI in Uruca from SJ centro?

  11. Mia on January 7, 2010 9:08 pm

    Christie- I’m going off the assumption that you live in the U.S. right? Well if that’s the case I can’t conceive why you would complain about the 90 minute venture to renew a drivers license. I myself have spent upwards of 3 hours in a DMV here for the same process. Chill.

  12. Bob on March 25, 2010 6:34 pm

    I am not a resident of Costa Rica but I obtained a Costa Rica driver’s license on March 13,2009 valid for one year. I was able to do this because I had a license from another country that was still valid(but running out soon). I was not able to renew it on March 13, 2010 so it has expired. Do you know if I will be able to renew it? Is there a grace period? Thanks Bob

  13. jody billera on July 13, 2010 9:08 am

    Hi, and thank you so much for the driver’s license info. I have my medical/bloodwork and will be heading to Consevi at the end of the month. My question: Is this information current now? Do you have a phone number for Consevi in Uruca? Thank you very much,
    Jody de Grecia

  14. Living in Tamarindo on January 12, 2011 9:40 am

    Hey Tim,

    Really really excellent stuff buddy. I really can’t thank you enough for this type of blogging. It provides tremendous value for ex-pats living down here man. I’ve tried to follow your format of blogging to help give back.

    To answer your question, if you are an ex-pat you can not go to a bank and renew your license. You must go to MOPT or Consevi. Furthermore, if you are renewing your license and you just so happened to get a new passport after you get a license you MUST go back to MOPT or Consevi for them to reissue you a license as your existing license is associated with your old passport number. If you want to read more about that nightmare experience check out

  15. gary roger on June 23, 2011 6:01 pm

    Can you still go to Consevi and get a valid drivers license without being a Resident ? Date 6/23 2011

  16. Tim on June 24, 2011 6:24 am

    Yup!

  17. Sarah on August 8, 2011 9:02 am

    Thanks for your info. I have a quick question. I have an VERY expired Costa Rican license….dec 2006 expired. But I have a current California license and new passport number (passport change). Do you think I should approach getting a license as if it is my first instead of trying to renew an expired Costa Rican license?

    Thanks a million!

  18. Tim on September 29, 2011 8:25 am

    ” Do you think I should approach getting a license as if it is my first instead of trying to renew an expired Costa Rican license?”

    Yup… and prey. The alternative is not pretty.

  19. H. Wayne on January 18, 2012 3:55 pm

    Can you get a brandy new CR license at the Cosevi in Liberia now? Or do I still have to go to La Uruca? I live in Tamarindo and it’s a pain in the wallet to go the CV. I’ve got a current US license, my passport and medical stuff…

  20. Lars on March 8, 2012 9:49 pm

    Had my first done today.
    Also needed 3 copies of cedula/passport.
    3 copies of original license.
    As you’re not in the system you can’t pay in the bank in advance, but will be given a voucher to pay in the banco National next door. Return with the receipt and receive you new license. If you want your motorcycle license as well they will issue two different ones. 4000 Colones each.

  21. Joseph on September 4, 2012 5:07 pm

    Often what gets foreigners in trouble in CR is an attitude of entitlement to convenience. In a new, bureaucracy-prone culture, this will lead to a feeling of oppression. In CR, the notion of Pure Vida allows for some amount of hassle and nonsense. Learn to sing along. That’s what we come here for.

    Learning that your time is not so precious as you may think is part of cultural adaptation. Loosen your grip on the attitudes, opinions, prejudices, and even sense of self and those precious personal rights you brought from the US or wherever. This opens up your soul to a a truly different and probably happier life.

    In CR, it doesn’t matter you’ve been waiting 2 or 3 hours to be served when it’s time for the clerk you’ve been waiting for to go to lunch or go home. Get over yourself. Start having a better time. Plan ahead but bring a good book. Crank up the iPod. Play with your cell phone. Text your friends. Get interested in practicing Spanish while you wait. Or maybe learn to meditate in the midst of daily life.

    If you’re so set on your puny little time budget that missing an objective ruins your day, or worse — gets you booted out of a public building for causing trouble — how are you going to be happy wherever you are on the planet?

    Just my 2 colones. . .

  22. Tim on October 9, 2012 12:18 pm

    Excellent Comment. All should read!

  23. Jessica on November 11, 2012 10:38 am

    Okay so Ive been trying to sort out all the different stories surrounding the ability to drive a motorcycle in CR. I am an American with a US car license. I recently heard the laws have changed and they now require that everyone driving a motorcycle and or scooter much have a motorcycle license.

    As of this date, is it still necessary to go to La Uruca for new licenses? In reading all the above comments, I just want to be clear, I will need all of the following:

    3 copies current passport
    3 copies current license
    Medical exam and blood test
    Payment voucher from Banco Nacional
    Take a written test 25 questions and driving test.

    Does that sum it up? Anyway to download an online version of the MOPT driving book to study for the exam? Do they issue your license same day?

    Thank you so much. This blog is a really helpful start. Hopefully I can work out what I need and get this processed asap

  24. Tim on November 16, 2012 6:44 am

    No… it is pretty much wrong. If you are a a member of arcr.net, contact them for info.

    Also, you do not state if you are a LEGAL resident. If you are not, you may not apply for ANY license. No more drivers licenses of ANY nature are given out. Residency is now required.

  25. Ed and Peggy Wagner on December 7, 2012 11:01 am

    Hi Tim, we’ve enjoyed reading all of your information since before we moved to Costa Rica, you are very informative and funny. Just wanted you to know 2 things about trying to get our drivers’ licenses yesterday.
    We were good until we got into Uruca. We never did see a Shell station, and for an hour searched for the Convesi building. So we didn’t know whether the instructions meant 250 meters West, or East. We also ended up at a Bank of Costa Rica so we ate at the soda close by, ohhhh. The Soda by the actual Convesi building looked so much better.
    Also, one of those guys in front told us we needed our physical exam papers before we could apply. There are a lot more medical clinics right by the building than just 1. Our “helper” took us to one farther away which costed us $32 a piece! Then he told us to go to the second story of the actual licensing department with the line as long as the Nile River. We were rushed to the front for some reason, then told we couldn’t get licenses until we had residencial cedulas. So this has thrown us for a loop. I’ve been here for almost 3 months and my husband, Ed for 3 weeks.
    We had lived here from 1989-1995 and had not expected this. I’m telling you this just so other people with their visitors’ visas don’t go through
    the same thing we did. Most of it being our own stupedez. Peggy Wagner San Antonio de Escazu.

  26. Eva Gordon on January 17, 2013 4:31 pm

    Did you need to call for an appointment or can you just show up?
    Thanks!

  27. Janice on January 21, 2013 7:51 pm

    First of all, thanks for all the information shared here 🙂 Really helpful, especially since people are updating it with their experiences with the changes in rules, etc.

    3 big things which I noted from my very recent (as of 9:30 AM today!)experience for the changes in laws (would be nice to have someone else verify since the guard said these were from the new transit laws passed in October 2012!):
    – You need to have a cedula or residency to get a license. People holding only passports will not be issued a license
    – You need to go once your latest entry to Costa Rica (as evidenced by your immigration stamp in the passport) has passed the 3 months validity for driving without a license. I went last Friday, which was the last working day before the expiration of the 3 months and was turned away because it was not “expired.” So I was asked to come back the next work day, which was today.
    – I didn’t need the blood type in the medical certificate.

    Everything else was the same as per everyone’s comments. Pretty easy, I got mine in 90 minutes with no hassle.

    Wish everyone else luck! 🙂

  28. Jason on February 13, 2013 12:25 pm

    Very informative, useful, and entertaining to read! Thank you (I didn’t get your name).

    Am going to get my driver’s license using the U.S. license expiring end of this year 2013. Am already a resident, thank God!

  29. Tim on March 8, 2013 7:11 pm

    Just show up… but before 10 AM is best. *** Only legal residents can get drivers licenses.

  30. Jack on July 3, 2014 10:28 am

    Wish I had read all of the blogs before I went to get license. I had listened to others who were of course wrong.

    Must be a resident.
    Current Visa time period must expire which means your current license has expired

    Get medical exam before entering Consevi

    A small office is located just after entering to get required copies made

    Go to the licensing bureau(it is a walk to the back)

    Make sure you get in the correct line as you will have to get your documents verified. There are two other lines and the long one is usually not the one you want. The chairs along the wall to the right we found was the correct one at that time.

    Once your documents are verified, you step outside to the bank window to pay, you are then sent upstairs where you do the paperwork.

    Back downstairs to wait for your license

    The suggestion to use an escort to help you is very wise. Especially when your Spanish is limited. We used our cab driver and he helped us through everything and was there to get us back to hotel. Consevi is located on a very busy road and parking is limited. Also, their rules make you drive there without a valid license.

    Now, back to bureau at the correct time.

  31. Jean on September 7, 2014 11:38 am

    I am a little confused. One of the blog responses indicates that you cannot get a license until your current visa time has expired. We are residents and have Cedulas and valid US licenses. We planned to get a license the day after we arrive in Costa Rica since we will already be in San Jose rather than making a trip back later to avoid the time and expense of a 4 hour trip. Do we have to wait 3 months?

  32. Tim on September 8, 2014 7:00 am

    If you are a legal resident and possess a valid cedula, you may apply at any time. You need only your valid US passport, your unexpired US license, and your cedula.

  33. Autumn on November 5, 2016 4:50 pm

    What if your passport is expired but the USA license is not? I am a permanent resident.

  34. Tim on November 6, 2016 10:45 am

    So long as you have a valid US drivers license and are a LEGAL resident, you can renew or obtain a drivers license here.

  35. Jerry R. Williams on November 11, 2016 3:43 pm

    AND if your stateside licence expires? They do that, you know. What’s the action then? Based upon your status in CR?

  36. Tim on November 11, 2016 4:03 pm

    If you have your LEGAL residency you may apply BUT, then you are screwed. Need to take the written and practical exams and an appointment can take up to a year. 100% SPANISH. Do NOT let that US license expire.

  37. Jerry R. Williams on November 30, 2016 8:40 pm

    So I am fine if I am proficient in Spanish (which I am)?

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