Driving in Costa Rica as an expat: can I drive in Costa Rica on my foreign driver’s license?

by Quatro Legal Immigration Team | Jan 3, 2024 | Article, Immigration

Foreign driver’s licenses are valid in Costa Rica for the duration of the tourist entry stamp. When driving, foreign nationals must carry their passport and the entry stamp page showing proof of legal status in the country.

A foreign driver can drive in Costa Rica using the foreign driver’s license for the same period as the legal stay in Costa Rica stamped in the passport, usually for 90 days as a tourist.

A foreign driver’s license can be validated for use in Costa Rica, but the foreign citizen must have a legal immigration status, such as resident, refugee, diplomat or have a work permit, complete the validation process before the Acreditation Department of COSEVI – “Departamento de Acreditacion del Conductor de la Direccion General de Educacion Vial” –

The possibility of driving in Costa Rica with a valid license from another country is possible with the driver’s license homologation process. Last year, 1.857 residents coming from across the world were able to obtain their new Costa Rican driver’s license following the rules established by the Road Safety Council, also known as COSEVI, and Bank of Costa Rica (BCR).

Once you have received your Costa Rican residency card (temporary or permanent) or citizenship card, you can homologate your foreign driver’s license. This means you can use your driver’s license from your home country to obtain a Costa Rican driver’s license without having to take the driving test as long as you receive your homologation approval and new driver’s license. If you are a digital nomad, you are permitted to drive with your home country license for the duration of your stay.

When thinking about starting the driver’s license homologation process, it’s important to comply with all the requirements needed: 90 consecutive days in the country (certified), a valid driver’s license, the translation of the driver’s license in case the document has been issued in another language different from Spanish, a medical exam as well as passport and DIMEX copies.

One of the most important requirements is to have at least 90 consecutive days in Costa Rica. Six months ago, the 90 consecutive days were certified via the last passport entry stamp. Unfortunately, the Immigration officers at the airport or borders are no longer sealing the passports when entering the country if the resident or citizen enters with their national ID or DIMEX card. This has changed without any notice, which means that a new certification must be issued by the authorities to certify the 90 consecutive days in the country: a certification of entries and exits.

The appointments for homologation are released by COSEVI until the last week of each month with no prior notification, same case with validation appointments released by BCR. The homologation takes place at COSEVI offices distributed in: La Uruca, Alajuela, Cartago, Guápiles, Heredia, Liberia, Limón, Nicoya, Pérez Zeledón, Puntarenas, Río Claro, San Carlos and San Ramón. BCR has more options for the validation, but nothing is granted since the appointment process hasn’t been standardized either in COSEVI nor BCR.

In simple words, the homologation is when the authorities review and approve all the requirements and the validation is for the printing of approved licenses at BCR. Fortunately, COSEVI provides a six-month timeframe to finish the validation process after the homologation has been granted. Good news is that the BCR validation and printing is fast, and the license will be valid for three years. The renewal process is much easier because COSEVI is no longer a part of the equation.

There are several bills of law that wish to change the 90 consecutive days requirement but none of them has been voted in Congress. Until then, COSEVI will handle the approval for anyone who wishes to drive in Costa Rica with a foreign driver’s license.

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