QCOSTARICA – Usually, foreigners can use their foreign driver’s license for a period of three months from the moment they enter the country, this in accordance with the Ley de Transito (Traffic Law).
However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic that led to land borders restricted and air and sea borders closed, tourists who entered Costa Rica remained in the country, the Ministry of Transport (MOPT) authorized an extension for them to use their foreign license.
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The temporary exception, exclusively for people who have valid driving licenses in their countries of origin, could continue to do so past the aforementioned three months.
The exception applied to tourists who entered the country after December 17, 2019, and extended to November 18, 2020, to legally drive with their foreign license.
The exemption, though addressing tourists, also applied to all foreigners in the country who live here, though technically tourists, do not consider themselves as such.
Pre-covid, these foreigners, also known as perpetual tourists would do a “visa run”, typically to Nicaragua or Panama, and restart the clock ticking on their 90 days.
Since March of this year that has not been possible. Nor is it. While the air and maritime borders are open to all, entry by land continues restricted to Costa Ricans and foreigners with legal residency, to be clear, holders of the Documento de Identidad Migratoria para Extranjeros or DIMEX card.
MOPT will not extend
While the immigration service, the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería Costa Rica (DGME), is allowing foreigners who entered the country after December 17th, 2019 to legally remain in Costa Rica until March 2nd, 2021, the extension does not apply to driving privileges.
The MOPT circular of July 16, 2020, is clear: “A grace period is granted to drivers who, since December 17, 2019, are in the country as tourists, so that they can drive using the license of their country until November 18, 2020. They must carry both the license and the passport.”
Our friends at Outlier Legal Services were able to confirm, writing on their website, “that days before the due date and after filing a request to extend the privilege to legally drive until March 2, 2020, to match Immigration’s entry stamp extension, MOPT has stated that since our air borders are now open and our Immigration Department is also taking applications, they will not extend driving privileges anymore. This information was confirmed via email by the Authentications Department (in charge of approving foreign driver’s licenses)”.
The reality for non-resident expats
In the last two days I have received numerous emails from readers concerned and upset.
By their emails, these are foreigners living in Costa Rica, who would normally do a visa run to stay legal and drive, but, due to the pandemic, life has become complicated.
One reader wrote, “In order to be able to drive my car after Nov. 18 I have to fly out of the country and re-enter. But the catch is, to do that I have to fill out the health form and purchase insurance for my 90-day ‘visit’. The health form has to be filled out 48 hours before I enter the country. If I’m doing an air border run, that means I fill out the form and submit it while I’m in Costa Rica. Regarding the insurance, it’s expensive for someone 70+ ($22.80 per day) That’s more than $2,000 for 3 months. It will be cheaper and less hassle for me to just stay put till March and take taxis everywhere”.
Without getting into “it’s their fault”, “they should have known better”, and so, on, what is their option?
Unfortunately, unless the MOPT changes its opinion in the next several days, the other option is the Sala IV or Constitutional Court, filing a “recurso amparo”.
Anyone can file an amparo and for any reason. It can even be scrawled on a napkin. It is then up to the Court to decide to accept it (or not) and rule on it.
This is a “machote” or form you can use to file your recurso or more commonly known as a “Sala Cuartazo”.