When first venturing out onto Costa Rica’s roads, you may find the experience somewhat different to driving in Europe or North America. However, that doesn’t mean it should be avoided. With some knowledge and planning, driving here can be a safe and enjoyable experience.

The law

In Costa Rica, you drive on the right, which is especially important for British drivers to remember as they will be used to driving on the left! Many of the Costa Rican driving laws will be familiar and are simply common sense, such as not driving after taking drugs, not overtaking on bends, having a valid licence, having the right child seat, not riding a motorbike without a helmet. These will usually be second nature to visiting drivers, but there are several laws that need to be learned:

  • Speed limits: you could face a fine if stopped for speeding doing over 120kph, or receive a prison sentence if doing over 150kph
  • The blood alcohol limit is 0.5 mg per litre
  • You cannot provide a public transportation service without authorisation, nor can you pick up or drop off any passengers at a bus stop
  • You can only drive on a foreign licence for up to three months

You can also be fined for less serious offences, like using a phone when driving, not wearing a seatbelt, making illegal U-turns, undertaking, not signalling, driving on the beach, littering, tailgating, and not stopping for pedestrians crossing at junctions.

There aren’t any laws controlling towing, but good advice would be to use the towing regulations from your home country as a guide. There is limited access to car recovery services. Therefore, drive-on trailers can be a useful purchase. There are rogue tow truck drivers who will charge extortionate fees to move your car, so avoid their services. You should also consider the safety of the trailer itself, and make sure you keep it well maintained.

Road use

You will find there are fewer signs and painted lines on the roads to guide you along. You will encounter speed bumps and many potholes, some of them very large. Traffic lights are optional at night, which could be alarming if you didn’t know and saw a car racing through a red light. When being given directions, you are likely to be referred to local landmarks, some of which may no longer exist!

Personal safety

As is sensible across the world, keep your valuables out of sight and drive with your doors locked and windows up in cities and busy streets. Always lock the car and try and park it in a well-lit area. You may be accosted and asked for money at stop signs by entertainers and street people.

Parking

When parking you should reverse into your space in case of emergencies. Car parks usually have an attendant to keep watch on the cars, who will expect to receive a tip. Formal car parks at large shopping centres will issue you with a plastic ticket, which must be handed in before you can leave. It is an anti-theft measure, so if you lose the ticket, you will face a long wait while officials confirm you are the owner.