Costa Rica Driving Tips: Laws, Regulations, and Conditions
Welcome to this guide on Costa Rica Driving Tips. Costa Rica is a beautiful country with diverse landscapes and exciting exploring destinations. If you are planning to rent a car and drive around Costa Rica, there are some things you should know before hitting the road. This guide will provide important information and tips to make your driving experience in Costa Rica safe and enjoyable. We’ve got you covered, from navigating through busy cities to driving on mountainous roads. So buckle up, and let’s hit the road!
Who Can Drive in Costa Rica?
Costa Rican law states that individuals 16 and older can drive motorcycles, while those 18 and older can legally drive passenger vehicles. Tourists can also drive in Costa Rica, provided they have an updated foreign license, pay for local insurance, and have valid passport stamps. Meanwhile, residents can get a Costa Rican license by either validating their foreign license or passing the tests of the Road Safety Council (Cosevi). Different license categories are based on your vehicle type, age, and special training requirements.
Unlike in other countries, importing vehicles to Costa Rica has restrictions. Customs regulate imported goods, be prepared for a slow and bureaucratic process.
In 2012, a law was issued prohibiting the importation of cars with a right-hand-side steering wheel or converted vehicles with wheels and pedals on the left side. However, right-hand-drive cars imported before 2012 were allowed to be altered so they could still be used in Costa Rica.
Meanwhile, emission regulations in Costa Rica work differently for cars registered before and after 1995. If you bring an old vehicle into the country, it will be registered as if it was new, regardless of its manufacturing date. However, if your old car emits more than what is acceptable under Costa Rican regulations for vehicles registered after 1995, you cannot drive it legally.
The country also has strict noise regulations. If your vehicle exceeds the maximum noise level according to its type of transportation, you will receive a penalty fine.
What is Costa Rica Driving like?
Costa Rica’s traffic signs and symbols
Costa Rica’s traffic signs and symbols are similar to those in other American countries like the United States. There are stop signs, crosswalks, double yellow lines, dotted white lines, only turn lanes (“SOLO”), bicycle lanes, and more.
Costa Rica uses kilometers per hour.
Costa Rica uses kilometers per hour, so if you are accustomed to measuring speed and distance in miles, a good rule of thumb is that 100 KPH is roughly 60 MPH. The maximum speed in the city is 40 KPH (24 MPH), while main roads allow up to 60 KPH (37 MPH). Highways range from 80 to 100 KPH (49 to 62 MPH).
Many people in Costa Rica prefer to use their vehicles instead of public transportation, leading to significant traffic congestion in the Central Valley, the country’s most densely populated area. The main roads from San José to Heredia, Alajuela, Cartago, La Uruca, Lindora, and Route 27 from Ciudad Colón to La Guácima are most affected by daily traffic. Furthermore, roads leading to popular tourist destinations like Jacó, Coco, and Puerto Viejo can also get congested on Friday and Sunday afternoons.
Road conditions in Costa Rica are not precisely the very best. Watch out for potholes, unpainted lanes, speed bumps, and protruding road patches. Locals often complain that there is little coordination between the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation (MOPT) and the Institute of Aqueducts and Sewers (AyA). This causes new and old roads to go through constant and sloppy mending.
You must be patient while driving in Costa Rica because many people do not obey the speed rules and drive slowly in the fast lanes. Trucks and buses take over these lanes as well. This adds up to road congestion and accidents involving people trying to pass slow drivers. According to the country’s road safety laws, this is illegal, but many still do it, and even traffic police do not stop people from hoarding the fast lane.
Additionally, watch out for cyclists, horse riders, ox carts, and even loose cattle on both small and main roads. Costa Rica is still figuring out how and where to offer safe spaces for people to ride bicycles. This causes cyclists to ride on roads that put them close to cars. It is scarce to see cyclists with lights, reflectors, or bright-colored clothing at night – making them nearly impossible to see. Therefore, the risk of accidents is increased.
Costa Rica is also home to communities with rural lifestyles, even in the urbanized areas of the Central Valley. Look out for animals like cows, horses, and even dogs crossing the roads. In addition, Costa Rica has many mountains and hills, so you should expect winding roads with steep inclines and declines, which can be incredibly challenging for inexperienced drivers.
Driving in Costa Rica can be an adventure, but it can also be challenging, especially for first-timers. However, with patience, a bit of caution, and the proper documentation, owning and driving a vehicle in Costa Rica can be a rewarding experience that allows you to explore the country at your own pace.
-Written by Glenn Tellier (Founder of CRIE and Grupo Gap).
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Frequently Asked Questions
How easy is it to drive in Costa Rica?
Driving in Costa Rica can be challenging, especially if you are not used to driving on narrow, winding roads with steep inclines and declines. Some streets are also unpaved and can be bumpy and rocky. However, if you are an experienced driver and take your time, you should be able to navigate the roads safely.
Can tourists drive in Costa Rica?
Yes, tourists can drive in Costa Rica with a valid driver’s license from their home country. However, you should ensure your driver’s license suits your stay in Costa Rica.
How do I pay tolls in Costa Rica?
Costa Rican residents can pay electronically through the Telepeaje system for tolls, whereas tourists are required to pay in cash. Therefore, if you’re a tourist driving on toll roads in Costa Rica, carrying some cash with you is advisable to ensure a hassle-free journey.
Do you tip drivers in Costa Rica?
Tipping is not expected for taxis or Uber rides in Costa Rica. However, if you are happy with the service, you can round up the fare to the nearest colón.
Do you tip the gas station attendants in Costa Rica?
No, Tipping gas station attendants in Costa Rica is unnecessary, but a small tip is appreciated if you receive good service. I will tip them if they check the tires and oil.
What is the best time of year to visit Costa Rica?
The best time to visit Costa Rica is during the dry season, which runs from December to April. This is when you’ll have the most sunshine and the least rain. However, this is also the busiest time of year for tourists, so expect larger crowds and higher prices.
What is the currency in Costa Rica?
The currency in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colón. US dollars are widely accepted, but it’s a good idea to have some colones on hand for smaller purchases and to avoid unfavorable exchange rates.
Is it challenging to drive around Costa Rica?
Driving around Costa Rica can be difficult in some areas due to the narrow and winding roads, lack of road signs, and frequent potholes. It is essential to be patient and alert while driving and to be aware of the driving habits of locals.
Is it safe to drink the water in Costa Rica?
While tap water in Costa Rica is generally safe to drink, it’s always a good idea to stick to bottled water or use a water filter just to be safe. This is especially true if you’re traveling to more remote areas.
Do I need a visa to visit Costa Rica?
Citizens of most countries, including the US, Canada, and the UK, do not need a visa to visit Costa Rica as a tourist for up to 90 days. However, it’s always a good idea to check the current entry requirements before you go.
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