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Costa Rica

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Summary

  • Exercise a high degree of caution in Costa Rica due to the high risk of serious crime. Pay close attention to your personal security at all times. Monitor the media and other sources about security risks.
  • National strikes, including road blocks, have been ongoing since 10 September 2018. Delays and disruptions to travel plans are possible. Avoid demonstrations and protests, as they may turn violent. See Safety and security
  • Violent crime is a significant risk across Costa Rica. Petty crime, including pickpocketing and bag snatching, is common. See Safety and security
  • The Australian Consulate in San Jose provides limited consular assistance to Australians in Costa Rica. The Australian Embassy in Mexico can provide full consular assistance to Australians in Costa Rica.

Entry and exit

Every country or territory decides who can enter or exit through its borders. The Australian Government cannot intervene on your behalf if you do not meet your destination’s entry or exit requirements.

Visas

Australian passport holders can enter Costa Rica without a visa for tourist visits under 90 days.

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) can change at short notice. For up-to-date information contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Costa Rica

Other formalities

Entry to Costa Rica may be refused if you're unable to produce evidence of return or onward travel.

Travelling to Costa Rica through the USA and Canada

If you're travelling to Costa Rica via the United States of America (US), you must meet US entry/transit requirements. Check your visa requirements with the nearest US Embassy or Consulate well in advance of travel.

More information: Travel advice for the United States of America

If you transit or travel via Canada, you'll need an eTA (electronic Travel Authorisation) for Canada.

More information: Travel advice for Canada

Travelling minors

Minors travelling alone or with only one parent (or legal guardian) must present a notarised letter of consent from the non-travelling parent(s) to enter Costa Rica. Minors with dual Australian and Costa Rican nationalities require notarised written consent from both parents in order to leave Costa Rica. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Costa Rica for further information.

More information: Travelling with children

Yellow fever

If you have travelled to a country listed by the World Health Organization as endemic for yellow fever in the ten days before your arrival in Costa Rica, you'll need to present a yellow fever vaccination certificate on arrival.

More information: World Health Organization list of countries in which Yellow Fever is endemic

Departure tax

A departure tax of USD29 must be paid when  leaving the country by air. The departure tax may be included in your ticket. Check with your airline whether the departure tax is included in your ticket. You can pay the departure tax in USD  or Costa Rican Colones (CRC), in cash or by credit card.

When leaving the country by land, the departure tax is USD7. Pay the departure tax at the Bancredito kiosks at border crossing points.

Passport

Ensure your passport is valid for at least six months from the date you intend to return to Australia.

Your passport is a valuable document and attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. Passports are a popular target for criminals in Costa Rica.

If your passport is lost or stolen, you must notify the Australian Government as soon as possible.

Money

Australian Dollars can't be exchanged in Costa Rica, though US Dollars are easily converted. Credit cards are widely accepted.

Safety and security

Crime

The crime rate in Costa Rica is high.

Violent crime

Violent crime, including armed robberies, carjackings, home invasions and gang muggings, in Costa Rica is common. 'Express kidnappings', where individuals are abducted and forced to withdraw funds from ATMs, have also occurred.

Foreigners have been the target of armed robberies and drug-related crime. Tourist attractions, resorts, airports, bus stations, harbour facilities (particularly the ports of Limon and Puntarenas) and public transport are a particular target of criminals. Travellers using unofficial taxis have been robbed and assaulted.

There have been reports of drink spiking, resulting in theft and assault. Sexual harassment and assault of women occurs. The risk of sexual assault or harassment increases when alone on beaches or travelling alone in taxis.

Security risks are increased in the capital city,  San Jose. High-risk areas for theft in San Jose include the Coca-Cola bus station, inner downtown areas and public parks. There is some risk after dark of criminal activities on roads from San Jose International Airport.

  • Plan your arrival to and departure from San Jose airport during daylight hours wherever possible.
  • 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.
  • Don't ride in the front seat of a taxi.
  • If you're female, avoid travelling alone in taxis.
  • Don't camp on beaches.
  • Don't leave drinks unattended, especially in bars and places of entertainment.
  • Pay particular attention to your personal security in San Jose, as well as Tamarindo, Jaco, Quepos, Manuel Antonio and Tarcoles River on the Pacific Coast and Puerto Viejo and Cahuita on the Atlantic Coast.

Petty crime

Petty crime, including pickpocketing and bag snatching, is common. Theft from overhead compartments on busses 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.

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.

  • Pay careful attention to your luggage and personal possessions, especially passports, at all times.
  • Never leave valuables unattended.
  • Be careful when travelling on local buses.

Tourist police operate in many tourist areas and can provide assistance in the event of a robbery or other incident. See Where to get help.

Credit card fraud

Credit card fraud is a risk in Costa Rica.

  • Keep your card in view when conducting transactions.
  • Check your accounts for unauthorised purchases.

Street money changers often pass counterfeit Costa Rican and US currency. Only change money at banks or official exchanges. 

Civil unrest and political tension

Nationwide strikes, including road blocks, have been underway since 10 September 2018. It is unknown how long the strike action will continue. Delays and disruptions to travel plans throughout Costa Rica are possible. Avoid demonstrations and protests as they may turn violent, and do not attempt to cross roadblocks or other protest action.

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

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. More information: Terrorist threat worldwide

Local travel

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

Safety standards of tour operators, including for adventure activities, such as white water rafting, bungee jumping, scuba diving and jungle canopy tours, may not be as high as in Australia. Sufficient safety equipment may not be provided, and recommended maintenance standards and safety precautions may not be observed. Always use available safety equipment, such as lifejackets or seatbelts, even if others don't. If appropriate safety equipment isn't available, use another provider.

Road travel

Driving in Costa Rica is dangerous due to poorly maintained roads and vehicles, local driving practices, inadequate road lighting and signage, potholes and landslides. Serious traffic accidents are common. You are two and a half times more likely to be killed in a motor vehicle accident in Costa Rica than in Australia.

Crime heightens risks to drivers and passengers:

  • carjackings occur, often at gunpoint
  • criminals target stationary cars for 'smash-and-grab' robberies
  • clearly marked rental vehicles are often targeted for robbery and attack.

To minimise risks when travelling by road:

  • avoid driving at night wherever possible
  • drive with the doors locked, windows closed and valuables out of sight
  • remain vigilant when your vehicle is stationary
  • park in secured car parks whenever possible
  • never leave valuables in the vehicle
  • if you rent a car, ensure you have insurance for theft.

If you're involved in a traffic accident:

  • by law, you must stay with the vehicle and not move it until the Traffic Police have inspected the scene
  • authorities may prevent you from leaving Costa Rica until any injury claims have been settled. This could occur whether or not you have insurance and whether or not you were at fault in the accident.

More information: Road safety and driving

Driver's licence

You can drive a vehicle or motorcycle for up to three months with your Australian driver's licence.

Taxis

Official taxis are red and have a yellow triangle on their side panels. Official airport taxis are orange. Prepaid vouchers for airport taxis can be purchased in front of the San Jose airport terminal.

Travellers using unofficial taxis have been robbed and assaulted. 

  • Only use official taxis.
  • Don't ride in the front seat of a taxi.
  • If you are female, avoid travelling alone in taxis.

Public transport

The risk of theft on public transport is high. Don't place your passport and other valuables in luggage racks or under your seat.

Air travel

The Australian Government doesn't provide information on the safety of individual commercial airlines or flight paths. See the Aviation Safety Network website for information on aviation safety in Costa Rica.

More information: Air travel

Laws

Local laws

You're subject to all local laws and penalties, including those that appear harsh by Australian standards. Research local laws before travelling, especially for an extended stay.

If you're arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you under our Consular Services Charter. But we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

Drug laws

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

More information: Carrying or using drugs

Other laws

It's illegal to photograph official buildings. Check with local authorities before taking photos.

There are strict laws protecting wildlife and flora. Speak to your tour guide or local authorities if you're unsure.

Australian laws

Some Australian criminal laws apply overseas. If you commit these offences, you can be prosecuted in Australia. Laws include those relating to:

  • bribery of foreign public officials
  • child pornography
  • child sex tourism
  • female genital mutilation
  • forced marriage
  • money laundering
  • terrorism.
 

Local customs

Photographing children and women, or talking with children may be met with suspicion and violence.

  • Always seek permission from the child's parents before taking photographs of children or talking to children.
  • Always seek permission from the woman/women before taking their photograph.

Health

Travel insurance

Take out comprehensive travel insurance before you depart to cover overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation.

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 won't pay for your medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs. This can be very expensive and cost you many thousands of dollars upfront.

Confirm:

  • what circumstances and activities are and aren't covered under your policy

  • that you're covered for the whole time you'll be away.

More information: Travel insurance

Physical and mental health

It's important to consider your physical and mental health before travelling, especially if you have an existing medical condition.

  • At least eight weeks before you depart, see your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and implications for your health.
  • Get vaccinated before you travel.

If you need counselling services while overseas, contact the Australian Consular Emergency Centre in Canberra on +61 2 6261 3305 and ask to speak to a Lifeline telephone counsellor.

More information:

Medication

Not all medications available over the counter or by prescription in Australia are available in other countries. Some may even be considered illegal or a controlled substance, even if prescribed by an Australian doctor.

Take prescription medicine with you so you remain in good health. Always carry a copy of your prescription or a letter from your doctor stating what the medicine is, how much you take and that it's for personal use only.

Before you leave Australia, check if your medication is legal in each country you're travelling to.

More information: Prescription medicines

Health risks

Mosquito-borne illnesses

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, Chikungunya virus, chagas' disease and leishmaniasis) are also a risk to travellers, particularly during the wet season (April to November).

There is widespread transmission of Zika virus in Costa Rica. If you're pregnant, discuss any travel plans with your doctor and defer non-essential travel to affected areas.

Protect yourself against mosquito-borne illnesses:

  • ensure your accommodation is mosquito proof
  • take measures to avoid insect bites, including using always using insect repellent and wearing long, loose-fitting, light-coloured clothing
  • consider taking prophylaxis against malaria.

More information:

Other diseases and health issues

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.

  • Drink boiled or bottled water.
  • Avoid ice cubes.
  • Avoid uncooked and undercooked food.
  • Don't swim in freshwater lakes and rivers as they can be contaminated.

Seek urgent medical attention if you suspect poisoning, if you have a fever or suffer from diarrhoea.

Medical facilities

Public medical facilities are of a reasonable standard in the capital San Jose, but are very limited in smaller towns and rural areas. Private medical facilities are available and well equipped. Costa Rica has decompression chambers at some beach resorts, including Liberia and Samara.

Doctors and hospitals require cash payment prior to treatment.

If you become seriously ill or injured, you may need to be evacuated to a destination with appropriate facilities. Medical evacuation and medical treatment can be very expensive.

Natural disasters

If a natural disaster occurs, follow the advice of local authorities.

Hurricanes and severe weather

Costa Rica experiences hurricanes and associated landslides, mudslides, flooding and disruptions to essential services and infrastructure. The hurricane season is June to November, but tropical storms and hurricanes can occur in other months. The direction and strength of hurricanes can change with little warning. 

The rainy season in Costa Rica normally occurs between May to November, although it can extend until January. Heavy rainfalls can cause landslides and mudslides.

If you're travelling during the wet season:

  • know your hotel or cruise ship evacuation plans
  • carry your travel documents at all times or secure them in a safe, waterproof location
  • monitor local weather forecasts and media reports
  • contact your tour operator to check whether tourist services at your planned destination have been affected.

If there is a hurricane or one is approaching:

Flights in and out of hurricane-affected areas could be delayed or suspended. Available flights may fill quickly. Contact your airline for the latest flight information. A 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.

More information:

Earthquakes, volcanos and tsunamis

Costa Rica is subject to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. All oceanic regions of the world can experience tsunamis, but Costa Rica's susceptibility to earthquakes makes destructive tsunamis more likely.

The Turrialba volcano has been particularly active since May 2016, causing ash fall and vapours. Ash clouds have caused airport closures and flight disruptions in the past.

  • Monitor local media and weather reports
  • Know your hotel's procedures in case of an earthquake.
  • Check with your airline or travel provider for the latest information on disruptions.
  • If there is natural disaster, follow the instructions of local authorities. 

More information:

Where to get help

Depending on what you need, your best option may be to first contact your family, friends, travel agent, travel insurance provider, employer, or airline. Your travel insurer should have a 24-hour emergency number.

Emergency phone numbers

  • Firefighting and rescue services: 911 or 118
  • Medical emergencies: 911 or 128
  • Criminal issues, contact police:  911

Always obtain a police report when reporting a crime

Tourist police operate in many tourist areas and can be contacted by dialling 911.

Tourism services and products

For complaints relating to tourism services or products, contact your service provider directly.

Australian Government

Read the Consular Services Charter for what the Australian Government can and can't do to help you overseas.

The Australian Consulate in San Jose, headed by an Honorary Consul, provides limited consular assistance to Australians in Costa Rica. The Consulate does not issue Australian passports, but can conduct passport interviews and provide provisional travel documents for emergency travel to the nearest Australian Embassy.

Australian Consulate, San Jose

Third Floor, Oficentro Torre La Sabana
La Sabana, San Jose, Costa Rica
Phone: +506 8995 9900
Email: aushonconsul.costarica@gmail.com

You can obtain full consular assistance from the Australian Embassy in Mexico.

Australian Embassy, Mexico City

Ruben Dario No 55 (Polanco)
Col Bosque de Chapultepec., C.P.
11580 Mexico D.F. Mexico
Phone: +52 55 1101 2200
Fax: +52 55 1101 2201
Email: consularpassports.mexico@dfat.gov.au
Website: mexico.embassy.gov.au

Check the Embassy website for information about opening hours and temporary closures that may affect service provision.

If you're unable to contact the Embassy in a consular emergency, you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre in Canberra on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

Additional information

Additional resources