Repurposed from A.M. Costa Rica Nov 5, 2012


The new traffic law prevents foreigners from obtaining a Costa Rican license until they have a residency cédula in hand. This is another of those apparent unintended consequences of new legislation.

New expat Jerry Embry of San Isidro de El General found this out Thursday, and a detailed check of the new traffic law shows that his account is correct. The legal change that just took effect means that persons who apply for residency cannot obtain a Costa Rican driver's license until the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería gives them an official cédula.

Embry said he found out that workers at the driver's license bureau in La Uruca would not honor paperwork from immigration that says he already has applied as a pensionado. 

The legislation also prevents so-called perpetual tourists from obtaining a local license. Embry, who speaks Spanish, is the former chief mate on the research vessel JOIDES Resolution. He retired in January.

Until now, a foreigner who had a valid driver's license from his or her own country could obtain one in Costa Rica without the need to take a written exam or a driving test. Even foreigners in Costa Rica as tourists could obtain one.

Typically those who sought residency here would obtain a Costa Rican license quickly even before they filed paperwork with immigration.
Now an entire class of foreigners, those awaiting approval of their residency status, can either risk a significant fine for driving without a license or leave the country every 90 days to renew their tourism visa in order to keep their current license valid. In the past, once an expat filed for residency he or she was free of the need to renew their tourism visa by travel.

Because of the weekend, traffic officials and lawmakers were not available to explain why they made the change. 
The specific part of the new traffic law is under article 91 (b) iii, which establishes requirements. The section says that a foreigner soliciting a Costa Rican license by virtue of having one in his or her home country must have legal residency here. Presumably that could be pensionado, rentista or any one of the many residency types listed in the immigration law.

This was a condition that was not discussed in public during the two years when the new legislation was under study in the Asamblea Legislativa.

What is left unsaid is if foreigners who do not have residency will be able to renew the licenses that they already have acquired.


There is a high likelihood that this law will either be rewritten, scrapped or (at least) amended. As many of us have come to learn, new laws are first written, then signed into actual law and FINALLY debated regarding their legal efficacy.  This is evident by the recent overturning of draconian traffic fines contained within this very same set of laws.

In Costa Rica, the left land doesn't tell the right hand what the other is doing.  Such is the case between Migración and MOPT (the people who are in control over drivers licenses).  You see, once a person applies for residency and their application is accepted, they no longer need to leaver the country to renew their 90 day tourist visa.  It would seem logical (this concept does not exist in Costa Rica) that if this concept works for Migración, it should also be extended to MOPT.


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