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Travel Warning & Consular Information Sheet for Costa Rica

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 spoken.

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 no lifeguards.

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 rural areas.

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 been apprehended.

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 years.

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) 647-3000.

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 or circumstance.

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 the FAA’s 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.


-- 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 registration.

-- 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.

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