While driving in Costa Rica as a tourist, you can use your current driver’s license issued by your home country so long as your visa has not expired, for up to 90 days. If you plan to stay longer, or plan to be a permanent resident, you must get a Costa Rican driver’s license. This is important! Depending on the country you are from, your tourist visa may be as long as ninety days or as short as thirty days. Once it expires, you cannot drive legally in Costa Rica unless you have applied for and received your Costa Rica drivers license.
Licenses are issued in about an hour in the central office in San Jose’, located one block west of Plaza Víquez on the southwest corner (Ave. 18 and Calle 5). Tel. 2227-2188. You can also go to several regional offices located in San Carlos, San Ramón, Liberia, Limón and Perez Zeldón.
Several business named Examen Médico or Dictamen are located on the same street. For a $10 fee, you will need to do an eye exam and fill out a form with your medical history. You will be handed a medical certificate. Return to the original office, where the clerk will request your passport and payment of $15. Another clerk will take you photo, and return your ID. After a short wait you receive your Costa Rican DL, valid for 3 year.
If your DL is not current or expired, you need to take a test and written exam. You will need to be familiar with the road signs, and traffic laws. For a small fee, the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation offers several courses and is well worth it. Tel. 2226-4201.
As you travel in Costa Rica, always have the proper auto documents with you. The police do occasional road checks. They may want to see the driver’s passport to ensure you have not exceeded your allotted stay. They check the stamp you get at immigration when entering the country, maximum of 90 days. Always be polite and you won’t have any problems. If you have committed a traffic violation, do not pay the police on the spot. This is illegal and if asked, should be reported with the Judicial Police or the Legal Department of Transit Police. Tel. 2227-2188.
If you are involved in a traffic accident contact the traffic police Tel. 2222-7150. It is necessary not to move your car till they’ve filed a report.
As with many Central American countries, there are no street signs, often no street lights, no addresses, no numbering systems, and with the exception of a portion of San Jose, the streets do not run perpendicular to one another. Get yourself a good detailed map. The shortest way is often not the safest, or may not even be accessible during rainy season. Stick to the well traveled highways and roads, so you can get help if needed. Avoid traveling at night. Locals walk along the side of the streets and are very hard to spot till your a few feet behind them. There are potholes, and in the Guanacaste area especially, cattle and horses that come out of nowhere.