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Costa Rica - Exercise a high degree of caution
Exercise a high degree of caution in Costa Rica due to crime.
Travel Health Notice - Zika virus
The Public Health Agency of Canada has issued advice for travellers on the Zika virus, recommending that Canadians practice special health precautions while travelling in affected countries. Pregnant women and those considering becoming pregnant should avoid travel to Costa Rica. See Health for more information.
Safety and security
Safety and security
Crime, in particular theft, is a problem throughout Costa Rica. To lessen your risk of becoming a victim of crime, you should stay alert and be aware of your surroundings. If you do become a victim of a crime, report it to the closest office of the Organismo de Investigación Judicial (Judicial Investigation Department) 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 Embassy of Canada to Costa Rica in San José, in order to protect yourself should the documents later be misused.
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. Be cautious of strategies to distract your attention. Avoid showing signs of affluence and never leave valuables such as money, credit cards, jewellery, cell phones and other electronics unattended, especially on beaches. Do not carry large amounts of cash and use caution at automated banking machines (ABMs). Avoid isolated areas and never walk alone at night.
Theft from vehicles is very common, especially at hotels, supermarkets, restaurants, store lots, national parks 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 parqueos públicos (public parking lots), if possible. Keep your windows up and doors locked at all times. 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 their help and contact Costa Rican authorities and, if you rented the car, the rental agency. 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 rental agency, likely for an additional fee.
Cases of passport theft 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 (unless you are planning on driving, see Laws for more information). Ensure the safe is secured to the wall or the floor.
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.
Stay at hotels and rental houses that have security measures such as guards and security cameras. Always lock your doors, even while in the room or if you leave for a few minutes. Do not leave valuables in plain sight.
Exercise particular caution in the capital, San José. High-risk areas for theft include the Coca Cola bus terminal (near the Zona Roja or red light district), the inner downtown area and public parks. On the Caribbean coast, be particularly vigilant in the Limón province towns of Cahuita, Puerto Limón (its port areas) and Puerto Viejo. In the Pacific coast’s Puntarenas province, Dominical, Jacó, Manuel Antonion, Quepos and Tamarindo are areas of particular concern for theft, as well as the Cobano area, including Mal País, Montezuma and Santa Teresa, and the port of Puntarenas. Cars parked near the popular crocodile viewing area along the Tárcoles River near Jacó are particularly vulnerable to theft when a designated police patrol car is not on site.
The theft of rental cars is common throughout the country. Thieves know the makes and models of rental cars, making them easy targets.
Credit card fraud is a growing problem.
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, including homicides.
Violent crime against foreigners, though not frequent, is a concern. Incidents of armed (gunpoint, knifepoint) robberies, carjackings and home invasions have occurred in beach areas and on the main highways in the Central Valley region, even in daylight. Violent assaults against Canadians have occurred in Puerto Limón and Puerto Viejo. In March 2017, a Canadian was stabbed to death in Puerto Viejo. Do not walk alone after dusk or at dawn. Avoid remote or isolated areas, including roads and trails. If you are threatened by armed criminals, do as they ask without hesitation, as resisting may result in the escalation of violence.
Cases of express kidnapping, where victims are picked up from the street and forced to withdraw funds from ABMs, have occurred, sometimes at gunpoint.
Incidents of sexual assault against foreigners at beach resorts and by taxi drivers in San José have been reported. The risk increases when travelling alone. Only use official taxis (orange taxis at the airport and red taxis 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.
Remain cautious with new acquaintances offering friendship, hospitality or assistance. Do not accept drinks from strangers. As incidents of sexual assault sometimes involve the use of sedative drugs, avoid leaving your drinks or food unattended in bars and nightclubs. Refrain from excessive drinking. If you are a victim of sexual assault, report it to police. Support and guidance is provided by local authorities to victims. You should also contact the Embassy of Canada to Costa Rica in San José.
Female travellers should exercise caution at all times. Before travelling, consult Her Own Way: A Woman’s Safe-Travel Guide for travel safety information specifically aimed at Canadian women.
Occasional demonstrations occur in San José that 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’s constitution prohibits political activity by foreigners; such actions may result in detention or deportation.
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.
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 avoid travel at night to reduce the risk of becoming a victim of crime.
If you are involved in a driving accident, call 911 to notify authorities of the accident. You should also inform the car rental agency, if applicable. Do not move the vehicle until advised to do so by the police. See Laws and culture for more information.
Only use official, radio-dispatched taxis. Make sure the driver’s ID is clearly visible on the dashboard and that the driver uses the meter.
Public bus transportation is unreliable, yet relatively safe. Take measures to protect your personal belongings.
Police checks of passengers on 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 United States Coast Guard, resulting in delayed rescue operations.
We do not make assessments on the compliance of foreign domestic airlines with international safety standards.
Riptides and strong currents are very common on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. Very few beaches are supervised with lifeguards or have signs warning of dangerous conditions. Many people drown each year. Never swim alone. Seek the advice of local authorities before venturing into the water. The Costa Rican Tourism Bureau provides important advice on safety matters, such as swimming in the ocean and avoiding crocodiles.
White-water rafting, scuba diving, bungee jumping, canopy touring and other adventure sports should only be undertaken with a well-established company that has insurance. Safety features on small boats are not always reliable. Ensure that the recreational activities you choose are covered by your travel insurance. If you have any doubt concerning the safety of the installation or equipment, refrain from using them.
If you intend to visit jungle areas, always go with an experienced and reputable guide.
The Costa Rican government requires all visitors to national parks to register their entry with the National Park Service and to obtain a permit to enter the park. Never walk or hike alone. Life-threatening fauna such as jaguars, pumas, wild pigs and poisonous snakes are common in some parks, especially in the densely wooded areas.
Avoid camping or sleeping overnight on beaches.
Few services outside major hotels are available in English (or French). Most taxi drivers, police officers, lawyers and hospital workers do not speak English (or French).
General security information
Costa Rica has created the Policía Turística, a tourism police force dedicated to improving the security of foreigners.
Every country or territory decides who can enter or exit through its borders. The Government of Canada cannot intervene on your behalf if you do not meet your destination’s entry or exit requirements.
We have obtained the information on this page from the Costa Rican authorities. It can, however, change at any time.
Verify this information with foreign diplomatic missions and consulates in Canada.
Entry requirements vary depending on the type of passport you use for travel.
Before you travel, check with your transportation company about passport requirements. Its rules on passport validity may be more stringent than the country’s entry rules.
Regular Canadian passport
Your passport must be valid to visit Costa Rica. In order to avoid unexpected delays, we recommend that your passport be valid for at least 1 month beyond the date of your expected departure from Costa Rica.
Passport for official travel
Different entry rules may apply.
Other travel documents
Different entry rules may apply when travelling with a temporary passport or an emergency travel document. Before you leave, check with the closest diplomatic mission for your destination.
Tourist visa: Not required for stays up to 90 days
Business visa: Required
Student visa: Required
You may stay in Costa Rica for up to 90 days without a visa, but the length of your stay upon entering the country is determined by immigration officers. If you wish to apply for residency status, you must contact the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería (Costa Rica’s immigration department). Overstaying the 90-day period is punishable by possible deportation. Persons deported from Costa Rica will not be allowed to re-enter the country for five to ten years.
Students must obtain a visa from the Costa Rican immigration department. They must provide confirmation of enrollment in an accredited school.
Other entry requirements
You must be in possession of a return or onward ticket and proof of sufficient funds for your stay to enter Costa Rica.
There is a departure tax of US$29, payable by cash or credit card.
Minors with dual citizenship
In order to leave Costa Rica, the Canadian passport of a minor with dual citizenship must have Costa Rican departure approval, or the minor’s departure will be denied. Both parents must request this approval from Costa Rica’s immigration department or through the Embassy 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.
See Laws and Culture for more information.
Children and travel
Learn about travel with children.
Learn about potential entry requirements related to yellow fever (vaccines section).
Be sure that your routine vaccines, as per your province or territory, are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.
Some of these vaccines include: measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, varicella (chickenpox), influenza and others.
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 - Country Entry Requirements
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.
- There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
- Proof of vaccination is required if you are coming from a country where yellow fever occurs.
- Vaccination is not recommended.
- Discuss travel plans, activities, and destinations with a health care provider.
- There is currently a shortage of the yellow fever vaccine in Canada. It is important for travellers to contact a designated Yellow Fever Vaccination Centre well in advance of their trip to ensure that the vaccine is available.
* 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.
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 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), West Nile virus, and Zika 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.
Zika virus infection
Zika virus infection is a risk in this country. Recent or ongoing cases of Zika virus have been reported in this country.
All travellers should protect themselves from mosquito bites day and night.
Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects such as abnormally small heads (microcephaly). Zika virus can also be sexually transmitted.
Travellers who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy:
- Should avoid travel to this country
- If travel cannot be avoided follow strict mosquito bite prevention measures.
- Talk to your health care professional about the risk of Zika infection in pregnancy.
- Use condoms or avoid having sex for the duration of the pregnancy, if you are pregnant and your partner has travelled to this country.
- Female travellers: wait at least 2 months after returning from this country before trying to conceive (get pregnant) to ensure that any possible Zika virus infection has cleared your body.
- Male travellers: wait 6 months after returning from this country before trying to conceive. Use condoms or avoid having sex during that time.
See travel health notice: Zika virus: Advice for travellers
- There is a limited risk of malaria 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
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
Public and private medical facilities and equipment are adequate in San José, but are very limited or unavailable outside the city. Red Cross ambulances may not have emergency equipment on board, especially in rural areas; however, private ambulances are better equipped. You may have to pay in advance for medical services. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment and medical evacuation, if required. Consult Well on Your Way—A Canadian’s Guide to Healthy Travel Abroad for more information.
Costa Rica has decompression chambers at some beach resorts, including in Liberia and Samara.
All medication must be transported in its original container and have a clear label. Prescription and controlled medication must be accompanied by a prescription from the prescribing physician on letterhead stationery and include the medication’s generic name.
Consult our page entitled Receiving medical care in other countries if you are contemplating undergoing a medical procedure in Costa Rica.
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 and culture
Laws & culture
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 Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons (Council of Europe), 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.
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.
Canadian driver’s licences are valid in Costa Rica.
The Costa Rican government may prevent any driver involved in a vehicular accident from departing Costa Rica until all injury claims have been settled. This is true regardless of whether the driver is at fault or covered by insurance. Travellers may be prevented from leaving the country for months, or even years, until a local judicial resolution is reached.
Camera monitoring systems have been installed in various locations. Speeding fines are charged to individuals exceeding the speed limit.
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, original passport, vehicle registration and insurance documents. Traffic fines are not supposed to be collected on site.
Costa Rican immigration law requires all foreigners to carry original identification documents; however, local authorities will accept photocopies as long as the original documents are accessible. The exception to this requirement is when driving in Costa Rica. You must carry your original passport at all times when driving in the country; photocopies are not acceptable. Failure to provide proper documentation when stopped by a traffic officer could result in a fine. Officers can impose fines but they cannot collect the money on site. Fines may be paid either at COSEVI (Costa Rican Road Safety Council) or at a bank. If a police officer asks you for money, you may make a complaint to the ICT (Costa Rican Tourism Bureau) – Service to Tourists Department by calling 2299 5828 / 2299 5800 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
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.
Dual citizenship is legally recognized in Costal Rica.
If you are a Canadian citizen, but also a citizen of Costal Rica, our ability to offer you consular services may be limited while you're there. You may also be subject to different entry/exit requirements.
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.
If you are interested in purchasing property or making other investments, seek legal advice from appropriate professionals in Canada and in Costa Rica before making commitments. Disputes arising from such activities could be prolonged and costly to resolve.
The currency is the Costa Rican colón (CRC). It is advisable to exchange money at registered banks and exchange offices. Credit cards are widely accepted. ABMs are available in major towns and cities throughout the country, and only local currency can be withdrawn. It is extremely difficult to exchange Canadian currency and traveller’s cheques in Canadian dollars in Costa Rica. To avoid complications, carry U.S. dollars or colones. The maximum amount of traveller’s cheques that may be cashed at one time is $500.
Natural disasters and climate
Natural disasters & climate
Hurricanes usually occur from mid-May to the end of November. During this period, even small tropical storms can quickly develop into major hurricanes.
These severe storms can put you at risk and hamper the provision of essential services.
If you decide to travel to a coastal area during the hurricane season:
- know that you expose yourself to serious safety risks
- be prepared to change your travel plans on short notice, including cutting short or cancelling your trip
- stay informed of the latest regional weather forecasts
- carry emergency contact information for your airline or tour operator
- follow the advice and instructions of local authorities
- Hurricanes, typhoons, cyclones and monsoons
- Large-scale emergencies abroad
- Active storm tracking and hurricane watches and warnings - United States’ National Hurricane Center
During the rainy season (May to November, sometimes to January), flooding and mudslides occur frequently in the lowlands and mountainous areas, including along the Caribbean and in the Central Valley. 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.
Earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes
Costa Rica is located in an active seismic zone. Earthquakes and tremors occur regularly. Tsunamis are possible.
There are several active and potentially active volcanoes in the country. Volcanoes have erupted in the past few years. Turrialba Volcano, located in Cartago province, remains very active. Volcanic ash falls regularly in San José and surrounding areas and may disrupt domestic and international flights. Since March 2017, the Poás volcano has been very active. The Poás Volcano National Park is closed and visitor access is restricted within a 3.5 km radius of the volcano.
Pay careful attention to all warnings issued for national parks, especially for the Arenal, Poás, Rincón de la Vieja and Turrialba volcano areas. 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 Costa Rica’s National Commission for Risk Prevention and Emergency Response (CNE) (in Spanish) for the latest information on volcanic activity.
Dial 911 for emergency assistance.
San José - Embassy of Canada
For emergency consular assistance, call the Embassy of Canada to Costa Rica in San José and follow the instructions. At any time, you may also contact the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa.
The decision to travel is your choice and you are responsible for your personal safety abroad. We take the safety and security of Canadians abroad very seriously and provide credible and timely information in our Travel Advice to enable you to make well-informed decisions regarding your travel abroad.
The content on this page is provided for information only. While we make every effort to give you correct information, it is provided on an "as is" basis without warranty of any kind, express or implied. The Government of Canada does not assume responsibility and will not be liable for any damages in connection to the information provided.
If you need consular assistance while abroad, we will make every effort to help you. However, there may be constraints that will limit the ability of the Government of Canada to provide services.
Learn more about consular services.
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