COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Costa Rica is a middle-income, developing country with a strong democratic tradition. Tourist facilities are generally extensive and adequate. While English is a second language for many Costa Ricans in tourist areas, knowledge of Spanish is necessary for legal matters and in non-tourist areas. Potential visitors or investors should carefully read the following sections on Safety and Security, Crime, Special Circumstances, the Overseas Security Advisory Council Reports, and the Department of State’s Country Fact Sheet on Costa Rica for additional information.
SMART TRAVELER ENROLLMENT PROGRAM (STEP) / EMBASSY LOCATION: If you are going to live in or visit Costa Rica, please take the time to tell us about your trip by enrolling in STEP. If you enroll, we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements. It will also help your friends
and family get in touch with you in an emergency. Here’s the link to the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, which can be downloaded to your smartphone. You can also download our free Smart Traveler App, available through iTunes and the Android market, to have travel information at your fingertips.
We strongly encourage those seeking information to visit the Embassy website. For emergencies such as deaths and major accidents, arising outside of normal business hours, U.S. citizens may call (506) 2519-2000 and ask for the duty officer.
Embassy San Jose
Calle 120 Avenida 0,
Pavas, San José, Costa Rica
Telephone:  2519-2000
Emergency after-hours telephone:  2519-2000
Facsimile:  2200-2455
ENTRY / EXIT REQUIREMENTS FOR U.S. CITIZENS: Visit the Embassy San Jose website for the most current visa information. For entry into Costa Rica, you must present both a valid passport and either a round-trip ticket or proof of onward travel to another country. Because of possible fines levied by Costa Rican Immigration, many airlines will not permit passengers without proof of onward travel to board flights to Costa Rica unless they have Costa Rican citizenship, residency, or a visa. Immigration now also requires that you be able to demonstrate financial capacity of at least $100 per month while you are in Costa Rica as a tourist. When you leave Costa Rica, you will have to pay a departure tax of $29 USD.
Passports should be in good condition; Costa Rican Immigration may deny entry if a passport is damaged in any way. Costa Rican authorities may permit U.S. citizen tourists to stay up to ninety (90) days, but shorter time periods of thirty (30) to forty-five (45) days are also common. To extend the period you are given, you must submit an application for an extension to the Office of Temporary Permits in the Costa Rican Department of Immigration. Extension requests are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Tourists who overstay the period of time authorized by Costa Rican authorities without receiving an extension may experience a delay at the airport when departing, are subject to deportation and/or a fine of $100 for each month of overstay, and may be denied entry to Costa Rica on future visits.
Individuals planning to study in Costa Rica can only apply for a student visa from Costa Rican Immigration after arriving in the country. Neither the Costa Rican Embassy in Washington, D.C. nor its Consulates in the United States have the authority to issue student visas. This has led to some confusion by airline employees who mistakenly believe that individuals traveling to Costa Rica as part of a legitimate exchange program must have a return travel date that is less than 90 days from their initial date of travel. Costa Rica has not yet issued definitive guidance on whether such prospective students must comply with the requirement for a return/onward ticket within 90 days. It is recommended that such students verify documentary requirements in advance with the nearest Costa Rican embassy/consulate as well as with the pertinent airline.
All children born in Costa Rica acquire Costa Rican citizenship at birth, and may only depart the country upon presentation of an exit permit issued by immigration authorities. This includes children born in Costa Rica to U.S. citizens. Unless the child is traveling with both parents, legal documentation is required to demonstrate that both parents grant permission for the child to leave the country. This policy, designed to prevent international child abduction, applies to dual national U.S./Costa Rican citizens as well as U.S. citizens who are legal residents in Costa Rica. Parents of minors who obtained Costa Rican citizenship through a parent or through birth in Costa Rica are advised to consult with appropriate Costa Rican authorities prior to travel to Costa Rica, especially if one (or both) parent(s) is not accompanying the child.
All persons – including U.S. citizens – traveling to Costa Rica from certain countries in South America and Sub-Saharan Africa must provide evidence of a valid yellow fever vaccination prior to entry. The countries considered at risk are: Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Guyana and Venezuela. You can travel to Costa Rica no sooner than 10 days after receiving the vaccination. See “SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES” for information on requirements to carry identity documentation within Costa Rica and on travel by minors who are dual nationals or legal residents.
The most authoritative and up-to-date information on Costa Rican entry and exit requirements may be obtained from the Consular Section of the Embassy of Costa Rica at 2114 “S” Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone (202) 480-2200, fax (202) 265-4795. You may visit the Embassy of Costa Rica’s website or contact the Embassy via email. You may also obtain information from the Costa Rican consulates in Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, or the honorary consulates in Minnesota and Arizona. Please also see the Costa Rican Immigration Agency website. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Costa Rica in Washington or one of Costa Rica's Consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements before shipping any items.
Visitors who plan to drive and/or rent an automobile in Costa Rica should be aware that the Costa Rican government may prevent any driver involved in a vehicular accident from departing Costa Rica until any/all injury claims have been settled, regardless of whether the driver was covered by insurance and/or considered to have been negligent in the accident. Courts often delay imposing a settlement until any/all injured parties have fully recovered and the definitive costs are known. Therefore, prohibition on travel could be imposed for months, or even years, until a local judicial resolution is reached. Visitors should carefully consider the hardships such an extended stay in Costa Rica could impose on themselves and their families before deciding to drive in Costa Rica.
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.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.
Visit the Embassy of Costa Rica web site for the most current visa information.
THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY: Demonstrations in Costa Rica generally are peaceful and rarely affect tourists but have been known to block traffic on roads or disrupt travel. Visitors to Costa Rica may also be inconvenienced by infrequent work stoppages and strikes. The Costa Rica Constitution prohibits foreigners from engaging in political activity; such actions may result in detention and/or deportation. Travelers should avoid political demonstrations and other activities that Costa Rican authorities might deem political. U.S. citizens are urged to exercise caution if in the vicinity of any protests.
There have been no recent acts of terrorism in Costa Rica.
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CRIME: Crime is a significant concern for Costa Ricans and visitors alike. The incidence of crime in Costa Rica is higher than in many parts of the United States and has adversely affected the traveling public. You should exercise at least the same level of caution in Costa Rica that you would in major cities or tourist areas in the United States. Engaging in high-risk behavior, such as excessive consumption of alcohol or drugs, can increase the vulnerability of an individual to accidents or opportunistic crime.
Pickpocketing and theft remain the most common crimes perpetrated against tourists, with theft from vehicles or on buses being particularly frequent. Thieves primarily are looking for cash, jewelry, credit cards, electronic items and passports. Criminals often operate in small groups, but may also operate alone. Daytime robberies in public places occur, and thieves have been known to brandish weapons or use violence if victims resist.
Serious crimes, although less frequent, do occur. U.S. citizens have been the victims of sexual assaults, robberies, carjackings and murders. At least 12 U.S. citizens have been murdered in Costa Rica since January 2011. Nine U.S. citizens have reported that they were sexually assaulted in 2012.
While crimes occur throughout Costa Rica, they are more prevalent at certain times and in certain areas. The downtown area of San Jose, for example, is a popular tourist destination during daylight hours. We strongly encourage you, however, not to go there after dark. U.S. government officials are not permitted to stay in hotels in that area due to safety concerns. If you plan to visit an unfamiliar area, you should consult with a trustworthy local (a concierge, a tour guide, etc.) regarding precautions or concerns.
Thieves often work in groups to set up a victim. A prevalent scam involves the surreptitious puncturing of tires of rental cars, often near restaurants, tourist attractions, airports, or close to the car rental agencies themselves. When the travelers pull over, "good Samaritans" quickly appear to help change the tire - and just as quickly remove valuables from the car, sometimes brandishing weapons. Drivers with flat tires are advised to drive, if at all possible, to the nearest service station or other public area and change the tire themselves, watching valuables at all times. Another common scam involves one person dropping change in a crowded area, such as on a bus. When the victim tries to assist, a wallet or other item is taken.
Take proactive steps to avoid becoming a crime victim. Do not walk, hike or exercise alone, and bear in mind that crowded tourist attractions and resort areas popular with foreign tourists are common venues for criminal activity. Ignore any verbal harassment, and avoid carrying large amounts of cash, jewelry, or expensive photographic equipment. You should be particularly cautious of walking alone at night and should not leave bars or restaurants with strangers. Additionally, do not seek entertainment in groups of people you do not know. Do not consume food or drinks you have left unattended or accept food or drinks from "friendly" people. At least one sexual assault reported last year to the Embassy involved date rape drugs.
Costa Rican immigration authorities conduct routine immigration checks at locations such as bars in downtown San Jose and beach communities. U.S. citizens questioned during these checks who have only a copy of the passport may be asked to provide the original passport with appropriate stamps. Be sure you are certain of the location of your passport and will have ready access to it.
Travelers renting vehicles should purchase an adequate level of locally valid theft insurance, park in secure lots whenever possible, and never leave valuables in their vehicles. Please note that there are unlicensed “parking attendants” that will occasionally assist you in parking; however, parking where they indicate does not always guarantee that it is a legal parking spot. Drivers should be cautious of where they park their cars. The U.S. Embassy receives several reports daily of valuables, identity documents, and other items stolen from locked vehicles, primarily rental cars. Thefts from parked cars can occur nearly anywhere, although cities, beaches and coastal towns, the airport, in front of restaurants and hotels, and national parks and other tourist attractions are common locations.
U.S. government personnel are not permitted to travel on city buses due to safety concerns, and must use caution when traveling on any other buses. If you choose to travel by bus, you are encouraged to keep your bag with valuables and identification on your lap. Personal items are frequently stolen from buses. Do not store your bags or other personal belongings in the storage bins, as theft from overhead bins is common. You should keep your belongings in your line of sight at all times and your valuables in your possession. If you choose to help another passenger stow his belongings, you should be especially cautious that your own belongings are not being removed while you are doing so.
Travelers should use only licensed taxis, which are typically red with medallions (yellow triangles containing numbers) painted on the side. Licensed taxis at the airport are painted orange. All licensed taxis should have working door handles, locks, seatbelts and meters (called "marias"); passengers are encouraged to use seatbelts.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
VICTIMS OF CRIME: Local law enforcement agencies have limited capabilities and different standards than U.S. law enforcement. If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police.
Report any crime to the OIJ police (800.800.3000) and also to the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy at 2519-2000,from the U.S.: 011-506-2519-2000, or by email to: email@example.com.
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the U.S. Embassy. This allows the Embassy to make the necessary notifications that may help catch criminals, including terrorists, who try to buy or use the passport.
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Costa Rica is also “911”
In Costa Rica, there are various types of police. Those in uniform are La Fuerza Pública. Their role is crime prevention. Plain clothes police, known locally as “OIJ”, are responsible for taking police reports and conducting investigations. There are also tourist and traffic police.
The U.S. embassy can:
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While you are traveling in Costa Rica, you are subject to its laws and regulations even if you are a U.S. citizen. Some laws in Costa Rica differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Costa Rica’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. The law permits pre-trial detention of persons accused of serious crimes. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Costa Rica are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with minors or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. It is also a crime in Costa Rica. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs could land you immediately in jail. You can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. If you break local laws in Costa Rica, your U.S. passport will not help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It is very important to know what is legal and what is not where you are going.
If you are arrested in Costa Rica, authorities are required to notify the U.S. Embassy of your arrest. If you are concerned the Department of State may not be aware of your situation, you should request the police or prison officials to notify the U.S. embassy of your arrest.
Beach Safety and Adventure Tourism: On both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, currents are swift and dangerous, and the majority of dangerous beaches have neither lifeguards nor warning signs. Approximately 59 people drowned in 2012 in Costa Rica due to treacherous rip currents that have swept even strong swimmers out to sea. Visitors should carefully consider the safety of any beach before entering the water.
There are many scenic areas in Costa Rica where a small incident may become life-threatening due to the rugged terrain or remote location. Foreign visitors have disappeared while hiking or traveling in Costa Rica. Extreme caution, whether swimming, hiking, or driving, is advised.
Adventure tourism is popular in Costa Rica, and many companies offer white-water rafting, bungee jumping, jungle canopy tours, SCUBA diving, and other outdoor activities. U.S. citizens are urged to use caution in selecting adventure tourism companies. Although the Costa Rican government regulates most of these companies and local regulations require they meet certain safety standards and have insurance coverage, there is not uniform and effective enforcement of these regulations. Even where strictly enforced, safety measures may not be as stringent nor as comprehensive as what you may be familiar with in the United States. Visitors have been injured or even killed due to improper, careless, or reckless operation of scooters, jet-skis, quads, and other recreational equipment. You should rent equipment only from reputable operators, use all appropriate safety gear, and insist on sufficient training before using the equipment. Travelers to remote or isolated scenic venues should be aware that they may be some distance from ATMs, appropriate medical services, and law enforcement or consular assistance in an emergency. The Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) web site has contact information for licensed tour operators and travel agencies.
Land Ownership and Shoreline Property: U.S. citizens are urged to use extreme caution when making real estate purchases or investments, to consult with reputable legal counsel, and to investigate thoroughly all aspects before entering into a contract.. Civil archives recording land title are at times incomplete or contradictory. Check the San Jose Embassy website for a list of local lawyers. You also are encouraged to review the Investment Climate Statement for Costa Rica on the State Department's website. Coastal land within 50 meters of the high tide line is open to the public and therefore closed to development, and construction on the next 150 meters inland is possible only with the approval of the local municipality. Expropriation of private land by the government without compensation considered adequate or prompt has hurt some U.S. investors.
Squatters: Organized squatter groups have invaded properties in various parts of the country. These squatter groups take advantage of legal provisions that allow people without land to gain title to unused property. The Costa Rican police and judicial system have at times failed to deter or to peacefully resolve such invasions. Victims of squatters have reported threats, harassment, and violence. There is very little that the U.S. Embassy can do to assist U.S. citizens who enter into land or business disputes in Costa Rica; you must be prepared to take your case to the local courts, which is often a very long and expensive process.
Delays in Judicial Process: The legal system in Costa Rica is backlogged, and civil suits take over five years on average from start to finish. 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.
Documentation Requirements: Visitors are required to carry appropriate documentation at all times. However, due to the high incidence of passport theft, Costa Rican immigration authorities permit tourists to carry photocopies of the data page and entry stamp from the passport, leaving the passport in a hotel safe or other secure place. However, as noted under the CRIME section of this report, Costa Rican immigration authorities conduct routine checks for illegal immigrants, especially in bars located in downtown San Jose and in beach communities. A U.S. citizen questioned during one of these checks and carrying only the copy of the passport will be required to produce the original passport. In addition, tourists should carry their actual passports when taking domestic air flights, when driving, when planning to use a credit card, when traveling overnight, when traveling a considerable distance from their hotel, or when they would otherwise be unable to quickly retrieve the actual passport. Local authorities have the right to detain U.S. citizens until their identity and immigration status have been verified. Tourists who carry passports are urged to place them securely in an inside pocket.
Disaster Preparedness: Costa Rica is located in an active earthquake and volcanic zone. When planning travel to the area, you should consider that such a disaster may strike without warning. Tsunamis may result from significant earthquakes occurring nearby or across the ocean. Serious flooding occurs annually in the Caribbean Province of Limon and the Pacific Province of Puntarenas, and flash floods and severe landslides occur in many parts of Costa Rica, depending on the time of year and rainfall. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Accessibility: While in Costa Rica, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation limited. Costa Rica has legislation that mandates access to transportation, communication and public buildings for persons with disabilities, but the government does not effectively enforce these laws. Many buildings, including hotels, restaurants, and bars, remain inaccessible, and the Costa Rican Ombudsman’s Office has received several reports of noncompliance with accessibility requirements or malfunctioning of hydraulic wheelchair lifts for public transportation.We are not aware of any special currency or customs circumstances for Costa Rica.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Costa Rica actively promotes medical tourism. While the perceived advantages are affordable costs, quality health care, and a chance to recuperate and have a vacation at the same time, there are also risks.
Medical tourists should confirm that the facilities they intend to use are accredited and have an acceptable level of care. They should also purchase medical evacuation insurance before travelling, and should confirm that the cost and payment for their treatment is clearly understood by both parties. Persons with unpaid or disputed debts in Costa Rica may be legally prevented from leaving the country.
In the event of unforeseen medical complications or malpractice, medical tourists may not be covered by their personal insurance or may not be able to seek damages through malpractice lawsuits. Although many hospitals and clinics abroad have medical malpractice insurance, seeking compensation can prove to be difficult because insurance laws and legal options may not exist. Be aware that if you should need or wish to be transferred to a hospital in the United States and do not have medical evacuation insurance, an air ambulance flight can cost upwards of US$50,000 and will often take place only after you (or your loved ones) have paid for it.
Medical care in San Jose is generally adequate, but is limited in areas outside of San Jose. Most prescription and over-the-counter medications are available throughout Costa Rica. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services, and U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. A list of local doctors and medical facilities can be obtained from the U.S. Embassy in San Jose's website. An ambulance may be summoned by calling 911. Most ambulances provide transportation but little or no medical assistance.
You can find good information on vaccinations and other health precautions, on the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: You can’t assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It’s very important to find out BEFORE you leave whether or not your medical insurance will cover you overseas. You need to ask your insurance company two questions:
In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctors’ and hospital visits in other countries. If your policy doesn’t go with you when you travel, it’s a very good idea to take out another one for your trip. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page. U.S. retirees living in Costa Rica without adequate insurance coverage can find themselves at the mercy of public hospitals with limited resources in providing care. Many retirees have also been the victims of unscrupulous home care providers. Some elderly retirees have been dumped on the street by unscrupulous “care takers” once their funds were exhausted.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in Costa Rica, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Costa Rica is provided for general reference only, and may not apply to a particular location or circumstance.
Roads are often in poor condition. Large potholes with the potential to cause significant damage to vehicles are common. Traffic signs, even on major highways, are inadequate and few roads have clearly marked lanes. Except for the principal highways, few roads have names, making it difficult to find addresses. Shoulders are narrow or consist of drainage ditches. Visibility at intersections is often limited by hedges or other obstacles. Bridges, even on heavily traveled roads, may be only a single lane requiring vehicles traveling in one direction to cede the right of way to oncoming vehicles. Pedestrians, cyclists, and farm animals are common sights along or on main roads, creating additional potential driving hazards. Buses and cars frequently stop in travel lanes, even on expressways. Traffic 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. Many motorcyclists drive without respect to rules of the road, often passing on the right, weaving in and out without warning, and creating lanes where none officially exist. As a result, the fatality rate for pedestrians and those riding bicycles and motorcycles is disproportionately high. All of the above, in addition to poor visibility due to heavy fog or rain, can make driving treacherous. Landslides are common in the rainy season. Main highways and principal roads in the major cities are paved, but some roads to beaches and other rural locations are not. Additionally, rural roads sometimes lack bridges and motorists are compelled to ford waterways; you should exercise extreme caution in driving across moving water, as a small trickle in the dry season may become a strong torrent after a heavy rain upstream. Even a few inches of moving water may be sufficient to float your vehicle, and the river bed may not be stable.
In order to drive in Costa Rica, drivers need to show a valid U.S. driver’s license or an international driving permit. Drunk driving is illegal in Costa Rica. Driving while using a cell phone is illegal. As mentioned above, visitors contemplating driving in Costa Rica should carefully consider the implications of not being allowed to depart the country for many months or longer in the event of a vehicular accident. Additionally, fines for routine traffic violations can be upwards of $500 U.S. citizens have occasionally reported to the Embassy that charges for unpaid traffic tickets have appeared on their credit card that was on file with the rental car company. The Embassy cannot intervene in such cases and can generally only refer citizens to the rental car company representatives and to a list of attorneys maintained on the Embassy website.
Many destinations are accessible only with high clearance, four-wheel drive vehicles. When staying outside of urban areas, travelers should call ahead to their hotels to ask about the current status of access roads. Travelers should also minimize driving at night, especially outside of urban areas.
Costa Rica has a 911 system for reporting emergencies. In the event of a traffic accident, vehicles must be left in place and should not be moved from where the accident occurred. Both the traffic police and an insurance investigator must make accident reports before the vehicles are moved.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Costa Rica’s Civil Aviation Authority as 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.Back to Top
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Costa Rica dated May 29, 2012, to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Threats to Safety and Security, Crime, Special Circumstances, and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.