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See our Fact Sheet on Costa Rica for information on U.S. – Costa Rica relations.
Requirements for Entry:
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.
For safety and security messages, see Embassy San Jose’s website.
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 2018 OSAC Annual Crime Report for an overview of crime in Costa Rica.
Victims of Crime: Contact local police at 911. 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:
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: email@example.com.
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. Most 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 depths. 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: Contact the U.S. 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.
Potential for Natural Disasters: Costa Rica is in an active earthquake and volcanic zone.
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:
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/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.
Criminal Penalties: You are subject to local laws. If you violate local laws, even unknowingly, you may be expelled, arrested, detained, or imprisoned. If you break local laws in Costa Rica, your U.S. passport will not help you avoid arrest or prosecution.
In the event you are stopped by police, comply with all instructions. 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 via calling “911.”
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.
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 utilize 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.
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.
Women Travelers: If you are a woman traveling abroad, please review our tips for Women Travelers.
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:
Malaria is rarely found in Costa Rica. However, there have been limited confirmed cases in the past in Osa Peninsula (Puntarenas), Matina Canton (Limón), Sarapiquí Canton (Heredia), and San Carlos Canton (Alajuela). Travelers planning to visit these areas should take precautions to prevent mosquito bites and malaria transmission. Talk with a doctor or nurse about medicine to prevent malaria before leaving the United States. Learn more about malaria, how to prevent it, and what to do if you think you are infected, at CDC’s malaria page for travelers.
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:
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:
Road Conditions and Safety: Take extra care when driving. 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.
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.
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 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.