Getting Our Costa Rican Driver’s Licenses

This past Tuesday we drove to San Jose for an overnight stay.  Our primary purpose was to apply for our Costa Rican driver’s licenses.  We left the beach early in the morning to drive the 2 and 3/4 hour journey to the San Jose area.  We wanted to arrive early enough to do some shopping in Escazú where there is the nice selection of products from the U.S.  After checking into Hotel Louisana and relaxing for a bit, we met our friend Charlene at a Vietnamese restaurant in Santa Ana.  We had a great time catching up and the food was wonderful, too!

Enjoying dinner at PHO with Charlene

Enjoying dinner at PHO with Charlene

On Wednesday, we woke up very early – 5 a.m. so that we would be ready to catch the bus into San Jose.  We decided that the truck would be safer in the secure hotel parking lot since we had it loaded up with our purchases and luggage.  We hopped on the bus at 6:15 and 30 minutes later we got off and walked to this 1950’s style diner for breakfast.  We have eaten there several times before and the food is very good.  Soda Tapia has been in San Jose for 30 + years and has quite a history.


From there we took a cab to Cosevi (similar to the DMV back home) in La Uruca, a neighborhood of San Jose.  Everyone has to travel to La Uruca for their first time driver’s license.  (Renewals can be done at Cosevi locations in other parts of the country.)  Our first stop was to a clinic just a short walk up the street from Cosevi in order to have a medical exam, which consisted of a few questions and an eye test…a simple “read line 6” and that’s it.  The doctor did ask to see our Cedula and current NC driver’s license and he spent most of the visit imputing information into the computer.  The medical visit cost 18,000 colones (approximately $34 USD).  What a racket!


Foreigners wanting a Costa Rican driver’s license need to arrive at Cosevi between 8 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.  Cosevi is a large place and the driver’s license department is in the back area.  It’s well marked so we didn’t have any trouble finding it.  When we arrived there, we had to check in with a guard who asked why we were there.  After Eddie told him, the next question was “Have you been in Costa Rica for over three months?”  That’s the most important “rule!”  Even though we have residency, we still need to leave the country every 90 days in order to drive legally here with our NC driver’s license.  This is why it’s important to go through the trouble of getting a Costa Rican driver’s license.  Once you have it, you don’t have to leave CR every three months to drive.  But, Costa Rican law makers don’t make things easy.  In order to have a CR driver’s license, you have to be a resident and you have to let your tourist visa stamp expire to prove you’ve been in the country over 90 days.  If you get caught driving with an expired visa stamp, the fine is pretty hefty as you’re driving illegally.  It was another good reason to take the bus.

Eddie told the guard that he had been in the country over 90 days, which was true, but that wasn’t the case for me.  I still had 2 weeks to go until mine expired.  Even so, we thought we would give it a try to see if I could get my license, too.  The guard escorted us to the proper line and we sat down to wait.  There is only one cubicle designated for foreigners and there were three people ahead of us.  We were there early so it wasn’t too crowded yet, we hoped that it was a good sign that we wouldn’t have to wait too long.


The first two people ahead of us didn’t take long with the official, but the third person was there for a while.  The official was giving her a really hard time and that made us worry a bit.  Finally she was finished and the official called for the next person.  Eddie and I went in together thinking this would help.  Eddie gave the official his documentation and paperwork first.  He spent a lot of time comparing the actual passport with the copies we had brought with us.  He was double checking to make sure the the most recent entry stamp was past the 90 days.  When he was looking over all my documentation and paperwork, he realized right away that my most recent stamp wasn’t past 90 days.  He paused for a long time looking at it trying to decide what to do about it.  At some point, the official asked where we lived and Eddie told him and also mentioned that it was a long way to come, but we liked living at the beach.  So, finally, he got up and went upstairs.  When he returned, he had a copy of a different page of my passport which had an earlier entry date.  He put all his “stamp” of approval on the paperwork and sent us upstairs.   We took this as a very good sign that maybe I would get my license, too.  After waiting upstairs for a bit, we were called into an office and the official looked very official in a white shirt and tie.  Again, we went in together and Eddie went first.  This fellow also hesitated when he got to my entry page.  So, we started talking about living at the beach…all in Spanish.   We had a nice conversation about a lot of things.   He decided to overlook my lack of 90 + days and put his “stamp” of approval on all our paperwork.  Then, he explained that we had to go back downstairs to cubical #2 and if all was in order the official would give us a slip of paper to take to the bank to pay for the licenses and after that we return to #2 for a photo and ultimately our licenses.


We did what he told us to do…and while we were waiting in line for cubical #2, we started to be concerned.  The official there was very stern and she was giving the person ahead of us a very hard time.  I thought for sure that there was no way she was going to give me a driver’s license.  But, we were pleasantly surprised!   When we approached her cubical, she asked if we spoke Spanish and we replied,”yes.”  She told us she spoke a little English (in English) and we replied to her in Spanish and continued to speak in Spanish.  Not sure if that helped us or not, but she gave us her approval too.  Next, she gave us a piece of paper to take to the bank so that we could pay the 4,000 colones for each license (about $7.50 USD).  Once we did that, we went back to see her and she took our photos and shortly thereafter we had our CR driver’s licenses in hand!  Total time to do all of this was three hours.  Not bad for Costa Rica!


Here is what we needed:

  • Two copies of:  front and back of US (or other foreign driver’s license); front and back of CR Cedula; front page of passport and the page of the passport that contains the most recent entry to CR.
  • Bring along original passports so they can check the original against the copies.
  • The current entry date must be more than 3 months and 1 day from the date last entered into CR.
  • A medical exam (Dictamen Medico) is needed – mostly an eye exam, but the results (and answers to all questions) are entered into a computer and the doctor gives you a piece a paper with a code number that you give to Cosevi so that they can see the results.
  • There is a Banco Nacional next door to Cosevi  where the bill for the licenses can be paid.  Keep the receipt to take back to the office, where you will have your picture taken and then will receive your license, which is good for three years.