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Travel Security Advice for Costa Rica

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COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:

Costa Rica is a middle-income, developing country with a strong democratic tradition.  Tourist facilities are extensive and generally adequate.  The capital is San Jose.  English is a second language for many Costa Ricans.  Read the Department of State Background Notes on Costa Rica for additional information.

REGISTRATION/EMBASSY LOCATION:

Americans living or traveling in Costa Rica are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Costa Rica.  Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.  By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.  The U.S. Embassy is located in Pavas, San Jose, and may be reached at (506) 2519-2000; the extension for the Consular Section is 2188.  The Embassy is open Monday through Friday, and is closed on Costa Rican and U.S. holidays.  Those seeking information are strongly encouraged to utilize the Embassy web site, and can email with any questions or concerns.  For emergencies arising outside normal business hours, U.S. citizens may call (506) 2220-3127 and ask for the duty officer.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:

For entry into Costa Rica, a U.S. citizen must present valid passport that will not expire for at least thirty days after arrival, and a roundtrip/outbound ticket.  Airlines should not permit passengers to board flights to Costa Rica without a roundtrip ticket unless they have Costa Rican residency or visa.  Passports should be in good condition; Costa Rican immigration may deny entry if the passport is damaged in any way.  Costa Rican authorities generally permit U.S. citizens to stay up to ninety days; to stay longer, travelers must submit an application for an extension to the Office of Temporary Permits in the Costa Rican Department of Immigration.  Tourist visas are usually not extended except under special circumstances, and extension requests are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.  There is a departure tax for short-term visitors.  Tourists who stay more than ninety days without receiving an extension may experience a delay at the airport when departing or may be denied entry to Costa Rica on future visits.

Persons traveling to Costa Rica from some countries in South America and Sub-Saharan Africa must provide evidence of a valid yellow fever vaccination prior to entry.  The South American countries include Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela.

See “SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES” for information on requirements to carry documentation within Costa Rica and on travel by dual national minors.   

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, DC 20008, telephone (202) 234-2945/46 , fax (202) 265-4795.  You may
visit the Embassy of Costa Rica web site or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it You may also obtain information from the Costa Rican consulates in Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Juan (Puerto Rico), San Francisco, and Tampa.  Please also see the Costa Rican immigration agency web site 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.

Visit the Embassy of Costa Rica web site for the most current visa information .

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.  For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:

There have been no recent acts of terrorism in Costa Rica.  Visitors to Costa Rica may experience the effects of civil disturbances such as work stoppages and strikes.  Although infrequent, these acts can create inconveniences for visitors.  On both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts currents are swift and dangerous, and there are few lifeguards or signs warning of dangerous beaches.   Every year eight to twelve American citizens drown in Costa Rica due to riptides or sudden drop-offs while in shallow water.  Extreme caution is advised. 

Adventure tourism is popular in Costa Rica, and many companies offer white-water rafting, bungee jumping, jungle canopy tours, deep sea diving, and other outdoor attractions.  Americans are urged to use caution in selecting adventure tourism companies.  The government of Costa Rica regulates and monitors the safety of these companies; enforcement of safety laws is overseen by the Ministry of Health.  Registered tourism companies with operating permits must meet safety standards and have insurance coverage.  Be advised that safety regulations enforced in Costa Rica are not as stringent as safety regulations in the United States.
The Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) web site has contact information for licensed tour operators and travel agencies.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada or, for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.  These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.  For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s
A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME:

Crime has become an increasing concern for Costa Ricans and visitors alike.  Daytime robberies in public places occur, and thieves have been known to brandish weapons or threaten violence if victims resist.  Over one and a half million foreign tourists, the majority American, visit Costa Rica annually.  All are potential targets for criminals, primarily thieves looking for cash, jewelry, credit cards, electronic items and passports.  U.S. citizens are encouraged to exercise the same level of caution they would in major cities or tourist areas throughout the world.  Local law enforcement agencies have limited capabilities and do not act according to U.S. standards.  Travelers should minimize driving at night, especially outside urban areas.

For security reasons, the Embassy does not place its official visitors in hotels in the San Jose city center, but instead puts them at the larger hotels in the outlying suburbs.  Americans should walk or exercise with a companion, bearing in mind that crowded tourist attractions and resort areas popular with foreign tourists are common venues for criminal activities.  Travelers should ignore any verbal harassment, and avoid carrying passports, large amounts of cash, jewelry or expensive photographic equipment.  Tourists are encouraged to carry photocopies of the passport data page and Costa Rican entry stamp on their persons, and leave the original passport in a hotel safe or other secure place.  Costa Rican immigration authorities conduct routine immigration checks at locations, such as bars in downtown San Jose and beach communities, frequented by illegal immigrants.  American citizens detained during one of these checks who have only a copy of the passport may be required to provide the original passport with appropriate stamps. 

Travelers should purchase an adequate level of locally valid theft insurance when renting vehicles, park in secure lots whenever possible, and never leave valuables in their vehicles.  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 occur in cities, at beaches, at the airport and bus station parking lots, in front of restaurants and at national parks and other tourist attractions.

Travelers should use licensed taxis, which are 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 required to use seatbelts.  When traveling by bus, avoid putting bags or other personal belongings in the storage bins.  At all times have your belongings in your line of sight or in your possession. 

Thieves may work in pairs or small groups.  The most 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 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.

In late 2006, the government of Costa Rica established a Tourist Police force, and units were established in popular tourist areas throughout the country.  The Tourist Police can assist with the reporting of a crime, which can be difficult for victims due to language barriers and the local regulation that only the investigative police (“OIJ”) can take crime reports.

In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. More information on this serious problem is available from the U.S. Department of Justice.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.  If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.  The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.  Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

Please see our information on
Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes 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.  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 children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.  Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:

Land Ownership and Shoreline Property: U.S. citizens are urged to use extreme caution when making real estate purchases, and consult reputable legal counsel and investigate thoroughly all aspects before entering into a contract.  Coastal land within fifty meters of the high tide line is open to the public and therefore closed to development, and construction on the next one hundred fifty meters inland is possible only with the approval of the local municipality.

Squatters: Organized squatter groups have invaded properties in various parts of the country.  These squatter groups, often supported by politically active persons and non-governmental organizations, take advantage of legal provisions that allow people without land to gain title to unused agricultural property.  Local courts may show considerable sympathy for the squatters.  Victims of squatters have reported threats, harassment, and violence.

Documentation Requirements: Visitors are required to carry appropriate documentation at all times.  However, due to the high incidence of passport theft, tourists are permitted and encouraged 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 CRIME, Costa Rican immigration authorities conduct routine checks for illegal immigrants, especially in bars located in downtown San Jose and in beach communities.  An American citizen detained during one of these checks and carrying only the copy of the passport will be required to produce the original passport.  Tourists should carry their passports when taking domestic air flights, or when traveling overnight or a considerable distance from their hotel.  Tourists who carry passports are urged to place them securely in an inside pocket.

Exit Procedures for Costa Rican citizens and legal residents:

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 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.

Disaster Preparedness:

Costa Rica is located in an earthquake and volcanic zone.  Serious flooding occurs annually in the Caribbean Province of Limon, but flooding occurs in other parts of Costa Rica as well, 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).

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:

Medical care in San Jose is 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. An ambulance may be summoned by calling 911.  Most ambulances provide transportation but little or no medical assistance.

For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad , consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) web siteFurther health information for travelers is available from the WHO.

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

MEDICAL INSURANCE:

The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.  Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens 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 be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Traffic laws and speed limits are often ignored, turns across one or two lanes of traffic are common, turn signals are rarely used, passing on dangerous stretches of highway is common, and pedestrians are not given the right of way.  As a result, the fatality rate for pedestrians and those riding bicycles and motorcycles is disproportionately high.  Roads are often in poor condition, and large potholes with the potential to cause significant damage to vehicles are common.  Pedestrians, cyclists, and farm animals are often seen along main roads, creating additional potential driving hazards.  Traffic signs, even on major highways, are inadequate and few roads are lined.  Shoulders are narrow or consist of drainage ditches.  All of the above, in addition to poor visibility due to heavy fog or rain, makes driving at night especially 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. Accordingly, many destinations are accessible only with high clearance, rugged suspension four-wheel drive vehicles.  Travelers are advised to call ahead to their hotels to ask about the current status of access roads.

Costa Rica has a 911 system for reporting emergencies.  In the event of a traffic accident, vehicles must/must be left where they are.  Both the Traffic Police and the Insurance Investigator must make accident reports before the vehicles are moved.

Please refer to our
road safety page for more information or visit the web site of the Costa Rican Ministry for Public Transport.

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.  For more information, travelers may visit the FAA web site.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:

For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction .

This replaces the Country Specific Information for Costa Rica dated March 18, 2009, to update sections on Entry/ Exit Requirements, Crime, Special Circumstances, and Registration/Embassy Location.

 


 

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office has information regarding travel to Costa Rica HERE.....

Looking for an Embassy ?, You can also check out our World Wide Embassy Listings Section HERE (For US Citizens) or HERE (For UK Citizens)......

Regards

The SW Team......

 

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