Please read this during the early stage of planning your trip to Costa Rica. It can save you a lot of grief.
For a .PDF list of all Costa Rica airports, click here.
First, you should have valid passports for all persons entering Costa Rica. No exceptions! Further, your passport must not expire within six months. Please do NOT write to me and tell me this is wrong. I am aware of cases where the airlines did not enforce this, and I know of NUMEROUS cases where folks were refused travel or entry. Do not take a chance is ny strong suggestion.
Be SAFE! Make sure all passports have at least six months remaining (from date of arrival) before expiration. You might chance 90 days but that is your call.
As a side note, we have heard from several people that they too have been refused entry if their passport is not in good condition. One fellow washed his, and was sent home. This can sure put a damper on a fine vacation! Read one such story here.
US citizens and those from some other countries (see list below) many visit Costa Rica for up to 90 days. This is NOT automatic! As of mid to late 2012, immigration officials are giving a seemingly random number of days i.e. 10, 15 etc. This is because Costa Rica is now cracking down on "perpetual tourists", those who feel it is legal to come and go every 90 days. It is not. (See below for more details).
Saying that, doing the in and out thing a couple of times is probably no big deal, but can be! Doing it over and over is called perpetual tourism and can get you either expelled from the country or refused re-admittance. There are people here who will tell you this is untrue. You would be well advised to NOT believe them.
Citizens holding valid passports from the following countries are permitted to stay in Costa Rica for up to 90 days without a visa. This is no longer automatic.
Germany, Andorra, Argentina, Australia*, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Chile, Cyprus, Denmark*, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, United States*, Estonia, Finland, France*, Hungary, Ireland, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Montenegro, Norway*, New Zealand*, Netherlands*, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Principality Of Monaco, San Marino, Puerto Rico, Serbia, South Africa, United Kingdom Of Great Britain And Northern Ireland **, Czech Republic, Republic Of South Korea, Hellenic Republic (Greece), Romania, Vatican City, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Republic Of China (Taiwan), Trinidad And Tobago and Uruguay.
* Their dependencies receive the same treatment
Citizens holding valid passports from the following countries are exempt from all visa requirements for stays of 30 days in Costa Rica, though once inside the country, they can apply for extension from the Immigration office, for an authorized period of stay of 90 days:
Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Bolivia, Dominica, El Salvador, Russian Federation, Philippines, Fiji, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Northern Marianas, Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Maldives, Mauritius, Federated States Of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Kingdom Of Tonga, Samoa, Saint Kitts And Nevis, Saint Vincent And The Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Sao Tome And Principe, Seychelles, Suriname, Tuvalu, Turkey, Vanuatu and Venezuela.
Citizens of all countries not listed above are required a visa from a Costa Rican embassy or consulate before traveling.
If traveling with a minor child without BOTH parents traveling as well, it is a good idea to get a notarized letter from the non-traveling parent authorizing travel to and from Costa Rica, the dates of travel, and so on. While this seems to be not 100% enforced, for SURE it is enforced enough either by the US airlines or by Costa Rica immigration that if you do NOT have it, you may find your travel plans totally stopped in their tracks. You may not leave the USA or you may be refused entry to Costa Rica.
Drivers licenses and birth certificates are no longer valid for entry. To see specific visa rules regarding your country, see above. There is also a process you must follow to leave Costa Rica.
Once you land (using San Jose as an example) you must proceed to immigration. There you will present your documentation (passport). Depending on the number of planes landing at the same time, this process can be 10-20 minutes or over an hour. Avoid mid-day arrivals if possible.
You will next go to baggage claim where (hopefully!), your luggage is there waiting for you. In reality, this seldom happens. You will likely have to wait for another 10-15 minutes for everything to arrive.
You then take your luggage (carts are provided) and walk to customs... maybe 200 feet of so.
The red/stop green/go system will tell you if you are going to be inspected or questioned. Do NOT bring any drugs, firearms or illegal substances with you. Costa Rica takes a dim view of this, and if you go to jail here, your rights are minimal. The Costa Rica legal system is MUCH different than the US or other countries. You can and will go to jail, you will very likely not be able to post bond Further, you can be held for many months with only a formal complaint while the prosecutor investigates and builds the case against you. You are NOT innocent until proven guilty under Costa Rica Law.
You will then proceed down another corridor where you will exit the airport.
If arriving by land, you will have to first clear the frontier of the country you are leaving. This will be either Nicaragua or Panama. Once you cross the frontier to Costa Rica, you will present your documents. If you are driving, the car's documents must also be presented. Your car may also be sprayed with a chemical that kills any critters riding with you. This normally excludes children.
Your baggage may be inspected. It is seldom fast, and it is ALWAYS hot. Just be polite and friendly. Like most things in Costa Rica, it is a process, and you will get through it.
When you leave Costa Rica by air, you will have to pay an departure tax. You pay this at the airports when you leave. In the San Jose airport, there is an area just to the right as you enter the departures area. There are a large number of desks where the tax is collected.
As of this writing, the tax is $29.00 and can be paid in colones, US dollars or with a VISA credit card. I am now told but have not verified, that Master Card is now accepted. No other credit card is accepted.
NEW!! Costa Rica will soon (December 2014) be adding this exit charge to you airline ticket price. While not in effect yet, you should check if the charge was included and if not, pay it as outlined above.
This is a great way to get rid of those spare Costa Rican colones as you leave. Incredibly, this process is very well organized, certainly a first for the CR government. Even with large numbers of people waiting, I have never had to spend more than ten minutes waiting in line.
You will then proceed to your airline and THAT might be just horrible. There, your patience level will be tested to the max. Lines are almost always long, and there are never enough airline personnel to handle the flow. It is slow and inefficient. Be thankful your stress level is much lower than normal after spending a week or two in Costa Rica!
Midway through this line, your bags will be examined (read that as opened) and inspected for items not permitted on the flight. Be aware, Costa Rica is a stickler for this and ANYTHING that even remotely could be used as a weapon may be disallowed. Once you get to the counter, you will be treated with normal courtesy.
After the airline check-in process, you will go to the security area to check in. Carry on bags go through the usual scanner process. Once through, you may be examined again and ALL your carry-on baggage will be opened and inspected. This time, ANYTHING is fair game for confiscation. I (or my companions) have lost: nail clippers (tiny ones), hair spray, lotions with high alcohol content, nail polish remover, etc. It is VERY annoying, but in this post 9-11 world, nobody is taking chances.
After this process, you can proceed to your gate area. On the way, you will pass a large number of restaurants and shops. As with nearly all airports, the prices are astronomical! There is something about an $8.00 Burger King hamburger I find hard to swallow. There is no shortage of places that will happily separate you from your remaining vacation funds. The tax-free locations CAN offer some nice values though, especially in liquors, perfumes and a few electronic gadgets. Shop carefully.
The rest is a non-event. Shortly, you will be on your way back 'home' and probably daydreaming about that mud bath massage you had in Arenal and wondering how you could pull off the expatriate lifestyle or if you could talk your significant other into moving to Costa Rica.
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