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Police Donations and Your Rights

I know that we are all familiar with trying to keep up with all the Covid driving restrictions and various exemptions.  Weekends especially seem to be a game of roulette with my fading memory and patience

Two Costa Rica Police Officers on horseback

I know that we are all familiar with trying to keep up with all the Covid driving restrictions and various exemptions.  Weekends especially seem to be a game of roulette with my fading memory and patience to keep up with the latest announcements.


Recently I have noticed a number of people commenting on Facebook or other social media platforms about being stopped at a routine police check point or “operativos” and they are asked for their passports.  If they did not have their passports physically with them or they only had copies, the police on several occasions have been using Google translate on their phones and showing the people in the vehicle asking for “donations” to their police station.  I know that it is tempting to just make the situation “go away” however, that is asking for a bribe and is illegal.


First things first – there seems to be some confusion about passports and ID.  You are legally obligated to present your identification when asked by an official as per: ARTÍCULO 33.-of the Ley de Migración y Extranjería.

Foreign persons will be subject to the provisions established in this Law, its Regulations and, in general, the current legal system, as well as the following obligations:

2) Foreigners who are in national territory will have the obligation to carry, keep and present, at the request of the competent authority, the documentation that proves their identity, issued by the competent authorities of the country of origin or provenance, as well as the one that proves their immigration status in Costa Rica, except in the cases provided for in this Law and its respective Regulations. You can read more about that here.  If you are an expat or tourist,  that can either be your passport if you do not have residency, or your DIMEX card if you do.


Many will tell you that a copy is good enough – this may be true with some officers, others will want to see the physical ID. The officer will want to see your passport to confirm your identity as well as your entry stamp to confirm your status.  There is no way of proving via a photo or a photocopy that the stamp you are showing is in fact yours.  You are at the discretion of whatever officer you happen to be speaking to and if they decide to make an issue out of it they are within their legal rights.  If they decide that they want to see your physical passport, you are required to produce it.   If at any time an officer asks you for money to make this problem go away or for a “donation” to their police station you have the right to refuse.   You can ask to be given the fine or ticket for the issue being discussed.  You cannot film someone without their permission – however, you can ask them if you can film while they repeat their question.  This may be enough to get them to change their minds.   You can also ask for badge numbers and license plates of police vehicles.   It is also advisable to advise them you are carrying no cash.


Police are only able to search your vehicle when they have reason to believe there is probably cause that a crime has been committed and there are items in your car related to said crime.  ARTICLE 190.- Vehicle registration The judge, the prosecutor or the police may search a vehicle, provided there are sufficient grounds to presume that a person is hiding objects related to the crime in it. Where applicable, the same procedure will be carried out and the same formalities provided for the requisition of persons will be complied with.  This information can be found here.


It is important to be informed on the laws of the country in which you are visiting and/or living in. It is always best practice to seek information from the legal source instead of word of mouth from others.   Educate yourself and remember you are at the discretion of the officers.   When money is paid to make issues “go away” it encourages that behavior.  We do not want to have “shake downs” or bribes being requested by the people who are supposed to be keeping us safe.  If you are concerned about people receiving low wages or suffering from the economic repercussions of the pandemic, it is best practice to donate directly to organizations that are helping local families and not contribute to this intimidating and illegal activity.






She has worked as an Immigration and Customs officer for 8 years in Canada as well as over 10 years of experience in Social Services in both Canada and the United States. She is also a photographer, animal lover and yoga teacher

Review overview
  • Neil August 20, 2021

    It seems unfair to expect people to carry something as valuable and hard to replace as a passport everywhere they go. Especially considering petty crime levels in some areas.

    It also seems without reason that those waiting for residency must keep refreshing their passports to be able to drive. Especially with the added costs of tests to cross the border.

    These problems are created by nonsensical law making.

    • James W November 18, 2021

      Totally in agreement with you on this. I do know that Outlier has been trying to change that law that you have to leave the country every 90 days to renew your ability to drive in Costa Rica even though you are in the process of residency. It’s really a stupid, crappy thing that they require that!
      As to the article here I’ve never been asked for a donation or a bribe in 6 years of being here.
      I have a DIMEX and carry that everywhere but yes, as a tourist it is scary to have to carry a passport which is SO much trouble to get replaced if you lose it or someone steals it. Would be nice if there was like a driver’s licensed sized card that you could carry in your wallet, at least.
      But even then … acceptance of some sort of LEGAL COPY would be ideal.