How to obtain your Costa Rica driver's license when having a residency ID
TICONUEVO | JULY 25, 2014
Nearly all obstacles to our residency in Costa Rica are in the rear-view mirror except for the matter of getting our Costa Rican driver’s licenses. If you have a current/valid driver’s license from your home state or province, this should be one of the easiest items to tick off your list, but Costa Rica’s bureaucracy has one more little gotcha’ in store.
It’s probably another case of the left hand not knowing what the right is doing. The latest policy in effect at COSEVI, Costa Rica’s department of motor vehicles, states that Costa Rican driver’s licenses cannot be issued until one has their cedula de residencia and their 90-day entry visa has expired.
There is no logical reason, I can see, behind making you wait until, at least, the 91st day before allowing you to get your license.
For first-time license applicants, your initial driver’s license must be obtained at COSEVI headquarters in the La Uruca district of San Jose about three kilometers from the Migración offices and a reasonably long drive from many gringo bastions of habitation. If you follow the policy, then you will have to do one of three things:
1) Drive to the main COSEVI office on an expired license (which also means driving with invalid automobile insurance because your visa validates your current home-country driver’s license in Costa Rica and auto insurance);
2) Inconvenience a friend and have them drive you there; or
3) Take a cab or a bus to COSEVI and back from your residence.
This is a silly policy that ought to change, but “them’s the rules,” currently at least.
You can take the bus to COSEVI
Those are your three choices if you decide to stick to stated COSEVI policy. As an alternative, you can do what we did: take a chance and attempt to get licensed before your license expires.
In my experience, rules were meant to be broken and there’s always an exception to the rule. We’ve heard of folks trying this ploy and being turned away at the door, but recently we read a Facebook entry about an acquaintance that ran the gauntlet and left with her license. There is no guarantee of success, but we had the spare time and gave it a try. We figured the worst they could do was say, “no.” No matter when you go (before or after the 90th day), there are some things you’ll need to do to prepare.
First, a “physical” is required. This can be done at any physician’s office and there are also physicians near COSEVI’s HQ that will do it before you go in for your license. The physical consists of making certain you are alive by checking your heartbeat and blood pressure, measuring your height and weight, asking a few other questions including asking for your blood type, if you know it, and performing a simple eye chart exam. The cost varies, but runs around 15- to 20-mil colones per person. The results are sent immediately into COSEVI’s database and you’ll be given a number after the exam that is used during the licensing process to view the results. (Important: you’ll need to take this number with you to COSEVI).
Second, you’ll need to make copies in duplicate (sometimes three copies may be requested—so, take three sets just to be safe) of:
1) The photo/info pages and current visa stamp page of your passport;
2) Front and back of your cedula de residencia;
3). Also, take your original documents with you as we discovered we needed them. (Note: if you have a separate renewal addendum card such as California sometimes issues to folks with expired licenses living out of the country who can’t get back to renew at a California DMV office; sorry, it won’t be accepted at COSEVI and you’ll need to go to the Embassy to have it apostiled before applying in La Uruca.)
Copy front and back of your current and unexpired home state driver’s license
We did all of this and headed to COSEVI to try for our C.R. licenses. We got a bit of valuable advice: go early when the lines are shortest and processing time is shortest. (I also have to believe that the clerks are in a better and more helpful frame of mind early in the day.) The doors open M-F at 8:00AM. Driver’s licenses are issued from a building at the very rear of the COSEVI complex, so follow the signs and keep walking.
Here’s where we got lucky. When we got to the licensing building, we were directed to a clerk who spoke some English. She also must have sympathized with the silly 91-day rule and made copies of our previous 90-day visa entry stamp on her own copier and substituted these copies for the ones we had supplied that were only about 60 days old. With this revised paperwork in hand, she led us upstairs where a very official-looking gentleman looked up our physical reports in the database, checked our paperwork closely, hesitated, and then affixed his signature and stamp to all copies, gave back one set of stamped copies and sent us back downstairs.
We were directed to a clerk who spoke some English
The next young gentleman checked everything again and sent us out the front gate to the Banco Nacional next door to pay the 4-mil colones licensing fee. We returned with our paid license receipt to the same young man for a photo, fingerprint and signature. We signed another log and with a whir, spit and a ca-chunk out popped our very own Costa Rican driver’s licenses.
Total elapsed time for the two of us to get licensed: about 95 minutes. Good luck.
The author of this blog, Ticonuevo, is a US expat who moved to Costa Rica and used the services of GoDutch Realty to purchase a property in Costa Rica. In his blogs, Ticonuevo describes his own experiences of taking the step of moving to Costa Rica and getting a new life started.