Driving in Costa Rica with a Foreign License: A Guide for Expats (NEW 180-Day Visa Update*)

May 10, 2024 in Life in Costa Rica, Discover Costa Ballena, Discover Costa Rica, Discover Costa Ballena, Tips for Buyers

Driving in Costa Rica with a Foreign License: A Guide for Expats (NEW 180-Day Visa Update*)

For many expats living in Costa Rica and those contemplating a move to this vibrant country, understanding the nuances of local transportation laws is crucial, particularly when it comes to driving. A recent legislative update has brought good news for foreigners looking to drive on their international licenses, aligning with the extension of tourist visas up to 180 days. Here’s what you need to know.

To read the entire (translated to English) law as published in Costa Rica's national legal paper, La Gaceta, scroll to the bottom of this article.

Expanded Driving Privileges for Longer Stays

As of the latest update, tourists from the United States, Canada, and many European countries can enjoy extended stays in Costa Rica with the reassurance that they can legally drive. This is due to a modification in the law which allows these visitors to use their foreign driving licenses in Costa Rica for the full duration of their visa, which for many, now extends up to 180 days.

Understanding Costa Rica’s B-1 Type License

In Costa Rica, the B-1 type driver's license is the standard for driving personal vehicles such as cars and small trucks, mirroring the common vehicle classes in your home country:

  • United States: The Class D license, which is generally for personal vehicles.
  • Canada: Similar to the Ontario Class G license, used for regular passenger vehicles.
  • Europe: Corresponds to the Category B license, allowing the operation of cars with a maximum authorized mass of up to 3,500 kg.

For expats and tourists, this means that the driving license you used back home will very likely allow you to drive a similar type of vehicle in Costa Rica without the need for additional paperwork or tests during your initial stay.

What You Can Drive

With your foreign license, you can operate:

  • Light vehicles like passenger cars.
  • Motorcycles with an engine capacity of up to 125 cubic centimeters.
  • Electric bicycles and small motorized tricycles and quadricycles, as long as the engine does not exceed 500 cubic centimeters.

Rules to Follow

While the license from your home country is valid, you are expected to adhere to all local traffic laws and regulations. This means no special permissions or additional tests unless you plan to extend your stay or switch to a different type of vehicle not covered under your existing license.

For the Long-Term Expats

If you are an expat planning to live in Costa Rica beyond the typical tourist visa window, or you intend to drive heavier or more specialized vehicles, you will need to convert your foreign license into a Costa Rican one following a process outlined by the local transport authorities.

A New Chapter for Driving in Costa Rica

This update is particularly exciting for the expat community in Costa Rica, who have been anticipating these changes since last year. It simplifies life significantly for those looking to explore the country at their own pace and convenience, without the hassle of frequent legal hurdles. Whether you’re navigating the lush landscapes of the Nicoya Peninsula or commuting in the bustling streets of San José, the extended ability to use your international driver’s license makes the Costa Rican experience more accessible than ever.

Stay safe, and enjoy the ride!


Newly Reformed Law, Translated from La Gaceta:


Article 91 - Homologation of Foreign-issued Driving Licenses

The homologation of driving licenses issued abroad shall be governed by the following provisions:

a) Drivers accredited with a driving license issued abroad, who are in the country as tourists or in transit, are authorized to drive the same type of vehicle that the foreign license permits or by the same category given by the Directorate General of Migration and Foreigners, under this migratory condition.

During this period, drivers, accredited with a license equivalent to the national type B-1 or higher, may drive on primary highways that support combustion engine motorcycles with a motor displacement up to 125 cubic centimeters; in no case may they drive motorcycles exceeding this displacement, electric bicycles, or motorcycles that exceed 11 kilowatts. In the same terms, the driving of tricycles and quadricycles, whose engine displacement does not exceed 500 cubic centimeters, is authorized.

These drivers will be subject to the same regulations that apply to drivers accredited with a national license.

b) Drivers accredited with a driving license issued abroad who are in the country under a migratory status due to work or have presented a diplomatic or consular accreditation may drive legally, as long as international functionaries accredited in the country or their legal representatives remain in their functions, being able to renew such permission as long as the migration condition persists, without requiring a domestic driving license test, prior compliance with the following requirements:

i. The license intended for homologation must be valid.

ii. Comply with the established in this law for the class and type of license intended for homologation, except the obligation to attend the basic course of education and to perform the practical driving test.

iii. Accredit that they have a legal migratory status in the country or are under the protection of majority legislation.

c) In the homologation process of licenses of foreign nationals intended for professional drivers of enumerated transport of people or heavy load, in addition to observing the provisions in section b), subparagraphs i) and ii), the following must be adhered to:

i. Drivers with licenses equivalent to type B-4 and class C, once complied with on this law, can homologate their experience according to the equivalent license they hold.

ii. In addition to the requirements established by articles 85 by 86 of this law, those who hold a license type B-4 or class C, for the first time, may homologate their experience starting from the foreign equivalent license they hold.

For drivers with licenses equivalent to type B-4 and C, contemplated in this law, their experience can be homologated as stipulated in the license they intend to homologate, and they shall perform the respective course especially designed, finalized, and approved to realize and objectively demonstrate adequate control of the type of vehicle they intend to maintain.

Likewise, persons are authorized to drive foreign nationals whose migratory status is adjusted to the legislation for driving tests when they find themselves in a migratory request process to change migratory category or regularize their final residence status, pending the completion of the Migration and Foreign Affairs ruling.

Issued and communicated by the LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY - Approved by both houses on the third day of April of the two thousand twenty-second year.


Signed: Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, President

Signed: Maria Marta Carballo Arce, First Secretary

Signed: Manuel Esteban Morales Diaz, Second Secretary

Issued in the Presidency of the Republic, San José, at six o'clock on the sixteenth day of April of the two thousand twenty-second year.


Signed: RODRIGO CHAVES ROBLES—The Minister of Public Works and Transport, Mauricio Battalla Ortolan—Year I—Exonerated—(L-10470 - INo.204863854.)


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