Current embassy consular sheet
|Costa Rica Consular
Issued: May 26, 2005
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Costa Rica is a middle-income, developing country with a strong democratic tradition. Tourist facilities are extensive and generally adequate. The capital is San Jose. English is a second language for many Costa Ricans.
ENTRY AND EXIT REQUIREMENTS: On December 31, 2005, the U.S. Government will begin to phase in new passport requirements for U.S. citizens traveling in the Western Hemisphere. By December 31, 2007, all U.S. citizens will be expected to depart and enter the United States on a valid passport or other authorized document establishing identity and U.S. citizenship. The Department of State strongly encourages travelers to obtain passports well in advance of any planned travel. Routine passport applications by mail take up to six weeks to be issued. For further information, go to the State Department's Consular website.
For entry into the country, Costa Rican authorities require that U.S. citizens present valid passports that will not expire for at least thirty days after arrival.
Costa Rican authorities generally permit U.S. citizens to stay up to ninety days; to stay legally beyond the period granted, travelers will need to submit an application for an extension to the Office of Temporary Permits in the Costa Rican Department of Immigration. Tourist visas are usually not extended except under special circumstances, such as academic, employment, or medical grounds, and extension requests are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
In a modification to a legal requirement that foreigners carry their passports on their persons at all times, Costa Rican migration authorities have stated that U.S. citizens may carry simply photocopies of the passport data page and of the Costa Rican entry stamp on their persons, and leave the original passport in a hotel safe or other secure place. (U.S. citizens must still, however, present their passports for entry into and exit from Costa Rica.) Due to the high incidence of theft of passports, travelers who do carry their passports on them are urged to place them securely in an inside pocket, and to keep a copy of the passport data page in a separate place to facilitate the issuance of an emergency replacement passport.
There is a departure tax for short-term visitors. Tourists who stay over ninety days may experience some delay at the airport. Persons who have overstayed previously may be denied entry to Costa Rica.
In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated special procedures for minors at entry and exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of the child's relationship to the accompanying parents and, if one of the parents is not traveling with the child, permission from the non-traveling parent for the child's travel. Having such documentation on hand may facilitate entry and departure.
Dual U.S./Costa Rican citizens are required by Costa Rican authorities to comply with entry and exit laws that pertain to Costa Rican citizens. This means that dual citizen children (children who hold both U.S. and Costa Rican citizenship), who might normally travel on U.S. passports, will be required to comply with entry and exit requirements applicable to Costa Rican children. Some American parents may not be aware that their child acquired Costa Rican citizenship through birth in Costa Rica or because the other parent is Costa Rican. American parents of minors who may have obtained Costa Rican citizenship through birth in Costa Rica or to a Costa Rican parent should be aware that these children may only depart Costa Rica upon presentation of an exit permit issued by the Costa Rican immigration office. This office may be closed for several weeks during holiday periods. Parents of dual citizen children are advised to consult with the Costa Rican Embassy or Consulate in the U.S. about entry and exit requirements before travel to Costa Rica. For general information about dual nationality, see the Consular Affairs home page on the Internet.
The most authoritative and up-to-date information on Costa Rican entry and exit requirements may be obtained from the Consular Section of the Embassy of Costa Rica at 2112 "S" Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone (202) 328-6628, fax (202) 234-6950, or from a Costa Rican consulate in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Juan (Puerto Rico), San Francisco, or Tampa. The Embassy of Costa Rica also maintains a web site, as does the Costa Rican immigration agency.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: On both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, currents are swift and dangerous, and there are no lifeguards or signs warning of dangerous beaches. Several American citizens drown in Costa Rica each year.
Adventure tourism is increasingly popular in Costa Rica, and many companies provide white-water rafting, bungee jumping, jungle canopy tours, deep sea diving, and other outdoor attractions. In recent years, several Americans have died on Costa Rica's flood-swollen rivers in white-water rafting accidents. Others have died trying to reach the mouths of active volcanoes after being assured by tour guides that this dangerous activity is safe. Americans are urged to use caution in selecting adventure tourism companies, and are advised to avoid small, "cut-rate" companies that do not have the track record of more established companies. The government of Costa Rica has passed legislation to regulate and monitor the safety of adventure tourism companies; enforcement of these laws is overseen by the Ministry of Health. To be granted official operating permits, registered tourism companies must meet safety standards and have insurance coverage.
Demonstrations or strikes, related to labor disputes or other local issues, occur occasionally in Costa Rica. Past demonstrations have resulted in port closures, roadblocks, and sporadic gasoline shortages. These protests have not targeted U.S. citizens or U.S. interests, and are typically non-violent. Travelers are advised to avoid areas where demonstrations are taking place and to keep informed by following the local news and consulting hotel personnel and tour guides. Additional information about demonstrations may be obtained from the Consular Section at the U.S. Embassy, or on the Embassy website.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements may be found.
Up to date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States, or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
CRIME: Crime is increasing and tourists are frequent victims. Criminals usually operate in small groups. While most crimes are non-violent, criminals, including juveniles, have shown a greater tendency in recent years to use violence and to carry handguns or shoulder weapons. All criminals should be considered armed with firearms or knives. Criminals, if challenged or threatened, will quickly use their weapons. U.S. citizens are encouraged to exercise the same level of caution that they would in major cities or tourist areas throughout the world, and to be aware that the same types of crime found elsewhere are also found here, whether of a violent nature (e.g., robbery) or furtive (e.g., identity theft). Local law enforcement agencies have limited capabilities and do not act according to U.S. standards, especially outside of San Jose.
Americans should avoid areas with high concentrations of bars and nightclubs, especially at night, and should also steer clear of deserted properties or undeveloped land. For safety reasons, the Embassy does not place its official visitors in hotels in the city center, but instead puts them at the larger hotels in the outlying suburbs. Americans should walk or exercise with a companion, and should bear in mind that crowded tourist attractions and resort areas popular with foreign tourists are also common venues for criminal activities. Travelers should avoid responding in kind to verbal harassment, and should avoid carrying large amounts of cash, jewelry or expensive photographic equipment.
In recent years, several Americans have been murdered in Costa Rica in urban, rural and resort locations. U.S. citizens have been victims of sexual assaults both in cities and in rural areas. In some of these cases, the victim has known the assailant. There have been several sexual assaults by taxi drivers. Travelers should be careful to use licensed taxis, which are red and have medallions (yellow triangles containing numbers) painted on the side. Licensed taxis at the airport are painted orange, rather than red. All taxis should have working door handles, locks, meters (called "marias"), and seatbelts. Passengers are required by law to wear seat belts. Passengers should not ride in the front seat with the driver. If the taxi meter is not working, a price should be agreed upon before the trip begins. When traveling by bus, avoid putting bags or other personal belongings in the storage bins. Thieves will take property from the bins when the bus makes its periodic stops. A good rule to follow is always to have your belongings in your line of sight or in your possession at all times.
There have been reports that unsuspecting patrons of bars and nightclubs have been drugged and later assaulted or robbed. Americans should always be aware of their surroundings, and should not consume food or drinks they have left untended. Americans may find it safer to seek entertainment in groups to help avoid being targeted, especially in urban areas.
Although unusual, there have been a number of kidnappings reported over the past several years, including the kidnappings of Americans and other foreigners. Some of these cases have been so-called "express kidnappings," in which victims are held for several hours as the kidnappers transport them to various automated bank teller machines in an effort to take as much money as possible from the victims' bank accounts. Carjackings have also increased, and motorists have been confronted at gunpoint while stopped at traffic lights or upon arrival at their homes. Late model sports utility vehicles and high-end car models are popular with carjackers. One method of initiating kidnappings and carjackings is to bump the victim's car from behind; the unsuspecting victim stops, believing he or she has been involved in a minor car accident, and is taken hostage. Americans should remain vigilant to these types of incidents, and use caution if bumped from behind on an isolated stretch of road.
Another common ploy by thieves involves the surreptitious puncturing of tires of rental cars, often near restaurants, tourist attractions, airports, or close to the car rental agencies themselves. When the travelers pull over, "good Samaritans" quickly appear to change the tire - and just as quickly remove valuables from the car, sometimes brandishing weapons. Drivers with flat tires are advised to drive, if at all possible, to the nearest service station or other public area, and change the tire themselves, watching their valuables at all times. Travelers can reduce their risk by keeping valuables out of sight, by not wearing jewelry, and by traveling in groups. Travelers should also minimize travel after dark. Before renting a car, travelers should ask the rental company their specific policy regarding damage to a tire or wheel rim due to driving on a flat tire. Some rental car companies may cover the costs of the damaged tire and wheel rim if the occupants feared for their safety and drove to the nearest public area to change the flat tire.
Travelers should purchase an adequate level of locally valid theft insurance when renting vehicles. One should park in secured lots whenever possible, and should never leave valuables in the vehicle. The U.S. Embassy receives reports daily of valuables, identity documents, and other items stolen from locked vehicles. In many of these cases, the stolen items were hidden under the seat, in the glove compartment, or secured in the trunk. Thefts from parked cars commonly occur in downtown San Jose, at beaches, in the airport and bus station parking lots, and at national parks and other tourist attractions.
Money changers on the street have been known to pass off counterfeit U.S. dollars and local currency. Credit card fraud (either using stolen credit cards or the account number alone following copying of the number) is on the rise. Travelers should retain all their credit card receipts and check their accounts regularly to help prevent unauthorized use of their credit cards. Avoid using debit cards for point-of-sale purchases, as a skimmed number can be used to clean out an account.
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and to the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy. If the police will not accept the report, as sometimes happens when only the passport is stolen, the traveler should in any case report the theft to the U.S. Embassy to help avoid use by criminals or other identity theft.
U.S. citizens can refer to the Department of State's pamphlet, A Safe Trip Abroad , for ways to promote trouble-free travel. The pamphlet is available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402; via the Internet or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page .
ASSISTANCE TO VICTIMS OF CRIME: Persons, who are victims of crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, should contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can help crime victims find appropriate medical care and contact family members or friends. They can also explain how to transfer funds from the U.S. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help a victim of crime to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
Costa Rica has a 911 system for reporting emergencies. Crimes that are no longer in progress should be reported in person at the nearest police station. In the event of a traffic accident, vehicles must be left where they are, and not moved out of the way. Both the Transito (Traffic Police) and the Insurance Investigator must make accident reports before the vehicles are moved. Although sometimes slow to respond after notification, these officials will come to the accident scene.
MEDICAL FACILITIES: Medical care in San Jose is adequate, but may be more limited in areas outside of San Jose. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services, and U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. A list of local doctors and medical facilities can be found at the website of the U.S. Embassy in San Jose. An ambulance may be summoned by calling 911. The best equipped ambulances are called "unidad avanzada."
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as medical evacuation. U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs incurred outside the United States unless supplemental coverage is purchased. Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas, including emergency services such as medical evacuation.
When making a decision regarding health insurance, Americans should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service, and that a medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost well in excess of $50,000. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties. When consulting with an insurer prior to a trip, ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare provider or whether the traveler is reimbursed later for expenses incurred. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.
Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad , available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page.
OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION: Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC's Internet site. Incidents of dengue fever and malaria are rising in Costa Rica. For information about this and about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization's website. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Costa Rica is provided for general reference only, and it may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Costa Rica has one of the highest vehicle accident rates in the world. Even the most experienced drivers are challenged by the disregard for traffic laws and driving safety. Traffic laws and speed limits are often ignored; turns across one or two lanes of traffic are common, and pedestrians are not given the right of way. Although improving, roads are often in poor condition, and large potholes with the potential to cause significant damage to vehicles are common. Pedestrians, cyclists, and farm animals may use the main roads. Traffic signs, even on major highways, are often inadequate. All of the above, in addition to poor visibility because of heavy fog or rain, makes driving at night especially treacherous. In the rainy season, landslides are common, especially on the highway between San Jose and the Caribbean city of Limon. All types of motor vehicles are appropriate for the main highways and principal roads in the major cities. However, some roads to beaches and other rural locations are not paved, and some out-of-the-way destinations are accessible only with high clearance, rugged suspension four-wheel drive vehicles. Travelers are advised to call ahead to their hotels to ask about the current status of access roads.
Travelers should avoid responding in kind to provocative driving behavior or road-rage. In case of an accident, travelers are advised to remain in their car until police arrive. Travelers are further advised to keep all doors locked and to drive to a well-populated area before stopping to change a flat tire (see "Crime," above).
Costa Rican law requires that drivers and passengers wear seatbelts in all cars, including taxis, and police are authorized to issue tickets. Traffic enforcement in Costa Rica is the responsibility of the Transit Police ("Transitos"), who are distinguished by a light blue uniform shirt and dark blue trousers. They use light blue cars or motorcycles equipped with blue lights. They often wave vehicles to the side of the road for inspection. Drivers are commonly asked to produce a driver's license, vehicle registration and insurance information. Third-party coverage is mandatory in Costa Rica. Infractions will result in the issuance of a summons. Fines are not supposed to be collected on the spot, although reports of officers attempting to collect money are common. Persons involved in vehicular accidents are advised not to move their vehicle until instructed to do so by a Transit Officer, who will respond to the scene together with a representative of the National Insurance Company (known by its local acronym, INS.) Accidents may be reported by dialing 911.
For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs home page.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Costa Rica's civil aviation authority as Category 1 - in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Costa Rica's air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet website.
Since 2000, several American citizens have died in domestic air accidents. Local investigations have judged pilot error to be the cause in the majority of the accidents. Private air taxi services have been involved in a disproportionate number of crashes. The Government of Costa Rica's civil aviation authority has responded by dedicating additional resources to the oversight of the pilots, procedures, and aircraft of air taxi operators.
CUSTOMS REGULATIONS: Costa Rica customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Costa Rica of items such as cars, household effects, and merchandise. These regulations can be quite complicated and include the application of local tax laws. In addition, Costa Rican customs officials often require documentation that has been certified by the Costa Rican Embassy/Consulate in the country of origin. This is especially true for automobiles that are to be imported. The Government of Costa Rica has instituted strict emissions requirements for these cars and will not release them without an emissions statement from the country of origin. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Costa Rica in Washington or one of Costa Rica's Consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements before shipping any items. Their website is here.
In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products are illegal and bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. A current list of those countries with serious problems in this regard can be found here.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States, and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Costa Rican law, even unknowingly, may be arrested, imprisoned, fined and/or expelled.
Soliciting the services of a minor for sexual purposes is illegal in Costa Rica, and is punishable by imprisonment. The Costa Rican government has established an aggressive program to discourage sexual tourism and to punish severely those who engage in sexual activity with minors. Several U.S. citizens are serving long sentences in Costa Rica following conviction of crimes related to sexual activity with minors. These acts are also illegal under U.S. law, even if the act takes place abroad.
Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the United States, for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien, to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18, whether or not the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien intended to engage in such illicit sexual conduct prior to going abroad. For purposes of the PROTECT Act, illicit sexual conduct includes any commercial sex act in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18. The law defines a commercial sex act as any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by a person under the age of 18.
Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998, it is a crime to use the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transmit information about a minor under the age of 16 for criminal sexual purposes that include, among other things, the production of child pornography. This same law makes it a crime to use any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transport obscene materials to minors under the age of 16.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Costa Rica are strict, and convicted offenders can expect lengthy jail sentences and fines. In addition to the criminal penalties they may face, tourists who purchase or sell illegal drugs or use the services of prostitutes greatly increase their risk of personal harm. Several Americans have died in Costa Rica in recent years in incidents related to drug use or patronage of prostitutes.
Under Costa Rican law, suspects in criminal cases may be held in jail until the investigation is completed and the prosecutor is ready to proceed to trial. This pretrial detention can last two years, and in some cases, longer.
Borders: There have been disagreements regarding navigational rights in the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border area. Nicaragua and Costa Rica signed a three-year agreement in September of 2002 to defer presenting these issues before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for resolution. Meanwhile, the governments of Nicaragua and Costa Rica have agreed to work towards an amicable solution and to jointly fund community development projects in the border area.
Land Ownership, Expropriations, Squatters, Shoreline Property: U.S. citizens are urged to use caution when making real estate purchases, and should consult reputable legal counsel and investigate thoroughly all aspects before entering into a contract.
Irregular Land Registrations: Due to irregular enforcement of property laws, investors should exercise extreme caution before investing in real estate. There is a long history of investment and real estate scams and frauds perpetrated against U.S. citizens and other international visitors. There have been numerous instances of duly registered properties reverting to previously unknown owners who have shown they possess clear title and parallel registration.
Expropriations: A few cases remain in which U.S. citizens have yet to be compensated for land expropriated by the government in the 1970s or 1980s. Unexecuted expropriation claims cloud title in other cases. However, changes to Costa Rican law in 1995 place more restrictions on the government's ability to expropriate land and require compensation prior to expropriation. The new law also provides for arbitration in the event of a dispute.
Squatters: Organized squatter groups have on occasion invaded properties in various parts of the country. These squatter groups, often supported by politically active persons and non-governmental organizations, take advantage of legal provisions that allow people without land to gain title to unused agricultural property. This phenomenon is particularly common in rural areas, where local courts show considerable sympathy for the squatters. Victims of squatters have reported threats of violence, harassment, or actual violence.
Restrictions on Shoreline Property: The Maritime Terrestrial Zone Law governs the use and ownership of most land up to 200 meters from the waterfront (mean high tide level) on both coasts of Costa Rica, including estuaries and river mouths. The first 50 meters from the waterfront is public land and normally may not be developed. The next 150 meters can be privately developed and occupied under five-to-twenty year concessions from the local municipality, provided the land has been zoned for the intended use. Strict residency requirements apply to foreigners who seek concessions.
Investments and Loans: Persons planning to make investments in Costa Rica are advised to exercise the same caution they would before making investments in the U.S., including consulting their investment advisor and tax accountant. Several U.S. citizens have lost appreciable amounts of money in local investment or lending schemes that "sounded too good to be true." Some of these are believed to have been "Ponzi" schemes with few or no assets behind the "investment" or "loan." Persons offered an investment opportunity in Costa Rica promising interest above that generally available may wish to check with the Costa Rican government's Superintendencia General de Valores, which lists investment opportunities that are legally registered and authorized to offer investments. That office can be contacted at (506) 243-4700 or here.
Lottery and Sweepstake fraud schemes: The Embassy has received several complaints from U.S. citizens in the United States who said they were victims of sweepstake or lottery fraud originating in Costa Rica. In these schemes, the victims are contacted by criminals (who may even claim to be employees of the U.S. Embassy) advising them that they have won a lottery or sweepstake, but that they must provide personal funds to secure the winnings or to pay local taxes or administrative costs.
DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Costa Rica is located in an earthquake, hurricane and volcanic zone. Costa Rica is also a country of microclimates and travelers to Costa Rica should check the projected rainfall amounts for the area in Costa Rica they intend to visit. Serious flooding occurs annually on the Caribbean side near the port city of Limon, but flooding could occur in other parts of Costa Rica as well, depending on the time of year and projected rainfall in that region. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please refer to the Department of State's Internet site or telephone Overseas Citizens Services at 1-888-407-4747. This number is available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). Callers who are unable to use toll-free numbers, such as those calling from overseas, may obtain information and assistance during these hours by calling 1-202-501-4444.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION: The Department of State invites American citizens to register their travel on the Internet-Based Registration System (IBRS). IBRS provides a convenient means for American citizens traveling or residing overseas to provide important contact data, useful in the event of emergencies, and to instantly receive up-to-the-minute travel and safety information for the regions or countries on their travel itineraries, on the website or through optional email lists. Even American citizens who have registered previously but did not do it using the IBRS online program may now wish to register online to update their records. U.S. citizens may also register in person at the Embassy, which is located in Pavas, San Jose, and may be reached at (506) 519-2000; the extension for the Consular Section is 2453. The Embassy is open Monday through Friday, and is closed on Costa Rican and U.S. holidays. For emergencies arising outside normal business hours, U.S. citizens may call (506) 220-3127 and ask for the duty officer
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