Foreign travel advice

Costa Rica

Summary

The state of emergency declared following Tropical Storm Nate, which passed over north-eastern Costa Rica on 5 October 2017, has been lifted in some areas. It remains in force in some of the worst affected areas of the Provinces of Guanacaste, Puntarenas, Cartago and San Jose. Travel in these areas may still be affected. Airports remain open. You should follow the advice of local authorities and check with your airline or tour operator before travelling.

UK health authorities have classified Costa Rica as having a risk of Zika virus transmission. For more information and advice, visit the website of the National Travel Health Network and Centre website.

Increased activity of several volcanoes has recently caused national park and airport closures and this could happen again at any time.

Around 81,000 British nationals visited Costa Rica in 2016. Most visits are trouble-free, but incidents of violent crime against tourists have increased.

Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Costa Rica, attacks can’t be ruled out.

Since early 2013 there has been a sharp increase in cases of dengue and other mosquito-borne diseases.

If you need to contact the emergency services, call 911 (English speaking operators are available).

If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.

You should take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before you travel, particularly if undertaking adventure sports where safety standards can be variable. Beaches in Costa Rica may have dangerous currents and these aren’t always indicated by signs. Life guards aren’t usually present. Seek local advice and take extreme care.

Safety and security

Crime

You should maintain at least the same level of personal security awareness as in the UK, including when using ATMs. Petty theft of personal items including passports is a significant problem.

Be vigilant when using buses, as thefts are increasingly common. Bags in overhead compartments are particularly vulnerable. Thieves have simple but effective ways of distracting you. Be particularly watchful of your valuables at the beach.

Avoid poorly lit or remote areas. Gang muggings and armed robberies can occur even in daylight on busy streets. Eight foreign nationals (including one British national) have gone missing in the last few years, with some related to criminal activity.

Avoid using unofficial taxis - ‘taxi piratas’. Violent incidents involving tourists have been reported. Official taxis are red with a triangular sticker and plastic box on the roof with the name and number of the taxi company. Ideally, use radio-dispatched taxis. Make sure the driver’s ID is clearly visible on the dashboard and that the driver uses the meter.

Violent attacks including rape and other sexual offences are rare but there have been some in recent years. You should maintain at least the same level of personal security awareness as in the UK, including when using ATMs. Don’t accept lifts from strangers. Avoid leaving drinks unattended in bars as there have been reports of ‘spiked’ drinks resulting in assault and theft.

Car theft and theft from cars is common, even during relatively short stops at restaurant and other car parks. Don’t leave valuables in hire cars, even in the boot, and avoid leaving belongings where they can be seen from outside the car. Park in secure car parks with visible security staff, or in well-lit busy areas. There have been incidents where slashed tyres have given thieves the opportunity to help change your vehicle’s tyres while an accomplice steals from the car.

Local travel

If you’re visiting jungle areas you should go with an experienced local guide. If you visit a volcano pay strict attention to restrictions on entry to dangerous areas. When there is the risk of an eruption the national park is closed to visitors until the danger has passed.

Emergency contact numbers are: Police Emergency - 911; Ambulance - 911 or 128; Fire Service - 911 or 118; Police Investigative Service - 911 or 2221-5337.

Road travel

You can drive in Costa Rica on a UK Driving Licence or an International Driving Permit.

If you enter the country in a right hand drive vehicle you should be aware there have been instances where such vehicles have been refused entry as they contravene local law and are ineligible for local insurance.

Road conditions are generally good on main routes, although there can be potholes due to heavy rains in the rainy season. Landslides in the rainy season sometimes block the road between San José and Guapiles on the way to Limón and the new San Jose/Caldera Highway. Take care when approaching bridges as these are often only one-way, even if the road is two-way.

The standard of driving is lower than in the UK. Accidents are often caused by speeding or overtaking irresponsibly. Traffic lights are often ignored. Traffic police strictly enforce speed limits. If you have an accident where somebody has been injured or where blame has not been accepted by the other driver, you must not move the vehicle until the traffic police have arrived. The Traffic Police (Transito - telephone 2222-9330 or 2222-9245) and the Insurance Investigator (INS - telephone 800-800-8000) must come to the scene of the accident to complete accident reports.

Criminals sometimes cause deliberate collisions as a means of stopping vehicles in order to commit robberies or other crimes. If you think a collision was a deliberate act by another driver to make you stop, consider driving on until you reach a safe place like a police station or garage. In these circumstances you will need to be able to explain your actions to the traffic police.

Swimming and water sports

Take extra care when taking part in water sports and swimming from all beaches in Costa Rica. Rip tides are very common. There are normally no lifeguards. You should seek reliable local advice. Eighty six people died by drowning on Costa Rican beaches in the first 8 months of 2015.

There are regular sightings of crocodiles along the Pacific Coast near beaches popular with surfers (from Playa Azul down to Playa Esterillos) and there have been attacks in recent years.

Adventure activities, sea and river travel

Safety standards for adventure activities and on small boats are not always of a high standard. If you plan to undertake any of these, you should arrange this with an established company with experienced instructors.

Terrorism

Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Costa Rica, attacks can’t be ruled out.

There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.

Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.

Local laws and customs

Don’t get involved with drugs of any kind. The Costa Rican authorities treat the possession of drugs and drug trafficking severely. The minimum sentence is 8 years imprisonment.

Entry requirements

The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.

The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.

You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.

Visas

British nationals don’t need a visa to enter Costa Rica. You may stay as a visitor for up to 3 months under a tourist visa waiver, although the exact period is at the discretion of the immigration officer on arrival. If you plan to work, or stay for a longer period, then multiple exit and entry isn’t an approved alternative to obtaining the relevant visa for your circumstances. You should check the requirements with the Costa Rican authorities.

The immigration authorities are strict about foreigners who have overstayed.

Passport validity

Your passport should have at least one day’s validity from the date you are leaving Costa Rica. If you hold a passport other than a British Citizen passport, different regulations may apply.

Evidence of onward travel

Entry to Costa Rica may be refused if you are unable to produce evidence of return or onward travel (for example a return air ticket).

UK Emergency Travel Documents

UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Costa Rica.

Airport tax

There’s a departure tax of $29 when leaving the country by air. Many airlines have started to include this in ticket prices; others have still not done so. Check with your airline or travel company whether you need to pay this separately. If so you can pay by cash or credit/debit card in dollars or local colones.

Yellow fever certificate requirements

Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.

Travelling with children

Under Costa Rican law, children under the age of 18 born in Costa Rica are automatically considered to be Costa Rican citizens, even if travelling on a British passport. Either notarised written consent from both parents or a Costa Rican passport is required in order for the child to leave Costa Rica. Contact the Costa Rican Embassy or Consulate for further information on laws regarding the international travel of Costa Rican children.

Health

UK health authorities have classified Costa Rica as having a risk of Zika virus transmission. For more information and advice, visit the website of the National Travel Health Network and Centre website.

Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.

Since 2013, there has been a sharp increase in cases of dengue.

Cases of Chikungunya virus have been confirmed in Costa Rica and the number of reported cases in the region is increasing. You should take steps to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.

Medical care in Costa Rica is of a generally high standard. Ambulance services in remote areas may vary. Only initial emergency medical treatment is available without charge for visitors. Subsequent treatment will be charged. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.

If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 911 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.

Natural disasters

Flooding

The rainy season in Costa Rica normally runs from May to November, coinciding with the hurricane season in the Caribbean. Flooding can occur and heavy rains or hurricanes can cause landslides.

Monitor local and international weather updates from the World Meteorological Organisation and the National Hurricane Centre.

Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions

Costa Rica experiences regular seismic activity. The last major earthquake occurred in September 2012 near the Pacific coastal area of Nicoya Peninsula and measured 7.6. The US Federal Emergency Management Agency website has advice about what to do before, during and after an earthquake or tsunami.

Costa Rica has 16 volcanoes, several of which are considered active. The possibility of eruptions always exists. Several volcanoes are currently active.

Travel advice help and support

If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).

Foreign travel checklist

Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.

Travel safety

The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.

When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.

Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.

Refunds and cancellations

If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.

For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Registering your travel details with us

We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.

Previous versions of FCO travel advice

If you’re looking for a previous version of the FCO travel advice, visit the National Archives website. If you can’t find the page you’re looking for there, send us a request.

Further help

If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.