Costa Rica

Latest update

This Advice was last issued on Thursday, 06 February 2014.   It has been reviewed and reissued with editorial amendments. We continue to advise Australians to exercise a high degree of caution in Costa Rica because of the high risk of serious crime.

Costa Rica overall

Summary

  • We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Costa Rica because of the high risk of serious crime.
  • Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.
  • You should avoid rallies and demonstrations as they may turn violent.
  • Petty crime, including pickpocketing and bag snatching, is common.
  • Australia has a Consulate in Costa Rica, headed by an Honorary Consul. The Consulate provides limited consular assistance (not including the issue of passports). The Australian Embassy in Mexico City can also assist Australians.
  • Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
    • organise comprehensive travel insurance and check what circumstances and activities are not covered by your policy
    • register your travel and contact details, so we can contact you in an emergency
    • subscribe to this travel advice to receive free email updates each time it's reissued.
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Entry and exit

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Costa Rica for the most up to date information.

A departure tax is payable in $US cash or by credit card.

Under Costa Rican Law, children under the age of 18 who are born in Costa Rica are automatically considered to be Costa Rican citizens, even if travelling on another passport. Notarised written consent from both parents is required in order to leave Costa Rica. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Costa Rica for further information.

If you are travelling to Costa Rica through the United States of America (USA), or if you are transiting Honolulu or another USA point of entry, you are required to meet USA entry/transit requirements. Make sure you check with your nearest US Embassy or Consulate your visa requirements well in advance of your travel. You should also read our travel advice for the United States of America.

Make sure your passport has at least six months' validity from your planned date of return to Australia. You should carry copies of a recent passport photo with you in case you need a replacement passport while overseas.

Costa Rican authorities require a Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate for visitors who within the last six days have travelled to some countries in South America (Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Peru and Venezuela) and some Sub-Saharan African countries.

Safety and security

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. You can find more information about this threat in our General advice to Australian travellers.

Civil unrest/political tension

Civil disturbances, including work stoppages and strikes, may cause disruption to local public services.

Demonstrations, protest marches, road blocks and strikes may occur at any time in the capital, throughout the country and on main highways. Local transportation services may be disrupted. You should not attempt to cross blockades, even if they appear unattended. You should avoid demonstrations and protests as they may turn violent.

Crime

We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Costa Rica because of the high risk of serious crime. Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.

The incidence of violent crime including armed robberies, carjackings, home invasions and gang muggings in Costa Rica is significant. 'Express kidnappings', where individuals are abducted and forced to withdraw funds from ATM machines to secure their release, have also occurred.

Foreigners have been the target of armed robberies and drug-related crime. Areas in the vicinity of tourist attractions, resorts, airports, bus stations, harbour facilities (particularly the ports of Limon and Puntarenas) and public transport are a particular target of criminals. Visitors to Tamarindo, Jaco, Quepos, Manuel Antonio and Tarcoles River on the Pacific Coast and Puerto Viejo and Cahuita on the Atlantic Coast should pay particular attention to their surroundings.

Security risks are heightened in the capital city of San Jose. High-risk areas for theft in San Jose include the Coca-Cola bus station, the inner downtown area and public parks. Visitors to San Jose should aim to arrive before 10 p.m. to reduce risks of serious criminal activity on the road from the airport.

Travellers using unofficial taxis have been robbed and assaulted. Travellers should only use official red taxis, which have a yellow triangle on their side panels. Prepaid vouchers for official airport taxis, which are orange, can be purchased in front of the San Jose airport terminal. We recommend you do not ride in the front seat of a taxi.

Petty crime, including pickpocketing and bag snatching, is common. You should pay careful attention to your luggage and personal possessions, especially passports, at all times. Be careful when travelling on local buses as theft from overhead compartments occurs regularly. Thefts from unattended vehicles can occur in the downtown area of San Jose, near beaches, in national parks and in other tourist areas. Valuables should never be left unattended.

A common ploy used by thieves is to slash car tyres and then assist in repairs, while an accomplice steals from the vehicle. Criminals have also staged deliberate traffic accidents with the intention of robbing the occupants once they have stopped their car.

Travellers should avoid leaving drinks unattended in bars and places of entertainment. There have been reports of drink spiking resulting in theft and assault.

Incidents of sexual harassment and assault of women have occurred. The risk of sexual assault or harassment increases when alone on beaches or travelling alone in taxis. We recommend that you do not camp on beaches in Costa Rica.

Tourist police operate in many tourist areas and can provide assistance in the event of a robbery or other incident. Tourist police can be contacted by dialling 911.

Money and valuables

Before you go, organise a variety of ways to access your money overseas, such as credit cards, travellers&#8217 cheques, cash, debit cards or cash cards. Consult with your bank to find out the most appropriate currency to carry and whether your ATM card will work in Costa Rica.

Australian dollars cannot be exchanged in Costa Rica, though US dollars and travellers’ cheques are easily converted. Credit cards are widely accepted, however the incidence of credit card fraud continues to increase in Costa Rica. You should keep your card in view while conducting transactions and check your accounts for unauthorised purchases. Street money changers often pass counterfeit Costa Rican and US currency. You should change money in banks or official exchanges.

Passports are a popular target for criminals in Costa Rica. Make two photocopies of valuables such as your passport, tickets, Costa Rican entry stamp, visas and travellers&#8217 cheques. Keep one copy with you in a separate place to the original (such as the hotel safe) and leave another copy with someone at home. Secure your valuables in your hotel safe and only carry your passport when required for travel. Immigration authorities do spot checks of visas and identification. You should carry a copy of your passport (photo page) and the entry stamp at all times.

While travelling, don't carry too much cash and remember that expensive watches, jewellery, electronic equipment and cameras may be tempting targets for thieves.

As a sensible precaution against luggage tampering, including theft, lock your luggage. Information on luggage safety is available from Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Your passport is a valuable document that is attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. It should always be kept in a safe place. You are required by Australian law to report a lost or stolen passport. If your passport is lost or stolen overseas, report it online or contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate as soon as possible.

You are required to pay an additional fee to have a lost or stolen passport replaced. In some cases, the Government may also restrict the length of validity or type of replacement passports.

Visitors who lose their passports during their travels in Costa Rica will need to put in place arrangements for a replacement emergency document with the Australian Embassy in Mexico City. If visitors are travelling on an emergency travel document through the United States on their return travel, they will be required to obtain a US non-immigrant visa. This process requires a minimum of 48 -72 hours for you to arrange.

Local travel

Driving in Costa Rica can be hazardous due to poorly maintained roads and vehicles, local driving practices, inadequate road lighting and signage, potholes and landslides. Driving at night should be avoided when possible. Carjackings occur, often at gunpoint. Remain vigilant when your vehicle is stationary as criminals target stationary cars for smash and grab robberies. We recommend that you drive with the doors locked, windows closed and valuables out of sight.

Serious traffic accidents are common. Travellers involved in a traffic accident are required to stay with the vehicle and not move it until the Traffic Police have inspected the scene. For further advice, see our road travel page.

When renting vehicles, you should ensure you have insurance for theft, park in secured carparks whenever possible and never leave valuables in the vehicle. Rental vehicles are clearly marked and often subject to robbery and attack.

Visitors who plan to drive and/or rent a vehicle in Costa Rica should be aware that, in the event of an accident, the Costa Rican government may prevent the driver involved from departing the country until any injury claims have been settled. This could occur regardless of whether the driver is covered by insurance or considered to be at fault in the accident.

Strong coastal currents, including rip tides on the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, can make swimming dangerous. Lifeguards are not common and few beaches have signs warning of dangerous conditions. Crocodile attacks have been reported on the Pacific Coast. Local authorities can provide advice regarding local conditions.

The safety standards you might expect of tour operators are not always met, especially for adventure sports such as white-water rafting, bungee jumping, scuba diving and jungle canopy tours. Sufficient life jackets and other safety equipment may not be provided. Travellers should only use experienced and reputable local guides or travel companies.

Airline safety

Please refer to our air travel page for information on aviation safety and security.

Laws

When you are in Costa Rica, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

Information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help Australians in trouble overseas is available from the Consular Services Charter.

Penalties for drug offences are severe and include lengthy imprisonment in local jails.

It is illegal to photograph official buildings. You should check with local authorities before taking photos.

Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child pornography, and child sex tourism, apply to Australians overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.

Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism and child pornography laws. These laws provide severe penalties of up to 25 years imprisonment for Australians who engage in child sexual exploitation while outside of Australia.

Local customs

Photographing children and women may be met with suspicion and violence. You should always seek permission from the child's parents before taking photographs of children or talking to children.

Information for dual nationals

Our Dual nationals page provides further information for dual nationals.

Health

We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before you depart. Confirm that your insurance covers you for the whole time you'll be away and check what circumstances and activities are not included in your policy. Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for a traveller's medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs.

Your doctor or travel clinic is the best source of information about preventive measures, immunisations (including booster doses of childhood vaccinations) and disease outbreaks overseas. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travellers and our Health page also provides useful tips for travelling with medicines and staying healthy while overseas.

Public medical facilities are of a reasonable standard in the capital San Jose, and very limited in smaller towns and rural areas. Private medical facilities are available and well equipped. Doctors and hospitals require cash payment prior to providing treatment. Serious medical emergencies may require evacuation, at considerable cost, to the USA where the cost of medical treatment is very high. The cost of a medivac could exceed $A65,000.

Costa Rica has decompression chambers on beach resorts such as Liberia and Samara.

Malaria is a serious risk in the provinces of Limon and Puntarenas, including near the border with Panama. Other insect-borne diseases (including, dengue fever, Chagas' disease and leishmaniasis) are also a risk to travellers, particularly during the wet season (April to November). We encourage you to consider taking prophylaxis against malaria and to take measures to avoid insect bites, including using insect repellent at all times, wearing long, loose-fitting, light coloured clothing, and ensuring your accommodation is mosquito proof.

Costa Rican authorities require a Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate for visitors who within the last six days have travelled to some countries in South America (Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Peru and Venezuela) and some Sub-Saharan African countries.

Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases (including tuberculosis, typhoid, hepatitis and rabies) are prevalent with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. We advise you to boil all drinking water or drink bottled water, and avoid ice cubes and raw and undercooked food. We advise you not to swim in freshwater lakes and rivers as they can be contaminated and not have danger signs. Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea.

Where to get help

Australia has a Consulate in Costa Rica, headed by an Honorary Consul. The Consulate provides limited consular assistance (not including the issue of passports). The address is:

Australian Consulate, San Jose

Centro Corporativo Plaza Roble
Edificio El Patio, 3rd Floor
Escazý, San Jose, Costa Rica
Telephone: (506) 2201 8700
Facsimile: (506) 2201 8707
E-mail: aushonconsul.costarica@gmail.com

You can also obtain full consular assistance from the nearest Australian Embassy which is in Mexico:

Australian Embassy, Mexico City

Ruben Dario No 55 (Polanco)
Col Bosque de Chapultepec., C.P.
11580 Mexico D.F. Mexico
Telephone: (52 55) 1101 2200
Facsimile: (52 55) 1101 2201
E-mail: consularpassports.mexico@dfat.gov.au
Website www.mexico.embassy.gov.au

In a consular emergency if you are unable to contact the Embassy you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

In Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra may be contacted on (02) 6261 3305.

If you are travelling to Costa Rica, whatever the reason and however long you'll be there, we encourage you to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can register online or in person at any Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. The information you provide will help us to contact you in an emergency - whether it is a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family issue.

Additional information

Natural disasters, severe weather and climate

The rainy season in Costa Rica normally occurs between May to November, although it can extend until January. The hurricane season is June to November. Landslides, mudslides, flooding and disruptions to essential services may occur during these periods. You should keep informed of weather forecasts, monitor local media reports and follow the instructions of local emergency officials.

If you are travelling during hurricane season, you should contact your tour operator to check whether tourist services at your planned destination have been affected.

The direction and strength of hurricanes can change with little warning. You can check the latest hurricane information at the National Hurricane Center website.

In the event of an approaching hurricane, you should follow the instructions of local authorities. Flights in and out of affected areas could be delayed or suspended. Available flights may fill quickly. You should contact your airline for the latest flight information. The hurricane could also affect access to sea ports in the region. In some areas, adequate shelter from a severe hurricane may not be available to all who may choose to stay. You should familiarise yourself with your hotel or cruise ship evacuation plans. You should carry your travel documents at all times (i.e. passport, photo ID etc.) or secure them in a safe, waterproof location. We also suggest that you contact friends and family in Australia with updates about your welfare and whereabouts. For further information, see our Severe Weather page.

Costa Rica is subject to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Australians are advised to remain alert to local media and, in the event of an earthquake follow the instructions of local authorities. You should familiarise yourself with your hotel’s procedures in case of an earthquake. Information on earthquakes and volcanic activity can be obtained from the Humanitarian Early Warning Service.

All oceanic regions of the world can experience tsunamis, but there is a more frequent occurrence of large, destructive tsunamis in the Indian and Pacific Oceans because of the many large earthquakes along major tectonic plate boundaries and ocean trenches. See the Tsunami Awareness brochure.

For parents

For general information and tips on travelling with children see our Travelling with Children page.



While every care has been taken in preparing this information, neither the Australian Government nor its agents or employees, including any member of Australia's diplomatic and consular staff abroad, can accept liability for any injury, loss or damage arising in respect of any statement contained herein.

Maps are presented for information only. The department accepts no responsibility for errors or omission of any geographic feature. Nomenclature and territorial boundaries may not necessarily reflect Australian Government policy.