The Kafkaesque challenge of driving (legally) in Costa Rica

So, we recently found out that our European driving license is only valid for three months. After that, apparently, if you get caught by the police, not only do you get a fine, but they take away your car plates. Needless to say, that is a bit of an inconvenience in this country.

So, we started to find out what we needed to do.

Apparently, foreign people need to apply for an equivalent Costa Rican driving license if they want to drive after 3 months. This is called “homologación”. So far, so good. In the end, I had to do a similar thing in Sweden with my Spanish driving license. No problem.

Oh, well. Maybe some. Two caveats here:

1.To apply for the homologación, you need to have a residence permit. Nowadays, the migration office provides appointments for two and a half years from now for applications (December 2024). Since it takes about a year to get a response after the application, one can hope to have the temporary or permanent residence paper by January 2026. A bit late for the homologación.

2. You cannot apply for the homologación until 3 months and 1 day have passed since you entered the country. But you cannot drive with your international license the day after the three months have passed. So, 91 days after entering Costa Rica, we are officially not allowed to drive until we apply for the homologación.

Ok. As it is now, I have a temporary residence visa as a researcher, so I can apply. Frank does not have it yet, BUT he is going to try anyway.

The fun starts now. The time, days and places where the homologaciòn can be done are moving targets. One day you check the website of the ministry of transport, and it says that homologaciones can be done in Alajuela on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, in Liberia on Tuesdays only and in Paso Canoas on Thursdays without prior appointment. Then the next day, it says that Alajuela is no longer possible. Still, Heredia is possible on Tuesdays and Nicoya on Wednesdays. Note that all these places are a minimum of 3 hours drive from where we are, and up to 8 hours. So, not something that one can do without planning.

So I decided to try Alajuela on Wednesday. According to the last info that I had, Alajuela did homologaciones on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Only that the day before they changed to only Wednesdays. Pffffff!. The office opened from 7 to 12, so I thought being there an hour earlier would suffice.

At 6 am, the queue was already 50 people long, all waiting on the street outside the office. I can see about 5 women. The rest of them are men. I feel intimidated and a bit out of place. I am, by the looks of it, the only European.

Oh well, patience.

At 7 am, the doors were not yet open. “Oh! not again” – said the guy in front of me. “Yesterday, I arrived at 5, and at 07:30 they informed us that they would not open today because of the change of president.”
What? But that was last Sunday!- I say
“Yes”- he answered, shrugging his shoulders. “I do not understand either, but that was what happened”.

07:30. The first group of 5 comes in.


08:30 The first group is still in. No movement in the queue. It starts to get hot. We are standing up in the blasting sun on the street. Fortunately, I remember that I have an umbrella in the bag. I open it. At least it provides some shelter from the blasting sun.

09:00 Another 5 come in. I start calculating. 1,5 hours for 5 people, and I have about 42 in front of me…I do not think I will make it.


09:30. Someone comes out to give us a list of the documents needed. Apparently, sometimes they ask for a photocopy of the id, even if it is not on the list. There is at least some action, as some of us go to the photocopier on the other side of the street to make extra copies.


10:30. The queue is moving painfully slow. I have been standing for 4,5 hours in the sun. I have finished my water. I am considering leaving at 11 when suddenly there is a lot of turmoil in the queue.
Apparently the people at the office have started to ask for a certificate from the embassy that confirms that your driving license is the official one in the country. This only applies to Nicaraguans, 90% of the people queuing for the homologación.


11:00 Suddenly, half of the queue is gone. I still have about 12 people in front. I might just make it. So, I decide to stay. The guy in charge comes out. Another 7 people come in. I only have 5 in front of me. And there is one hour left. Gosh. I MIGHT MAKE IT!


11:44 The guard in the entrance starts clearing the table. The 7 people that entered at 11 have not yet gone out. That is not a good sign.


11:45 An official comes to talk with the guard. They nod. And the guard comes forward to he fence. There is 20 of us left. He says that the office is closed. They will not be attending anyone else today.
I could cry. 6 hours standing in the sun… for nada.


The next day -the guard says- one can go to San Ramón, which is 4 hours drive from where we live.


I had learnt from the people in the queue that those that made it today arrived at 12 am last night and slept on the street. The last ones that entered at 11 pm had come between 3am, and 4 am. Still dark. And it was the second time that they were trying. So, I should consider myself lucky that I only waited for 6 hours…


I guess that we will try again. Next time somewhere else, in another province where maybe there are fewer people. Maybe we are lucky then. Who knows…Else, we can get out of the country and back again to reset the 3 months clock.


No matter what, I am certain that I am not going to spend the night on the streets of San José for some paperwork. That is something that nobody should be forced or expected to do. But certainly not something that a woman could do. Life is more important than papers.

POST-SCRIPTUM

I finally managed to get my Costa Rica driving license in Guapiles, a small town in another province. No queues. PLUS no need to come back to pick up the licence. You get it on the spot. AND one does not need to hand in the European driving license. You just get the Costa Rica as well. So, not bad at all!!


5 thoughts on “The Kafkaesque challenge of driving (legally) in Costa Rica

  1. Wow! Indeed a Kafka-like situation. You had described Costa Rica as a civilized country, but now I start to question that. Hopefully the driver’s licences for you and Frank will be sorted out very soon!
    Hugs

    Like

    1. It is a very civilized country, but still bureaucratic. A bit like Spain. We also had to wait 8 months for Sweden to recognize Frank as resident, when we came back from Costa Rica. So I guess that there are bureaucratic hurdles everywhere. We just need to be patient and keep going. Moving to a new country is never easy.

      Like

  2. Madre mía, Cris!!Qué lentitud y qué desesperación.

    Estos son los inconvenientes de vivir en el Paraiso… para la fauna, que no necesita de “pipiles”…
    Espero que lo consigas, la próxima vez.Si no, es para hacerse el “harakiri”…Besotes.❤❤

    Like

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