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Costa Rica travel guide

About Costa Rica

Steaming rainforest, iridescent hummingbirds, smouldering volcanoes, tumbling rivers, and miles of palm-fringed sandy beaches: if Mother Nature can ever be accused of showing off, it is in Costa Rica. Sat just north of the equator, this verdant chunk of the Central American isthmus is one of the most bio-diverse spots on the planet. Added to this, as the only country in the region with no standing army, Costa Rica is a beacon of peace and democracy.

A world pioneer in eco-tourism, Costa Rica has set aside more than a quarter of its territory as a protected natural area. Its 28 national parks are its greatest glory, comprising a stunning variety of landscapes, microclimates, flora and fauna. The forest canopy at Los Quetzales National Park is the haunt of the colourful resplendent quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno), the sacred bird of the ancient Mayans and Aztecs. The Las Baulas National Marine Park is home to the world's largest nesting ground of leatherback turtles. The Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park is alive with bubbling fumaroles and commanding waterfalls, making it a fantastic place to enjoy hiking, horseback riding, or simply having a soak in hot springs to soothe body aches.

Alternatively, if you are looking for an adrenalin kick, diving, surfing, rock climbing, whitewater rafting and tree-top ziplining are just a few of the extreme activities on offer. You can also hike around the country – choose from easy countryside rambles to epic coast-to-coast hike that takes you from the Caribbean side to the Pacific coast.

Costa Rica's cities may not win many architectural awards but they do offer a rich insight into the urban lives of Ticos, as the citizens call themselves. The capital, San José, has superb museums, specialty coffee shops and craft beer bars, while Puerto Limón, overlooking the Caribbean Sea, has a multi-ethnic flavour. Limón is also a popular stopover with surfers en-route to the big waves at Salsa Brava.

All in all, for those in search of an ethical adventure, Costa Rica's charms will have you under its spell all too quickly.

Key facts


51,110 sq km (19,730 sq mi).


5.094 million (2020).

Population density:

100 per sq km.


San José.



Head of state:

President Rodrigo Chaves Robles since 2022.

Head of government:

President Rodrigo Chaves Robles since 2022.

Travel Advice

Before you travel 

No travel can be guaranteed safe. Read all the advice in this guide and see support for British nationals abroad for information about specific travel topics. 

No travel can be guaranteed safe. Read all the advice in this guide and any specific travel advice that applies to you:

Travel insurance 

If you choose to travel, research your destinations and get appropriate travel insurance. Insurance should cover your itinerary, planned activities and expenses in an emergency.

About FCDO travel advice

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides advice about risks of travel to help British nationals make informed decisions. Find out more about FCDO travel advice.

Follow and contact FCDO travel on TwitterFacebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this advice is updated.

This advice reflects the UK government’s understanding of current rules for people travelling on a full ‘British citizen’ passport from the UK, for the most common types of travel. 

The authorities in Costa Rica set and enforce entry rules. If you’re not sure how these requirements apply to you, contact the Costa Rican Embassy in the UK

COVID-19 rules 

There are no COVID-19 testing or vaccination requirements for travellers entering Costa Rica. 

Passport validity requirements  

To enter Costa Rica, your passport must have an ‘expiry date’ at least 1 day after the day you plan to leave. 

Check with your travel provider that your passport and other travel documents meet requirements. Renew your passport if you need to.  

You will be denied entry if you do not have a valid travel document or try to use a passport that has been reported lost or stolen. 

Visa requirements 

British nationals do not need a visa to enter Costa Rica. You may stay as a visitor for up to 180 days 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, you should check the requirements with the Costa Rican Embassy in the UK.    

If you overstay, the immigration authorities can fine you 100 US dollars for each month and refuse future applications to enter Costa Rica.

Airport tax 

When leaving the country by air, you may need to pay a departure tax of 29 US dollars. Most airlines include this in ticket prices. If you need to pay it, you can use cash or card. 

Vaccination requirements  

At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the vaccinations and certificates you need in TravelHealthPro’s Costa Rica guide.  

Depending on your circumstances, this may include a yellow fever vaccination certificate. 

Customs rules 

There are strict rules about goods you can take into or out of Costa Rica. You must declare anything that may be prohibited or subject to tax or duty.  

Taking money into Costa Rica  

Declare cash, travellers cheques or goods if the value is 10,000 US dollars or more. You will get a certified declaration to show you brought it in with you. If you do not, your money or goods could be seized when you leave.   


There is a high threat of terrorist attack globally affecting UK interests and British nationals, including from groups and individuals who view the UK and British nationals as targets. Stay aware of your surroundings at all times. 

UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out how to reduce your risk from terrorism while abroad

Terrorism in Costa Rica 

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

Attacks involving an explosive device occurred in front of a parliamentary office building and a TV station in San José in June and July 2019 respectively. 


Protecting your belongings 

Muggings and theft are significant problems, particularly on the Atlantic coast. You should: 

  • be aware of who is around you when using ATMs 

  • be vigilant on buses and keep your luggage in view if possible – thieves are likely to try and distract you 
  • watch wallets and valuables when on the beach 
  • avoid leaving luggage in a parked car, either in view or in the boot 

There have been incidents where thieves slash a tyre and then offer to help change it, while an accomplice steals from the car.  

Violent crime  

Avoid walking alone in poorly lit or remote areas at night. Gangs occasionally carry out muggings and armed robberies. A number of foreign nationals including one British national have gone missing in recent years, with some incidents related to criminal activity. 

If you’re using a hire car, do not stop your car for strangers signalling for help – they could be carjackers.  

Criminals sometimes cause deliberate collisions to stop vehicles and commit robberies or other crimes. If you think a collision was a deliberate act by another driver to make you stop, drive on until you reach a safe place like a police station or garage. You will need to be able to explain your actions to the traffic police.

Spiked drinks and sexual assault 

Rapes and sexual assaults have increased, some of which appear targeted toward tourists. Avoid leaving drinks unattended in bars as there have been reports of ‘spiked’ drinks resulting in assault and theft. 

Women travelling alone have reported having to pay extra attention to their personal safety. 

See advice for women travelling abroad.

Methanol poisoning 

There have been a number of deaths and cases of serious illness caused by alcoholic drinks containing methanol. Criminal gangs have apparently used methanol in the manufacture of cheap brands of local spirits, including vodka and ‘guaro’ (cane liquor). You should take care when buying spirit-based drinks. 

The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) says that methanol can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, and can seriously damage the optic nerve. Chronic exposure may cause respiratory or cardiac failure. If you, or someone you are travelling with, shows signs of methanol poisoning, seek immediate medical attention.

Laws and cultural differences  

Personal ID 

As a foreigner, you must carry ID such as a passport. The police will usually accept a photocopy. Make sure you have the original available somewhere safe in case they ask to see it. 

Illegal drugs and prison sentences 

Do not 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. 

LGBT+ travellers 

Costa Rica is generally welcoming of LGBT+ travellers. Read more advice for LGBT+ travellers.

Outdoor activities and adventure tourism  

Swimming safety 

While swimming on any beach in Costa Rica, bear in mind that rip currents are very common and there are often no lifeguards. Seek reliable local advice. Drownings are the second most common cause of accidental death and in recent years have averaged 50 to 60 per year, a third of whom were tourists. 

Take extra care if participating in tours involving snorkelling or similar activities. There have been recent fatalities. 

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.

Water sports 

Safety standards for adventure activities and on small boats are variable. There have been several incidents involving small boats in the Tortuguero area, including a fatality due to a falling tree. If you plan to take part any of these activities, use an established company with experienced staff.

Rainforest tours and Adventure Tourism. 

If you are visiting jungle areas, go with an experienced local guide. Make sure you get appropriate insurance that covers you for all the activities you want to do. This includes activities such as quad biking, surfing, rock-climbing and zip-lining which can be hazardous but are frequently excluded from general travel insurance policies.

Transport risks  

Road travel  

If you’re planning to drive in Costa Rica, see information on driving abroad

Private cars are only allowed to enter the capital of San José on certain weekdays, allocated using the last digit of the licence plate number. Your hire car company can give you more details. 

You can use a UK photocard driving licence to drive in Costa Rica for up to 180 days,  depending on the length of stay you have been granted as a Tourist.

If you still have a paper driving licence, you may need to update it to a photocard licence or get an  international driving permit. Border authorities may refuse entry to right-hand drive vehicles as they’re illegal and do not qualify for local insurance.

The standard of driving is lower than in the UK. Drivers cause accidents by speeding, overtaking irresponsibly or ignoring traffic lights. Take care when approaching bridges over the road as these often narrow the road to a single lane. 

Road conditions are generally good on main routes. However, in the rainy season, heavy rains can cause potholes and landslides that block the roads.  

If you have an accident where somebody has been injured or where the other driver does not accept blame, you must not move your vehicle until the traffic police have arrived. Contact the traffic police (‘transito’ – telephone: 2222 9330 or 2222 9245) and the insurance investigator (INS – telephone: 800 800 8000) immediately.


Avoid using unofficial taxis (‘taxi piratas’). Official taxis are red (or orange at the airport) with a triangular sticker and plastic box on the roof with the name and number of the taxi company. It’s best to use radio-dispatched taxis. Make sure the driver’s ID is clearly visible on the dashboard and that the driver uses the meter.

Extreme weather and natural disasters 

See extreme weather and natural hazards for information about how to prepare, and how to react if there is a warning. 


The hurricane season usually runs from June to November – the same as the hurricane season in the Caribbean. Monitor the National Hurricane Center forecasts and the World Meteorological Organization warnings. Follow the advice of local authorities, including any evacuation orders. Keep up to date with FCDO travel advice and social media. Plan any local travel carefully.


The June-November period is also the peak rainy season. Flooding and landslides may occur, resulting in road closures and driving hazards.


There is a risk of earthquakes: movements greater than magnitude 6 occur periodically. Local infrastructure is well-prepared, and earthquakes seldom have widespread effects. The US Federal Emergency Management Agency website has advice about what to do before, during and after an earthquake or a tsunami

Volcanic eruptions 

Costa Rica has 16 volcanoes, several of which are considered active. The risk of eruptions is always present. The most recent significant eruption was at Volcan Rincon de la Vieja on 21 April 2023. 

Check news reports and follow local advice before travelling to any areas around volcanoes. Avoid volcanic areas during and immediately after heavy rainfall when there’s increased risk of lava flows.

Ash plumes can affect air quality and have an impact on health. If you have any pre-existing respiratory conditions, you might be at increased risk of triggering or worsening your symptoms. A properly fitted face mask may provide some protection.  

Before you travel check that: 

  • your destination can provide the healthcare you may need 
  • you have appropriate travel insurance for local treatment or unexpected medical evacuation 

This is particularly important if you have a health condition or are pregnant.

Emergency medical number 

Call 911 and ask for an ambulance. 

Contact your insurance company promptly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment.

Vaccinations and health risks 

At least 8 weeks before your trip check: 


Prescriptions from the UK cannot be used locally. To find a pharmacy (‘farmacia’) look for one of the big national chains such as Farmacia Fischel, Farmacia Sucre, FarmaValue, Farmacia Saba, or Farmacia Santa Lucia, among others; a quick search online should help you to identify the nearest one open. 

Read best practice when travelling with medicines on TravelHealthPro

The NHS has information on whether you can take your medicine abroad.

Healthcare facilities in Costa Rica  

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.

FCDO has a list of English-speaking doctors in Costa Rica.

Travel and mental health 

Read FCDO guidance on travel and mental health. There is also mental health guidance on TravelHealthPro

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) cannot provide tailored advice for individual trips. Read this travel advice and carry out your own research before deciding whether to travel. 

Emergency services in Costa Rica  

Telephone: 911 (ambulance, fire, police)

Contact your travel provider and insurer 

Contact your travel provider and your insurer if you are involved in a serious incident or emergency abroad. They will tell you if they can help and what you need to do.

Refunds and changes to travel 

For refunds or changes to travel, contact your travel provider. You may also be able to make a claim through insurance. However, insurers usually require you to talk to your travel provider first. 

Find out more about changing or cancelling travel plans, including: 

  • where to get advice if you are in a dispute with a provider 
  • how to access previous versions of travel advice to support a claim

Support from FCDO 

FCDO has guidance on staying safe and what to do if you need help or support abroad, including: 

Contacting FCDO 

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this travel advice is updated. 

You can also contact FCDO online.

Help abroad in an emergency 

If you’re in Costa Rica and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the British Embassy in San José

FCDO in London 

You can call FCDO in London if you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad. 

Telephone: 020 7008 5000 (24 hours) 

Find out about call charges

Risk information for British companies  

The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.

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