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Costa rica
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Latest travel advice for Costa Rica including safety and security, entry requirements, travel warnings and health

2014-07-15T12:20:47+01:00: Latest update: Health - mosquito-borne diseases

Around 45,000 British nationals visited Costa Rica in 2013. Most visits are trouble-free, but incidents of violent crime against tourists have increased. See Crime

There is a low threat from terrorism. See terrorism

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

You should take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before you travel.  

Safety and security

Crime

There has been a steady increase in crime. Petty theft of personal items including passports is the main problem, but 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.

Don’t wear jewellery or carry large amounts of cash. Take particular care of your belongings in hostels and hotels. Lock valuables in a hotel room safe. Don’t use street money-changers.

Be vigilant when using buses. 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.

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. Don’t leave valuables in hire cars and avoid leaving belongings where they can be seen from outside the car. Park in secure car parks, 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 anInternational Driving Permit.

There may be delays on the road to Juan Santamaría Airport (between San José) due to road maintenance. Allow extra time for your journey.

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 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

Take special care when swimming from all beaches in Costa Rica. Rip tides are very common. There are normally no lifeguards. You should seek reliable local advice. 84 people died in drowning and other beach-related incidents in 2013.

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.

Sea and river travel

Safety features on small boats are not always of a high standard. If you plan white water rafting, you should arrange this with an established company. 

Terrorism

There is a low threat from terrorism, but you should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, which could be in public areas, including those frequented by foreigners.

Local laws and customs

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

Entry requirements

Visas

British nationals don’t need a visa to enter Costa Rica. You can stay as a visitor for up to 3 months, although the exact period is at the discretion of the immigration officer on arrival. If you plan to stay for a longer period or work, check entry requirements with the Costa Rican Embassy.

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.

The Costa Rican authorities have confirmed they will accept British passports extended by 12 months by British Embassies and Consulates under additional measures put in place in mid-2014.

Evidence of onward travel

Entry to Costa Rica may be refused if you are unable to produce evidence of return or onward travel (eg 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 is a departure tax of $29 when leaving the country by air. You can pay this by cash or credit/debit card in dollars or local colones.

Yellow fever

Yellow Fever vaccination is required for travellers arriving from countries with risk of yellow fever transmission.

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

Contact your GP around 8 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, and useful information about healthcare abroad, including a country-by-country guide of reciprocal health care agreements with the UK, is available from NHS Choices.

Since 2013, there has been a sharp increase in cases of dengue. In June and July 2014 some cases of Chikungunya virus have been reported. You should take appropriate precautions to protect yourself from mosquito bites.

Medical care in Costa Rica is of a high standard. Only emergency medical treatment is available without charge for visitors. 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.

Costa Rica has 16 volcanoes, several of which are considered active. The possibility of eruptions always exists. The popular Arenal volcano has regular activity and Turrialba has been active in recent months.

Contact FCO Travel Advice Team

This email service only offers information and advice for British nationals planning to travel abroad.

If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the consular assistance team on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).

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

If you have a question about this travel advice, you can email us at TravelAdvicePublicEnquiries@fco.gov.uk

Before you send an email, make sure you have read the travel advice for the country you’re travelling to, and the guidance on how the FCO puts travel advice together.

See also

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  • British Embassy San Jose

    Title:British Embassy
    Email:ukin.costarica@fco.gov.uk ; Consular enquiries: consular.costarica@fco.gov.uk
    Address:

    Edificio Centro Colón,
    Paseo Colón and Streets 38 and 40
    San Jose
    Apartado 815 - 1007
    San Jose
    Costa Rica

    Contact: Telephone: (506) 2258-2025
    Fax: (506) 2233 9938
    Visiting:
    Services:Emergency Travel Documents service (Assistance Services)
    Notarial services (Documentary Services)
  • UK Trade & Investment Costa Rica

    Title:UK Trade & Investment Costa Rica
    Email:
    Address:

    Centro Colón
    Calles 38/40
    Paseo Colón
    San Jose
    Costa Rica

    Contact: Enquiries: +506 2258 2025
    Visiting:
    Services:

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The latest news, travel advice, and information for Costa rica, updated regularly for all British travellers by the UK Foreign Office. Including British consulate and embassy addresses in Costa rica (San Jose).

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