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Foreigners must be legal residents to drive in Costa Rica

The Costa Rica Star has recently published information about receiving your permanent residency in Costa Rica to avoid border runs, wasting time, and money.

Rick and Lorraine have been coming to Costa Rica for the last ten years. Like good tourists they fueled the country’s top industry, tourism. And like many Canadian tourists, they fell in love with paradise.

Since their first arrival in Costa Rica, the couple made numerous visits, each time staying longer and longer. In 2007 their plans for the future to make Costa Rica home included the purchase of a lot in Guanacaste.

Last month they fulfilled their dream of living in paradise, making the final move to their adopted home, Costa Rica. In the process the couple applied for residency. Last weekend they visited the car show in Heredia and bought a car.

Having crossed off a number of items on their to do list, while in San José and with new wheels to sport, it was time for a visit to the drivers licensing office in La Uruca.

Armed with the knowledge that 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, the couple set out to the La Uruca drivers license centre for the required few hours it takes for the process. Based on all the information published on getting a drivers license in Costa Rica, where even foreigners as tourists could obtain one, they were in for a big surprise: the laws had changed, required now is legal residency!

Typically, the process was simple, the drivers license from their home country, their passport indicating the entry stamp to verify that the application was within the 90 days visitor period, the medical exam and the fee.

That is what Rick and Lorraine had envisioned their chore for their morning. But, it didn’t go that way. The couple quickly learned that they were missing one very vital document, a cedula. The new traffic law that went into effect on October 26, 2012, now requires every foreigner – be it from the United States, Canada, Europe and Nicaragua just to name a few, requires legal residency. And the residency application is not valid enough.

This was confirmed by Consejo de Seguridad Vial (COSEVI) officials and a post on the MOPT website.

The legal residency requirement is no big deal for Rick and Lorraine and the thousands of others making or planning the move to paradise. The problem is in the timing, as it takes a year or more to obtain legal residency, but the traffic law allows only 90 days to drive on a visitor’s visa.

This unintended consequence of new the legislation leaves an entire class of foreigners, who in their zeal to become legal residents, abide by the laws of the country, are now being forced to either drive illegally (beyond their 90 days) or leave the country, thus becoming “perpetual” tourists, a condition the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería (immigration service) has been attempting to eradicate.

In practical terms, if the foreigners want to continue to drive legally, he or she is faced with the burden of added costs of living, leaving the country every 90 days and an interruption to their life in paradise.

If one chooses not to do the travel thing, the exposure is a fine of ¢280.000 colones (US$565 dollars) and six (6) points on a yet unreceived license. For each occurrence.

In addition, the new traffic law also imposes a restriction on a foreigner leaving the country if they have unpaid traffic fines. The Ley de Tránsito requires the COSEVI to report to the immigration service any foreigner who has unpaid traffic tickets and the immigration to deny exit, either by air, land or sea.

Imagine getting to the airport, checking into your flight, paying the $28 exit tax, ready to board and the pulled off the flight by immigration officials and for having outstanding traffic fines. And if on a Friday afternoon, the wait is until Monday for the COSEVI to process the payment and Tuesday at the earliest for immigration to be notified?

The legal status requirement was included in Article 91 b)iii, which states: Acreditar su permanencia legal en el país, al amparo de la legislación migratoria vigente.

This is no doubt a serious problem for many like Rick and Lorriane making or considering a move to paradise.

Harder to believe is that the requirement that was not discussed in public during the more than two years the new legislation was under study. And until a few like Rick and Lorraine made their way to the drivers licensing office and then contacted the media, this was not known to the general public.

One COSEVI official who spoke to QCOSTARICA.com anonymously confirmed that licensing officials were aware of the requirement for months but it wasn’t until the beginning of this month, two weeks after the enactment of the law, that they received a directive to enforce the regulation.

What we are left with, as Rick and Lorraine are painfully living it, is that foreigners who do not have residency –cannot obtain a Costa Rica drivers license.

Although impossible to know how many will be affected and how, it certainly is to be in the thousands. And how many may just say ‘to hell with it’ and pass over Costa Rica?

One can understand the need for law and order. However, there has to be some common sense in the process. Either allow a residency in “tramite” (in the process) or shorten the residency process to at least less than 90 days.

Anything short of either becomes idiomatic of an unprofitable action motivated by greed. Greed by a government that is pulling at all the strings and overturning all the rocks to generate revenue.

Talking with Rick, he has not yet become disillusioned with paradise. He and Lorraine are not bailing out just yet. But, it has generated doubts in their minds about their choice of Costa Rica.

Source: QCostaRica.com

Foreigners must be legal residents to drive in Costa Rica
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