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Home Home > Travel Advisory

Travel Advisory for Costa Rica

Costa Rica meaning 'rich coast', is a country in Central America. Bountifully dotted with beaches, forests and mountains, this coastal region essentially makes for an adventurous tourist spot. With almost 2.2 million tourists visiting this country annually, since 2011. Costa Rica is the most visited nation of Central America (UNWTO Tourism Highlights 2012 Edition).

Manuel Antonio National Park was ranked as one of the top 12 most beautiful National Parks in the world in 2011 according to Forbes Magazine and the main Manuel Antonio Beach was ranked the #1 beach in 2013 in all of Central America in Trip Advisor.

To visit Costa Rica, one must follow some important travel regulations mentioned below.

 

Entry Requirements

Passport

A valid passport is one of the most essential documents. The Costa Rica Immigration is strict with passports and may deny entry if found it in bad condition or out of date. The passport is useful as a proof of document while in the Country.

Due to increasing incidences of passport theft, the local government permits tourists to use photocopy of the passport (including the page with entry stamp) for identity proof.

It is highly recommended to keep the passport locked in the hotel or other secured place.

The police conducts routine checks on the beaches especially in areas around San Jose and upon inquiry, besides showing the photocopy of the passport, it is also mandatory to produce the original copy. Tourists should carry original copy of the passport while traveling in domestic flights, using credit cards, driving long distances and overnight journey.


Tickets

The immigration authorities of Costa Rica deny entry to visitors who do not carry a round-trip ticket. A two-way ticket is proof that the visitor is in the country for a stipulated time (typically up to 90 days) and will be heading to another destination. The Costa Rican Immigration fines airlines, whose passengers do not have proof of return journey. For this reason, certain airlines permit travelers to proceed for the departure process only after showing a valid ticket of traveling to another destination after visiting Costa Rica. Along with the ticket, passengers also need to show proof of a financial capacity of $500 in cash to the Costa Rica Immigration to seek entry.

Costa Rica has tourist attractions spread throughout the country, most of them located in Manuel Antonio, Jaco, Golfito, Quepos, Zancudo and Pavones. Tourists planning to visit these places can buy tickets from domestic airline companies to get there faster and more conveniently. It is mandatory for tourists to carry an original passport and ticket while traveling by flight within Costa Rica. Buses and shuttles are also available.


Visa

Costa Rica does not provide on the spot visa. One should carry a valid visa with the passport. Visa validity varies from 30 to 90 days and is extendable at the Costa Rica Immigration Department. Certain countries are exempted from visa requirement in Costa Rica. A U.S citizen need not carry any visa if the stay is expected to last for 90 days. However a valid passport and return ticket are mandatory.

A person can apply for extension of visa by submitting an application to Office of Temporary Permits. Those who exceed their stay period without applying for an extension, may face a delay on airport while departing, a fine of $100 for the month over stay or denial of entry to Costa Rica in the future.

A person wanting to study in Costa Rica should apply for a student visa. Individuals who have a round trip ticket and are planning to study for less than three months can study without a student visa, provided they have their stay permitted up to 90 days. Visa details for very country are available on the official website of Costa Rica.

Health

The Health officials of Costa Rica recommend visitors to update routine vaccination for typhoid and hepatitis at least 4-6 weeks before arriving in Costa Rica. Tourists from South America and Sub-Saharan countries should show proof of yellow fever vaccination.

Medical care is adequate in San Jose but limited in other parts of the country. One can avail prescription and over the counter medication in pharmacies, almost anywhere in Costa Rica. It is better to pay by cash while availing medical facilities at hospitals or private clinic. It is recommended for U.S citizens to check with respective hospitals or health insurance companies regarding validity of U.S medical insurance card in Costa Rica.

The medical emergency number of Costa Rica is 911. This number can also be used to avail ambulance services which provide immediate transportation to hospitals but not all of them have medical facilities inside the vehicle. Costa Rica is prone to regular outbreaks of dengue fever and other mosquito-borne diseases. It is advisable for every traveler to take precautions such as avoiding stagnant water, carrying repellents and covering the body to prevent mosquito bites.

Medical tourism is a popular tourist attraction of Costa Rica as the country offers ideal treatment and affordable care when compared to the US. It used to be focused on cosmetic surgeries but now includes all elective surgeries such as hip replacements, knee surgery and other. Additionally, Costa Rica has become a major attraction for relaxation with varied holistic health options including massage therapies, yoga sessions and spas.

Crime and Personal Safety


Crime

Tourists in Costa Rica should be aware of "petty theft" incidences while in the major tourist areas of Manuel Antonio, Jaco, Los Suenos and other popular destinations. Crime in these areas is much different than San Jose where more major crimes occur. The Thieves are mainly after electronic items such as iPhones, iPod's, cameras which they can then sell. They typically do not like confrontation but are very sneaky. Just like while you are at home; protect all of your items in the hotel or vacation rental safe or pay close attention while relaxing on a beach. Stolen items usually include cash, credit cards, passports, electronic gadgets and jewelry. The official travel state government website of U.S gives detailed information for its citizens to ensure complete safety while traveling to Costa Rica.

It is advisable to take preventive measures for safety reasons. Tourists should avoid carrying large amount of money or wearing valuable jewelry especially in busy tourist spots. It is safe to keep belongings such as passports, tickets and other expensive items locked in the hotel room.

Tourists should avoid visiting secluded areas of San Jose especially at night, as the city is at high risk of criminal activities. Tourists should have a list of important contacts, useful during times of emergency. It is safe to travel accompanied by a known person or in a group, in Costa Rica. Tourists should avoid traveling or visiting places like public bars, restaurant or secluded areas with strangers during late night.

La Fuerza Publica police of Costa Rica conducts special duties for crime prevention and should be called for any assistance related to crime. The OIJ police are responsible for taking reports and conducting investigations. U.S citizens can seek assistance from the U.S embassy in incidences like replacement of stolen passport, medical care or assistance for sensitive issues like a violent crime.


Personal Safety

Tourists should carry a copy of passport or valid ID proof while moving around any parts of the country. Costa Rica is an adventurous tourist spot and one should be extremely cautious while opting for activities around beaches and forests. The Caribbean and Pacific coasts often have riptides so be cautious and if caught in a riptide, swim parallel to the beach.

Tourists renting a vehicle for traveling purpose should be aware of all safety rules. In case of an accident, you must leave the car at the spot of the accident until the authorities and insurance company arrive – which could take a few hours. The Costa Rica government will not permit the individual to leave the country until all claims have been settled. This may even prohibit the person to continue driving during his/ her stay in Costa Rica.

Personal items can be easily stolen in busy areas or public buses. Tourists should avoid keeping belongings in overhead bins of the buses. It is highly recommended to remain vigilant and keep personal belonging close to oneself. Tourists are advised to not purchase pirated goods. They may be cheap and attractive but if a tourist is found in possession of such goods, he/ she may be liable to heavy penalties.

Tourists in Costa Rica are bound to follow certain rules and regulations. These are applicable to U.S citizens also. Any person found guilty of violating laws may be arrested or expelled from the country. Penalties for major incidences such as use of drugs and alcohol are severe, and include heavy fines and long- term imprisonment.

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Transportation

There are several travel options in Costa Rica- rental cars, private shuttles, public buses, ferries and domestic flights. One can opt for any of these modes of transportation, depending on the size of group, budget and places of visit.

It is safe to travel in licensed taxis in Costa Rica, which are red in color with yellow triangles painted on the side. Taxis at the airport are painted in orange. While hiring a taxi, tourists should check for functional meters, seat belts and locks to ensure personal safety at all times.

Public buses in Costa Rica are one of the cheapest options for travel. A bus itinerary is useful for tourists traveling frequently in public buses. An online bus guide is helpful for immediate travel plans in Costa Rica.

Private transport from licensed and insured companies is a safe travel option. Private shuttles can be arranged for pick and drop facilities at the airport and for touring around Costa Rica. Many private transport companies provide a range of vehicle options which if booked in advance, makes for convenient traveling around Costa Rica. You can also arrange travel through your hotel or Vacation Rental home Concierge.

Rental cars are a good option for those who prefer flexibility while traveling. First time visitors to Costa Rica should avoid driving a car by themselves since driving conditions may not be ideal and direction signs are often missing. If one is planning to drive a car, it is mandatory to carry a driving license and passport. Driving during monsoon should be highly avoided as there are mudslides and plenty of pot holes.

Ground transportation takes considerable hours for long distance travelling. While a car or a bus may take 8 hours to reach a destination, a flight will take 40 to 60 minutes. Booking a domestic flight is also favorable option when the family is traveling with kids or elderly persons. The two local airlines are Sansa and Nature Air.

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Climate

Costa Rica is a tropical country with three main seasons of summer (December to April) light rainy (May to August) and winter (September to November). The weather in the Manuel Antonio, Jaco, Golfito and other beach destinations averages between 70-85 degrees all year long and is extremely pleasant. It is recommended to bring comfortable hiking shoes and a poncho in our rainy and winter months. A backpack helps carry all of your items on your excursions around the cities. While planning a beach visit, it is wise to follow a tide chart to estimate safety for water related activities.

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Currency and Taxes


Currency

The local currency of Costa Rica is colones. It is available in denominations of 500, 1000, 5000, 10,000 and 20,000 bills. Coins are available in values of 5, 10, 20, 25, 50, 100 and 500. 1 US dollar is equivalent to approximately 500 Colones. Money can be exchanged at all banks or at the airport.

U.S dollars are widely accepted in Costa Rica especially at hotels and restaurants. ATM s are found in many places and dispense cash in colones and U.S dollars and it is best to take dollars since almost everyone accepts the currency. Payments are accepted in some places by Visa or credit cards at extra fees. Traveler cheques are not common in Costa Rica and it's preferable to keep some currency cash especially for immediate payments.


Taxes

Just like the US, sales tax is applied to all items which is 13%. Restaurants charge a tourist surcharge or gratuity fee of 10% which is part of your bill and that the entire staff splits. Typically, if you like the restaurant service, it is customary to leave a 10% tip for the waiter/waitress. Tourists are bound to pay an exit taxes during the time of departure from Costa Rica. The fee is approximately $28 payable also in cash, colones or credit card and can be paid at the airport.

Tour Companies

There are many tour companies in Costa Rica which are one of the main attractions while visiting the country. Adventure tours in Costa Rica have plenty to offer, from sport fishing, Zip lining, river rafting, private excursions such as an ATV Limousine to take your entire group or family deep into the rainforest, scuba diving, to bungee jumping and hiking in jungles. Tourists should choose reputable tour companies and ask important questions related to equipment use, child safety, etc. It is best to go through your Hotel or Vacation Rental Home Concierge as they know the trusted companies.