Hungarian Goulash and the New Costa Rica Drivers License Law

This question just in from a client.
 
Question: As you probably know Tarminda (name changed) and I are perpetual tourists.
 
There is a driver’s license article in the new Ballena Tales. I think it basically says that you can’t get a CR license w/o a Cedula (residency card). And, that if you are pulled over w/o a valid Costa Rica license, your vehicle can be impounded and your insurance is null and void, even if it is paid for.
Police will check your drivers license for validity.
 
Do you know if this is accurate?  If so, it does not appear that there is a way to stay in CR past 90 days and drive legally.  Thoughts?
 
We can talk about this when we get together too.  It is just a little disconcerting to think I may be driving w/o insurance even though I have a policy that was just paid for this month.
 
My response:Hello Dingmeister (name changed),

Your foreign driver’s license is valid here for 3 months at a time.  So if you keep your US drivers license up to date, and you leave every three months, you should be good.

As for the question of insurance, I don’t know about that.

My question: How did you get a policy without being a resident? As I understand it, you can’t.  Also, I’m assuming that you don’t currently have a Costa Rica drivers license, so they gave you a policy with a foreign drivers license??? Well, if they did, and if you keep your US license active, it sounds like you’re covered, but that’s just me talking, er… typing.

Dingmeister’s answer: Good on my US license, it is still valid.

On the insurance, we did not get asked (if they were residents).  We did get our policy w/o being residents.  Last time I paid for it by depositing money in Banco Nacional and then sending the receipt to my agent.  He then paid the bill.
 
I’ll research this a little more.  I think it is murky due to the new traffic laws.
 
To do:  get the straight skinny on non-resident expats living as perpetual tourists who now can’t get a Costa Rica drivers license and issues pertaining to their insurance. (Sign up for the newsletter, – about once a month – or follow on Facebook – immediate,  to be advised of developments.)
 
Comments: Another of my clients, lets call him Rasmussen, is in-process with his and his wife’s residency. After standing in line for some hours he was informed that even with the official “in process” doc, he does not qualify for a CR drivers license.
 
“In Process” Defined: The “in-process” status is when you have jumped through all of the required hoops for getting your residency. You have fulfilled all requirements and submitted these to Immigration. They give you a document that states this and you now exist in this condition of “in-process”.  I have likened this time period to “no man’s land”. I actually enjoyed my time in no man’s land when I dwelt there. Now with the change in the drivers license law it is not quite so agreeable. When I was there, I found that any of the very few times that I had to show the doc, the official had no idea what to do with me and so let me pass (I’ll relate a rather humorous experience about this below). The in-process doc is extremely helpful when flying into Costa Rica. Since most airlines are now actually acting on the requirement to see your return ticket, indicating that you don’t plan to stay longer than 90 days, the in-process doc is a green light and you can fly on into Costa Rica without a return ticket.
 
When you have the in-process doc you no longer need to leave Costa Rica every 90 days. However, Rasmussen is having to leave for the purpose of his Canadian driver’s license. Your foreign drivers license is like a small, flat, laminated person. It has a 90 day legal-life in Costa Rica. It is a “perpetual tourist” even though the human person to whom it belongs isn’t. So,  Rasmussen has to leave the country every 90 days now due to the new law requiring that you be a resident in order to get a drivers license. If your foreign drivers license is up to date in your home country, and it is viable (not more than 90 days in Costa Rica) you can drive, and as we are considering here, may even qualify for insurance.
 
Humorous experience: checking in for my flight to Costa Rica in the Sacramento International Airport.
 
Nice Ticket Guy: May I see your return ticket?
 
Nice Me: I don’t have one.
 
Nice Ticket Guy: (sheepishly) I’m sorry but I can’t let you board without an exit ticket within 90 days.
 
Nice Me: I live there.
 
Nice Ticket Guy: Oh! Good. May I see your residency card?
 
Nice Me: I don’t have one, but I do have this nifty document (at this point I pull out my dog-eared no-man’s-land document and present it to him).
 
Consternated Ticket Guy: I don’t read Spanish. How am I supposed to know what this says?
 
Still Nice Me: Hmmm, this is a good question. I don’t believe that this is my problem however. This is what Costa Rica gave me to give you when you ask that.
 
Perplexed and Consternated Ticket Guy: One moment please (he walks away with my doc).
 
He comes back and despite it being obvious that he has no idea what my doc says signs me on through – and very nicely I might add.
 
So, the lesson is, if you’re not in-process, and are OK with lying (important point), carry an official looking Spanish doc with you when you travel to Costa Rica. Perhaps a recipe for Hungarian goulash in Spanish, or something like this. Make it look official, stamps help. You might even emplasticate it, and you’ll probably be good to go  (disclaimer: I will deny I said this).
 
One final point: When you are entering Costa Rica and are expecting to get a 90 day stamp, you are entirely at the whim of the Immigration guy who stamps your passport there at the airport. This person can put whatever they want there for time. He/she may put 90 days, or 30 or whatever, although it never exceeds 90 days (that I know of.). It is entirely up to this person’s discretion.  I am now hearing rare reports of being given less than 90 days. I have heard of numbers as low as 5 days and another at 1 day (extenuating circumstances).
 
Ahhh, gone are the days when it was almost easier to live here as a perpetual tourist.

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