Apart from driving purposes, a driver’s license is accepted as proper identification in many other circumstances, such as credit card transactions in stores, for entering certain night spots and many government buildings and hospitals that require proper identification to enter.
Although national officials sometimes say tourists should always carry their passports rather than a copy, that is not always a good idea because replacing one if it is lost, damaged or stolen can be a major hassle. Having a local driver’s license can save one the hassle of always leaving with the passport, especially if going out for the night or running small errands.
Also, by law, visitors can only use a foreign driver’s license in Costa Rica for up to three months before they must obtain a national one. For citizens of Colombia and other Central American countries a foreign license can only be used for one month legally before a Costa Rican one must be substituted.
For about $50, including the vision and blood tests, expats with an up-to-date immigration status and a valid driver’s license from their own country can obtain a Costa Rican one. The entire process takes about three hours and it can all be done near the Departamento de Acreditación de Conductores del Consejo de Seguridad Vial in La Uruca.
The one in Uruca is the only office in the country where a foreigner can obtain a driver’s license, and the hours are from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. for foreigners. Although they process citizens all day, foreigners seeking their first Costa Rican license must come between those times or they will be turned away.
The required documents are a passport and driver’s license, which must be a valid one from the applicant’s country of origin and must not be expired. Provisional, international licenses and learning permits and do not suffice. Those without valid licenses have to take the required classes, a written test, and a driving test.
One should also bring three photocopies of the passport and the license as well as three photocopies proving a legal immigration status in the country. For a tourist, this means three photocopies of the latest entry stamp, and for a resident copies of the cédula. A driver’s test is not necessary.
All the proper medical tests can be done at a clinic about 50 yards from the license office. The vision and very brief health exam cost $30 and no appointment is necessary. The blood test to determine blood type to place on the license costs $10. Other documentation of blood type can be used to save the $10. The clinic will also make the necessary photocopies of the passport and license for $3.
The actual license only costs $8 and is good for three years.
There are usually representatives of the clinic in front of the driver’s license building to show people where the clinic is.