- Last updated:
- Still valid:
- Latest updates:
- A minor editorial change was made.
COSTA RICA - Exercise a high degree of caution
There is no nationwide advisory in effect for Costa Rica. However, you should exercise a high degree of caution due to increasing levels of violent crime.
The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.
Crime is a significant problem throughout Costa Rica.
If you are a victim of a crime, report it to the closest Oficina del Organismo de Investigación Judicial (Judicial Investigation Department Office) to ensure that local authorities can conduct an investigation. Plainclothes police, known locally as “OIJ” are responsible for taking police reports and conducting investigations. It is especially important to report the loss or theft of your identification documents, both to Costa Rican authorities and to the Canadian Embassy in Costa Rica, in order to protect yourself should the documents later be misused.
Local emergency services are reachable by calling 911”.
Petty crime—including pickpocketing and bag snatching—occurs frequently in Costa Rica. Tourists are common targets for theft because they are perceived as being wealthy. Avoid showing signs of affluence and never leave valuables such as money, credit cards, jewellery and electronics unattended, especially on beaches. Stay at hotels and rental houses that have security measures such as guards and security cameras. Avoid walking alone at night.
Foreigners are often victims of theft on buses and at bus stations, airports, ports, crowded tourist attractions, restaurants and resort areas. When travelling by public bus, avoid placing personal belongings in the overhead compartment or under your seat. Keep your bag with valuables and identification in your lap. Thieves often work in teams, in which one thief diverts the victims’ attention while the other snatches their possessions.
Theft from vehicles is very common, especially at supermarkets, restaurants, store lots and beaches. Do not leave your passport or your valuables in the car, even if you leave the car for only a few minutes. Park your vehicle in supervised public parking lots (Parqueos Públicos), if possible. Beware of “good Samaritans” offering to help change a flat tire, as they may have punctured the car’s tires themselves and intend to steal items from your car while you are distracted. Calmly refuse the help and contact Costa Rican authorities and the rent-a-car agency if you have a rental car. Don’t stop to change a flat tire in an isolated area, and keep the doors of the vehicle locked while changing a tire. When renting a car, you should find out if emergency assistance is offered by the rent-a-car agency for an additional fee.
Exercise vigilance with your travel documents. Cases of passport theft, including cases involving Canadians, are extremely common and increase in frequency during the peak tourist seasons, from November to May and from July to August. Carry a photocopy of the identification page of your passport, including the Costa Rican entry stamp, with you at all times. Keep your original documents in a secure place, such as a hotel safe.
Remain alert to your surroundings at all times throughout the country, particularly near the ports of Limón and Puntarenas. In San José, high-risk areas for theft include the Coca Cola bus station, the inner downtown area and public parks. On the Atlantic coast, be particularly cautious in Puerto Viejo and Cahuita; on the Pacific coast, Tamarindo, Jacó, Quepos, Manuel Antonio and Dominical are areas of particular concern for theft. Cars parked near the popular crocodile viewing area along the Tárcoles River near Jacó are particularly vulnerable to theft.
Violent crime against foreigners is a concern. Armed robberies and home invasions occur, including in beach areas and on main highways in the Central Valley. Carjackings also occur, often at gunpoint. Do as the gunmen ask without hesitation. Remain vigilant when stopped at lights or stop signs, and always drive with the doors locked and windows closed. Keep your valuables out of plain sight when driving and minimize travel at night.
Cases of express kidnapping, where victims are picked up from the street and forced to withdraw funds from automated banking machines (ABMs), have occurred. Remain cautious with new acquaintances offering friendship, hospitality or assistance.
Incidents of sexual assault against foreigners have been reported. Foreigners have been sexually assaulted at beach resorts as well as by taxi drivers in San José. Only use official taxis (orange taxis at the airport and red with a yellow triangle on the side elsewhere in the country) and avoid those that do not have working door handles, locks and meters. Do not ride in the front seat with the driver. As incidents of sexual assault sometimes involve the use of sedative drugs, avoid leaving your drinks or food unattended in bars and nightclubs. If you are a victim of sexual assault, report it to police, as support and guidance is given by local authorities to victims. Before travelling, consult our publication entitled Her Own Way: A Woman’s Safe-Travel Guide for travel safety information specifically aimed at Canadian women.
Drug trafficking is increasing in Costa Rica. Local consumption of illicit narcotics, particularly crack cocaine, is a concern in the country, along with the continued rise in drug-related violent crimes. Be aware of your surroundings at all times.
Occasional demonstrations occur in the capital, which may cause traffic disruptions. Strikes also sometimes take place and disrupt local services. Exercise caution, avoid large crowds and stay informed of possible roadblocks.
Costa Rica has one of the highest traffic accident rates in the world. Exercise great caution when driving or walking, since traffic laws are routinely ignored. In some areas, potholes, sharp curves, lack of traffic signs, landslides and narrow or unpaved roads create dangerous road conditions. Be careful after dark, especially on rural roads, as motorists often drive without lights at night. Travelling by road during the rainy season is particularly dangerous, given the increased risk of flooding and landslides.
Camera monitoring systems have been installed in various locations. Speeding fines are automatically charged to individuals exceeding the speed limit.
Only use official taxis. At the airport, licensed taxis are orange; other official taxis are red with a yellow triangle on the side.
Public bus transportation is unreliable.
Police checks of public transportation occur and are often used to determine whether foreigners have overstayed the 90-day visa exemption period.
If navigating the coasts of Costa Rica, proceed with caution, as safety and rescue operations are limited due to a lack of resources. There have been cases where Costa Rica’s National Coast Guard Service has sought the assistance of the U.S. Coast Guard, resulting in delayed rescue operations.
See Transportation Safety in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.
General security information
More than 80 people drowned in 2013. Riptides are very common on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. Few beaches are supervised or have signs warning of dangerous conditions. Seek the advice of local authorities before swimming. The Costa Rican Tourism Bureau’s website www.visitcostarica.com (multimedia/brochures) provides important advice on safety matters such as swimming in the ocean and avoiding crocodiles.
Safety features on small boats are not always reliable. White-water rafting, scuba diving, bungee jumping, canopy touring and other adventure sports should only be undertaken with a well-established company. If you have any doubt concerning the security of the installation or equipment, refrain from using them.
Avoid camping or sleeping overnight on beaches.
If you intend to visit jungle areas, always go with an experienced and reputable guide.
Few services outside major hotels are available in either English or French. Most taxi drivers, police officers, lawyers and hospital workers do not speak English or French.
Costa Rica has created a tourism police force (Policía Turística) dedicated to improving the security of foreigners. Dial 911 for police assistance. Service is available in English.
It is the sole prerogative of each country or region to determine who is allowed to enter. Canadian consular officials cannot intervene on your behalf if you do not meet entry requirements. The following information on entry and exit requirements has been obtained from the Costa Rican authorities. However, these requirements are subject to change at any time. It is your responsibility to check with the Embassy of the Republic of Costa Rica or one of its consulates for up-to-date information.
Official (special and diplomatic) passport holders must consult the Official Travel page, as they may be subject to different entry requirements.
Canadians must present a valid passport to visit Costa Rica. Before you leave, ask your transportation company about its requirements related to passport validity, which may be more stringent than the country's entry rules.
Tourist visa: Not required for stays up to 90 days
Business visa: Required
Student visa: Required
You must also be in possession of a return or onward ticket and proof of sufficient funds for your stay to enter Costa Rica.
You may stay in Costa Rica for up to 90 days without a visa. If you wish to apply for residency status, you must contact the Dirección General de Migracion y Extranjería (Costa Rican immigration department). Overstaying the 90-day period is punishable by a fine and possible deportation. Persons deported from Costa Rica will not be allowed to re-enter the country for 10 years.
Students must obtain a visa from the Costa Rican Immigration Department. They must provide confirmation of enrollment in an accredited school.
There is a departure tax of US$29, payable by cash or credit card.
Under Costa Rican law, minors (under the age of 18) born in Costa Rica and holding Canadian citizenship are considered to be citizens of Costa Rica, even if they are travelling on a Canadian passport. In order to leave Costa Rica, the minor’s Canadian passport must have a Costa Rican Departure Approval, or the minor's departure will be denied. Both parents must request this approval from the Costa Rican immigration department or through the Embassy of the Republic of Costa Rica in Canada prior to departure. There have been several cases of departure denials because proper documentation was lacking. Minors with dual citizenship who are travelling unaccompanied must have legally certified written consent from both parents.
See Laws and Culture for more information.
Children and travel
Children need special documentation to visit certain countries. See Children for more information.
See Health to obtain information on this country’s vaccination requirements.
Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.
Vaccines to Consider
You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.
Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread through contaminated food and water or contact with an infected person. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.
Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment, sharing needles, tattooing, acupuncture or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.
Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or by touching objects and surfaces that have been contaminated with the virus. Get the flu shot.
Measles is a highly contagious viral disease and is common in most parts of the world. Be sure your measles vaccination is up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.
Rabies is a deadly illness spread to humans through a bite, scratch or lick from an infected animal. Vaccination should be considered for travellers going to areas where rabies exists and who have a high risk of exposure (i.e., close contact with animals, occupational risk, and children).
Yellow Fever Vaccination
Yellow fever is a disease caused by a flavivirus from the bite of an infected mosquito.
Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.
|* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.|
|Country Entry Requirement*|
Food and Water-borne Diseases
Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.
In some areas in Central America and Mexico, food and water can also carry diseases like cholera, hepatitis A and typhoid. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in Central America and Mexico. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!
- Travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
- Risk of developing travellers' diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor standards of hygiene and sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.
- The most important treatment for travellers' diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.
Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among pediatric travellers, travellers going to rural areas, visiting friends and relatives or travelling for a long period of time. Travellers at high risk visiting regions with typhoid risk, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should speak to a health care provider about vaccination.
Insects and Illness
In some areas in Central America and Mexico, certain insects carry and spread diseases like American trypanosomiasis (Chagas disease), chikungunya, dengue fever, leishmaniasis, malaria, onchocerciasis (river blindness), and West Nile virus.
Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.
There is currently an outbreak of chikungunya in this country. Chikungunya is a viral disease spread through the bite of an infected mosquito that typically causes fever and pain in the joints. Protect yourself from mosquito bites, particularly around sunrise and sunset. There is no vaccine available for chikungunya.
- Dengue fever occurs in this country. Dengue fever is a viral disease that can cause severe flu-like symptoms. In some cases it leads to dengue haemorrhagic fever, which can be fatal.
- The risk of dengue is higher during the daytime, particularly at sunrise and sunset.
- Protect yourself from mosquito bites. There is no vaccine or medication that protects against dengue fever.
- There is a risk of malaria in certain areas and/or during a certain time of year in this country.
- Malaria is a serious and occasionally fatal disease that is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. There is no vaccine against malaria.
- Protect yourself from mosquito bites. This includes covering up, using insect repellent and staying in enclosed air-conditioned accommodations. You may also consider pre-treating clothing and travel gear with insecticides and sleeping under an insecticide-treated bednet.
- Antimalarial medication may be recommended depending on your itinerary and the time of year you are travelling. See a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic, preferably six weeks before you travel to discuss your options.
Animals and Illness
Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Some infections found in Central America and Mexico, like rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.
Medical services and facilities
Medical facilities are adequate in San José, but are very limited outside urban areas. You may have to pay in advance for medical services.
Keep in Mind...
The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.
Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.
Laws & culture
Laws & culture
You are subject to local laws. See Arrest and detention for more information.
Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are strict. Convicted offenders can expect lengthy jail sentences and/or heavy fines.
Canada and Costa Rica are signatories to the European Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons, which enables a Canadian imprisoned in Costa Rica to request to be transferred to Canada to complete the sentence in a Canadian prison. The transfer requires the agreement of both Canadian and Costa Rican authorities.
If you violate Costa Rica’s laws, even unknowingly, you may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Costa Rican immigration authorities state that all foreigners must carry original identification documents; however, local authorities will accept photocopies as long as the original documents are accessible.
It is illegal to photograph official buildings. Verify with local authorities before taking photos.
The Costa Rican government is actively trying to discourage sex tourism. Soliciting the services of a minor for sexual purposes is illegal in Costa Rica and is punishable by imprisonment.
Traffic enforcement is the responsibility of the transit police (dial 2222 9330 or 2222 9245). Transit officers often perform roadside inspection of vehicles and request the driver’s licence, vehicle registration and insurance documents. Traffic fines are not supposed to be collected on site. Travellers involved in driving accidents should call 911 to notify authorities of the accident. Do not move the vehicle until advised to do so by the police.
Dual citizenship is legally recognized in Costal Rica. However, Canadian officials may be limited in their ability to provide you with consular services if local authorities consider you a Costa Rica citizen. You should travel using your Canadian passport and present yourself as Canadian to foreign authorities at all times to minimize this risk. Citizenship is determined solely by national laws, and the decision to recognize dual citizenship rests completely with the country in which you are located when seeking consular assistance. See Travelling as a dual citizen for more information.
Terms and conditions of car rentals in Costa Rica are unlike most contracts in North America. You should carefully review contracts and ensure that you have appropriate insurance coverage, including mandatory liability coverage. Many driving situations can nullify insurance.
The currency is the Costa Rican colón (CRC). To avoid complications, carry U.S. dollars or colones. It is advisable to exchange money at registered banks and exchange offices. Credit cards are widely accepted. Credit card fraud is a growing problem.
It is extremely difficult to exchange Canadian currency and traveller’s cheques in Canadian dollars in Costa Rica. The maximum amount of traveller’s cheques that may be cashed at one time is $500. Access to cash via automated banking machines (ABMs) is available in major cities; only local currency can be withdrawn.
Natural disasters & climate
Natural disasters & climate
The hurricane season extends from June to the end of November. The National Hurricane Center provides additional information on weather conditions. Stay informed of regional weather forecasts, and follow the advice and instructions of local authorities.
During the rainy season (May to November, sometimes to January), flooding and mudslides occur frequently in the lowlands and in mountainous areas, including along the Caribbean and in the central cordillera. Road transportation may be affected as poor weather conditions during this season make road travel increasingly dangerous. Keep informed of regional weather forecasts and plan accordingly.
Costa Rica is located in an active seismic and volcanic zone. Some volcanoes have erupted in the past few years. Pay careful attention to all warnings issued for national parks, especially for the Poás, Rincón de la Vieja, Turrialba and Arenal volcano areas.
The Turriaba Volcano, located in Cartago province, erupted on October 29, 2014, and remains active. Volcanic ash falls regularly in the capital San Jose and surrounding areas and may disrupt domestic and international flights. Costa Rica’s National Commission for Risk Prevention and Emergency Response (CNE) has declared a yellow alert for the areas immediately surrounding the volcano. If you are travelling close to active volcanoes, monitor warnings closely and contact your airline or tour operator to confirm your travel arrangements. Alert levels can be raised and evacuations ordered on short notice. Follow the advice of local authorities in the event of an explosion or eruption. Consult the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias (in Spanish) for the latest information during an emergency.
San José - Embassy of Canada
For emergency assistance after hours, contact the Embassy of Canada in San José and follow the instructions. You may also call the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa toll free at 0-800-015-1161, or collect at 613-996-8885.
- Date modified: