Travel Advice and Advisories for Costa Rica
COVID-19 – Global travel advisory
Effective date: March 13, 2020
Avoid non-essential travel outside Canada until further notice.
This advisory overrides other risk levels on this page, with the exception of any risk levels for countries or regions where we advise to avoid all travel.
Safety and security
Safety and security
COVID-19 – Preventative measures and restrictions
Preventative measures and restrictions are in place, including strict vehicular traffic restrictions.
- Follow the instructions of local authorities related to physical distancing and other restrictions
- Avoid crowded areas
- You must wear a face covering in public
All about COVID-19 – Costa Rica Health Department (in Spanish)
Land borders are closed to tourists until further notice.
The rate of drug-related violent crimes, including homicides, is on the rise in Costa Rica. Drug trafficking is common. Local drug use, including crack, is a major concern.
Violent crime against foreigners, though not frequent, is a concern. Incidents of armed robberies, carjackings and home invasions have occurred in beach areas and on the main highways in the Central Valley region, even in daylight. Violent assaults against Canadians have occurred in Puerto Limón and Puerto Viejo.
- Do not walk alone after dusk or at dawn
- Avoid remote or isolated areas, including roads and trails
- If you are threatened by armed criminals, do as they ask without hesitation, as resisting may result in the escalation of violence
Cases of express kidnapping, where victims are picked up from the street and forced to withdraw funds from ABMs, have occurred, sometimes at gunpoint.
Petty crime—including pickpocketing and bag snatching—occurs frequently. Tourists are common targets for theft because they are perceived as being wealthy.
Cases of passport theft are extremely common and increase in frequency during the peak tourist seasons, from November to May and from July to August.
- Stay alert and be aware of your surroundings
- Avoid isolated areas and never walk alone at night
- Avoid showing signs of affluence and never leave valuables such as money, credit cards, jewellery, cell phones and other electronics unattended, especially on beaches
- Don’t carry large amounts of cash and use caution at automated banking machines (ABMs)
Ensure that your personal belongings, including your passport and other travel documents, are secure at all times
Carry a photocopy of the identification page of your passport, including the Costa Rican entry stamp, with you at all times.
Foreigners are often victims of theft on buses and at bus stations, airports, ports, crowded tourist attractions, restaurants and resort areas. Thieves often work in teams, in which one thief diverts the victims’ attention while the other snatches their possessions.
- When travelling by public bus, avoid placing personal belongings in the overhead compartment or under your seat.
- Keep your bag with valuables and identification in your lap.
- Stay at hotels and rental houses that have security measures such as guards and security cameras.
- Always lock your doors, even while in the room or if you leave for a few minutes.
- Don’t leave valuables in plain sight
Exercise particular caution in the capital, San José. High-risk areas for theft include:
- the Coca Cola bus terminal (near the Zona Roja or red light district)
- the inner downtown area and public parks
On the Caribbean coast, be particularly vigilant in Limón province towns of:
- Puerto Limón (its port areas)
- Puerto Viejo.
In Puntarenas province, the following areas are of particular concern for theft:
- Manuel Antonion
- Cobano area, including Mal País, Montezuma and Santa Teresa, and the port of Puntarenas.
Cars parked near the popular crocodile viewing area along the Tárcoles River near Jacó are particularly vulnerable to theft when a designated police patrol car is not on site.
Theft from vehicles
Theft from vehicles is very common, especially at hotels, supermarkets, restaurants, store lots, national parks and beaches.
The theft of rental cars is also common throughout the country. Thieves know the makes and models of rental cars, making them easy targets.
- Don’t leave your passport or your valuables in the car, even if you leave the car for only a few minutes
- Park your vehicle in supervised parqueos públicos (public parking lots)
- Keep your windows up and doors locked at all times
- Beware of “good Samaritans” offering to help change a flat tire. Calmly refuse their help and contact Costa Rican authorities and, if you rented the car, the rental agency.
- Don’t stop to change a flat tire in an isolated area, and keep the doors of the vehicle locked while changing a tire
- Ensure an emergency assistance is offered by the rental agency when renting a car
Credit card fraud is a growing problem.
Incidents of sexual assault against foreigners at beach resorts and by taxi drivers in San José have been reported. The risk increases for women travelling alone and they may be subject to some forms of harassment and verbal abuse.
Spiked food and drinks
Never leave food or drinks unattended or in the care of strangers. Be wary of accepting snacks, beverages, gum or cigarettes from new acquaintances. These items may contain drugs that could put you at risk of sexual assault and robbery.
Some people died after consuming adulterated alcohol in Costa Rica during the summer of 2019. Bottles were quickly withdrawn from the market, however:
- be cautious if you choose to drink alcohol
- be wary of lesser known/illegal brands
- seek medical assistance if you begin to feel sick
Demonstrations have been taking place in several cities across the country since September 30, 2020.
Roadblocks are disrupting transportation nationwide.
Demonstrations are likely to continue in the coming days. They could happen without notice and suddenly turn violent.
If you’re in Costa Rica:
- avoid crossing road blockades, even if they appear unattended
- allow extra time to reach your destination
- avoid areas where demonstrations and large gatherings are taking place
- follow the instructions of local authorities
- monitor local media for information on ongoing demonstrations
Demonstrations take place from time to time, particularly in San José. Even peaceful demonstrations can turn violent at any time. They can also lead to disruptions to traffic and public transportation.
Costa Rica’s constitution prohibits political activity by foreigners; such actions may result in detention or deportation.
- Avoid areas where demonstrations and large gatherings are taking place
- Follow the instructions of local authorities
- Monitor local media for information on ongoing demonstrations
Costa Rica has one of the highest traffic accident rates in the world. In some areas, potholes, sharp curves, lack of traffic signs, landslides and narrow or unpaved roads create dangerous road conditions. Driving conditions may be hazardous during the rainy season.
Exercise great caution when driving or walking, as drivers don’t respect traffic laws. Be careful after dark, especially on rural roads, as motorists often drive without lights at night.
Remain vigilant when stopped at lights or stop signs, and always drive with the doors locked and windows closed. Keep your valuables out of plain sight when driving and avoid travel at night to reduce the risk of becoming a victim of crime.
If you are involved in a car accident:
- call 911 to notify authorities
- inform the car rental agency, if applicable
- don’t move the vehicle until advised to do so by the police
See Laws and culture for more information.
Public bus transportation is unreliable. Police checks of passengers on public transportation occur and are often used to determine whether foreigners have overstayed the 90-day visa exemption period.
Only use official radio-dispatched taxis (orange taxis at the airport and red taxis with a yellow triangle on the side elsewhere in the country).
- make sure the driver’s ID is clearly visible on the dashboard and that the driver uses the meter
- avoid taxis that do not have working door handles, locks and meters
- don’t ride in the front seat with the driver
If navigating the coasts, proceed with caution, as safety and rescue operations are limited due to a lack of resources.
We do not make assessments on the compliance of foreign domestic airlines with international safety standards.
Riptides are common. Several drownings occur each year.
Very few beaches are supervised with lifeguards or have signs warning of dangerous conditions.
- Never swim alone
- Seek the advice of local authorities before venturing into the water
The Costa Rican Tourism Bureau provides important advice on safety matters, such as swimming in the ocean and avoiding crocodiles.
White-water rafting, scuba diving, bungee jumping, canopy touring and other adventure sports should only be undertaken with a well-established company that has insurance. Safety features on small boats are not always reliable. If you have any doubt concerning the safety of the installation or equipment, refrain from using them.
- Ensure that the recreational activities you choose are covered by your travel insurance.
- Never walk or hike alone..
- Avoid camping or sleeping overnight on beaches.
- If you intend to visit jungle areas, always go with an experienced and reputable guide.
The Costa Rican government requires all visitors to national parks to register their entry with the National Park Service and to obtain a permit to enter the park. Life-threatening fauna such as jaguars, pumas, wild pigs and poisonous snakes are common in some parks, especially in the densely wooded areas
General security information
Few services outside major hotels are available in English (or French). Most taxi drivers, police officers, lawyers and hospital workers don’t speak English (or French).
COVID-19 – Entry and transit requirements
Costa Rica has implemented special entry requirements for its territory. We have obtained the information below from Costa Rican authorities. This information may change at any time. It is your responsibility to verify this information with the appropriate foreign diplomatic office and to ask if you will be allowed entry, based on your individual circumstances and itinerary.
The information provided is based on travel from Canada. Keep in mind that your transit points could affect your ability to enter the country.
Foreign diplomatic offices in Canada – Global Affairs Canada
Travellers arriving from Canada can be allowed entry if they meet the requirements below.
Special authorization form
You must fill out a health form online before your arrival.
You must present a proof of health insurance coverage for the duration of your stay.
Local authorities may impose additional requirements without notice and your travel plans could be severely disrupted. You should not depend on the Government of Canada for assistance related to changes to your travel plans.
Monitor the media for the latest information.
Every country or territory decides who can enter or exit through its borders. The Government of Canada cannot intervene on your behalf if you do not meet your destination’s entry or exit requirements.
We have obtained the information on this page from the Costa Rican authorities. It can, however, change at any time.
Verify this information with foreign diplomatic missions and consulates in Canada.
Entry requirements vary depending on the type of passport you use for travel.
Before you travel, check with your transportation company about passport requirements. Its rules on passport validity may be more stringent than the country’s entry rules.
Regular Canadian passport
Your passport must be valid to visit Costa Rica. In order to avoid unexpected delays, we recommend that your passport be valid for at least 1 month beyond the date of your expected departure from Costa Rica.
Passport for official travel
Different entry rules may apply.
Other travel documents
Different entry rules may apply when travelling with a temporary passport or an emergency travel document. Before you leave, check with the closest diplomatic mission for your destination.
Tourist visa: not required for stays up to 90 days
Business visa: required
Student visa: required
You may stay in Costa Rica for up to 90 days without a visa, but the length of your stay upon entering the country is determined by immigration officers. If you wish to apply for residency status, you must contact the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería (Costa Rica’s immigration department). Overstaying the 90-day period is punishable by possible deportation. Persons deported from Costa Rica will not be allowed to re-enter the country for five to ten years.
Students must obtain a visa from the Costa Rican immigration department. They must provide confirmation of enrollment in an accredited school.
Other entry requirements
You must be in possession of a return or onward ticket and proof of sufficient funds for your stay to enter Costa Rica.
There is a departure tax, payable by cash or credit card.
Minors with dual citizenship
In order to leave Costa Rica, the Canadian passport of a minor with dual citizenship must have Costa Rican departure approval, or the minor’s departure will be denied. Both parents must request this approval from Costa Rica’s immigration department or through the Embassy of Costa Rica in Canada prior to departure. There have been several cases of departure denials because proper documentation was lacking. Minors with dual citizenship who are travelling unaccompanied must have legally certified written consent from both parents.
See Laws and Culture for more information.
Children and travel
Learn about travel with children.
Learn about potential entry requirements related to yellow fever (vaccines section).
Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care professional or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Be sure that your routine vaccines, as per your province or territory, are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.
Some of these vaccines include: measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, varicella (chickenpox), influenza and others.
Vaccines to Consider
You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health professional about which ones are right for you.
Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread through contaminated food and water or contact with an infected person. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.
Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment, sharing needles, tattooing, acupuncture or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.
Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or by touching objects and surfaces that have been contaminated with the virus. Get the flu shot.
Measles is a highly contagious viral disease. It can spread quickly from person to person by direct contact and through droplets in the air.
Anyone who is not protected against measles is at risk of being infected with it when travelling internationally.
Regardless of where you are going, talk to a health care professional before travelling to make sure you are fully protected against measles.
Rabies is a deadly illness spread to humans through a bite, scratch or lick from an infected animal. Vaccination should be considered for travellers going to areas where rabies exists and who have a high risk of exposure (e.g., are children, have an occupational risk, or in close contact with animals, including free roaming dogs in communities).
Yellow Fever – Country Entry Requirements Yellow fever is a disease caused by a flavivirus from the bite of an infected mosquito.
Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.
- There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
- Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required if you are coming from a country where yellow fever occurs, excluding Argentina and Panama, or if you are coming from Tanzania or Zambia.
- Vaccination is not recommended.
- Discuss travel plans, activities, and destinations with a health care provider.
- There is currently a shortage of the yellow fever vaccine in Canada. It is important for travellers to contact a designated Yellow Fever Vaccination Centre well in advance of their trip to ensure that the vaccine is available.
About Yellow Fever
Yellow Fever Vaccination Centres in Canada
* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Food and Water-borne Diseases
Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers’ diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.
In some areas in Central America and Mexico, food and water can also carry diseases like cholera, hepatitis A and typhoid. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in Central America and Mexico. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!
- Travellers’ diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
- Risk of developing travellers’ diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor standards of hygiene and sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.
- The most important treatment for travellers’ diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.
Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among children, travellers going to rural areas, travellers visiting friends and relatives or those travelling for a long period of time.
Travellers visiting regions with a risk typhoid, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should speak to a health care professional about vaccination.
Insects and Illness
In some areas in Central America and Mexico, certain insects carry and spread diseases like American trypanosomiasis (Chagas disease), chikungunya, dengue fever, leishmaniasis, malaria, onchocerciasis (river blindness), West Nile virus, and Zika virus.
Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.
There is currently a risk of chikungunya in this country. Chikungunya is a virus spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. Chikungunya can cause a viral disease that typically causes fever and pain in the joints. In some cases, the joint pain can be severe and last for months or years.
Protect yourself from mosquito bites at all times. There is no vaccine available for chikungunya.
- In this country, dengue fever is a risk to travellers year-round. It is a viral disease spread to humans by mosquito bites.
- Dengue fever can cause severe flu-like symptoms. In some cases, it can lead to dengue haemorrhagic fever, which can be fatal.
- The level of risk of dengue fever changes seasonally, and varies from year to year. After a decline in reported dengue cases worldwide in 2017 and 2018, global numbers have been steeply rising again.
- Mosquitoes carrying dengue typically bite during the daytime, particularly around sunrise and sunset.
- Protect yourself from mosquito bites. There is no vaccine or medication that protects against dengue fever.
Zika virus is a risk in this country.
Zika virus is primarily spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. It can also be sexually transmitted. Zika virus can cause serious birth defects.
Pregnant women and women planning a pregnancy should visit a health care professional before travelling to discuss the potential risks of travelling to this country. Pregnant women may choose to avoid or postpone travel to this country.
- Prevent mosquito bites at all times.
- If you are pregnant, always use condoms correctly or avoid sexual contact with anyone who has travelled to this country for the duration of your pregnancy.
- Women: Wait 2 months after travel to this country or after onset of illness due to Zika virus (whichever is longer) before trying for a pregnancy. If your male partner travelled with you, wait 3 months after travel or after onset of illness due to Zika virus (whichever is longer).
- Men: Wait 3 months after travel to this country or after onset of illness due to Zika virus (whichever is longer) before trying for a pregnancy.
For more travel recommendations, see the travel health notice: Zika virus: Advice for travellers
- There is a risk of malaria in certain areas and/or during a certain time of year in this country.
- Malaria is a serious and occasionally fatal disease that is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. There is no vaccine against malaria.
- Protect yourself from mosquito bites. This includes covering up, using insect repellent and staying in enclosed air-conditioned accommodations. You may also consider pre-treating clothing and travel gear with insecticides and sleeping under an insecticide-treated bednet.
- Antimalarial medication may be recommended depending on your itinerary and the time of year you are travelling. See a health care professional or visit a travel health clinic, preferably six weeks before you travel to discuss your options.
Animals and Illness
Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Some infections found in Central America and Mexico, like rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.
Medical services and facilities
COVID-19 – Testing
Contact local health authorities, or the nearest Government of Canada office abroad to find out where you can get a COVID-19 test.
Good health care is only available in major cities. Quality of care varies greatly throughout the country.
Costa Rica has decompression chambers at some beach resorts, including in Liberia and Samara.
Red Cross ambulances may not have emergency equipment on board, especially in rural areas; however, private ambulances are better equipped. You may have to pay in advance for medical services.
Medical evacuation can be very expensive and you may need it in case of serious illness or injury.
Make sure you get travel insurance that includes coverage for medical evacuation and hospital stays.
All medication must be transported in its original container and have a clear label. Prescription and controlled medication must be accompanied by a prescription from the prescribing physician on letterhead stationery and include the medication’s generic name.
Do your research if you are contemplating undergoing a medical procedure in Costa Rica.
Keep in Mind…
The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.
Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.
Laws and culture
Laws & culture
You must abide by local laws.
Learn about what you should do and how we can help if you are arrested or detained abroad.
Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons
Canada and Costa Rica are signatories to the Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons, which enables a Canadian imprisoned in Costa Rica to request to be transferred to Canada to complete the sentence in a Canadian prison. The transfer requires the agreement of both Canadian and Costa Rican authorities.
If you violate Costa Rica’s laws, even unknowingly, you may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Soliciting the services of a minor for sexual purposes is illegal in Costa Rica and is punishable by imprisonment.
Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are severe. Convicted offenders can expect lengthy jail sentences or heavy fines.
Canadian driver’s licences are valid in Costa Rica. You should carry an international driving permit.
You must carry your original passport at all times when driving in the country; photocopies are not acceptable. Failure to provide proper documentation when stopped by a traffic officer could result in a fine.
Traffic fines are not supposed to be collected on site. They may be paid either at COSEVI (Costa Rican Road Safety Council) or at a bank. If a police officer asks you for money, you may make a complaint to the Costa Rican Tourism Bureau.
The Costa Rican government may prevent any driver involved in a vehicular accident from departing Costa Rica until all injury claims have been settled. This is true regardless of whether the driver is at fault or covered by insurance. Travellers may be prevented from leaving the country for months, or even years, until a local judicial resolution is reached.
Camera monitoring systems have been installed in various locations. Speeding fines are charged to individuals exceeding the speed limit.
Terms and conditions of car rentals in Costa Rica are unlike most contracts in North America.
Carefully review contracts and ensure that you have appropriate insurance coverage, including mandatory liability coverage. Many driving situations can nullify insurance.
You must carry photo identification. Keep a photocopy of your passport in a safe place, in case it’s lost or confiscated.
It is illegal to photograph official buildings. Verify with local authorities before taking photos.
Dual citizenship is legally recognized in Costal Rica.
If you are a Canadian citizen, but also a citizen of Costal Rica, our ability to offer you consular services may be limited while you’re there. You may also be subject to different entry/exit requirements.
Under Costa Rican law, minors (under the age of 18) born in Costa Rica and holding Canadian citizenship are considered to be citizens of Costa Rica, even if they are travelling on a Canadian passport.
If you plan on buying property, or making other investments in Costa Rica, seek legal advice in Canada and in Costa Rica. Do so before making commitments. Related disputes could take time and be costly to resolve.
The currency in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colón (CRC).
It is extremely difficult to exchange Canadian currency in Costa Rica. To avoid complications, carry U.S. dollars or colones.
Natural disasters and climate
Natural disasters & climate
Hurricanes usually occur from mid-May to the end of November. During this period, even small tropical storms can quickly develop into major hurricanes.
These severe storms can put you at risk and hamper the provision of essential services.
If you decide to travel to a coastal area during the hurricane season:
- know that you expose yourself to serious safety risks
- be prepared to change your travel plans on short notice, including cutting short or cancelling your trip
- stay informed of the latest regional weather forecasts
- carry emergency contact information for your airline or tour operator
- follow the advice and instructions of local authorities
The rainy (or monsoon) season extends from May to November, sometimes January.
Seasonal flooding and mudslides mudslides occur frequently in the lowlands and mountainous areas, including along the Caribbean and in the Central Valley. This can hamper overland travel and reduce the provision of essential services. Roads may become impassable and bridges damaged.
Costa Rica is located in an active seismic zone. Earthquakes and tremors occur regularly. Tsunamis are possible.
There are several active and potentially active volcanoes in the country, including:
- Rincón de la Vieja
Turrialba Volcano, located in Cartago province, remains very active. Volcanic ash falls regularly in San José and surrounding areas and may disrupt domestic and international flights.
The Poás volcano is also very active. The Poás Volcano National Park is closed and visitor access is restricted within a 3.5 km radius of the volcano.
Alert levels can be raised and evacuations ordered on short notice. If you are travelling close to active volcanoes:
- Pay careful attention to all warnings issued for national parks
- Monitor warnings closely
- Contact your airline or tour operator to confirm your travel arrangements
- Follow the advice of local authorities in the event of an explosion or eruption (in Spanish)
Dial 911 for emergency assistance.
San José – Embassy of Canada
For emergency consular assistance, call the Embassy of Canada to Costa Rica, in San José, and follow the instructions. At any time, you may also contact the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa.