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Costa Rica Country Travel Infomation

Travel Transportation

Road Conditions and Safety:?Take extra care when driving. Roads are often in poor condition, lack clearly marked lanes, and have narrow shoulders and large potholes. Signage can be inadequate. Visibility at intersections is often limited by hedges or other obstacles. 

  • In the event of car trouble or a flat tire, look for a well-lit, populated area such as a gas station to pull over. Be wary of unsolicited offers of assistance from strangers, particularly in less populated areas.
  • Main highways and principal roads in the major cities are paved, but some roads to beaches and other rural locations are not. Many destinations are accessible only with four-wheel drive vehicles with high ground clearance.
  • Exercise extreme caution when driving across moving water, especially through riverbeds and over hanging bridges. Even a few inches of water could destabilize your vehicle.
  • Landslides are common. Some roads, even those leading to major population centers, may be temporarily impassable during the rainy season. When staying outside of urban areas, call ahead to hotels regarding the current status of access roads.
  • Avoid driving at night outside urban areas. ?
  • Expect traffic jams in and around San Jose.
  • Motorcyclists often drive without respect to rules of the road, passing on the right, or weaving in and out without warning. Buses and cars frequently stop in travel lanes, even on expressways.

Bridges: Bridges, even on heavily traveled roads, may be only a single lane. Rural roads sometimes lack bridges, compelling motorists to ford waterways. Do not drive through water.

Traffic Laws:??Drivers will need a valid passport and valid U.S. driver?s license or an international driving permit.

  • Fines for routine traffic violations can be upwards of $500 USD.
  • Laws and speed limits are often ignored, turn signals are rarely used, passing on dangerous stretches of highway is common, and pedestrians are not given the right of way.
  • In the event of a traffic accident, do not move the vehicle. Both the traffic police and an insurance investigator must make accident reports before the vehicles can be moved. Drivers using rental cars should clarify their company?s policy in the event of accidents. Rental companies may levy additional charges on drivers for failing to file a report.
  • There is a high fatality rate for pedestrians and those riding bicycles or motorcycles. In the event of a traffic fatality, a judge must arrive at the scene to pronounce a person dead, which could take several hours. If there is an ongoing investigation of a vehicular accident resulting in death or injuries, you may not be allowed to leave the country for several months.

Public Transportation: U.S. citizens have reported having items stolen while using public transportation across Costa Rica.? U.S. citizens should take care to maintain awareness of their surroundings and avoid displaying signs of wealth, such as wearing expensive watches or jewelry, and should always keep bags and other personal items under their personal control. U.S. citizens are strongly discouraged from using public buses, where pickpocketing is common. ?U.S. citizens should take only licensed taxis or familiar ride share services and should never accept rides from unlicensed or ?pirate? vehicles.

See our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of Costa Rica?s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety.

Unpaid traffic tickets:??U.S. citizens have occasionally reported to the Embassy that charges for unpaid traffic tickets have appeared on the credit card that was on file with their rental car company. The Embassy cannot intervene in such cases.

Aviation Safety Oversight: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government of Costa Rica?s Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Costa Rica?s air carrier operations. Further information may be found on the?FAA?s safety assessment page.

Maritime Travel: Mariners planning travel to Costa Rica should also check for U.S. maritime advisories and alerts.? Information may also be posted to the? U.S. Coast Guard homeport website, and the NGA broadcast warnings.

Health

Please visit the Embassy’s COVID-19 page for more information on entry/ exit requirements related to COVID-19 in?Costa Rica.?

For emergency services in Costa Rica, dial 911

  • Ambulance services are widely available, but training and availability of emergency responders may be below U.S. standards. 
  • Medical care in San Jose is generally adequate, but services can be limited in areas outside of San Jose. In remote areas, basic medical equipment may not be available. Ambulances may lack emergency equipment. 
  • Most prescription and over-the-counter medications are available; however, some U.S. citizens travel regularly to the United States to fill prescriptions that are unavailable locally. Bring a supply of your medications and carry prescription medication in original packaging, along with your doctor?s prescription.

We do not pay medical bills.?Be aware that U.S. Medicare/Medicaid does not apply overseas. Most hospitals and doctors overseas do not accept U.S. health insurance. 

Medical Insurance: Make sure your health insurance plan provides coverage overseas. Most care providers overseas only accept cash payments. See our webpage for more information on insurance providers for overseas coverage. Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more information on types of insurance you should consider before you travel overseas. 

  • We strongly recommend supplemental insurance to cover medical evacuation. 
  • Costa Rican immigration authorities reserve the right to prevent departure of those international travelers with unpaid or disputed medical bills.
  • The U.S. Embassy maintains a list of doctors and hospitals on our Embassy website. We do not endorse or recommend any specific medical provider or clinic. 
  • Always carry your prescription medication in original packaging, along with your doctor?s prescription. Check with the Costa Rican Ministry of Health to ensure the medication is legal in Costa Rica. 

Vaccinations:? Be up-to-date on all vaccinations recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Proof of yellow fever vaccination must be presented upon arrival for all passengers coming from certain countries in South America or Africa.  

Medical Tourism:?Confirm that: 

  • Facilities and professionals will be able to provide an acceptable level of care 
  • Your insurance will cover any associated or emergency costs 
  • You understand the terms of payment and costs for treatment 

For clinics offering alternative medical treatments, thoroughly research these clinics and their providers. The Embassy has received reports of hospitalizations as a result of clients at so-called wellness centers undergoing medically unverified ?alternative treatments.? 

We strongly recommend supplemental insurance to cover medical evacuation in the event of unforeseen medical complications. An air ambulance flight can cost $25,000 to $50,000 USD and will often take place only after payment has been received in full. 

Further health information:

Air Quality: Visit AirNow Department of State for information on air quality at U.S. Embassies and Consulates. 

 Health facilities in general

  • Adequate health facilities are available throughout Costa Rica but health care in rural areas may be below U.S. standards. 
  • Hospitals and doctors often require payment ?up front? prior to service or admission. Credit card payment is not always available. Most hospitals and medical professionals require cash payment. 
  • Private hospitals usually require advance payment or proof of adequate insurance before admitting a patient.
  • Medical staff may speak little or no English. 
  • Generally, in public hospitals only minimal staff is available overnight in non-emergency wards. Consider hiring a private nurse or having family spend the night with the patient, especially a minor child. 

Medical Tourism and Elective Surgery: U.S. citizens have suffered serious complications or died during or after having cosmetic or other elective surgery.  

  • Medical tourism is a rapidly growing industry. People seeking health care overseas should understand that medical systems operate differently from those in the United States and are not subject to the same rules and regulations. Anyone interested in traveling for medical purposes should consult with their local physician before traveling.
  • Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for information on Medical Tourism, the risks of medical tourism, and what you can do to prepare before traveling to Costa Rica. 
  • We strongly recommend supplemental insurance?to cover medical evacuation in the event of unforeseen medical complications.
  • Your legal options in case of malpractice are very limited in Costa Rica. 
  • Although Costa Rica has many elective/cosmetic surgery facilities that are on par with those found in the United States, the quality of care varies widely. If you plan to undergo surgery in Costa Rica, make sure that emergency medical facilities are available and professionals are accredited and qualified. 

Pharmaceuticals: Exercise caution when purchasing medication overseas. Pharmaceuticals, both over the counter and requiring prescription in the United States, are often readily available for purchase with few controls. Counterfeit medication is common and may prove to be ineffective, be the wrong strength, or contain dangerous ingredients. Medication should be purchased in consultation with a medical professional and from reputable establishments.

  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Food and Drug Administration are responsible for rules governing the transport of medication back to the United States. Medication purchased abroad must meet their requirements to be legally brought back into the United States. Medication should be for personal use and must be approved for usage in the United States. Please visit the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Food and Drug Administration websites for more information.  
  • Costa Rica does not allow the importation of most medications through the mail, even with a prescription. Travelers entering Costa Rica may carry personal medications with them and in suitcases, but also should carry a copy of the prescriptions. Medications should be in original packaging, and quantities should correspond to the prescription.  Please review Costa Rica?s rules on importing medication at the Ministry of Health website.

Assisted Reproductive Technology and Surrogacy: If you are considering traveling to Costa Rica to have a child through use of assisted reproductive technology (ART) or surrogacy, please see our ART and Surrogacy Abroad page

Water Quality: In many areas, tap water is not potable. Bottled water and beverages are generally safe, although you should be aware that many restaurants and hotels serve tap water unless bottled water is specifically requested. Be aware that ice for drinks may be made using tap water. 

Adventure Travel: Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for more information about Adventure Travel

General Health Language: The following diseases are prevalent:

  • Dengue
  • Chikungunya
  • HIV/AIDS: Follow all standard procedures for protection against the spread of HIV/AIDS.
  • Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for more information about Resources for Travelers regarding specific issues in Costa Rica

Air Quality: The air quality varies considerably and fluctuates with the seasons. People at the greatest risk from particle pollution exposure include: 

  • Infants, children, and teens 
  • People over 65 years of age 
  • People with lung disease such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. 
  • People with heart disease or diabetes 
  • People who work or are active outdoors 

Local laws and Special Circumstances

Criminal Penalties:?You are subject to local laws.?If you violate local laws, even unknowingly, you may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Individuals establishing a business or practicing a profession that requires additional permits or licensing should seek information from the competent local authorities, prior to practicing or operating a business.

Furthermore, some laws are also prosecutable in the United States, regardless of local law. For examples, see our website on?crimes against minors abroad?and the?Department of Justice?website.

The Embassy is aware of isolated reports of uniformed officers or impostors demanding a bribe. Should you be confronted for a bribe, do not argue. Note the name of the officer and any identifying numbers on the uniform or vehicle and report the incident by calling ?911.?

Alcohol/Drugs: Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs could land you immediately in jail. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking of illegal drugs are severe, including long jail sentences and heavy fines. The possession, purchase, and sale of marijuana and marijuana related products are illegal in Costa Rica

Prostitution/Sex Tourism:?Local law forbids promoting or facilitating the prostitution of another person. Local laws regarding human trafficking and child exploitation carry extremely harsh penalties, including large fines and significant jail time, even for first-time offenders.

Arrest Notification:?If you are arrested or detained, ask police or prison officials to notify the U.S. Embassy immediately. See our?webpage?for further information.

The law permits pre-trial detention of persons accused of serious crimes. Due to overcrowding in local prisons, courts may instead use an ?exit impediment.? Individuals subject to these measures cannot depart Costa Rica, must be able to support themselves, and must check in with judicial authorities on a regular basis. Defendants have the right to a public defender and an official translator for important hearings. 

Judicial Process:?Due to differences in legal systems and case backlogs, local criminal and civil judicial processes can move slower in comparison to their U.S. equivalents. Civil suits on average take over five years to resolve. Some U.S. firms and citizens have satisfactorily resolved their cases through the courts, while others have seen proceedings drawn out over a decade without a final ruling.

Counterfeit and Pirated Goods: Although counterfeit and pirated goods are prevalent in many countries, they may still be illegal according to local laws. You may also pay fines or have to give them up if you bring them back to the United States. See the U.S. Department of Justice website for more information.

Faith-Based Travelers:?See the following webpages for details:

LGBTI Travelers:?There are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of LGBTI events in Costa Rica. See?our?LGBTI Travel Information?page and section 6 of our?Human Rights report?for further details.

Travelers Who Require Accessibility Assistance: Accessibility and accommodation are limited. Many buildings remain inaccessible and the Costa Rican Ombudsman?s Office has received several noncompliance reports regarding accessibility or malfunctioning of hydraulic wheelchair lifts for public transportation. 

Students:?See our Students Abroad page and FBI travel tips.

Residency:?U.S. citizens seeking to live or reside long-term in Costa Rica should consider seeking local legal counsel for guidance on the requirements to obtain?legal residency. Local authorities have imposed limited entry permits or deported U.S. citizens suspected of improperly using their tourist status to live in Costa Rica.

Real Estate:?Be extremely cautious when making real estate purchases or investments, consult with reputable legal counsel, and thoroughly review the contract. There is little the U.S. Embassy can do to assist U.S. citizens who enter into land or business disputes; you must be prepared to take your case to the local courts.

Civil archives recording land titles are at times incomplete or contradictory. Coastal land within 50 meters of the high tide line is open to the public and therefore closed to development. The next 150 meters inland (?Maritime Zone?) cannot be owned by foreign nationals. Land in this zone is administered by the local municipality. Expropriation of private land by the Costa Rican government without compensation considered adequate or prompt has affected some U.S. investors.

Property owners are encouraged to maintain security and access controls on any private property.?Organized squatter groups have invaded properties, taking advantage of legal provisions that allow people without land to gain title to unused property. Victims of squatters have reported threats, harassment, and violence.

Check the?Embassy?s website?for a list of local lawyers. Please review the Investment Climate Statement for Costa Rica on the?State Department?s website.

Women Travelers:?See our travel tips for?Women Travelers.

Safety and Security

Crime:?In areas frequented by tourists, including national parks, theft and pickpocketing are the most common crimes targeting U.S. citizen travelers. More violent crimes, including sexual assault and murders, have occurred. Armed assailants usually target victims for their smartphones, wallets, or purses. If confronted by someone with a weapon, it is best not to resist.

Do not leave valuables unattended on the beach, in an unattended vehicle, or in an unlocked room. Even a locked vehicle in an area with parking attendants may be broken into. Avoid isolated areas when on foot, especially after dark.?Maintain situational awareness and secure your valuables out of sight.

The Embassy is aware of reports of robbery of isolated rental properties. Research any rental homes to ensure they have adequate security and remember to properly secure all doors and windows.

See the?2020 OSAC Annual Crime Report?for an overview of crime in Costa Rica.

International Financial Scams:?See the?Department of State and the?FBI?pages for information.

Victims of Crime:?U.S. citizen victims of sexual assault are encouraged to contact the U.S. Embassy for assistance. Report crimes to the local police at 911 and contact the U.S. Embassy at +506 2519-2000 or acssanjose@state.gov.?Remember that local authorities are responsible for investigating and prosecuting crime. Authorities will only investigate and prosecute a crime if the victim files a police report (denuncia). The Costa Rican Investigative Police (OIJ) is responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes that occur in Costa Rica.

To file a police report:?Visit the local office of the OIJ. You can find the closest location by calling 800-800-3000. The Tourist Police can also take reports at the following tourist destinations:

  • Tamarindo
  • Flamingo
  • Puerto Viejo
  • Guiones
  • Dominical
  • El Coco

See our webpage on help for U.S. victims of crime overseas.

U.S. Embassy San Jose can: 

  • Help you find appropriate medical care
  • Assist you in reporting a crime to the police
  • Contact relatives or friends with your written consent
  • Provide general information regarding the victim?s role during the local investigation and following its conclusion
  • Provide a list of local attorneys
  • Provide information on?victim?s compensation programs in the U.S.
  • Provide an emergency loan for repatriation to the United States and/or limited medical support in cases of destitution
  • Help you find accommodation and arrange flights home
  • Replace a stolen or lost passport

A police report with a case number is necessary for case follow up, insurance claims, and waiving of rebooking fees on certain airlines. Check with airlines regarding their rebooking policies.

Beach Safety:?Swimming areas at some popular beaches around Costa Rica can have dangerous rip currents. Some beaches lack lifeguards or warnings of unsafe conditions. U.S. citizens have died in Costa Rica due to these dangers. Check the?Costa Rica Tourism Institute (ICT) website, or with?your hotel?or relevant tour operator?to request current information on local swimming and surf conditions.

Do not dive into water of unknown depth. Do not swim alone, especially at isolated beaches. Avoid the consumption of alcohol while swimming.

Adventure Sports:?Some tour operators take risks, and government regulation and oversight of firms that organize sporting activities may not always adhere to international standards and best practices.?U.S. citizens have died in Costa Rica while participating in adventure sports.?Use caution and common sense when engaging in ALL adventure sports, such as bungee jumping, sky diving, hiking, rappelling, climbing, whitewater rafting, kayaking, etc. Make sure your medical insurance covers your sport. See our section on Medical Insurance under ?Health? below.

Never participate in adventure sports alone. Always carry identification and let others know where you are at all times. Before kayaking and rafting, check river conditions and wear a life jacket and helmet. Even popular rafting locations such as the Rio Naranjo near Quepos can become extremely dangerous in flash flood conditions. When hiking, rappelling, or climbing, carry a first aid kit and know the location of the nearest rescue center. Observe all local or park regulations and exercise caution in unfamiliar surroundings.

Domestic Violence:?U.S. citizen victims of domestic violence are encouraged to contact the Embassy for assistance.

Students and Volunteers:?Violent assaults, rapes, and deaths have occurred involving students and volunteers.?Ensure that your organization provides safety and security information on the area where you will stay. See our?Students Abroad?page and?FBI travel tips.

To register complaints:?Contact Costa Rica?s?Tourism Commission?or by phone at 800-TURISMO from Costa Rica or 011-506-2299-5800 from the U.S. Email:?contactenos@ict.go.cr

Potential for Natural Disasters:?Costa Rica is in an active earthquake and volcanic zone. ?

  • Three volcanoes,?two near San Jose and one in the northwest, have become more active in recent years. Ashfall due to volcanic eruptions from Turrialba can disrupt air traffic and cause or aggravate respiratory issues.? Visitors should monitor and follow park service guidance and alerts regarding volcanic activity.?Never attempt to climb or gain unauthorized access to an active volcano.
  • Tsunamis?may occur following significant earthquakes.
  • Flooding?occurs during the rainy season, typically from April until October, in the Caribbean Province of Limon and the Pacific Provinces of Puntarenas and Guanacaste.
  • Flash floods and severe landslides?occur in many parts of Costa Rica, depending on the time of year and rainfall. Do not drive into water of unknown depths.

For information concerning disasters, see:

Additional information regarding volcanic activity and other natural disasters in Costa Rica may be obtained from the following Spanish-language Costa Rican websites:

Civil Disturbances:?Demonstrations are generally peaceful but may occur with little notice. Strikes may affect transportation, fuel supplies, and other public services.? Local law prohibits foreigners from participating in public demonstrations. Violators may be subject to detention or deportation.???

Hiking:?When visiting national parks, abide by signage and stick to marked trails. First responders have limited ability to locate missing persons in remote areas.

To hike in national parks, you must:

  • Register with the park
  • Obtain an entry permit
  • Consider using a licensed tour operator. The Costa Rican Tourist Institute (ICT) has contact information for licensed tour operators. 

Tourism: The tourism industry is generally regulated, and rules are regularly enforced. Inspections take place on a regular basis; however, some lapses may occur in businesses that are not properly registered. Hazardous areas or activities are not always identified with appropriate signage. Professional staff is typically on hand in support of organized activities. In the event of an injury, appropriate medical treatment is available but may be delayed due to road and traffic conditions as well as physical distances. Outside of a major metropolitan center, it may take more time for first responders and medical professionals to stabilize a patient and provide life-saving assistance. U.S. citizens are encouraged to purchase medical evacuation insurance. See our webpage for more information on insurance providers for overseas coverage.

Entry exit Requirementsh

Please visit the Embassy’s COVID-19 page for more information on entry/ exit requirements related to COVID-19 in?Costa Rica.?

See the Embassy of Costa Rica?s?website?for the most current visa information.

Requirements for Entry:

  • Passport?valid for duration of stay. Immigration may deny entry if passport is damaged.
  • Return ticket?or proof of onward travel to another country.
  • Proof of yellow fever vaccination?if you are arriving from?certain countries?in South America or Africa.
  • Proof of funds?for at least $100 USD per month of proposed stay.

Tourist stays up to 90 Days: Authorities may permit stays up to 90 days without a visa but are not required to do so. Be sure to leave by your required date of departure. Immigration authorities may levy a fine on foreigners who overstay their visas. Even a short overstay may result in significant delays, deportation, and/or denial of entry to Costa Rica in the future.

Exit tax:?Check with your airline to see if the $29 USD exit tax was included in the cost of your ticket. For more information, visit the?Costa Rican Immigration Agency?website.

Entry and Exit for Minor Children:?All children born in Costa Rica acquire Costa Rican citizenship at birth and must have an exit permit issued by?immigration authorities?in order to depart the country. Non-Costa Rican minor children who are ordinarily resident in Costa Rica may also be subject to this requirement. This is strictly enforced.

Though not required, parents traveling with minor children may consider carrying notarized consent for travel from the non-present parent. Parents of minors with Costa Rican citizenship should consult with?Costa Rican immigration authorities prior to travel to Costa Rica.

Indebtedness:?If you owe money in Costa Rica, authorities may prevent you from leaving. This includes unsettled injury claims from vehicular accidents and unpaid medical bills. U.S. citizens owing child support in Costa Rica may be required to pay 13 months of support in advance before being allowed to leave Costa Rica.

Documentation Requirements:?Carry copies of identification and immigration status at all times. During routine checks for illegal immigrants, authorities may ask to see the original passport and papers.

Local authorities have the right to detain U.S. citizens until their identity and immigration status have been verified.

HIV/AIDS restrictions:?The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Costa Rica.

Find information on?dual nationality,?prevention of international child abduction, and?customs information?on our websites.

Destination Description

See the Department of State?s?Fact Sheet on Costa Rica?for information on U.S.-Costa Rica relations.

Travel Embassy and Consulate

U.S. Embassy San Jos?

Calle 98, Via 104
Pavas
San Jos?, Costa Rica
Telephone:
+ (506) 2519-2000
Emergency After-Hours Telephone: + (506) 2220-3127
Fax: + (506) 2220-2455
Email: 
Routine American Citizens Services appointments available online.

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