International Driving Permit Costa Rica

What is the difference between an International Driving Permit (IDP) and an International Driver’s License (IDL)?

An International Driving Permit is a small grey booklet marginally larger than a passport containing a translation of your original driving license in 10 languages, including English, French, Russian, Chinese, Arabic, and Spanish. It is recognized by 141 countries worldwide and is valid for one year.

In comparison, an International Driving License is not a legal document and cannot be used to drive in foreign countries or instead of an IDP.

How does an IDP work in Costa Rica?

International Driving Permits are not legally mandatory to drive in Costa Rica, so long as a tourist has a valid driver’s license from their home country. If a tourist has an International Driving License, they can bring it but still need to provide their driver’s license.

Applying for an IDP

Obtaining an International Driving Permit is quick and convenient when you do the process on our website. You can apply here – “insert website link” and start the process of getting an IDP. You must fill out an application form and send some documents.

  • Completed application form
  • Domestic driver’s license
  • Passport
  • Your signature
  • Debit/credit card to pay fees.

Once all your documents are in order, and everything is submitted, your IDP will be processed.

How long does it take to get an IDP?

The waiting period for an IDP to arrive will depend on how and where you ordered it. Ordering an IDP from our website will take 2 hours for your digital IDP to arrive, as long as all required documents have been submitted correctly. A physical copy of your IDP will then be delivered to your chosen address in 2 – 30 days.

If you have left it a little close to your trip or it is a last-minute holiday, our website offers an express service for faster processing and delivery of your IDP. Choosing the express service will get your digital IDP into your email inbox in just 20 minutes! Express shipping will also speed up the delivery time, meaning your IDP will be delivered in 2 – 14 days instead.

United Nations agreement on road traffic

The United Nations Road Traffic Agreement is an agreement that was made between UN countries to introduce the usage of IDPs around the world. These agreements were discussed and agreed upon during three automotive conventions. The first convention happened in 1926 and was held in Geneva. Two more happened after this, one in 1949 in Paris and the last in 1968 held in Vienna.

During the Un conventions, they authorized other countries’ governments to allow automotive organizations to issue IDPs on their behalf. The UN legally approves these IDPs because of this.

Benefits Of Carrying An IDP

Legal requirement

Although an IDP is not legally required to drive in Costa Rica, there are many benefits to having one.

International Form of Identification

Language barriers can be one of the most significant stressors while traveling abroad, especially when dealing with authorities or police. An IDP can be a best friend in this instance since it contains essential information and your picture and is translated into different languages; it makes a perfect form of identification.

Car Rental

Even in a country where an International Driving Permit is not legally required, many car rental companies will request a driver to hold a valid IDP before allowing them to get a rental car. Failure to provide an IDP may result in a tourist not being able to obtain a rental car for their trip.

Driving Requirements For Noncitizens

Short-term visitors vs. long-term stay

A short-term visitor staying in Costa Rica on a travel visa (90 days) can drive with just a valid driving license from their home country for the stay.

Long-term visitors who are staying for two years or less can also drive with just a valid driver’s license.

Renewing your IDP or Driving license in Costa Rica

Since a tourist can drive in Costa Rica with an IDP or domestic driving license for much longer than in other countries, a long-term tourist will eventually have to renew these documents.

Renewing an IDP is an easy process. Contact the original IDP issuer and have a renewed IDP sent to an address in Costa Rica. While renewing your IDP, it may be required to send back the expired one.

If a person needs to renew their domestic driver’s license while in Costa Rica, they must contact their home country’s issuing body. Depending on the country the license has been issued from, the expired license, alongside other documents, may need to be posted back.

Vehicle Rental In Costa Rica

Getting a rental car in Costa Rica is the number one way to explore everything this magnificent country offers. With so much to see around the country, relying on public transport may not be the best option.

Often transportation options such as public buses are slow and unreliable. Public buses are the main form of public transport in Costa Rica, so if you do not rent a car, a traveler will need to plan their trip accordingly. Public transport in Costa Rica mainly services the main cities, so if tourists want the freedom to explore Costa Rica comfortably and without limits, being able to rent a car is the best option.

Tourists can generally collect a rental car in the main cities in Costa Rica or an international airport, such as Juan Santamaria International Airport. Usually, collect and drop-off service is available, meaning the car can be collected and dropped back off after your stay. Collecting a car from the airport can significantly help make the visit much easier and stress-free.

Renting vehicles in Costa Rica

As mentioned above, a car rental is the best option for a person wishing to travel throughout Costa Rica and get the whole experience of this country.

With no shortage of rental agencies available in all the main cities in Costa Rica, finding a suitable car and a reasonable price. There are some well-known rental agencies in Costa Rica, such as Europcar, Hertz, and Ace, alongside some local Costa Rican agencies.

The minimum driving age in Costa Rica is 18, but most rental car companies will not rent a car to a person under the age of 20, even if they hold a valid International Driver’s Permit.

Documents required

If you decide to rent a car in Costa Rica, there are some documents you will need to provide to the car rental company.

  • International Driving Permit
  • Current driver’s license
  • A valid form of id, such as a passport
  • Debit or credit card to pay

Failure to provide all of these documents could result in the car rental company refusing to provide a rental car.

Rental costs

The costs required when obtaining rental cars will vary depending on several factors. The size and type of car you require, the mandatory insurance needed, any add-ons such as GPS, wifi, or car seats, and the driver’s age are all considered.

Most car rental companies will charge extra for young drivers between 2 and 25. This is especially true for inexperienced drivers driving in conditions they may not have experienced before and on unfamiliar driving routes.

Like when planning to visit other foreign countries, shopping around online and reserving a chosen car before taking off your trip is always recommended. By doing this, drivers can shop around for the best-priced vehicle that suits all of their required needs.

Vehicle insurance

Costa Rica’s insurance policy is mandatory and is enforced by local police. The government traffic regulations require all drivers to have a minimum of Third Party Liability Coverage when driving in Costa Rica.

This rule applies when driving a private and a rental car, although rental car companies may require a driver to have additional insurance. The other two main types of insurance that a rental company may require are CDW and LDW.

CDW, also known as collision damage waiver, reduces the driver’s liability in the case of a collision. Having CDW will mean a driver will only be liable to pay more than 10% of the price of the car.

LDW, also known as loss and damage waiver, is a combination of CDW and theft protection, meaning the car is covered in the case of a collision or theft.

What type of insurance is required will largely depend on the rental company itself, so it is best to find out directly from the companies before reserving a car.

Hire car driving tips

  • Ensure all the required documents are available and ready when collecting a rental car.
  • It’s a good idea to check with the company about their policies in the case of an accident. Will a replacement car be provided?
  • Check that all the vehicle components are working and at a good standard, such as tires, lights, seatbelts, and oil.
  • Inspect and make a note of any damages that have previously been inflicted on the car. Inform the rental company of this not to become liable for damages once done.

Driving And Safety In Costa Rica

The standard of driving in Costa Rica is lower than in other foreign countries, so tourists are warned to drive with caution. Police often don’t enforce road rules and traffic laws, and poor road quality makes for hazardous driving, even for experienced drivers.

Road quality within cities is generally okay, but many roads are unpaved, poorly lit, and not signposted. Heavy rainfall can make roads especially difficult.

One of the biggest things to look out for when driving in Costa Rica is motorcycles. Costa Ricans on motorcycles often sees driving aggressively and breaking road rules by switching lanes constantly, not indicating, and driving very close to other vehicles.

Crime rates in Costa Rica are generally lower than in some other South American countries. Petty crimes such as theft or car theft are still common, so tourists are urged to exercise caution during their visit. Tourists intending to travel to the jungle areas are warned to only do so with a local travel guide.

Road rules in Costa Rica

Brushing up on road rules before getting behind the wheel in a foreign country is wise.

A few things to remember are:

  • Costa Rica has stringent seatbelt laws – you must always wear a seatbelt
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is strictly prohibited
  • The speed limit is 40km/h applies for rural areas and 80km/h on main roads
  • You must always carry your passport, IDP, license, and insurance information in the car with you

Top 3 Places to Visit in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a dream destination for travelers looking to soak up the sun, party, or explore some remote destinations. Hugely popular among tourists, Costa Rica has been one of the most visited countries in South America for quite some time.

Costa Rica has something to entice everybody, full of natural beauty, affordable living, and magnificent beaches. Costa Rica benefits from a tropical climate; This means Costa Rica gets plenty of dry and sunny weather and then has a very intense rainy season, especially in the south. This provides the country with plenty of lushes greenery and tropical rainforests.

San Jose

San Jose is Costa Rica’s capital city and is also home to the biggest airport, meaning most tourists will travel through San Jose when arriving in Costa Rica. It is located in the central valley and is surrounded by lush green hills and giant volcanoes. This city is home to plenty of museums, historic buildings, a great nightlife scene, and a great place to explore more of Costa Rica’s history.


A visit to Costa Rica isn’t complete without a visit to Tortuguero, meaning the land of the turtles. This is Costa Rica’s tropical rainforest and spans over 77000 acres, with plenty of rivers and canals that cross through the rainforest.

One of the biggest attractions to this area is the large number of turtles that come here to nest, particularly in April-May.

Carara national park

This national park is close to San Jose and one of the most visited destinations in Costa Rica and a huge tourist attraction. This park is also famous among bird watchers and is home to the largest population of Scarlet Macaws.


What should I do to lose my International Driving Permit in Costa Rica?

If you lose your International Driver’s permit while traveling in Costa Rica, you need to contact your IDP issuer and have a replacement sent to your address. Since having an IDP while driving in Costa Rica is not mandatory, you can continue driving until a replacement arrives.

Is it safe to drive during the rainy season in Costa Rica?

Driving within the cities during the rainy season is not a massive cause for concern. However, if you intend to drive outside the main cities, dirt roads can become slippery, and landslides.

Are police stops common in Costa Rica?

Police will be located throughout Costa Rica and around the borders. Most of the time, police stops are nothing to be concerned about unless you break road rules. Make sure to carry all your documents, such as your driver’s license, an IDP, passport, visa, rental car documents, and proof of insurance.


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