Entry Requirements: Currently a passport that is valid for at least 30 days past your return date and proof of a return/exit ticket is required. Visas are not needed for stays up to 90 days.
Exit Requirements: An airport departure tax of $26 is required. You are able to pay this departure tax upon your arrival into Costa Rica by CASH or VISA only. They will provide you with a form and receipt that is good for your length of stay. By paying your departure tax upon arrival you could potentially save a lot of time and hassle waiting in long lines the day of your departure.
Single Parents traveling with a minor child: Costa Rica is very protective of minor children and parental rights. It is that you get a notarized letter from the parent not traveling with you, acknowledging awareness and giving you permission to travel in and out of Costa Rica with their child. Although this is not a “Requirement”, it has on occasion proven to facilitate entry and exit.
Time Differences: Costa Rica is the same as U.S. Central Standard and is not affected by day light savings.
Money Matters: The Official Local Currency is the Colon (Clones for plural). Coins range from 1-500 and bills run from 1000-10000. Paper bills of 100 and 500 are no longer accepted but are neat souvenirs if you happen to come across one. The exchange rate floats against the U.S. Dollar.
Most establishments take U.S. Dollars. However, ask for the exchange rate before paying. Everyone does not use the official exchange rate. For the most part, Costa Rican establishments do not take travelers checks and prefer cash to a credit card (Visa). In fact some places may even offer a discount for paying cash.
Traveler’s checks. The reason that most establishments do not accept traveler’s checks is because the local banks hold them, the same as international personal checks, for 45 days.Use a debit/ ATM card to withdraw U.S. dollars (from a private bank's ATM) to access cash but to avoid carrying large amount at one time. By withdrawing U.S. dollars you will avoid the loss when your bank calculates the exchange. Your bank may charge a foreign ATM fee, but experience tells us there is no fee from the local bank to use their ATM machine.
Tipping: Hotels, restaurants and bars automatically add on a tax 13% and a service charge of 10 %, amounting to almost 25%. Therefore tipping in these environments is not required. However, when receiving other services, it is appropriate to demonstrate your appreciation with a tip.
Getting around by rental car: Watch for signs and obey the speed limits, as speed traps are common. Unfortunately, as a tourist, police sometimes try and attempt to charge on-the-spot- fines for speeding and or other traffic violations. This is illegal. If it is a legitimate charge, the officer will give you a citation and should only be paid at police stations where you will get a receipt (factura).
In the case of an accident, DO NOT MOVE ANYTHING, INCLUDING THE VEHICLE! If possible call the rental car company. They can help you with calling the traffic police; otherwise the traffic police will eventually show up. In the mean time, do not move the vehicle even if passer- bys or the other driver is trying to get you to move it out of the flow of traffic. This would automatically put you at fault for the accident. The traffic officer will tell you when to move the vehicle.
Private transportation/Taxi: Official Taxis are red with a yellow triangle with the taxi number painted on the doors. In the cities they use a meter (maria) to determine the fare. However, in the less populated areas they do not use the meter so you should discus the fare before you depart. There aren’t enough official taxis to go around in the less populated areas. There are many unofficial “piratas” or Pirate taxis that drive their personal vehicle for public transport. These taxis are not licensed and insured to transport tourist!
Immigration: Sometimes there are roadblocks where immigration officials are looking for individuals that are in violation of the immigrant status. This is not a problem for most tourists, as long as you have your passport with you. (a copy of the photo page of your passport and the page with your entry stamp is now accepted, most hotels will photocopy your passport for you)
Emergency: 911 is the best number to call for emergency assistance. However, there are often private local emergency companies that provide quicker arrival times. Ask at your hotel for names and numbers of Private Emergency companies near where you will be staying.
Crime/Theft: People often ask if Costa Rica is a safe Country. My usual response is: Do you usually feel safe in the United States with your actions and the decisions you make? Costa Rica is only as safe as you make it. What I mean by this is that if you are engaging in activities that you know that you shouldn’t, than you are probably not safe. But this holds true for anywhere. In general, there aren’t life threatening crimes, but rather thefts, primarily from pickpockets. Costa Rica is much safer than neighboring Central American Countries, but that doesn’t mean you should let your guard down. Some words of advice for any international traveler:
Don’t leave your personal possesions unattended (this includes at the beach), don’t leave your purse hanging on the back of your chair, don’t keep your wallet/passport in you back pocket (especially on Public busses), don’t wear a lot of jewelry, don’t carry a lot of cash and keep copies of all important documents and always lock your car door.
I know that everyone enjoys a moonlit walk on the beach….but before you do ask at your hotel if it is recommended. In general, we do not recommend that you walk the beach after dark. As this is not customary for locals, it labels you as a “tourist” and leaves you in a more vulnerable situation.
Lost/ Stolen Property: In the event that you loose your passport, travel documents or credit cards, make a police report and notify your embassy and immigration immediately.
Electricity: The power supply is 110 volts, using the standard North America 2 prong outlet. However, electrical outlets are not always grounded. Be careful when plugging something in barefoot. (In the upper-end hotels and resorts this is not a problem) A surge protector is a nice thing to have with you to protect your electronic. Blackouts are common. (Especially laptops)
Bathrooms/Toilets: When looking for a public bathroom, ask for “servicios sanitarios or banos”. However, don’t be surprised. You may need to take your own toilet paper and often, used toilet paper is thrown away in trashcans because the Tico plumbing can’t handle it.