Costa Rica - Consular Information Sheet
July 27, 2000
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Costa Rica is a middle-income, developing
country with a strong democratic tradition. Tourist facilities
are generally adequate. The capital is San Jose. English is widely
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required to enter
Costa Rica. At the discretion of Costa Rican authorities, travelers
seventeen years of age or older are sometimes admitted with a
certified copy of their U.S. birth certificate and a valid photo
I.D. for tourist stays up to 90 days. As of September 15, 1998,
U.S. citizens under the age of seventeen are not admitted to Costa
Rica without a valid passport. Additional information on entry
requirements may be obtained from the Consular Section of the
Embassy of Costa Rica at 2114 S Street, N.W., Washington, D.C.
20008, telephone (202) 328-6628, or from a Costa Rican consulate
in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Honolulu, Houston, Las Vegas, Los
Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, St. Paul, San Diego, or
San Francisco. The Embassy
of Costa Rica also maintains a web site at http://www.costarica-embassy.org/.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: Demonstrations or strikes, related
to labor disputes or other local issues, occur occasionally in
Costa Rica. Past demonstrations have resulted in roadblocks and
sporadic gasoline shortages. These protests have not targeted
U.S. citizens or U.S. interests, and are typically non-violent.
Travelers are advised to avoid areas where demonstrations are
taking place and to keep informed by following the local news
and consulting hotel personnel and tour guides. Additional information
about demonstrations may be obtained from the U.S. Embassy.
On both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, currents are swift
and dangerous. Several drownings occur each year, and there are
Some trails in national parks have been closed because of low
numbers of visitors and reported robberies of hikers in the area.
Tourists should check with park rangers for current park conditions.
CRIME INFORMATION: Crime is increasing, and tourists as
well as the local populace are frequent victims. While most crimes
are non-violent, including pickpocketing and house and car break-ins,
criminals have shown a greater tendency in recent years to use
violence. U.S. citizens are encouraged to use the same level of
caution that they would exercise in major cities or tourist areas
throughout the world. Local law enforcement agencies have limited
capabilities and are not up to U.S. standards, especially in remote
In March 2000, two college-age U.S. citizen women were murdered
near the town of Cahuita, on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. The
investigation of that crime is ongoing. In October 1999, two elderly
U.S. citizens were murdered in a remote area of Guanacaste during
an apparent robbery attempt. As of July 2000, no suspects have
U.S. citizen women have been victims of sexual assaults at beach
resorts on both coasts and in San Jose in recent years. There
have been several attempted sexual assaults, including one rape,
by taxi drivers. Travelers should be careful to use taxis that
have working door handles, locks, and meters (called "marias"),
and not ride in the front seat with the driver. There have been
several kidnappings, including those of foreigners, in recent
Carjackings have increased recently, and motorists have been
confronted at gunpoint while stopped at traffic lights or upon
arrival at their homes. Two U.S. Embassy employees have been carjacked
by armed assailants in the past year.
Travelers should ensure that they purchase an adequate level
of locally-valid theft insurance when renting vehicles. One should
never leave valuables in the vehicle, and park in paid lots whenever
possible. Criminals reportedly have used skeleton keys to break
into cars, particularly rental cars. Incidents of crime commonly
occur in downtown San Jose, at beaches, at the airport, bus stations
and on buses, and at national parks and other tourist attractions.
There have been assaults on tourist buses in recent years. Travelers
who keep valuables out of sight, who do not wear jewelry, and
who travel in groups during daylight hours lessen their risk.
Money exchangers on the street pass off counterfeit U.S. dollars
and local currency. Credit card fraud is growing.
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported
immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or
consulate. Travelers should carry a copy of their passport data
page and leave the passport itself in the hotel safe or other
secure location. U.S. citizens can refer to the Department of
State’s pamphlet, A Safe
Trip Abroad, for ways to promote a more trouble-free journey.
This publication and others, such as Tips
for Travelers to Central and South America, are available
from the Superintendent
of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington,
D.C. 20402; via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs;
or via the Bureau
of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S.
citizen is subject to that country’s laws and regulations, which
sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States
and may not afford the protections available to the individual
under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe
than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating
Costa Rica’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested
or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in
illegal drugs in Costa Rica are strict, and convicted offenders
can expect lengthy jail sentences and fines.
MEDICAL FACILITIES: Medical facilities are available,
but may be limited outside urban areas.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: U.S. medical insurance is not always
valid outside the United States. U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs
do not provide payment for medical services outside the United
States. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment
for health services. Uninsured travelers who require medical care
overseas may face extreme difficulties.
Please check with your own insurance company to confirm whether
your policy applies overseas, including provision for medical
evacuation, and for adequacy of coverage. Serious medical problems
requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United
States can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Please ascertain
whether payment will be made to the overseas hospital or doctor
or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses that you
incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric
treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.
Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas
insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State’s Bureau
of Consular Affairs brochure, Medical
Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available
via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page or autofax: (202)
OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION: Costa Rica has suffered from
a reemergence of dengue fever in recent years, although the incidence
rate remains lower than in other Central American countries. Dengue
is transmitted by mosquito bite, and there is no vaccine. Travelers
should take steps to avoid mosquito bites.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions may
be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s
hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747);
fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC’s
Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign
country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ
significantly from those in the United States. The information
below concerning Costa Rica is provided for general reference
only, and it may not be totally accurate in a particular location
Safety of Public Transportation: Fair
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor
Traffic laws and speed limits are often ignored; turns across
one or two lanes of traffic are common, and pedestrians generally
are not given the right of way. Roads are often in poor condition,
and large potholes with the potential to cause significant damage
to vehicles are common. All of the above, in addition to poor
visibility because of heavy fog or rain, makes driving at night
especially treacherous. All types of motor vehicles are appropriate
for the main highways and principal roads in the major cities.
However, many roads to beaches and other rural locations are not
paved, and some out-of-the-way destinations are accessible only
with high clearance, rugged suspension vehicles.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration
(FAA) has assessed the Government of Costa Rica’s civil aviation
authority as Category 1 - in compliance with international aviation
safety standards for oversight of Costa Rica’s air carrier operations.
For further information, travelers may contact the Department
of Transportation within the U.S. at tel. 1-800-322-7873, or visit
Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/. The U.S.
Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air
carriers for suitability as official providers of air services.
For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers,
travelers may contact the DOD at tel. (618) 229-4801.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES/OTHER INFORMATION: INVESTMENT ISSUES:
-- Irregular Land Registrations: Due to irregular enforcement
of property rights, investors should exercise extreme caution
before investing in real estate. Costa Rica has a long history
of investment and real estate scams and frauds perpetrated against
U.S. citizens and international visitors. U.S.-style title insurance
is generally unavailable in Costa Rica. There have been numerous
instances of duly registered properties reverting to previously
unknown owners who have shown they possess clear title and parallel
-- Expropriations: Some U.S.-citizen landowners have long-standing
expropriation disputes with the Government of Costa Rica. Some
expropriation claims from the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s remain
unresolved, with the landowners not yet compensated. Unexecuted
expropriation decrees have clouded titles even when owners remained
in possession of their property.
-- Squatters: Properties throughout the country have been
invaded by organized squatter groups, against which the government
has been reluctant to act. These squatter groups, often supported
by politically active persons and non-governmental organizations,
take advantage of legal reforms that allow people without land
to gain title to unused agricultural property. This phenomenon
is particularly common in rural areas, where local courts show
considerable sympathy for the squatters. The squatters regularly
resort to threats of violence or actual violence and often are
able to block U.S. citizen landowners from entering their property.
In November 1997, a U.S. citizen was killed in a confrontation
with squatters in the southern region of Pavones.
Due to the irregular enforcement of property rights, existence
of unresolved expropriation claims, and squatter invasions, property
protections are uncertain, particularly in rural areas.
DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Costa Rica is an earthquake-prone
country. General information about natural disaster preparedness
is available via the Internet from the U.S.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.
CHILDREN’S ISSUES: For information
on international adoption of children and international parental
child abduction, please refer to our Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html
or telephone (202) 736-7000.
REGISTRATION/EMBASSY LOCATION: U.S. citizens are encouraged
to register with the Consular Section of the U.S.
Embassy in San Jose, where they may also obtain updated information
on travel and security within Costa Rica. The U.S. Embassy maintains
a web site at http://usembassy.or.cr. This web site can also be
accessed through the Department
of State's web site at http://www.state.gov. The U.S. Embassy
in Costa Rica is located in Pavas, San Jose, telephone (506) 220-3050.
The Embassy is open Monday through Friday, and closed on Costa
Rican and U.S. holidays. For emergencies arising outside normal
business hours, U.S. citizens may call tel. (506) 220-3127 and
ask for the duty officer.
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated March 16,
2000, to update the sections on Medical Facilities, Medical Insurance,
Other Health Information, and Aviation Safety Oversight.