Bureaucracy in Costa Rica

MOPT- Half of the Story~

“Yes, this is the right office, but you must go to the Banco Nacional and pay 10,000 colones each before I can renew these driver’s licenses,” said the nice man behind the glass partition separating us. “And anyway, our system is down right now. I won’t be able to do anything for you today.”

This was something new; not the fact that the system was down, that was common enough. It was the fact that he told me about it so I didn’t make a second trip after paying at the bank that was so remarkable. This, in my estimation, is real progress and I told him so.

“Thank you so much for telling me.”

“Con mucho gusto,” he replied as we left the MOPT office.

Alan and I had been eyeing at our driver’s licenses for the past month, aware that they would need to be renewed this month, with the same anticipation as an upcoming colonoscopy.

It was our first trip to the MOPT (the equivalent of the DMV) office outside Limon. Finding it had been no simple task. We asked in town and were directed out past the prison, and further out beyond the truck yards, where containers were stacked like oversized Legos, and finally behind the bus yards for TRACASA, through a chain link gate with the rusted and barely visible sign reading MOPT, to ultimately find the transportation department offices.

We bounced our way over the rough gravel entrance and finally arrived at a group of rundown buildings that used to be blue. Out back was a chain link fence surrounding the impounded vehicles like some vehicular gulag. We parked and walked to the building entrance where we found the familiar socialistic line of people standing idly, leaning against anything vertical for support, most of them twiddling their cellular phones.

“Is this the line?” I asked the woman in the tight black lyrca pants at the end, to which I received a jutted jaw as she pointed with her lips toward the inside of the building. We entered the grubby office and found two windows, both without any line in front of them. Surely it couldn’t be this easy.

It wasn’t.

The man in the first cubicle informed me that I needed to speak to the gentleman behind the second window, who was idle as well. It was this man who told me about the failed system and the bank.

In the old days–a mere ten years ago– they would never have given us the secondary information. It was as though they got some morbid glee out of making a person make multiple trips to get anything done. I believe Franz Kafka took his training in places like this.

We left and drove the five miles back to Limon to pay the fee at the bank. The line stretched down the block as people waited for the bank to open. I realized it was not only a Monday, but also the first of the month and we were going to be hours waiting for people to get their pensions, make their weekly deposits and whatever other business they felt the need to conduct.

Ah, another dead-end in one of the many labyrinthine routes to a fairly innocuous chore. I left and we went about getting other chores done. It then occurred to me that perhaps our own bank, the Banco de Costa Rica, might have an account with MOPT and we went to that bank. Same deal, but I persevered and entered. I went to one of the ubiquitous armed guards that are in every bank and increasingly in every business that handles cash.

“Hi. Can you tell me if the bank has an account with MOPT. I need to pay for my license renewal.” I said, giving him my best smile.

“Let me see your license.” I handed him my driver’s license.

“You can’t renew this now. It’s not expired yet. See, the expiration date is on the 13th. Come back on the 14th.”

“Sir, the license will be expired by then and the police will give us a ticket. I just need to know if the bank has an account with MOPT” I could feel my jaw getting tight. Try to smile, I reminded myself.

“Here is the telephone number, you have to make an appointment.” Defeated I left with the phone number.

On the way home I called the number he had given me using my cell phone. No, I did not need an appointment; I could go directly to the MOPT office. Yes, I could pay at the bank.

We went home stopping off at our local branch office and paid for our renewal. It was during this transaction that I learned I could have done this online myself and the name of the agency was COSEVI not MOPT. Oh, well.

We were half way to being renewed: We had receipts showing we had paid, but still had expired licenses.

(to be continued)

A Little Bite, Please~


The puffed up cop leaned against our pickup holding the expired registration and Alan’s driver’s license.

Casting his eyes toward heaven he said, “Huy, putchica.”

I guess the best translation for this is, “Ouch, life sucks.” Literally it’s more like “Ouch, little whore,” and they use it for all sorts of occasions the way we use, son of a bitch.

But I knew exactly what he was telling me.

It was a first for me. Almost twenty years living here and I’ve never paid what they call chorizo— sometimes called mordida, which I think says it better– for anything.

Mordida, the little bite. It says it all.

In a communally idiotic decision, the Costa Rican government decided that all license plate stickers, or marchamos, would be due in December of every year. I’m sure this was decided back at the turn of the twentieth century when there were all of 500 cars in the entire country. This means that a person must pay for their stickers in December or they will be faced with fines, or worse, removal of their license plates until the fees are paid.

This necessitated all of us stand in line at a local and, I might add, rare government office where these stickers were available. Last year, miracle of miracles, the Internet made its appearance in the country as a viable tool for a bureaucratically bogged down system. I paid for my marchamos online and they were sent to our post office box. ¡Que facile!

I paid for ours online again this year on the fifteenth of December and haven’t seen our stickers yet.

We had to go to the capital, San Jose, to buy tires for the car. A slow leak in the right rear tire has made it plain that it was time. We waited until after the New Year, checked the Post office–no hay marchamos. We drove to Limon and stopped off at the local Institute de Nacional Seguros office (INS).

There, I was just able to wedge my way in, pressed against the wall by a horde of dejected marchamo seekers and asked the guard about getting a verification of payment for my Internet receipt, which I waved in his face. He managed to risk life and limb and asked the clerk about my request, returning with the sad news that I would need to take a fecha and wait my turn.

We decided to take the risk and made it as far as Siquirres, where we met our chesty little cop. I showed him our receipt, proving we had paid for the marchamos and I explained about how it wasn’t our fault they had not arrived yet. He was unimpressed. According to him unless a lawyer notarized the receipt, it was no good. I suggested that he let us go and we would find a lawyer in Siguirres to notarize the paper.

“But they will charge you 12,000 Colones for that,” He said.

“That’s fine,” I countered.

“If I give you a ticket, it will cost you 16,000 Colones and you’ll have to come to court here in Siquirres on January 14th.”

“Then, let me go and we’ll go get the notary.”

This is when he rolled his eyes toward heaven and uttered the comment about little whores or how tough life can be. At this point I opened my wallet where he could see a 5000 Colone bill- about ten dollars.

He threw the receipt through the window onto my lap, but retained the registration and Alan’s license as collateral, and said, “Go get it attended to.”

I handed the five thousand to him and he handed the documents back to me.

Just a little bite.

We finally found an INS office in San Jose this afternoon that wasn’t too crowded. It was also one hour before their closing time and they were processing paperwork like bookies. I was in and out in fifteen minutes with our new registration and window sticker for 2008.

Huy, putchica, another year done. We have to have the car’s annual mechanical check in March…