License to DRIVE!

I’ve lived in Costa Rica about 5 years now, and I’ve been a resident for around 4. I was recently faced with a horrible dilemma… Fly back to California to get my drivers license renewed, or get a Costa Rica license and let my California license expire. A trip back would have cost me well over a thousand dollars, and all I’d get for it would be a new picture on a license I haven’t used since my last visit back to the States, years ago. Still, once that my California license expired, I knew it would be much more difficult to get a Costa Rican license. So I decided to confront the local bureaucracy head on and get my Costa Rica driver’s license.

I did a little research before I began. I found this website:

Good information (in the middle on) but not quite complete. This article isn’t meant to be all knowing but if you are a foreigner who wants a Costa Rica license, here’s my experience.

Monday, 1 pm… I followed the advice of the aforementioned blog, and waited my turn in line at a nearby BCR. It took probably half an hour before my number was called and I got to talk to a real person. He told me the system was down and to come back another time.

Wednesday, 1 pm… Went to my nearby BCR office and luckily had to wait only 10 minutes, perhaps even less. The guy I talked to said that I couldn’t pay the fee in advance because I wasn’t in the MOPT computer system. He told me to go there, get in the system, THEN pay at BCR (which has an office on the premises, more or less). I thanked him and he directed me to the bus stop for buses to La Uruca. I asked the driver if he went by the Cosevi building, and he said yes, so I hopped aboard and off we went.

Wednesday, 1:45 pm (approx.)… I kept my eyes peeled for the Cosevi building. It’s not very far into La Uruca from downtown San Jose, just a little ways after the main bottlenecks after you come up the hill from San Jose. On the left, if you are paying attention, you’ll see a ‘Hamburger Factory.’ Push the ‘stop’ button or pull the ‘stop’ cord as the case may be, because you’re almost there. The building is a color I can’t quite describe, but luckily I have a picture. Anyway, it’s on the left too. Get off the bus (or out of your taxi, or park your Mercedes) because you’re there. I asked the guard at the main gate where to go for driver’s licenses, and he directed me back a couple of hundred meters and told me it was on the right. As I approached, I saw a giant line in front of the door into one of the buildings. Oh boy, I said to myself, this is going to be great.
Rather than just get in line, I decided to go to the building entrance and talk to somebody to make sure I was in the right place. I finally got to talk to the guy who was checking documents at the door, and explained that I was a foreigner (extranjero) and wanted to get a driver’s license. He told me, basically, that I didn’t have to wait in line because I WAS a foreigner, but that I had to be there before 11 am. It was now at least 2 pm. He told me to make copies of my passport, cedula and current drivers license. (An expired license is useless, btw, you’ll have to do a different and more involved process). Also, I needed a doctor’s exam, which was available nearby. Since I was in the neighborhood, I decided to get the exam out of the way and come back the next morning. The exam was a joke, basically.
I took an eye test, the doctor took my blood pressure and asked me a few basic questions about medications and any physical problems I might have. Before I saw him, they drew a blood sample because I had no proof of my blood type. The charge was 20,000 colones for the exam and 5000 for the blood thing. 5 minutes work, more or less $45. What a racket.

Next morning I forced myself to get up early, gathered my documents and found a copy place. I made the copies and hopped on the bus. I knew where to get off this time, and by golly there I was. I walked back to the back of the ‘complex’ and walked past the long line to the front door. I explained to the guard that I was a foreigner getting my first license and he told me to go upstairs. Upstairs was a woman behind a desk and a few offices. I barged ahead and asked her if I was in the right place. She said yes and told me to take a seat. Some helpful Salvadorans explained to me that first I was to wait for the woman in the office to do some paperwork, then wait in line for the woman behind the front desk to do some stuff. Okay, so I sat down. I only waited a few minutes for the woman in the office, and showed her my documents. She took a look at my documents and wrote something in some sort of ledger, then handed me back my stuff and told me to wait in line for the woman at the desk. Okay fine. There were about six or seven people in front of me, and it took maybe 5 minutes per person to process. Finally it was my turn and I handed the woman my documents and she did her thing. She handed me a slip of paper along with my documents and told me to go down to the BCR office near the front of the complex, on the left just before the main entrance.
I ran into one of the Salvadorans and asked him where the bank was. He motioned me to follow him and said to go to window 7, which fortunately had only one person in front of me. I paid the money, 4000 colones, and took the receipt and paper back to the front door of the building in the back and again asked the guard what to do next. She said to have a seat in front of the cubicles where they take the photos, fingerprint and signature. In a matter of minutes I was seated and the woman was getting things ready. We did the signature, photo and (electronic) fingerprint. Amazingly, out popped my drivers license, just like that. Wow! I was good to go. I thanked her and went.

So at least for once, being a foreigner paid off. I didn’t have to wait in that gigantic line! I’m not sure what it was for but my guess it was for locals to get new licenses, since I saw many of them with the same sort of documents in their hands that I had to present. God bless the Ticos. Such patience. I got off easy.

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  1. Hmmmm. Sounds like a lot of wasted tiome and energy. My entire process took about two hours. I went to ARCR. Hired one of their helpers. Paid them $35. He drove me to MOPT. Expedited all my paperwork. Took me to medical office next door where I got my physical. He then took me back to MOPT to wait in line to get my license. While I played musical chairs, he went to bank, paid the fee and came back with the receipt. By that time I was ready for my picture. Ten minutes later I walked out with a nice shiny 2-year license.

  2. No. Cal. Refugee says:

    It would have been as much hassle to go go ARCR for me, not to mention the extra $35. All I really wasted was one trip there, by bus. I have time and I also like to do things myself, it's how I learn. Forces me to improve my Spanish. If somebody is in a hurry or doesn't speak enough Spanish, ARCR is a good deal.

  3. We were lucky in that we had all the correct documents beforehand, arrived before 11 AM, the security guard walked us through all the hoops and we both had our licenses in an hour and a half. This January we'll have to renew but can do that locally. I've heard the license fee (not the medico dictamen) has gone way up, so I'm bracing for that hit to the wallet.