Driving in Costa Rica is quite an experience for many locals, so you can only imagine how it is for foreign visitors. Costa Rica’s roads are full of hazards such as potholes, landslides, fog, and heavy rain and above all, fast, bad drivers. North American drivers will find traffic signs all in the metric system (kilometers per hour, meters).
Busy San Jose
The first rule of traveling through Costa Rica’s roads is an unofficial one — drive defensively. This advice is crucial, particularly if you are not familiar with the roads, or the driving culture. The use of the seat belt is mandatory for the driver and all passengers, and of course, it may well save your life. All cars must pass a technical inspection before being allowed on the road, and you should make sure you are driving an insured vehicle. Carry your driver’s license at all times when driving, and your passport as well. If you carry photocopies of your passport make sure, along with the main page, you have the page with your last entry stamp. If you are renting a Costa Rica vehicle, have the rental contract in the car.
Familiarize yourself with driving regulations such as maximum speed limits, no-drive zones such as beaches, car lights on after 6pm or during rainy conditions. Be aware that changes in speed limits can occur abruptly. Traffic Police may stop you randomly to review your documents or for not observing traffic laws.
Although the following advice should not be given to anyone with good common sense, do not give money or valuables to traffic police officers or any other authorities. As in any other country, this is illegal and could get you in a lot of trouble. If you feel you are being pressured into such a situation, or the officer insists on keeping any of your documents, call the traffic police at 911, or require that the official escort you to the nearest police station. Do not argue with the police. Fines are never paid to traffic police — if you do get a fine it must be in the form of a ticket that you may pay later, or contest in court.
If in spite of all precautions you are involved in an accident it is important to keep a cool head and follow this simple advice: check if the other driver or people on the road have been injured. If so, call the Center for Attention of Emergencies at 911 for immediate assistance. If you have only incurred material damages, you should not move the car or cars and call the traffic police (Policía de Tránsito), who can be reached by also calling 911. Call the insurance institute as well, because they will want to send an inspector to the accident scene. The Insurance Institute’s (INS) number is 800-800-8000. Their inspectors will take pictures and record the driver’s accounts of the accident. Make sure you receive your copy of the notice of accident (aviso de accidente). If you are unable to call the insurance institute, you will have five days to file your report and explain those reasons to the INS. Try to obtain the most information on the other driver and his or her car. It is not necessary to exchange insurance information as in Costa Rica all insurance is issued by the state monopoly, INS. Do not make any deals with the other driver, if you reach an agreement you will need to do so under the court process and with the approval of the insurance institute.
If you take your car to an authorized repair shop, they will most likely handle your insurance claim and help you with all the required paperwork. You will have then to appear before a traffic court to determine who bears the responsibility of the accident. While the judicial process is on the way, there is an annotation at the Registry in order to make known that the case is being processed. After the process is finished, the annotation will be listed.
Make driving in Costa Rica a pleasant and exciting experience by being safe on the road.