Visas for Costa Rica

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Visas for Costa Rica

Most visitors can get into Costa Rica without the need of a visa and can stay in the country for 90 days. Costa Rica requires Indian citizens to be in possession of a valid visa when they arrive. However, people of ANY nationality holding valid US, Canada, Japan, South Korea or Schengen visas do not need a prior visa. The only conditions being that the visa must be valid for 3 months and should be stamped in your passport.

Costa Rica requires valid Yellow fever certificate if arriving from most neighboring countries. If such is not presented you would not be allowed to enter/board the flight. At Bogota airport - if you have certificate you can have it emailed to the airline and then proceed to the local vaccination authority for duplicate certificate to be issued free of charge. The critical part is to get the printed version on time. If you don't have certificate or cannot get it on time you will probably be approached by friendly police officers to arrange such for a fee. Keep in mind that the date of the vaccination should be at least 10 days prior entering the country from which you are flying.

Another way to get to Costa Rica that many people are unaware of is traveling by car and driving the Pan-American highway that stretches from Alaska all the way to the southern tip of South America - it is credited with being 27,197 miles long and passes right through Costa Rica.

As of November 2012 to cross the border you need to show a return ticket from Costa Rica. The ticket must be "from Costa Rica", so for example flights from Panama are not accepted, although you need to leave Costa Rica to get to Panama. At border crossing with Nicaragua there is a small Tica Bus office that sells tickets without fixed travel date.

Getting to Costa Rica

By Plane

Juan Santamaría Airport (SJO) is located close to the cities Alajuela, Heredia and the capital San José.

SJO is currently under remodeling, and in July 2009 its operation was taken over by the same organization that runs the airports in Houston, Texas. An otherwise pleasant airport features the normal assortment of duty-free shops, interesting souvenir and bookshops, but an inadequate selection of overpriced restaurants (Church's Chicken, Burger King, Poás Deli Cafe and Papa John's pizza). SJO is serviced daily by Air Transat (Seasonal) American Airlines, Canjet (Seasonal), Condor, Delta, Frontier Airlines, Iberia, Interjet, JetBlue Airways, Thomas Cook, Spirit Airlines, United, US Airways, Air Canada, Avianca, Taca, Copa Airlines and AirPanama. Connecting the airport with cities such as: Los Angeles, New York, Houston, Dallas, Miami, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Atlanta, Phoenix, Orlando, Chicago, Newark, Toronto, Montreal, Madrid, Frankfurt, Mexico City, Bogotá, Medellín, Caracas, Lima, Guayaquil, Quito and all Central America.

There is a USD 32 exit fee at the Juan Santamaría Airport. This must be paid in cash, or by Visa (in which case it will be processed as a cash advance). The fee can also be paid in advance at some hotels or banks (Banco Credito Agricola de Cartago and Banco de Costa Rica).

Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR) is near Liberia in the Guanacaste province. This airport is closest to the Pacific Northwest coast. Liberia receives flights from Delta, American, United, US Airways, JetBlue, Air Canada, CanJet (charter), Sun Wing (charter), and First Choice (charter). Connecting the airport with Atlanta, Charlotte, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Houston, Dallas, Newark, Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, London, etc. The new terminal is open and is a wonderful addition to this airport.

Tobías Bolaños International Airport (Spanish: Aeropuerto Internacional Tobías Bolaños) (IATA: SYQ, ICAO: MRPV) i(LIR) is in the Pavas district of San José about a 10-15 minute drive from the city center. This airport primarily serves as the gateway linking to local Costa Rican domestic flights or nearby international destinations of Nicaragua and Panama.Currently, this airport is the hub for [Nature Air]. The terminal is neat, and clean though small and lacks any food concession so eating before an early morning flight is advisable.

By Car

The Interamericana (Pan-American Highway) runs through Costa Rica and is the main entry point by car. The border post in the north (to Nicaragua) is called Peñas Blancas and in the south (to Panamá) Paso Canoas (closes at 10PM, Costa Rica time or 11PM, Panamá time). Virtually all travel out of the capital (except to the Caribbean side) will involve traveling this road. The locals call the highway "Via Muerta," and after you have been on it a while you understand why — near San Jose and other major cities, the road is paved and has excellent signage; outside of the major cities, however, the road is gravel in places with fairly tight turns and substantial changes in elevation. You will see more large truck traffic on this road than in any part of Costa Rica. There are many speed traps along this major artery, as well as some random police checks for seat belts and, especially near the borders, for valid travel documents.

The highway speed is 80km/h, but since the Interamericana (a.k.a. Highway #1) passes through innumerable small towns, the speed frequently drops to 50 or even 30 km/h as you suddenly find yourself in a school zone. Most of the highway is not divided. A common indicator that a police checkpoint is ahead is that oncoming cars flick their lights at you. New laws that went into effect in 2010 have greatly increased the amount of tickets; it used to be a max of about $20; there are now tickets that exceed $400 for attempting to bribe an officer, and other big-ticket tickets for drunken driving, speeding, and other illegal actions including talking on a cell phone and not using seat belts. Be nice to the police if you are pulled over because, as a result of the new laws, it is possible for them to "throw the book" at you, although they generally do not. This could mean citing you for minor offenses that the new laws have instituted, such as the requirement that every car carry an emergency kit. New laws have also now enforced a 3 year prison sentence for driving with a 0.8 blood alcohol level and a US $480 fine. Driving over 20kph over the speed limit is a US $310 and losing 20 points. Police now tend to target tourists because they think that Costa Ricans don't have the money to pay the big tickets - and they're right. The police themselves earn about $500 per month, and that happens to be the average monthly wage in Costa Rica.

The good news is that there is a brand new highway known as Autopista Del Sol (Highway of the Sun) that stretches from the beaches around Orotina all the way into San Jose. This highway is smooth as U.S. or European highways, in fact it was constructed by a company that is based in Spain. There are tolls along this highway but if you travel the entire stretch it will still only come out to be a few dollars in total. 2011 update: unfortunately, problems have been found with this highway and parts of it are sometimes closed for repairs.

Many Costa Rican roads are in terrible shape, and short distances can take a very long time. Even the only road in and out of popular tourist destinations are riddled with major potholes. To avoid potholes, drivers will often snake through the left and right lanes, usually returning to the right when oncoming traffic approaches. While this may seem erratic, you can become quickly accustomed to it. If you see a tree branch or pole poking out of the middle of a road, that is a "sign" that there is a deep sinkhole, pothole or manhole without a cover. Stay away from it.

Driving at night is highly inadvisable, due to the unpredictability of road conditions and lack of safety features such as guard rails on the many hairpin turns in the hills. To put safety in perspective, Costa Rica's per capita traffic death rate is comparable to that of the United States, but there are undeniably many hazards, and they are likely to be unfamiliar ones.

Many roads are unpaved, and even the paved roads have lots of unpaved sections and washed out or unfinished bridges. Bridges are often only wide enough for one vehicle; one direction usually has priority. Do not expect to get anywhere quickly; supposed three-hour journeys can turn into five or more hours easily: there are always slow cars/buses/trucks on the road. This causes a lot of crazy driving, which you begin to emulate if you are in-country for more than a day. The government does not seem to be fixing the infrastructure well (or at all!); 50km/hr is good over unpaved roads. Some hotels located in the mountains require a four-wheel-drive vehicle to reach the destination. Call ahead. This is more for the ground clearance than the quality of the road. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are widely available at the car rentals near the airport, but call ahead.

Navigation can prove challenging. Road signs are relatively few, and those that do exist can be inaccurate. It is recommended that you have a good road map with the small towns listed, since road signs will often only indicate the next town, not the direction of the next major city. Towns generally do not have town-limit signs; it is best to look at the names on the roadside food stores and restaurants to determine the place you are passing. Stop and ask, practice your Spanish. The center of town is usually a public park with a Catholic church across from it.

There are no formal street addresses in Costa Rica, but two informal systems exist. The first (often used in tourist information) indicates the road on which the establishment is located (e.g., "6th Avenue"), together with the crossroad interval (e.g., "between 21st and 23rd Streets"). In practice, street signs are virtually non-existent, and locals do not even know the name of the street they are on. The second system, which is much more reliable and understood by locals, is known as the "Tico address", usually involving an oriented distance (e.g., "100 meters south, 50 meters east") from a landmark (e.g., "the cathedral").

It is worth noting the particular road naming system in San Jose. Avenues run east-west and streets run north-south. The numbering is less straighforward. Starting at Central Avenue going south are 2nd, 4th, 6th Avenue, etc. while going north are 1st, 3rd, 5th, etc. Streets use even numbers going west, and odd numbers going east. This means that if you are at 7th Avenue and 4th Street, and looking for 6th Avenue and 5th Street, you are on the wrong side of town.

Gas stations are full-service and the guys there are very cool about taking dollars or Colón(es). The interesting thing is that Costa Rica is small so you do not burn a lot of gas getting places, even though it seems like forever. Costa Rica is also a land of traffic circles, so people from Europe should have no problem, but North Americans should make sure they know how they work. The gas stations really are full-service, and you can have your oil checked, water filled, and tire pressure topped off. The state owns a gasoline company and the private companies raise their prices to the level of the state-set price. It is recommended to always use super gas and not regular; the regular gas is soiled. If you use the "regular" gas, you will have to change the gas filter and clean the injectors after 5000 miles.

By Bus

There are bus services from the neighboring countries of Panamá, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico and Guatemala.

There is an extensive network of bus routes within the country with reasonable fares. Departures are very punctual, though routes often take longer than expected. Stop by the Tourist Office downtown (underneath the Gold Museum in the Plaza--ask anyone and they'll be able to help you out). The bus system is a safe and even fun way to see a lot of the country cheaply and not have to worry about car rentals. Getting around without Spanish is no problem.

By Boat

There is twice daily boat service from Los Chiles (in NE Costa Rica), former home of the Contras, to San Carlos, Nicaragua. The cost is about $5, plus a $1 fee. The boats usually leave San Carlos at 10:30AM and 4PM.

Small ship cruises carrying less than 100 passengers begin in Panama and end in Costa Rica or reverse. These cruises visit popular National Parks such as Manuel Antonio but also visit remote beaches and coastline not accessible by road. Prices range from $2000-$6000 per person for 7-10 day tours.

Larger cruise ships occasionally dock or anchor at Porto Caldera and Puntarenas for a day or so, usually to begin, end or continue cruises with itineraries through the Panama Canal to or from Caribbean or U.S. ports.

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