Alligators 'n Roadkill

Alligators 'n Roadkill
On The Road


Friday, May 13, 2011

The truly high cost of driving in Costa Rica.

If you haven't found something strange during the day, it hasn't been much of a day. - John A. Wheeler

Here is one of the many things nobody tells you about this place, and you have to learn for yourself: There is absolutely no rhyme or reason for anything ever done by any government agency, entity, or employee. The same pretty much holds true for private enterprise, as well, but since we're going to be talking about driving and licenses to drive here, let's concentrate on the Agency that is responsible.

First, that Agency is called Cosevi (officially named Consejo de Seguridad Vial, which translates as the Council of Road Safety). They have got to be one of the strangest entities in the history of bureaucracy. First of all, in order to obtain our first CR licenses, we learned that there is only one location in the entire nation where a foreigner (extranjero, in Spanish) can obtain a license to drive. The least painful way in which to obtain this license is to have been in this country for less than ninety days, and to be in possession of an active license from any U. S. state.

If you meet these two pre-requisites, then by going to that one location, in La Uruca, a part of San Jose, one must first pay the necessary fee (at present this is 11,000, or about $22.00), then go to a nearby "medical" facility with the words "Dictamen" posted outside. In this place, one pays another 15,000 (about $30.00) for a "doctor" to "certify" that you are medically OK to drive. Most folks who have gone through this report that the examination these doctors conduct consists of them asking if you have any medical conditions, if you are right- or left-handed, and then they ask you to read a line on an eye chart across the room, and tell them the color (red) that they point to on that eye chart. This place also has to stick your finger to check your blood type (unless you have documentation of it on your person, that is acceptable to them; i. e., in Spanish, and certified and authenticated).

After paying these fees, one must then go to the actual line for licenses, which is located way back at the first building close to where the public parking lot is. (Cosevi occupies a pretty large land area, a bit larger than a city block, and has things scattered all over that area, with the licensing line at the entrance, the bank where one must pay the license fee all the way at the front, and then, the medical facilities are located out on the street, nearby). As long as you have paid all fees, and have the documents from that in your possession, along with your current license, then you will be allowed to enter this first/last building, and take a seat, along with about fifty other people. Once you reach this point, the line usually moves rapidly, and the new license will be issued on the spot.

That first license was obtained by us before we had achieved our primary goal of obtaining legal residency. Cosevi, in all its wisdom, does issue a unique number to each and every license in the nation, but doesn't use its own system to create those numbers. Instead, they issue a license based on one's Passport Number for non-residents, or one's cedula number, for residents. That means that our licenses had a wrong number on them, since we are now residents, with legally issued cedulas. In order to renew our licenses, which were issued for only two years in the first place, we first had to get the numbers on our old licenses changed to match those cedulas.

Once again, in all its wisdom, Cosevi, for whatever reasons, is capable of making this change at only one location in the entire nation, and that is - you should have known this was coming - NOT in La Uruca, where the drivers licenses are issued in the first place. No, this is near downtown San Jose, in an area known as Paso Ancho (wide pass, and don't ask). In case you have never visited the city of San Jose, think of narrow, poorly paved streets, very few of which go in a straight line. Consider that very seldom will you ever see any sort of street sign, and there is absolutely no numbering (or other identification) of any dwellings, or other buildings. Once in a while, you may encounter a street name on a corner building, but that would be like every ten blocks, or maybe more. I made some maps on the PC, before we ever left home, and these maps do show very clearly, where we needed to go. What I forgot, and what makes it nearly impossible to find your way in San Jose, is that lack of street names and numbering. How can you determine where to go, if you can't determine where the hell you are?

So, needless to say, although we did make good time from our house, to San Jose, we then spent at least an hour just trying to find our first destination, the Cosevi location in Paso ancho. We then made our way onto the grounds of this office complex, discovering along the way, that this is where Ticos go to take their driving license exams. After an interminable wait, along with a goodly number of other people who had reason to request changes on their licenses (apparently a number of errors occur in the production of licenses, or else maybe all the Ticos waiting had to do name changes, or something), it was finally our turn. Blanca had the misfortune to be attended (and, I use that word in full knowledge that this person demonstrated a physical and mental capacity to just barely manage attending to his own personal needs) to by a man, who evidently had the use of only one finger for entering information into his PC. The female, next to him, who attended me shortly after Blanca's ordeal began, was finished with me, and providing assistance to the cretin dealing with Blanca long before that guy got halfway done. Ultimately, both did enter the proper information into their respective PC's, and gave us printouts attesting to that fact. They then said we could proceed to the offices in La Uruca to renew our licenses. It was nearly noon by this time.

Now, here is where I want to explain a bit about what it has cost us to comply with the requirements of having a drivers license in Costa Rica. We had to get up early in the morning, like around 5:00AM. We then drove to San Jose, via the new toll road, and then trie to find the first of two places we had to visit, as described above. Then, after we completed those requirements, we had to find the other location, where the actual license is issued (and, where we went through the motions described above in the third and fourth paragraphs), and comply with whatever was required at that place. Ultimately, these are the actual expenses we had to meet on this one day:


15,000(X2 for 2 people)            for "medical' exam

11,000 (X2 for 2 people)            for license

30,000 (X2 for going and coming)        for gasoline

7,000                     for tolls on the Autopisto Del Sol

10,000                     for lunch in Santa Ana

500                    Parking


30,000 Dictamen

22,000 Licenses

60,000 Gasoline

7,000 Tolls

10,000 Lunch

500 Parking

129,500 $259.60 Total cost for two people, without considering the length of our day (over twelve hours)

What more can I say? Oh, yeah, in case you were wondering about what pertains when one does NOT possess an active license from another country, and/or has been in Costa Rica for more than ninety days……….in that case, one must take a written – in Spanish - and actual physical driving exam, and yes, there is only one place in the nation where this may be done – (Paso Ancho for the driving part, and I think the written; and, then over to La Uruca to actually get the license). And, before I forget to mention it, by law, the driving exam must be done in a vehicle that has a standard transmission. No automatics. The law may be changing about this little detail, but changing laws here takes a long, long time…………Pura Vida, Mae!


  1. Here in Colorado, I just "think" about renewing my drivers license and like magic, it appears in my mail box along with a Hershey's bar WITH almonds. AMAZING!

  2. Thanks for the article. I also have to go to Paso Ancho because I let my old license, also with the passport number expire. The good news is foreigners who still have valid foreign licenses can get their Tico licenses renewed, but it has to be done at Paso Ancho.

    Also, speaking of the license number issue, there is yet a third number change for those who go from residency to citizenship.

  3. well, as a licensee in Texas, I at least had to go online and hershey bar, and not much decent chocolate here, for a third number change when going from residency to citizenship, I do not believe that I will ever have to worry about that.