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.
51,110 sq km (19,730 sq mi).
5.094 million (2020).
100 per sq km.
President Rodrigo Chaves Robles since 2022.
President Rodrigo Chaves Robles since 2022.
Coronavirus travel health
Check the latest information on risk from COVID-19 for Costa Rica on the TravelHealthPro website.
See the TravelHealthPro website for further advice on travel abroad and reducing spread of respiratory viruses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
You should contact local authorities for information on testing facilities.
Local authorities in Costa Rica have stated that travellers found in possession of falsified COVID-19 test documents run the risk of imprisonment and encourage the use of the authorised test facilities.
Commercial flights have now returned to almost pre-pandemic levels.
Entry and borders
See Entry requirements to find out what you will need to do when you arrive in Costa Rica.
Be prepared for your plans to change
No travel is risk-free during COVID-19. Countries may further restrict travel or bring in new rules at short notice, for example due to a new COVID-19 variant. Check with your travel company or airline for any transport changes which may delay your journey home.
If you test positive for COVID-19, you may need to stay where you are until you test negative. You may also need to seek treatment there.
Plan ahead and make sure you:
- can access money
- understand what your insurance will cover
- can make arrangements to extend your stay and be away for longer than planned
Travel in Costa Rica
There are no COVID-related travel restrictions in place in Costa Rica. Private cars are only allowed to enter the capital of San Jose on certain week days (Monday to Friday) depending on restrictions based on the last digit of the licence plate number. There are certain exceptions to this rule.
The use of facemasks is only mandatory for front line health workers (in Spanish only) in the private and public sectors and for people entering a health establishment. Nevertheless, some business places still require that face masks be used while in their establishments and will usually carry signage to this effect.
Public transport and taxis are operating normally.
You should find accommodation that is suitable for your needs. Hotels and other types of establishments are operating at full capacity. For tourist advice, including accommodation and travel, call +506-2299-5827 or via WhatsApp messaging at +506-8628-3247 (English-speaking operators are available).
Public spaces and services
Business places, tourism establishments, activities and events can operate at 100% capacity.
Healthcare in Costa Rica
If you have questions about COVID-19, please go to the nearest health centre or consult the Ministry of Health’s website (in Spanish only).
British-issued prescriptions 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.
For contact details for English speaking doctors visit our list of healthcare providers.
Your emotional and mental wellbeing is important. Read guidance on how to look after your mental wellbeing and mental health.
See Health for further details on healthcare in Costa Rica.
See also the guidance on healthcare if you’re waiting to return to the UK.
For information on financial support you can access whilst abroad, visit our financial assistance guidance.
If you need urgent consular assistance, contact your nearest British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. All telephone numbers are available 24/7.
You should not visit the Embassy in person unless you have arranged this by calling the Embassy number (+506) 2258 2025 and been given an appointment.
Useful telephone numbers:
- in an emergency, dial 911
- for tourist advice, including accommodation and travel, call +506-2299-5827 or via WhatsApp messaging at +506-8628-3247
Costa Rica has a low murder rate compared to its neighbours, but the figures are still high compared to the UK.
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 and muggings are significant problems, particularly on the Atlantic coast.
Be vigilant when using buses, as thefts are 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 leaving drinks unattended in bars as there have been reports of ‘spiked’ drinks resulting in assault and theft.
Avoid using unofficial taxis - ‘taxi piratas’. Violent incidents involving tourists have been reported. 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. Ideally, use radio-dispatched taxis. Make sure the driver’s ID is clearly visible on the dashboard and that the driver uses the meter. Do not accept lifts from strangers.
Avoid poorly lit or remote areas. Gang muggings, carjackings and armed robberies have occurred, including on busy streets. A number of foreign nationals (including one British national) have gone missing in recent years, with some related to criminal activity.
Car theft and theft from cars are common, even during relatively short stops at restaurant and other car parks. Do not 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.
In 2019, there were a number of deaths and cases of serious illness in Costa Rica caused by alcoholic drinks containing methanol. Criminal gangs have been reported to manufacture bottles of alcohol containing high amounts of methanol. These included a number of cheap brands of local spirits, such as vodka and ‘guaro’ (cane liquor). Further incidents were reported in October 2020 involving a spirit of the “Fiesta Blanca” brand. You should take care when buying all spirit-based drinks.
The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) says “Methanol can cause headache, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. High doses can cause blindness or vision loss as a consequence of serious damage to the optic nerve. Chronic exposure may cause liver damage, cirrhosis or even death from respiratory or cardiac failure”. If you, or someone you are travelling with, shows signs of alcohol-induced methanol poisoning, seek immediate medical attention.
If you are 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.
While air accidents in Costa Rica are rare, there have been 2 fatal incidents since September 2017 involving the domestic airline Nature Air. The company’s operating certificate has been indefinitely suspended by Costa Rica’s civil aviation authority.
You can drive in Costa Rica on a UK Driving Licence or an International Driving Permit while visiting as a tourist. If resident for longer periods, you may need to get a Costa Rican licence. You should produce your driving licence and passport if requested to do so by a police officer.
If you intend to 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 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 if participating in tours involving snorkelling or similar activities. There have been recent fatalities.
Whilst swimming from all beaches in Costa Rica, bear in mind that rip currents are very common and there are often no lifeguards. You should 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.
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. There have been several incidents involving small boats in the Tortuguero area, including a fatality due to a falling tree. If you plan to undertake any of these activities, you should arrange this with an established company with experienced staff.
Although there’s no history of terrorism in Costa Rica, attacks can’t be ruled out. Attacks involving an explosive device occurred in front of a parliamentary office building and a TV station in San Jose in June and July 2019 respectively.
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.
This page has information on travelling to Costa Rica.
This page 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 unsure how Costa Rica’s entry requirements apply to you, contact its UK embassy, high commission or consulate.
All travellers from any country will be admitted into Costa Rica as long as they meet the visa requirements. More information is available on the Costa Rica tourism board website.
Entry requirements in response to coronavirus
There are no COVID-19 related entry requirements for Costa Rica. The former requirements for filling in a Health Pass and for showing proof of adequate insurance policy are no longer in force. However, the authorities in Costa Rica may restrict travel or bring in new rules at short notice, for example due to a new COVID-19 variant. Check with your travel company, airline and the Costa Rica tourism board website for any changes at short notice. A travel insurance policy is recommended to cover medical expenses and lodging in the event of COVID-19 infection.
Transiting Costa Rica
The authorities are permitting same-day airside transit with a confirmed onward booking.
Check your passport and travel documents before you travel
If you are visiting Costa Rica, your passport should have at least one day’s validity from the date you are leaving Costa Rica.
Check with your travel provider to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
British nationals do not need a visa to enter Costa Rica. You may stay as a visitor for up to 90 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, then multiple exit and entry is not 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. Fines of $100 per month of overstay and restrictions on return can be applied under local law.
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.
There’s a departure tax of $29 when leaving the country by air. Most airlines include this in ticket prices; a few 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.
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.
Costa Rica is generally welcoming of LGBT travellers. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
You should be able to produce an identity document such as a passport at the request of the police. A photocopy is usually acceptable as long as the original would be available for later inspection if required.
If you have a health condition, or you are pregnant, you may need specialist healthcare abroad. Check whether your destination country can provide the healthcare you may need and ensure you have appropriate travel insurance for unexpected medical evacuation or local treatment.
See the Coronavirus travel health and Healthcare sections in the Coronavirus page for COVID-19 health information.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the latest country-specific health advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website. Each country-specific page has information on vaccine recommendations, any current health risks or outbreaks, and factsheets with information on staying healthy abroad. Guidance is also available from NHS (Scotland) on the FitForTravel website.
General information on travel vaccinations and a travel health checklist is available on the NHS website. You may then wish to contact your health adviser or pharmacy for advice on other preventive measures and managing any pre-existing medical conditions while you’re abroad.
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or purchased in the UK can be different in other countries. If you are travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medicine, read this guidance from NaTHNaC on best practice when travelling with medicines. For further information on the legal status of a specific medicine, you’ll need to contact the Embassy, High Commission or Consulate of the country or territory you are travelling to.
While travel can be enjoyable, it can sometimes be challenging. There are clear links between mental and physical health, so looking after yourself during travel and when abroad is important. Information on travelling with mental health conditions is available in our guidance page. Further information is also available from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC).
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.
There is a risk of mosquito-borne diseases such as Chikungunya virus and Dengue fever in Costa Rica. The number of reported cases of dengue is increasing. The worst affected areas are Limon and Puntarenas. If you’re in Costa Rica, 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.
The hurricane season usually runs from June to November. You should monitor local and international weather updates from the World Meteorological Organisation and the US National Hurricane Centre. 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.
Hurricanes Eta and Iota, which struck Central America in November 2020, caused flooding and landslides to occur, as well as road closures.
See our tropical cyclones page for advice about what to do if you are caught up in a storm.
You can sign up for our email alert service to be notified of any updates to our travel advice.
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.
Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions
Costa Rica experiences regular seismic activity and earthquakes in excess of strength 6 occur periodically. Local infrastructure is well-prepared and earthquakes of this strength seldom have widespread effects. 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.
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, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) in London on 020 7008 5000 (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.
The FCDO 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 FCDO 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 FCDO travel advice
If you’re looking for a previous version of the FCDO travel advice, visit the National Archives website. Versions prior to 2 September 2020 will be archived as FCO travel advice. If you can’t find the page you’re looking for there, send the Travel Advice Team a request.
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, or contact us on Twitter or Facebook. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.