Guide to Driving In Costa Rica - Drive Safe in Costa Rica

Are there any special requirements for driving or hiring a car in Costa Rica?

Driving in Costa Rica

Costa Rica's success at the 2014 World Cup has meant a rise in tourism for the country, many of whom hire a car to see the beauty of this rainforest and beach location. For the main part Costa Rica has good roads although in the rainy season the weather can cause potholes to form.  During the rainy season you'll find landslides are also a danger and they can block the road between San José and Guapiles as well as sections of the new San Jose to Caldera Highway. This can cause delays but usually an alternative route is set up and the mess is cleared away quickly.

Many customers choose 4x4 vehicles to explore the amazing natural delights of Costa Rica. However take care when approaching national parks as on occasion they may have warnings of active volcanoes.

Costa Rico Volcanos

Beware of scams when driving in Costa Rica. Sometimes thieves will leave something sharp in the road and then use the opportunity of helping you to change your punctured tyre as a distraction. Keep your wits about you at all times.

Driving Laws

Seat Belt Laws

All occupants of a car must wear seatbelts at all times when the car is underway in Costa Rica. Given the reckless driving, seatbelts are acknowledged to have saved many lives in Costa Rica.

Drinking and Driving

The limit for alcohol in the blood in Costa Rica is 75mg per 100ml of blood - slightly less than in the UK. Given the heavy penalties which include a big fine, invalidation of insurance and possibly jail time, it's better not to drink and drive at all in Costa Rica

Must Have Documents

It's compulsory to have your domestic licence and an international drivers' licence too. Whilst not compulsory, you'll find it convenient, if stopped, to have other documentation including insurance certificate, vehicle registration and a copy of your passport with you. 

Speed Limits

25 kilometres per hour near schools
45 kilometres per hour in built up areas
80 - 100 kilometres per hour on dual carriageways
80 kilometres an hour on rural roads

Minimum Driving Age

You must be 18 to drive in Costa Rica. However rental companies may require you to be over 25 years of age or pay a young driver premium to do so.

Safety Camera Warning Devices

The use of radar detecting equipment is not illegal in Costa Rica although you can face some difficult questions if caught using one. We always recommend that you stick to the speed limit in Costa Rica.

On the Spot Fines

Being stopped and fined by the police can take many forms in Costa Rica. By law, the police officer should write you a ticket, explain the offence and tell you where you can pay the fine. In practice, especially in rural areas, you may be asked for the fine in cash or to make a payment to cancel the ticket. This is illegal but you can find it difficult not to comply. It's recommended that you state firmly but politely that you want a ticket to be issued.

Child Safety Rules

Child safety in cars is a hit and miss affair in Costa Rica where there are recommendations on child seating but these are rarely enforced. It's recommended that you either bring your own suitable car seat for your offspring or, if hiring a car, tell us your requirements in advance so your car can be prepared for you. 


A minimum of third party insurance is required by law in Costa Rica but many drivers don't have it, especially in rural areas. 

Rules of the Road

There are a few issues that drivers may not be familiar with:

- Even on a two-way road, drivers should take care when they are approaching bridges in Costa Rica as these usually one-way. 
- More than half of the road accident deaths in Costa Rica are pedestrians so you should take care at intersections and especially when driving at night for many assume that drivers will stop.
- The FCO warns of reckless driving with locals often ignoring speed limits and stop signs. Driving defensively is the best prevention.hicle or trailer in Costa Rica

Towing Regulations

There are no specific rules for towing a vehicle or trailer in Costa Rica, just use common sense and ensure that other drivers know what you are doing.

Speed Cameras

Speed cameras are not very common, hence the flouting of the speed laws in Costa Rica. You'll find them mainly in towns and cities and on approaches to them. More common are mobile speed traps for which there are no warnings. It's far better, and cheaper, to stick to the limits. 

Using Mobile Phones when driving

The use of mobile phones without a hands free kit is illegal in Costa Rica although many drivers continue to use them. 


Parking regulations
You need to consider carefully where you park as theft from and of parked cars is rife in Costa Rica. Keep all valuables hidden or, better stll, don't take them with you when you leave the hotel.
Paid parking
Choose bona fide parking areas or garages wherever possible. Use ones with CCTV if possible too. Even some of the attended lots can have problems with the attendant advising car thieves of new arrivals. Be wary if the attendant asks how long you will leave the car. 
Parking laws are rarely enforced leading to haphazard parking in towns and cities. 
Disabled parking
Costa Rica has no regard for European disability regulations but if you take your card with you and show the garage attendant, most will try to get you a more convenient space in exchange for a tip.

Motor Way Signs

The main motorways are called the Carretera Interamericana (CI) and the Carretera Nacionale (CN).

Costa Rico Motorway


  • Give way - Ceda el paso
  • Traffic lights - Semaforas
  • Right of way – Prioridad
  • Exit – Salida
  • Danger – Peligro
  • No parking - Prohibido aparcar
  • Slow – Despacio
  • Lane – Un carril
  • City centre – Centro ciudad
  • Carretera – Local Highway
  • Roadworks – Obras
  • Where is the nearest petrol station? – ¿Donde es la gasolinera la más cercana?
  • Excuse me, I’m lost – Por favor, estoy perdido…
  • Go straight on – ‘Siga todo recto’
  • Turn right – ‘Toma el giro a la derecha’
  • Turn left – ‘Toma el giro a la izquierda’
  • Detour - Desviacion
  • Toll Road – Carretera de Peaje
  • Road Closed – Cerrado.
  • Road Open – Abierto
  • Motorway – Una autopista
  • One way street – Direccíon unica
  • Dual Carriageway - Autovia

Traffic Lights

Traffic lights follow a similar system to that in the US which should present no difficulties in understanding their operation. The main problem is that drivers regularly ignore red lights so approach traffic light controlled junctions with care.

Toll Roads

There are some toll roads in Costa Rica including the San Jose Caldera Toll Road. These usually provide a better driving experience. Costs are low and the road conditions better than elsewhere, especially during stormy weather

Costa Rico Toll Road


You can contact the police on 911 in an emergency, and the fire service and ambulance is also available on this number. Another ambulance number is 128, 118 for the fire department and 2221-5337 for the Police Investigative Service.

If you believe the police or other authorities have acted inappropriately you can call 2257-7798, ext. 2506. In case of an accident call the Traffic Police on 222-9330 or 222-9245 while the Insurance Investigator is on 800 800 8000.

The United States Embassy in Costa Rica is located at Calle 120 Avenida 0, Pavas, San José, Costa Rica  and you can call (506) 2519 2000 or 011-506-2519-2000 from the US. Their website is

The British Embassy in Costa Rica is located at San José, Apartado 815-1007
Edificio Centro Colón, (Piso/floor 11) and you can call (506) 2258 2025. Their website is

What to do in an emergency

If you're involved in an accident you must not move the vehicle, not even to the side of the road, until the traffic police have come to inspect it. The only exception to this is if you believe that the accident has been caused in order for criminals to stop your car. In that case you can continue driving but you must explain the situation to the traffic authorities as quickly as possible. When the Traffic Police (Transito 222-9330 or 222-9245) and the Insurance Investigator (INS 800 800 8000) arrive they will complete accident reports which you will need for your insurance or for the car hire company.

Fuel Costs

As at June 2014, the price of unleaded 95 octane petrol was 83p per litre whilst diesel is slightly cheaper.


Leave your comments here

 Security code
Click here to enter an extra message...

Hiring a Car

With our Drive Smart guide you're fully prepared to hire a car in Costa Rica and stay safe on unfamiliar roads.