It’s no secret that Costa Rica has a reputation for trámites, or paperwork. It’s partially deserved. But the truth is, you’d have to jump some hoops, cut through some red tape, and do some paperwork no matter where you moved (even if just over state lines). Getting a Costa Rica driver’s license is no different.
I like to think of getting a license as a kind of litmus test: Can you take it in stride? Because the truth is that this will be just one of many trámites you make in Costa Rica. From opening a bank account to filing for residency, the waiting and the stamping and the signing and the, well, everything can take its time (but hopefully not a toll).
So, take this with good humor. Learning how to slow down, take it all in stride, and be patient is part of the pura vida. That’s not to say you can’t huff or complain once in a while; all good Ticos complain on occasion to their friends or family. So, make your way through the process. File your paperwork. Take each step at a time. And whether you’re halfway there or almost finished, feel free to vent when necessary. Just don’t vent at the paper pushers!
And with that, let’s talk about how to get your options for obtaining a Costa Rica driver’s license.
🛑 Stop! You Can’t Get a Local Driver’s License Without THIS
Before we get into the hows of a Costa Rica driver’s license, there’s one thing you must know: According to official sources, you will need a Costa Rican cédula or DIMEX (residency card) to apply for a Costa Rican license. In other words, if you don’t have official Costa Rican residency, then you can’t get a driver’s license. As always, your results may vary!
Note that this doesn’t mean you can’t drive – you can still drive legally, for as long as your tourist entry stamp is valid. For example, if you receive 90 days upon entry to Costa Rica, you can legally drive for those entire 90 days. Exit Costa Rica and re-enter, and you’ll have another entry stamp and another number of days that you can legally drive.
But you cannot get a Costa Rican driver’s license without residency (or a work permit). Yes, even if you’ve submitted all the paperwork and are waiting on approval, you cannot get a Costa Rican driver’s license. You must wait until you have your DIMEX, residency card, or Costa Rican cédula (in the case of citizenship) in hand.
Important Note: If you are a digital nomad with an estancia, you are permitted to drive with your home country license for the duration of your estancia. This is typically for a period of one year.
How to Get a Costa Rica Driver’s License (2 Options)
Okay, so you have your residency or citizenship and you’re ready to get a Costa Rica driver’s license. How do you do that?
You’ll have two options (one far easier than the other): Homologación or a first-time license.
Option 1: Homologación, or Recognizing Your Home Country’s License
Homologation isn’t a word you hear often in English, but it’s one you’ll hear fairly frequently when you first move to Costa Rica. There are a few ways to translate it, but it essentially boils down to the legal machinations to map, or recognize, a home country document in Costa Rica.
You’ll hear the term most frequently in relation to a Costa Rica driver’s license: The easiest way to obtain yours is through homologación of your home country’s license. To do that, you’ll need:
- A minimum of three (3) months in Costa Rica, certified via your latest passport entry stamp.
- Your current driver’s license, in good shape. If your driver’s license is issued in a language other than Spanish, you’ll also need an official translation.
- Your DIMEX, work permit, or Costa Rican cédula.
- A dictámen medico, or a type of medical certification that you are fit to drive.
Once you have gathered all of the above, you can make an appointment to homologar your license. Tip: For tipo de identificación, choose Cédula de Resdencia (if you have a DIMEX) and for Tipo Trámite, choose Cita homologación licencia extranjera.
Option 2: Obtaining a First-Time License
This option isn’t as easy as the above, but if you don’t have a current foreign license or cannot obtain one, this is the option for you.
First-time licensees in Costa Rica take two tests: one theoretical (written, multiple choice) and one practical (on the road). Of course, both are conducted in Spanish, so you’ll want to brush up on your skills.
Step 1: The Theoretical Test
First up is the theoretical test, which is a multiple-choice test that requires a prior appointment. Appointments can be difficult to get, so be sure to check multiple days. If nothing seems available, ask me or a local forum regarding when new appointment times are released. (They can be snatched up quickly!)
On the day of your theoretical test, be sure to bring your dictámen médico and a paid entero, or your certified ¢5,000 payment (deposited to specific banks, in advance) to take the test. The theoretical test is similar to what you’ve likely taken before, covering rules of the road, driving safety, vehicle operation, and more. Remember, this test is in Spanish.
Step 2: The Driver’s Permit
Once you pass the theoretical test, you may request a driver’s permit; to obtain a driver’s permit, you will need your entero payment and dictámen médico, as well as a specific type of INS-issued insurance for permitted drivers. Once issued, your driver’s permit is valid for three months (renewable) and permits you to drive with a licensed driver who has held a Costa Rica driver’s license for a minimum of 5+ years.
Step 3: The Practical Exam
When you have had sufficient on-the-road practice, you may request an appointment for your practical exam.
On the day of your test, be sure to bring:
- INS Insurance: There is a specific type of policy required to take the practical driving exam.
- Entero Payment: Again, you will need to present your ¢5,000 entero payment, previously deposited to specific Cosevi bank accounts.
- Dictámen Médico: You will need your medical certification, which covers whether you need glasses, height and weight, etc.
Tip: Avoid the so-called gavilanes, or vultures who circle the Cosevi offices! They make wild (and wildly inaccurate) promises, offering a guaranteed license (it’ll be fake), appointment setting (often doesn’t happen), or other temptations for a “mere” $100 or so. Only, they’re complete scam artists. Don’t fall for it!
Step 4: Request Your Costa Rica Driver’s License
Not finished yet! Once you pass your practical driving test, you must make a bank deposit to request your driver’s license card.
If you have a DIMEX or residence card, you may only apply for your license at a Cosevi facility, as they must take your photo and issue your license. If you are a Costa Rican citizen with a Costa Rican cédula, you may also request your license via BCR (or Cosevi).
And, there you have it – you are finally finished and now an officially licensed driver in Costa Rica! Wasn’t that easy? (I say that with a smile and a wink. Welcome to paradise!)
Have Questions About Getting a License or Living in Costa Rica?
Hi, I’m Rebecca Clower. (My friends call me Becky.) In 2006, I did what you’re either preparing to do or have already done: I followed my heart and moved to Costa Rica.
Over the years, I’ve strengthened my roots here. I’ve given birth to my two boys and raised them here in Costa Rica. I’ve founded a wildly successful business. I’ve been on TV. I’ve given back to my community. I’ve taken on major positions of responsibility and authority. I am a dual citizen and have completely integrated into Costa Rica and my community.
Along the way, I’ve become an expert on Costa Rica relocation. And so, for years, I’ve made it my job to help other people make their own successful transitions to Costa Rica life and living. I offer real, honest advice and expertise to my clients.
I promise not to sugarcoat the hard truths or gloss over the tough parts. I will tell you the whole truth, the full truth, and even the hard truths. I hope that you’ll find the beautiful truths to outweigh them all. So, sign up for updates, download my free eBook, check out my relocation services, and feel free to get in touch. Let’s get started!