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Getting a Drivers License in Costa Rica

license applicants

One of the real deals for expats is the ease of getting a Costa Rican driver’s license.

Assuming that the expat already holds a valid, unexpired license from North America or Europe, the whole process should not take more than a few hours.

If the expat does not have a valid license, the nightmare is just beginning. An unlicensed expat would have to take weeks of classes, a written exam, hands-on training and a practical test. Not to mention shrugging off bribe requests along the way.

This week only, the Consejo de Seguridad Vial is maintaining extended hours at its main La Uruca location. The license issuing agency will be open from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. to make up for the time lost during the Semana Santa holidays. Normal closing time, starting again next week, is 4 p.m.

When the licensing bureau was in south San José, the facilities were rough but there was a bank for payments inside the facility. Now applicants have to make a bank visit as well as the usual medical visit.

Generally those who can walk into the individual private medical offices and generally make out the outlines of the eye chart are given an OK, a dictamen medico. The typical cost is 10,000 colons or about $17.75. Doctors with offices near the facility handle dozens of exams a day. Many speak English.

A new twist is a requirement that a medical applicant provide some evidence of blood type. Without some kind of document, about 5,000 colons in lab work is required. Some medical facilities have an internal lab. Accepted documentation would be a note from a blood bank or some other paper issued at the time of a donation.

The applicant would then go to Banco Nacional or Banco de Costa Rica to pay the license fee. In La Uruca there is a Banco Nacional just 200 feet east of the main entrance to the Consejo facility.

Some medical facilities are authorized to collect the fee, too, so one-stop payment is possible. Those getting a license for the first time pay 4,000 colons or about $7. That is for two years. A five-year renewal is 10,000 colons.

Expats might be able to shop around for a better price on the medical exam. Some physicians still maintain shop in the vicinity of the former licensing facility in south San José at Avenida 10 and Calle 7.

For a fee, some bilingual taxi operators and expat associations will provide a guide for the process.

The real test comes when the the expat enters the main gate of the Consejo complex. They may have been able to hoodwink the doctor down the street, but the licensing facility is a good 1,000 feet from the main entrance down a concrete sidewalk. Wear good shoes.

Expats getting their first Costa Rica license have to present their North American license to a Departamento de Licencias official. A guard at the door of the licensing facility is a helpful guide. The applicant needs a photocopy of the foreign license and a passport with a valid visa or appropriate immigration documents.

Although there are Consejo offices in all the provinces, the first expat license has to be issued in La Uruca where the foreign license can be verified.

A foreign license is only valid here for the 90 days of a tourist visa.

The actually licensing process is short. A half dozen workers in separate cubicals take down personal information and quickly send applicants to a waiting line for a photograph at five photo stations. The machines being used by the Consejo spit out a new license about every three minutes, so an applicant just hangs around the photo machine for a few minutes.

Parking is in short supply at the Consejo complex. There are employee spaces and plenty of room for cars confiscated from drivers who were caught drinking and driving. But visitors probably should arrive by taxi or be dropped off.

The usual collection of young men patrol the entry and offer help, but a wise visitor does not use their services.

There are several private medical locations devoted to providing licensing medical reports near the Consejo. Some announce their presence with giant banners.

Costa Rican Consejo employees do not confiscate the North American license of applicants, allowing successful applicants to have two.

Costa Ricans as young as 13 can have a license for light motorcycles. Farm youngsters can get a tractor license at 16. The normal age is 18 or unless the applicant is married.

Expats normally will get a B-1 license for passenger cars and light trucks. A motorcycle endorsement on the foreign license results in the same here. Without an endorsement, the applicant has to go through the classes and practical tests.

A stolen license can be renewed for 5,000 colons if the holder has reported the theft or robbery to the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Costa Ricans can renew their license at Banco de Costa Rica. Depending on the bank, expats may be able to obtain a renewal appointment.

Those 65 and older are only supposed to obtain a two-year renewal, but the Consejo does not seem to be enforcing that rule.

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