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Costa Rica  Back to Description

Country Specific Info.

The United States State Department produces Consular Information Sheets with health, safety and other country information for every country in the world. They are one good source of information, though you should look at multiple sources of information and take your own personal situation into account when selecting a country to study in.

The latest Consular Information Sheet for Costa Rica is below. We do not take responsibility for this information or edit it in any way. You can access the State Department travel site directly at: https://travel.state.gov/travel/

March 28, 2018

Embassies and Consulates

U.S. Embassy San José

Calle 98, Via 104
Pavas
San José, Costa Rica

Telephone: +(506) 2519-2000

Emergency After-Hours Telephone: +(506) 2220-3127

Fax: +(506) 2220-2455
acssanjose@state.gov
 
Routine American Citizens Services appointments available online.

Destination Description

See our Fact Sheet on Costa Rica for information on U.S. – Costa Rica relations.

Entry, Exit and Visa Requirements


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.

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

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.

Safety and Security

For safety and security messages, see Embassy San Jose’s website.

Crime: Violent and petty crime have increased in recent years. Theft and pickpocketing are the most common crimes targeting U.S. citizen travelers.

Do not leave valuables in rental cars. Even a locked vehicle in an area with parking attendants may be broken into. We have seen an increase in this type of crime, particularly in tourist areas.

See the 2017 OSAC Annual Crime Report for an overview of crime in Costa Rica.

Domestic Violence: Contact the U.S. Embassy for assistance.

Students and Volunteers: Violent assaults, rapes, and deaths occur 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.

Victims of Crime: Contact local police at 911. Authorities will only investigate and proscute 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

The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy can assist victims of crime. Contact us at 2519-2000 or from the U.S. at 011-506-2519-2000, or by email to: acssanjose@state.gov.

We can:

Replace a lost or stolen passport.
Help you find medical care.
Put you in contact with the police.
Contact family or friends with your consent.
Help you understand the local criminal justice process.
Provide a list of local attorneys.
Provide information on victim’s compensation programs in the U.S.

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.

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 months. Ashfall due to volcanic eruptions can disrupt air traffic and cause or aggravate respiratory issues.
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.

For information concerning disasters, see:

U.S. Embassy Costa Rica website. The Embassy also sends out emergency information via e-mail, text, and/or Radio Dos (FM 99.5) or Radio Columbia (FM 98.7.)
U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency(FEMA)  provides general information about natural disaster preparedness
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides information regarding disease.
U.S. Geological Survey  provides updates on recent seismic and volcanic activity.

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

Costa Rican National Emergency Commission
Costa Rican Volcanic and Seismic Observatory

Civil Disturbances: Demonstrations are generally peaceful, but may occur with little notice. Foreigners are prohibited from participating and may be subject to detention or deportation. 

Beach Conditions: Many beaches have dangerous rip currents with neither lifeguards nor warning signs. Exercise extreme caution when swimming in the ocean.

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
Be accompanied by authorized guides in some cases. The Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) has contact information for licensed tour operators.

For further information:

Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive security messages and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
Call us in Washington at 888-407-4747 or 202-501-4444 from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. Federal holidays).
See the State Department's travel website for Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, and Travel Alerts.
Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
See traveling safely abroad for useful travel tips.

Local Laws & Special Circumstances

Criminal Penalties: You are subject to local laws. If you violate local laws, even unknowingly, you may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. If you break local laws in Costa Rica, your U.S. passport will not help you avoid arrest or prosecution.

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

Prostition/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.

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.

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. 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.

Faith-Based Travelers: See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report.

LGBTI Travelers: There are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of LGBTI events in Costa Rica. The LGBTI community is protected by anti-discrimination laws. 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 is 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: For periods of study under 90 days, no visa is required if you have a round-trip ticket. Most Costa Rican educational institutions assist individuals planning to study longer than three months to obtain a student visa. Verify requirements with the nearest Costa Rican embassy or consulate and with your airline.

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.

Please note 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 hurt 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: If you are a woman traveling abroad, please review our tips for Women Travelers.

Health

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.

The U.S. Embassy does not pay medical bills. Be aware that U.S. Medicare and Medicaid do not apply overseas.

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.

Many health care providers and hospitals expect cash payment upon delivery of health service.

Costa Rican immigration authorities reserve the right to prevent departure of those international travelers with unpaid or disputed medical bills. U.S. Embassy San Jose maintains a list of local doctors and medical facilities.

The following diseases are found in Costa Rica:

Zika virus
Dengue
Chikungunya
Malaria

Vaccinations: Proof of yellow fever vaccination must be presented upon arrival for all passengers coming from certain countries in South America or Africa. Be up-to-date on all vaccinations recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Medical Tourism: Confirm that:

Facilities and professionals are accredited, with 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:

World Health Organization
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Travel and Transportation

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

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.

Landslides are common and 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. Exercise extreme caution in driving across moving water, as the riverbed may not be stable and even a few inches of water may be sufficient to float your vehicle.

 

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.

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 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.

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