Parking your car in Costa Rica
by Ivo Henfling
Once you move to Costa Rica and you drive your own car, you will have to find a place to park it, no matter where you go. Unless you find a public parking lot where you have to pay to park your car, you will probably park the car anywhere on the street.
When you want to leave, a guy will walk up to you, help you get out of your parking spot and will hold up his hand. You didn’t know it, but he was there watching your car while you were away, so it didn’t get stolen or broken into. We call them a guachiman, watchiman or cuidacarros.
In Costa Rica, a guachiman is an informal security guard and I’m sure the word was invented by a Tico who didn’t know how to pronounce the English word watchman. Los Guachimanes (not guachimen) are informal guards and to the mindset of a 1st world citizen they are part of an unorganized mafia of ripping people off while parking their vehicle out on the public street.
BUT, many are just honest people who are trying to make a living as they wouldn’t be able to find a job in todays’ world that is run by large companies, computers, fast cars and lawyers. Without the system of charging you for watching your car, they would be starving as we don’t have a welfare system, unless they’d be breaking into the car they are watching for you. They each work a section of a city block, a certain restaurant, a bar, a beach or even the parking lot of a strip mall. They are either totally independent or hired by the business where you will be parking, but without a salary or social security, they depend on your tips.
Though these cuidacarros are regulated by Law “8395 de Servicios Privados de Seguridad del Ministerio de Seguridad Pública”, the law is generally not applied. The law does apply in some municipalities like Cartago and Coronado, where the municipality provides training to independent guards, prepares a list of requirements to be met, and give them a card that identifies them.
Cost of living
If you go to a concert or an exposition in a location that doesn’t have its own parking, you will find a whole army of guachimanes all over the public road, helping you to park and watch your car. I went to the Jazz Café in Escazu the other night, where they have their own parking, and there were two guachimanes working hard to find me a spot (the parking was half empty).
They gave me this blue ticket shown in the photo, that says “contribution to the security of your vehicle – ¢1,000 – thank you. I don’t know if its me, but that sounds like “I don’t know what will happen to your car if you don’t pay me ¢1,000”. You will find these tickets handed out by a guachiman in the most incredible places.
I’m not so sure what they will do when someone would try to steal your car, but in all these years of paying a guachiman wherever I park my car, it has never been broken into. That is the reason that the money you will be paying a guachiman is part of your cost of living in Costa Rica.
Obligation to pay or not
Last week I told you all about the responsibility a business has while you park your car on the parking they facilitate you. In some other countries, where they have a similar system, you give the guachiman money when you are parking your car. If you do so in Costa Rica, quite a few will be long gone by the time you get back, so you’d have paid for a service you did not get. In Costa Rica, we pay them when we leave, not before.
How much is customary? That depends on where and how long. Anywhere between ¢100 and ¢500 is acceptable. If you don’t, next time you park at the same spot, he might remember you. Some are very decent people and others will scratch your car from top to bottom. The decision is yours.
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