How NOT to Get a Driver’s License in Costa Rica by Constance Monroe

May 10, 2017 No Comments

How NOT to Get a Driver’s License in Costa Rica by Constance Monroe


Posted by admin in Entertainment, Informational, Personal Stories

In 2013 it was the second year that my partner Martin and I were spending 6 months in our home in Costa Rica. Martin and I are from New Jersey and after missing only one winter we loved not being in the frigid cold of the Northeast from December through at least March. Prior to this plan of escaping the winter our longest stay in Costa Rica was about a month to six weeks, leaving us little time to get really well versed in the Spanish language. I would soon realize that having some good Spanish skills obviously comes in quite handy when living in a Spanish speaking country.

Our days in Costa Rica are spent very similarly to those we spend anywhere else in the world; we get up in the morning, plan our day and begin our work. On this particular day, Martin wasn’t feeling too well. Having mastered all of the signs and symptoms of what it is like to have kidney stones, he thought he might have one coming on which meant I needed to get to the pharmacy and get him some pills. We had been through this drill in the past, but never in Costa Rica.

Our home in Perez Zeledon is just outside of San Isidro and is in pretty close proximity to several pharmacies. Not wanting to get into an episode of charades with the person behind the counter due to my lack of Spanish, I decided to go to Clinica Urgencia where I knew someone would be there who would be able to speak with me in English. Unfortunately that meant crossing ‘cemetery road’ which goes over the top of the entire length of San Isidro. On this road is where you can obtain a driver’s license. That is something I didn’t know at that time.

When I saw a man flagging me down and directing me into a parking lot I thought it might be something serious. I opened my window and what I understood him to say was that I needed to come into the office and take a census. I tried asking if Martin would need to be with me since he was the true buyer/owner of the home and what I understood him to reply to me was that Martin could come down another day.

What ensued from there was a very surreal experience. I couldn’t help but think I was in the wrong place. It was hot and while I am not a person who likes air conditioning, this little office with over a dozen waiting people could have used some cool air. People went up to the desk sporadically. My little understanding of Spanish was stretched trying to figure out the tiniest portion of what was being discussed. In the background there were 2 offices which were out of site except for their doors. A little girl of about 4 could be seen going in and out of the offices with a little plastic tray; she seemed to be pretend-feeding the people in there. I began wondering why I was pretend-waiting for something that seemed odd to have someone flag you down in the middle of the street for in the first place. Was a census really done this way in this country; random flagging down of people to get it done?

I decided to approach the desk and ask if I was understanding everything and would do my best to say that my partner was at home, sick and waiting for me to return. Much to my surprise I was then ushered into a doctor’s office!!! Did they think I was sick?! It couldn’t be the case that a census required a doctor. Never in my life did I remember my mother’s household requiring the inhabitants to visit the doctor. Was there some kind of epidemic going around that they were trying to contain? Is that what Martin was really suffering from? That would explain the flagging me down in the middle of the road. I tried not to panic.

I soon understood that I was to have a physical. For a census? I hadn’t had a physical in 2 years so I figured perhaps I should make the best of things instead of making a fuss. I got my blood pressure taken along with some blood for testing, I stepped on a scale and had the doctor look down my throat.

As it turns out, the doctor had about as much English as I did Spanish. I don’t know what I said but he began to get the idea that I didn’t know what I was doing there. A girl with her family pulled up in a car outside and he asked that she come into the office. She had perfect English and informed me that in fact I had been waiting on line for over an hour to get a driver’s license (the word in Spanish for license is ‘lincencia’ which I heard as ‘census’ and by the way getting a physical for a driver’s license was still odd to me too)! What is more ridiculous is that I wouldn’t have even been able to get a driver’s license because I wasn’t a resident!!

As I sped down to the pharmacy at the Urgencia I berated myself for getting into such a fix. Oh sure I laughed along with the friendly Ticos who were helping me understand that this whole thing was just a mix up, but I was so angry with myself for having such a complete lack of Spanish that I wasted almost 2 hours of precious time when Martin was at home suffering. If it wasn’t for him waiting in pain perhaps I would have laughed sincerely that day, liking my experience to an episode of Seinfeld (does anyone even still watch re-runs of that?).

When I arrived in the driveway of our home I found Martin doubled over in pain. He asked what took so long and if I was OK. I gave him his pills and told him that I would save the story for another day … and I immediately went online for some Spanish lessons. Indeed this story is funny today, but my advice to people moving to Costa Rica always is to learn the darn language!!

Do you want to know how to actually get a driver’s license in Costa Rica? click here:

How to Get a Driver’s License in Costa Rica

Do you need Spanish lessons? We recommend Jeanne Blankenship. Contact her at: 506-8444-5313. She is located in Las Tumbas which is close to Tinamastes.

Here’s what people have to say about Jeanne:

“Jeanne has taught language for over 20 years, and she’s done her homework!
She uses lots of activities and modalities that she knows have proven to build brain pathways for Spanish. It’s 3 hours twice a week and the time flies by!”
—- Julia Gregson

“It’s hard to believe that a 3 hour language class could be fun and productive at the same time but with Jeanne as a teacher it does happen. She uses a variety of teaching/learning approaches as well as input from students and her life experience here in Costa Rica. She encourages and pushes students without ever making anyone feel uncomfortable with their learning style or speed and clearly takes real joy in seeing the progress her students are making.” —- Paul Weigandt


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