If you are sure you want to upgrade you home town (or country) license to an official Costa Rican drivers license then you are in luck as this ‘Gringo’ went though the process last week and is going to tell you all the steps required to make it so!
Start by picking a day that you have no plans to be anywhere or do anything else for 3-4 hours (1-2 Tico hours). Better on Tuesdays to Thursdays.Save the stress and take a cab ride to MOPT, also known as ‘Ministerio de Obres Publica y Transporte’. This is a large blue building on the corner of Calle 9 and Avenida 22.
Remember to take with you your passport and drivers license (must be current) from you native land. To save time, but only 40 colones, make a copy of the front and back of your drivers license, and the indentification pages of your passport with your picture and passport number as well as the page that shows the most recent entry into Costa Rica (ingreso?)
Once you get to the corner where MOPT is located, start looking for signs that say ‘Dictamen Medico’.There are on all the streets around but the more distance from the MOPT the less expensive your medical exam will be.This is a requirement for the license in Costa Rica.
Don’t worry! It sounds worse that it is. Mostly just answer questions about your past medical history (when in doubt say no or ‘nada’).
You will take an eye exam so if you wear contacts or glasses take them with you or wear them. Then a quick blood pressure check, a reflex test (knee jerk thing), and you wiggle you feet and hands to prove they work.
There are no rubber gloves involved, what a relief! ‘Es Todo!’ The medical takes about 10-15 min., depending on how much talking you do.
The price for this exam is from 3,000 to 4,000 colones (US$7.50 to US$10) currently depending on how far from MOPT you go.If you forget to make your copies not to worry as there are a few photocopy places within 100m of the MOPT main entrance on 20th Avenida.
Now armed with your medical exam certificate, you copies of license and passport, and the originals (still need them too!) which may make you question the need for the copies (I did) you start at the information desk at the top of the stairs.They will stamp all you copies and check against your originals.
Next they will speak very fast in Spanish telling you were to go, as it seems almost no one at MOPT speaks any English, kind of like East L.A. or Arizona now that I think of it.
Anyway, what he said was to go to the far right, past the line with a sign that says “espere aqui” which means “wait here”, but don’t, around the corner to the left and into the last door on the right.
Next you wait until Mr. Lopez is ready to see you, and he will check your copies and originals again, make a few entries in a note book, kind of like a notary listing your passport number, DL number, etc, then stamp your pages once again and off to the line of chairs just outside his office door to the left.
With me so far? Now you wait you turn until someone at window #2 calls you up.They will take your papers and ask again for you original license and passport (or cedula if you have one).They will ask if you wear glasses or ‘contactos’ and for a local address and phone number.It is OK to use a hotel, a friends address, your cell phone or hotel number, or as the man in front of me said’ “None”.
Seems they understand some words.One couple used their address in Texas but I could not tell if the clerk knew it was in Texas.
Now you are off to pay the 4,000 colones at the BCR window just to the right. There may be a short window here but it is very fast.They just want your money and to see your passport once again, no questions.Make sure you get a yellow receipt and go around the corner where you see the “photos” signs.
Here there are three windows (marked ‘Photo #1,#2, #3’) with maybe one or two people working them.This part is actually fun as it seems they are one step up on many states in the US in the use of some technology.They flash a quick picture, take an optical, digital index finder (not thumb) print and have you sign with a pressure pen on a pad.
In three or four minutes, out comes your new driver’s license looking very colorful and official.Total cost $20 or less and maybe 2 to 4 hours worst case (far less if your Spanish is good).
If and when you do get stopped you have the advantage of having a local license and less problems with the law, however they will often assume you speak Spanish… so study!
Now that you know exactly what to do, please remember that this process could/may/will probably be completely different by the time you apply for your license 🙂
Written by R. MacGorn.
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