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New Rules for Obtaining a Costa Rica Drivers License

March 14th, 2013

COSEVIThis post is directed to foreigners interested in obtaining a Costa Rica drivers license. It is not relevant to citizens of Costa Rica.

I have been putting off writing this post for a couple of months now hoping that I could write the complete story.  Alas, I can only cover part of it, but the info is important, so I will either add to this post later or post anew.

In the past, any person from another country could easily obtain a Costa Rica drivers license.  The process was basically just to go to the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes MOPT office (closest San Jose office is in Uruca) with your current drivers license. your current passport, and some money. You would stop at one of the doctor’s offices located nearby the MOPT and get a short physical called a Dictamen Médico. You would then walk to the MOPT, go in, get in line and maybe two hours later… you had your license! No test. Nothing.  Easy!

Not any more.

The new rules now restrict anyone seeking a Costa Rica drivers license to be a citizen of Costa Rica or to those foreigners who possess legal residency in Costa Rica. This means you must now show your current cedula de residencia (your national ID card valid for any form of residency i.e pensionado, rentista, permanent, etc) issued when you received your legal residency. No cedula? No license.

If you would like to know more about this topic… read on!

You may not be “in process” to get a license. You must have the actual cedula.

While you can drive in Costa Rica using your current drivers license from your home country, some people are not aware that your license is only valid so long as your visa for Costa Rica is valid.  Once your visa expires, not only are you here illegally, but you have no valid drivers license and cannot drive here nor can you purchase insurance.

I have been waiting on this post to find out about the critical issue regarding renewals of drivers licenses issued to those non-residents before the rules changed…  but sadly, this seems to be up in the air. I have heard of people being permitted to renew, and I have heard stories of renewal requests being denied. It seems MOPT has not issued guidelines, always one of the less pleasant aspects of living here.

Clearly, if you are one of those perpetual tourists living here illegally, the new rules are going to be painful. Your old license from your “home” country may have expired, or even if it has not, it has legally expired here if you have overstayed your visa.

IMPORTANT! For you tourists (and that included those of you living here illegally i.e. perpetual tourists), the new law requires that the Consejo de Seguridad Vial (COSEVI), aka Los Transitos, report unpaid traffic fines of any foreigner driving in Costa Rica to immigration, the folks who control the frontiers/airports of this country.

The immigration service (migracion) is then obligated to deny exit to any foreigner who has any outstanding (unpaid) traffic fines.

I wish that I could post the whole story including the renewal stuff, but as of now, not possible. Once I can verify how the MOPT is going to handle renewals, I will add to this post and/or post something new on this topic.

Until then, those who may need to renew and are not legal in Costa Rica, I might suggest that this would be a good time to seek some form of residency.

9 Responses to “New Rules for Obtaining a Costa Rica Drivers License”

  1. Anita Millican on March 14, 2013 7:31 pm

    I m in process of obtaining my C.R. residency. All the correct paperwork was accepted and submitted into immigration on Dec.18. My 90 day visa expired on Feb.26. I was finally able to speak with a person at immigration today. She said to leave C.R. on my provisional resident comprobante paper supplied by immigration, which is valid until my actual resident card is received. I have spent 2 days trying to make contact with immigration to answer my questions. i was disconnected before i could ask the following questions regarding driving with a valid USA license with a valid C.R. comprobante with an expired 90 day visa. Can you help me please. My questions are, do I need a visa from USA embassy and / or C.R. to leave and re enter?? Will I be allowed to re enter with a valid USA passport which has an expired visa, with the valid C.R. Comprobante from immigration? If I can leave legally, would I be allowed to re enter on the same day or do I have to stay out of the country for 3 days?? Do you know if anyone has had any problems leaving and / or re entering with this situation? Please reply via my email. Thank you sincerely. Anita

  2. Tim on March 15, 2013 8:14 am

    First most foreigners here do not register a car under a corporation. They probably should, but many do not.

    Second, we are speaking of VISITORS to Costa Rica.

    Third, how a car is registered is not relevant. When a citation is issues (except for parking) to a tourist, the police officer will want ID, normally a passport for that tourist, or cedula etc. That info is then reported to migracion.

    Fourth, while you are correct regarding the need to pay before marchamo, It is now required that all citizens and residents register with Cosevi by filling out a form on the web site and providing contact info. There is supposedly a form on their web site. I have not yet a link to that form.


  3. maryann on March 15, 2013 10:58 am

    mopt.go.cr you will find the form to download. I went yesterday and turned mine in.

  4. Mark Gnagy on April 12, 2013 7:13 pm

    Those without residency who already have a CR driver’s license are allowed to renew their license. My residency “in process” and my CR dl expired last Nov. I renewed at COSEVI in La Uruca with no problem. I had ARCR call to verify this before I went.

  5. Tim on April 15, 2013 10:31 am

    Thanks Mark

  6. Kelsey on April 16, 2013 2:27 pm

    Hi Anita,
    We were in a similar situation. We have applied for residency but are not approved yet. Our 90 day tourist visas expired. However, we were planning on visiting the USA in the following week and were concerned about leaving and returning. After consulting with many people, including the lawyer assisting us with our residency application and the Costa Rican consulate in the USA, here is what I learned:
    You do not need a visa from the USA or CR to leave and re-enter Costa Rica. Basically, until your residency application is approved you can stay in Costa Rica. However, remember that your driver’s license is not valid once your visa has expired.
    If you leave and re-enter you will be given a new tourist visa, probably good for 90 days. This will then renew your driver’s license for the same period.
    You do not need to leave for 3 days in order to be given a new visa. However, remember that you need to have proof that you will be leaving CR within the 90 visa period. Yes, this is even with your pending residency application. Beacuse while the residency application allows you to stay in CR, until it is approved you are traveling in and out of the country like a tourist.
    We felt sure we would have problems at the airport either leaving or coming back – to make matters more complicated I had gotten a new passport after arriving here, so my entry stamp was on my old passport. But we had no problems. Hope this helps.

  7. Tim on April 17, 2013 8:13 am

    Nice comment!

    The only thing I would add is that if you leave after 90 days, it is now common that you may NOT get another 90 days when you get back.

    CR is cracking down on perpetual tourism, and one of their tactics is to give those returning maybe 20 days and not 90 days. This seems to be especially true for those who have left and re-entered more than one time…


  8. Alistair on December 17, 2014 4:00 pm

    On the drivers license what does “RHA+” mean next to T.S??

  9. Tim on December 26, 2014 9:21 am

    Blood Type