If you go to the MOPT (Costa Rica’s Ministry of Public Works & Transportation) website (English translation), you will see a very misleading headline:
“Drivers can use foreign license for 6 more months.”
Not true for those of you who just had your TOURIST visa extended to June 1.
Please read that twice.
Here are the key paragraphs that stipulate just who it is that this new extension applies to:
“…foreigners under the migratory categories of refugees, permanent or temporary residents, a special category of complementary protection (free of status) or Costa Ricans whose licenses issued abroad have expired, or who have not managed to homologate the document, will enjoy of this grace period so that during this time they can complete the approval process before the General Directorate of Road Education.”
“ It is important to clarify that the grace period will be extended to people in the aforementioned conditions and whose license should have been homologated or expired as of March 20, 2020, so that they can continue driving with their foreign license and can carry out the homologation process, for the next 6 months, even if the document is expired.”
Nothing in there about TOURIST visa holders.
On the one hand, it is a huge relief to have had the recent March 2 visa expiry date extended to June 1 (with COVID insurance coverage conditions. See my article from March 4 here.
On the other hand, for those 80 + % of you who depend on your foreign driver’s license to legally get around as you await approvals on your submitted residency applications or the day they will be submitted etc., it seems like an abysmal half measure. MOPT and Immigration seem a tad out of touch or unsympathetic to your plight. Perhaps not. It may also be due to normal government policy change reaction times within the system that cannot be dialed up and down quickly enough to suit rapidly changing conditions impacted by COVID. Lets allow a small benefit of the doubt.
I believe that the original rule of tying the length of validity of your foreign license to the length of time to your visa in part was because, in the good old days, the DGME (Immigration) processed residency applications in 90 days. It was certainly their mandate to do so, and to this date, it legally remains so. Rather absurd, given that the current approval times will soar to 24 – 30 months or more given the current glacial pace of the DGME now accepting new applications at 20% of their former rate.
Given that these COVID conditions are coming up on the first anniversary, perhaps the legislature can install a rapid response, drive-thru lane. Call it “The Department of – We Really Are Serious About Tourism and Foreign Retirement in Costa Rica.” That lane should extend from the Legislature through MOPT and come out the other end of door # 3 at the DGME… the one with the printed DIMEX (residency) cards. Clearly, there is a need for added government investment to bolster the outputs of the latter. Hopefully, appeals and howls of protests from many quarters will effect change for the better soon.
For now, it is what it is, and success in obtaining the still very worthwhile DIMEX (residency) card and attendant benefits will depend on applicant resiliency, flexibility, and persistence in getting around these obstacles. Never take your eye off the outstanding beauty of Costa Rica and the uniquely healthy living environment it offers. These procedural challenges are occurring all over the globe. Not all of it is related to COVID. But impediments should be diminished as vaccines and herd immunity lessen the restrictions and unleash vastly improved workflows.