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HomeCosta RicaExpat Living: How to Drive in Costa Rica Like a Local

Expat Living: How to Drive in Costa Rica Like a Local

There are items that you are legally required to have in order to drive in Costa Rica. You need a valid driver’s license, a passport or cedula, papers for your vehicle, an entire road safety kit… the list goes on.

The Tico Times covered all of the requirements in an earlier article that you can find here. The article you are about to read isn’t about legally required items but rather a few things that I’ve found useful to always have in your vehicle while traversing this tiny country.


No less than four times in the last ten years I have been forced to stop whatever adventure I was on because a tree had fallen across the road. Every time this occurs, the same scene unravels. As the cars begin to line up on either side of the obstruction, men step out of their vehicles, survey the situation, reach behind their seat or into the trunk, pull out their machetes, and start dismantling the wooden obstacle.

It’s actually a neat moment. A group of strangers gets together with a common cause, you all work together to find a solution, and in the end you’re left with a feeling of accomplishment. It’s like making a group of friends for about twenty minutes and then you all drive away and never see each other again.

I suggest keeping a machete somewhere in your vehicle. Even if you aren’t the tree-chopping type, you can lend yours to the young man that’s bound to pull up on his moto.

Tire Repair Kit and Compressor

It sounds like an exaggeration, but I have pulled at least 20 nails and screws out of tires during my time in Costa Rica. To be fair, that includes my personal vehicle, my wife’s car, my sister’s car and anyone else that knows I can repair their tire. I’m the guy that people call when they’ve got a flat because I’m the guy that always has a tire repair kit and tiny compressor in his truck.

Nothing makes me feel more like an old-school dad than whipping out the tire repair kit, pulling out the offending screw, replacing it with the weird rope-that’s-made-of-tar plug, and refilling the tire with my trusty little air compressor that plugs into the power outlet of the car. Real old-school dads could probably build a house with their bare hands, but this is as close as I get.

If you don’t want to go to the trouble of learning how to repair the tire yourself, you should still keep an air compressor in your car. Nails and screws make your tire loose air slowly, so if you have a compressor, you can refill it and make it to a tire repair shop where the guy will fix it for about $5.

Small Bills and Change

Obviously, you do not want to keep a large amount of cash in your vehicle. Car break-ins are a frequent crime in many parts of the country. But in today’s cashless world, sometimes you can reach into the center console, dig around for change, and come up empty. I like to keep some small bills and a Ziplock bag of change in my car for a few reasons.

One, we frequent the beach, and the beach parking lot has a dude that’s willing to watch your car for a small fee. Our local guy is Carlos, and I’m happy to pay for his services.

Another reason to keep some change in the car is roadside treats. I’m partial to the fresh squeezed orange juice guy. For mil colones you can have yourself an ice-cold cup of OJ that never fails to quench your thirst. There’s also the lady selling empanadas. Another lady has pan casero (sweet bread). The choices depend on the neighborhood, but one thing is for sure, they only take cash.

So go the extra mile and keep these items tucked away in your vehicle somewhere, you never know when you’ll need to chop a tree, fix tire, or enjoy a roadside treat.

About the Author

Vincent Losasso, founder of Guanacaste Wildlife Monitoring, is a biologist who works with camera traps throughout Costa Rica. Learn more about his projects on facebook or instagram. You can also email him at:

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