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Costa Rica - Frequently Asked Questions

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What documents do I need to Enter and Exit the Country? 


  • Required Travel Documents: 
    • Passport – is required to enter and exit the country. You are required to carry your Passport with you at all times.   If you are stopped by officials, a photocopy with your picture, passport number and entry stamp will usually be acceptable.  Be sure to keep your Passport in a secure place at all times.
    • Travel Itinerary – a copy of your flight itinerary showing your scheduled flights.
    • No Visa is currently required for U.S. citizens.  
    • Non U.S. citizens should check with the nearest Costa Rican embassy or consulate for the latest in required travel documents.  
  • Other Travel Documents:

             A valid Driver’s License must be carried at all times when driving.


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What are some of the things that I should NOT forget to bring?


Here is a list of items that cover many needs, and that you might want to bring along with you:


  • Casual clothes are worn almost everywhere (excepting a few upscale restaurants) and should include: 
    • Shorts
    • Long pants
    • Swim suit and beach towel
    • Light jacket or sweater (for higher elevations)
    • Good walking/hiking shoes
    • Sandals
    • Wide-brimmed hat
    • Sunglasses
    • Light rain jacket or umbrella 
  • Sightseeing Equipment: 
    • Area Maps
    • Camera
    • Binoculars
    • Extra batteries for Camera and Electronics
    • Small First Aid Kit  
  • Everyday items:  Many, if not all, everyday items can be found at Pharmacies or Hotel gift shops – pack more if you are taking a prolonged “nature” expedition in rural areas. 
    • Insect Repellant (especially in a Rain Forest and at dusk)
    • Sun Block
    • Prescription Medications (some can be purchased “over-the-counter” at local pharmacies)
    • Antihistamines, Decongestants 

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Will I need to bring an electricity converter?


Electrical power in Costa Rica is the same as the U.S. (110 to 120 volts  AC). 


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Will I be able to use my cell phone in Costa Rica?  

Yes, but it depends on your cell phone as well as your service plan. Some cell phones will not work outside of the country where they were purchased. But if your cell phone is capable of handling international calls, you also have to be sure that Central America is within your service area. Most plans offer reasonable rates. Or, you have the option of purchasing a cell phone to use just while in Costa Rica. In some areas, you can find an Internet Café that offers telephone service by the minute. A final alternative is to purchase a local telephone calling card for use with land lines to make international or local calls.    

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How do I get there?


There are 2 International airports in Costa Rica:


  • San José's Juan Santamaria International airport – is the most popular and can reached by calling:  443-2622 or 441-0744
  • Liberia’s Daniel Oduber Quiros International – is 217 km (135 mi) northwest of San José and can by reached by calling: 688-1117 or 666-0695

Some U.S. and Canadian airports offer non-stop service.  However, there are also many good connections available. 


There is a departure tax of US $29 on international flights.  Currently, only cash or Visa Credit Cards are accepted for payment.


Web Sites for International Airlines & Local Telephone numbers 

                             (Country Code 011, Area Code 506)


FRONTIER 0800-432-1359



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Once in Costa Rica, how do I get around?


You have several choices, depending on your needs:


  • Domestic airlines:  There is a network of in-country airports that are served primarily by these two airlines:

                              SANSA Airlines:  2441-8035



  • Charter airplanes and helicopters are available

                                     Aerobell:  2290-0000 

  • Domestic bus service – There is an extensive route system for buses with frequent itineraries linking San Jose with many popular towns, cities, seaports and tourist areas.  Taxis and rental cars are necessary for more rural areas.   
  • Taxi’s – make certain it is a licensed taxi which are red with medallions (yellow triangles containing numbers) painted on the side.  Licensed taxis at the airport are painted orange.
  • Rental cars — most major carriers are represented plus a number of local companies with competitive rates.  4-wheel drive vehicles are recommended if you are traveling to the more rural areas.  The driving age is 18 and over but foreigners must be 21 years old and should always carry a valid driver’s license and passport.

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Is the water safe to drink?


Unless otherwise specified, the water is generally safe to drink in all areas of the country.  Still, some people prefer to drink bottled water, especially while touring.

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What Time Zone will I be in?


You will be 6 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), which is equivalent to Central Time in North America.  There is no Daylight Savings Time (so Mountain Time during this period).

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How much Spanish do I need to know?


Costa Rica’s official language is Spanish, so knowledge of basic terms and phrases is always helpful.  However, most Costa Ricans can understand and speak a little English.  In Hotels, Restaurants and Tourist areas, there is always someone on staff that is fluent in English. 

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What vaccinations should I have prior to visiting Costa Rica?


Some vaccines are recommended or required for Costa Rica. The CDC and WHO recommend the following vaccines for Costa Rica: typhoid, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, rabies, measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) and influenza .


Click below for Health Information for Travelers to Costa Rica (including vaccinations) & medicines) 




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What about Health Insurance?


First, as with travel to any country, you should check to see if your current Health Insurance covers medical emergencies outside of the U.S.  If not, you may want to purchase the appropriate coverage from your provider or another source.  In Costa Rica, there are private insurance companies which offer full medical insurance, similar to Blue Cross/Blue Shield.  You can also purchase emergency Medi-Vac coverage.


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What about Health Care in general?


Costa Rica has a top-notch medical system with a large number of U.S. trained and/or English speaking doctors.  Top quality hospitals are found throughout San Jose and some of the other areas with large populations.  Clinics are available in the smaller populated areas.  Just click here to get more information.


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Does calling 911 work for emergencies?


Yes, Costa Rica has a 911 system for reporting emergencies.  In addition, Fire Departments and Rescue Units can be contacted by dialing 118.  Other handy 3-digit numbers to remember are:


    • Police Department:  117
    • Rural Police Department:  127
    • Red Cross:  128

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Is there much crime? How safe will I be?

Crime is a significant concern in Costa Rica, and it has steadily increased over the past few years. While the vast majority of visitors do not become victims of crime, all are potential targets for criminals. Petty theft crimes remain the main problem, although armed robberies have been known to occur even in broad daylight. The majority of crime and safety threats to U.S. official and private communities are acts of theft. Thefts are very common in highly populated and tourist areas. Types of theft that commonly occur are vehicle burglaries, smash-and-grabs, home robberies, pickpocketing, mugging, and purse/wallet snatching. Serious crimes against visitors (armed robberies, sexual assaults, murders), although less frequent, do occur.

At the end of the first semester of 2023, Costa Rica registered 125 homicides more than in the same period of the previous year. Data from the Judicial Investigation Organism (OIJ) indicate that in the first semester of 2023, 430 murders were registered, while in the first six months of 2022 there were 305 cases.

Be sure to exercise caution, as you would anywhere in the world – just because the crime rate seems low does not mean it is non-existent.  For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the U. S. Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.



In a late August 2011 interview with Sharon Campbell, the British Ambassador to Costa Rica and her husband Chris Campbell, the British Ambassador to Nicaragua who is based in Costa Rica, he said:

"Current travel advice puts the facts out there, it doesn't warn against travel to Costa Rica," Chris said.

"Costa Rica is still a safe destination. There are a very small percentage of tourists that get into trouble. It can happen in any country in the world. Certainly in terms of security, there is no major threat to any tourist visiting Costa Rica." Chris Campbell, British Ambassador to Nicaragua. 


The bad news is that the 576Km2 province of Limón with only 47,558 inhabitants remains the region with the highest homicide rate of 35 per 100,000 inhabitants but the good news according to the OIJ is that overall 70% of the 2010 homicides are resolved.  



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What about Credit Cards and currency?
Most credit cards are widely accepted. Additionally, U.S. currency is accepted throughout the country, so there may be no need for currency exchange. Many ATM’s dispense both U.S. dollars and Costa Rica colones. Traveler’s Checks are accepted, but are sometimes a hassle to redeem.
What guidelines can you give me for tipping?
Dining: Most restaurants add a 10% tip automatically to your check. Some people want to add something extra if the service or food was exceptional. 
Taxis: Tips are generally included in the cost of your fare.
Maids, Bellhops, Shuttle Drivers: US currency is accepted, and usually $1 or $2 is appropriate.
Tour Guides: Depending upon the extent of the tour, usually $5 is enough.



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The beaches all look beautiful, can I go swimming anywhere?
Not everywhere -- in some areas of the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, the ocean and its currents can be deceiving. Always be respectful of strong waves, riptides and the ocean in general. You must exercise caution as you would on any beach. Best to check with your hotel or local contact for specific conditions. 
I’ve heard that Costa Rica is a beautiful country, but that there is also some poverty. What can I expect to see?
Yes, there is poverty in Costa Rica, as there is in any country. Many of the poorer areas are on the outskirts of San Jose. Prior to the global economic crisis, Costa Rica enjoyed stable economic growth.  While the traditional agricultural exports of bananas, coffee, sugar, and beef are still the backbone of commodity export trade, a variety of industrial and specialized agricultural products have broadened export trade in recent years. High value-added goods and services, including microchips, have further bolstered exports. Tourism continues to bring in foreign exchange, as Costa Rica's impressive biodiversity makes it a key destination for ecotourism. Foreign investors remain attracted by the country's political stability and relatively high education levels, as well as the incentives offered in the free-trade zones; and Costa Rica has attracted one of the highest levels of foreign direct investment per capita in Latin America. However, many business impediments remain, such as high levels of bureaucracy, legal uncertainty due to overlapping and at times conflicting responsibilities between agencies, difficulty of enforcing contracts, and weak investor protection. Poverty has remained around 20-25% for nearly 20 years.
The current percentage of those in poverty is about 20%. In June 2020, 419,783 homes were in poverty. In October 2021, about 23% of Costa Ricans were in poverty. The two regions in Costa Rica with the highest rates of poverty are the Brunca region and the Huetar Caribe region.May 15, 2023. 



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Costa Rica Fast Facts

Costa Rica has become one of the most popular travel destinations for international travelers. It is often called "the Switzerland of Central America."

Political Stability – Costa Ricans are very proud of their democracy, one of the oldest in Latin America – over 100 years, and peaceful history. Through its constitution, the country abolished its army in 1948 and invested the resources previously committed to military defense in education and health initiatives. Over 80 percent of the citizens participate in the political process.

The People – Costa Ricans, or “Ticos,” are happy, friendly and gracious people. Their common greeting is “Pura Vida!” There is a prosperous and growing middle class. The 93 percent literacy rate is the highest in Latin America. Education is free and compulsory for all children and youth. The Costa Rican health care system, modeled after the Canadian system, includes both public and private care providers. The life expectancy for Costa Ricans is the same as for Americans.

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                                                       Costa Rica comprises only 0.01 percent of the earth’s landmass (less than 20,000 square miles), yet it is home to five percent of the planet’s animal and plant species. There are more species of plants and animals per acre in Costa Rica than anywhere in the world. Biodiversity is evident everywhere: 10,000 species of plants, 850 species of birds, 800 species of butterflies, 500 species of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. You don’t have to travel far within the country to experience a different and unique ecosystem: mountains over 12,000 feet; active volcanoes; cloud and rain forests; waterfalls and tropical jungles; banana, sugar, pineapple, coffee, and papaya plantations; mangrove forest and coastal swamps; and beaches and marine environments that support a variety of water fowl, fish and crustaceans. Approximately 30 percent of Costa Rica is protected as national parks, biological and archeological reserves, and wildlife refuges.

Costa Rican Holidays  


January 1 - New Year’s Day
March 19 - Saint Joseph’s Day, patron saint of San Jose and San José province.
Easter - Holy Week (Semana Santa). Dates vary annually.
April 11 - Juan Santamaría’s Day, a public holiday to commemorate the national hero
who fought at the battle of Rivas against the American invader William
Walker in 1856.
May 1 - Labor Day (Día de los Trabajadores)
June - Corpus Christi
June - Father’s Day (celebrated on the third Sunday)
June 29 - St. Peter and St. Paul’s Day
July 25 - Guanacaste Day, marks the annexation of Guanacaste from Nicaragua in 1824.
August 2 - Virgin of Los Angeles Day, patron saint of Costa Rica
August 15 - Mother’s Day
September 15 - Independence Day (1821)
October 12 - Columbus Day (Discovery of America)
October 12 - Día de la Raza Carnival, held the week prior to October 12 (Limón).
October 31 - Halloween
November 2 - All Soul’s Day
December 8 - Immaculate Conception
December 25 - Christmas Day
December 31 - Bank and Financial Sector Holiday  

Click Here for More Costa Rican Holidays and Festivals 



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