Costa Rica Travel Advice
Security travel advice for Costa Rica
Threat level: Medium - High
The main security threat posed to travellers when visiting Costa Rica is the increasing levels of crime in the country. Pickpocketing and theft are common occurrences, travellers frequently being targeted due to their perceived wealth. To ensure a safe and trouble free visit, tourists should remain alert and vigilant at all times and carry as few valuables on display as possible.
Recent Security Risk Events
In August 2018, two women tourists were killed in two separate incidents on different beaches while on their vacation in Costa Rica, a Spanish woman in Tortuguero and a Mexican woman in Santa Teresa.
In March 2018, 11 foreign tourists of different nationalities were assaulted by three armed men as they were participating in rafting along the Pacuare River. The tourists were robbed of their belongings.
In January 2018, armed men stopped a bus transporting UK and German tourists in Tortuguero and robbed the passengers of valuable items they were carrying.
In 2016, a Dutch couple who had been living in Costa Rica for 10 years were violently robbed at the bed and breakfast they were running. The incident happened just days after another Dutch couple were found murdered in their workplace.
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Thefts can range from pickpocketing to gang muggings and armed robbery as well as vehicle robberies in which burglars will smash the windows and grab possessions from the car. Such crimes can be avoided if travellers do not leave any sign of valuables in their car. Tourists are also advised to avoid large gatherings or gang dominant areas to prevent themselves getting caught up in any trouble.
Drug related crime is also rife in Costa Rica. The country lies between the biggest drug producing country, Colombia and the biggest drug consuming country, United States of America so it is bound to get caught up in crime. The country’s drug trade has intensified in recent years and battles often break out between criminal groups trying to gain control.
Costa Rica has bilateral relations with 11 countries including the United States of America who is the country’s most important trading partner. As well as this, the country shares a mutual concern for the environment and attempting to preserve the tropical resources of Costa Rica.
Costa Rica enjoys solid economic ties with its Central American neighbours and has also been part of the United Nations since its creation in 1945.
The roads in Costa Rica are generally in a poor condition, with potholes often causing significant damage to vehicles and accidents in the road. The country has one of the highest road accident rates in the world therefore it is extremely important that you remain alert and vigilant on the roads. Other drivers have little concern for fellow road users. A significant lack of road signs and road names make destination difficult to find, you should ensure you are prepared for the journey before you depart. The roads will almost always have lots of hazards and obstacles on them such as pedestrians, farm animals and cyclists.
Road regulations are rarely followed and vehicles choose to overtake whenever they can regardless of the danger of the road. Motorcyclists will weave in and out of traffic which often leads to dangerous and even fatal crashes. It is not recommended that you travel on the roads during the rainy season as landslides can make road conditions even worse.
You can drive in Costa Rica from the age of 18 using your own country’s licence for up to 3 months. The age limit to rent a car is 21. You should be aware that should you be involved in a vehicular accident, you may not be allowed to depart the country for many months.
If you are taking a taxi, ensure it is an official, radio-dispatched taxi and the driver’s ID is visible on the dashboard. The driver should use the meter throughout the journey. Public transport is often unreliable but deemed to be quite safe. Be aware of thieves operating on buses in Costa Rica and ensure you have your valuables close to you at all times.
Religion: Christianity (Roman Catholicism)
Currency: Costa Rican Colón (CRC)
Time now in San José:
Most nationals including British, American and Canadian nationals do not require a visa to enter Costa Rica for up to three months. You will be required to show your passport and evidence of onward travel from the country. You can be refused entry if you are unable to provide these details. If you are leaving Costa Rica by air there is a departure fee of $29 USD. Airlines sometimes include this in the price of the flight but you should still be prepared to pay for this.
It is advised that visitors to Costa Rica are up-to-date with primary boosters such as MMR. You should ensure that you have been further vaccinated against diseases such as Tetanus which is usually administered when you are a young baby. You may also want to consider a Hepatitis A vaccination. Your doctor should be able to give you more information.
Although there is no direct risk of Yellow Fever in Costa Rica, if you are coming from a country where there is a risk of the disease, or transiting for longer than 12 hours in an at risk country, you will be required to provide a vaccination certificate. Check with your local health professional prior to travel if you are unsure.
Other health risks
Medical care in the capital city, San Jose, is a reasonable standard but outside of the city health services are scarce. Basic medical equipment may not be available and you should take this into consideration if you are planning to leave San Jose. Ambulances do not always have any treatment equipment in them and will only be able to take you to a medical facility. Cash is often required before treatment will begin. You should ensure that you have adequate travel insurance to cover any issues you may face when visiting the country.
Cases of the Zika virus, Chikungunya virus and Dengue Fever – which are all transmitted through infected mosquitoes have been reported in Costa Rica. You should be extra cautious in avoiding mosquito bites by using insect repellent spray and keeping your skin covered up as much as possible.
Extreme weather and natural disasters
Costa Rica’s location on an active seismic zone means that tremors and earthquakes frequent the country. 2012 was the last major incident which saw an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale occur close to the Pacific coastal area of Nicoya Peninsular. It is thought that 2 people died and many buildings were damaged.
The country is also home to 16 volcanoes many of which are still active. Turrialba volcano erupted in 2014 and remains active, with volcanic ash frequently falling onto the city and surrounding areas leading to disrupted air travel. You should keep this in mind when planning your trip to the country.
Travellers are advised to be aware of the procedures to follow in case there is an earthquake or volcanic eruption in Costa Rica. The local news and weather should keep you up to date whilst you are in the country.
U.S. Embassy San José
Calle 98, Via 104,
Telephone: +506 251 920 00
Emergency telephone: +506 222 031 27
British Embassy San José
Edificio Centro Colón,
Telephone: +506 2258 2025
Other useful info
All emergency services: 911