Last Updated: September 19, 2020
The novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a hot topic these days for travelers. We’ve had many readers and clients inquire about how Costa Rica is dealing with the Coronavirus, if there are any travel restrictions, and whether they should modify their plans. In this post, we will give you as much information as possible about the situation in Costa Rica along with links to official government websites so that you can ensure you have the most accurate and up-to-date news.
Important: On August 1, Costa Rica’s international airports reopened to tourists from some countries. Beginning September 1, travelers from nine U.S. states were approved to enter. Ten additional U.S. states were added to the list on September 15 and the state of California will be added on October 1.
To see the complete list of allowed countries and U.S. states, the full entry requirements, and what to expect once you arrive, read our post: Traveling to Costa Rica During Covid-19: Entry Requirements, Protocols & What to Expect.
During the partial travel ban, Costa Rican citizens and legal residents will be permitted to enter no matter what country they depart from (see Travel Restrictions section below).
Current Data: As of September 19, there have been 63,712 confirmed cases of Coronavirus COVID-19 in Costa Rica. 23,552 people have recovered and there have been 706 deaths, leaving 39,454 active cases. We will be updating this post with any relevant changes as much as possible.
- Costa Rica saw its highest daily increase of new COVID-19 cases on September 18. There were 1,556 new cases over 24 hours. The second highest increase was on September 12, with 1,485 new cases.
- For the month of September, a modified reopening plan has been put into place. During the month, most businesses will be able to operate, with some exceptions (see sections below).
Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that typically cause respiratory infections. COVID-19 is the most recent addition to this group of viruses. We won’t go into detail about what COVID-19 is, but here are the major symptoms:
• High fever
• Shortness of breath and/or difficulty breathing
• Severe cases can lead to additional complications, and in rare cases, death.
For more general information on the virus, visit the World Health Organization’s website.
If you are in Costa Rica and think you may have symptoms, call the Coronavirus Hotline at 1322 or use 911 in case of an emergency. Costa Rica will treat anyone with COVID-19 for free through the public health care system (CCSS).
Costa Rica Cases of Coronavirus
Currently (as of September 19), there have been 63,712 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Costa Rica, 23,552 recovered, and 706 deaths. The first death was recorded on March 18.
Of the deaths, 270 have been female and 436 have been male. The age range for those who have passed away spans from 19 to 100-years old.
Of the 63,712 accumulated cases, 51,308 individuals are from Costa Rica and 12,404 are foreigners. The range of ages is infant to 100-years old.
Geographically there are reported cases in every Costa Rican province. Active cases are spread throughout all of the country’s 82 cantons. The cantons of San Jose, Desamparados, and Alajuela have the most active cases. For the complete breakdown by canton, see the daily info-graphic shared on the Ministerio de Salud’s website here. This daily breakdown is updated each evening and also includes the number of recovered in each canton.
All confirmed individuals are being isolated either in their homes, hotels, specialized housing, or hospitals and are under medical supervision. The government is doing contact tracing for infected individuals and requiring a 14-day quarantine for those with possible exposure.
First Cases in Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s first cases were two individuals (a couple) who traveled from New York to Costa Rica on March 1 (both age 49). The man was in contact with someone who had the virus in the US before he traveled. He did not show any symptoms, but his wife began showing symptoms during their trip and then tested positive. Both fully recovered in March, finished their 14-day quarantine, and were able to return home
Shortly after the couple was diagnosed, a doctor from Alajuela (male, age 54) who returned from Panama on February 22, started showing symptoms. More than 25 of the first Costa Rican citizens who tested positive are directly linked with that man.
Where to Get Updates
Additionally, the President’s office has set up a COVID-19 Alert Page, with the most recent restrictions and protocols. We will also summarize them in the sections below.
Travel Restrictions/Travel Ban
Costa Rica closed its borders (land, air, and sea) to all foreign travelers between March 18 and July 31. A partial reopening for visitors from some countries began on August 1. More countries and some U.S. States have since been added to the list.
The number of flights will be limited in order to open tourism in a very controlled way. The government will continuously review current data abroad in order to update the list and allow more countries and states.
To enter, visitors will need to complete an online epidemiological form, present a negative COVID-19 test (taken 48-72 hours before departure), and carry specified travel insurance. A quarantine period is not required for tourists when entering.
Read our post, Traveling to Costa Rica During Covid-19: Entry Requirements, Protocols & What to Expect for up-to-date information on what countries and U.S. States are allowed, the latest entry requirements, and what it will be like to travel within the country.
Citizens, Residents, and Relatives
As of August 14, all Costa Rican citizens and legal residents (those with permanant or temporary residency) will be allowed to enter by air from any country. Relatives with a direct relationship to a Costa Rican citizen will also be able to enter. Read our article for the entry requirements for each category.
How is Costa Rica Dealing with Coronavirus?
Costa Rican authorities have been very proactive in helping to prevent COVID-19 from spreading within the country. Social distancing and new sanitary practices are the biggest measures taking place countrywide.
Health officials are issuing daily press briefings. Visit the Ministry of Health News Page for the latest official updates. At the top right of the page, you can select your language. For those who speak Spanish, you can watch the Ministry of Health’s daily briefing on Facebook Live every day around 1:00 p.m. CST.
Below are some of the specific actions that Costa Rica has taken during the pandemic. For a more personal look at what it has been like during this time, you can read our post: Covid-19 in Costa Rica: Living Here Through the Pandemic.
Here are some notable actions taken:
• Since February, Costa Rica has had the proper laboratory test for diagnosing COVID-19. All government testing has been through INCIENSA, the country’s Center of Disease Investigation.
• Hospitals as well as emergency services (like 911) have protocols in place to deal with patients showing or describing symptoms. Additionally, a dedicated COVID-19 hospital has been set up in the San Jose area. The public health system has also expanded its intensive care (ICU) bed capacity and continues to do so.
• Campaigns by the government-run healthcare system (CCSS) are continuously informing the public of preventative techniques. They are delivering the information through television, radio, and social media.
• A new telephone hotline (1322) was put in place that is dedicated to Coronavirus consultations. 911 remains available for serious health situations and other emergencies.
• Since March 15, the health department has ordered closure of all bars, nightclubs, casinos, and amusement parks.
• The Ministry of Health issued new guidelines for commercial chains, supermarkets, and smaller convenience stores. These specify cleaning and sanitary procedures as well as offering specific hours for elderly customers.
• The Ministry of Health has been using contact tracing techniques to identify individuals that were potentially exposed to an active case whenever possible. The people identified are required to quarantine for 14-days and their health is monitored during that time.
• Starting in June, the Costa Rican Government began issuing emergency alerts (see below sections) in several cantons and specific districts where the virus is spreading. These alerts come with increased restrictions.
• On July 20, the Ministry of Health modified the regulation for masks or face shields. Now they are required in all indoor spaces, except for private homes and restaurants (customers are exempt but not staff). Beginning September 9, a mask specifically must be worn in all those spaces. A face shield can be worn as well, but only in addition to a mask.
Like many countries, Costa Rica closed many businesses and public areas/services at the start of the pandemic. In late April, Costa Rican officials announced that countrywide restrictions would begin to be loosened gradually and on a trial basis.
This began as a four-phase plan. Each phase opened more businesses and services, while at the same time implementing strict sanitary guidelines. For example, restaurants were allowed to reopen at 50% capacity.
Three phases of the reopening plan were implemented but the fourth phase (originally scheduled for July 2020) was postponed due to an exponential rise in COVID-19 cases.
Instead of going forward with the fourth phase, the government has made individual adjustments to the measures at various times. For example, in June and July, local tourism was encouraged with the reopening of hotels, beaches (for limited hours), and national parks.
Officials have always stressed that restrictions may be put back into place if they see a rise in the number of cases. They have done so with the use of region-specific Emergency Alerts (see section below). In these zones, health protocols are stricter.
For dates between August 31 to September 30, officials have announced that most businesses with a health permit (e.g. restaurants, shops, many services) will be allowed to open at 50% capacity and hotels will be allowed to operate at 100%. However, this opening period won’t begin until September 9 for businesses in a restricted zone (Orange Alert), giving them time to transition.
Mass gathering events like concerts, sporting events, festivals, and fairs will remain closed, even with reopening measures.
Costa Rica’s National Emergency Commission (Comisión Nacional de Emergencias) has issued a Yellow Alert for most of the country. This alert reinforces the measures laid out by the Ministry of Health in the reopening plan above.
Ongoing since June, some cantons and districts have been issued an Orange Alert, with greater restrictions.
In these zones, nonessental businesses may be temporarily closed or have limited operating hours. The hope has been to control the exponential increase in cases, especially in the country’s greater metropolitan area.
Starting September 9 and throughout the month of September, most businesses will be allowed to remain open, even if they are in an Orange Alert (see reopening section above).
The list of cantons and districts under Orange Alert is constantly changing so for the latest information, visit the CNE homepage and click on Alerts.
To restrict the movement of people, driving restrictions have been put in place.
Note: To help promote local tourism. If you have a hotel reservation, you can drive on a restricted day while holding proof of that reservation. See general details about the exemption here. Additionally, rental cars are exempt from vehicle restrictions so local or foreign tourists driving a rented vehicle can drive at any time.
Driving Restrictions (Yellow and Orange Alert Zones)
From August 31 and through the month of September, vehicles may circulate between the hours of 5:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, and between 5:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m on weekends, except if your license plate corresponds with a restriction that day. The license restrictions are below.
License Plate Restrictions (Countrywide)
Monday – vehicles with plates ending with 1 or 2 cannot drive.
Tuesday – vehicles with plates ending with 3 or 4 cannot drive.
Wednesday – vehicles with plates ending with 5 or 6 cannot drive.
Thursday – vehicles with plates ending with 7 or 8 cannot drive.
Friday – vehicles with plates ending with 9 or 0 cannot drive.
Saturday – vehicles with plates ending in 0, 2, 4, 6, or 8 cannot drive.
Sunday – vehicles with plates ending in 1, 3, 5, 7, or 9 cannot drive.
Should I Cancel or Delay My Trip?
If your country of departure is not on the approved list, you will need to reschedule or cancel since you won’t be allowed to enter Costa Rica (see travel ban information above). If your trip dates are later, you could monitor the situation to see how it develops before deciding. Here are some practical things to consider.
• First, things are developing quickly around the world. With the situation changing daily, many travelers we have heard from are in a wait-and-see holding pattern. They are waiting to see how the situation evolves before making their final decision to go ahead with, delay, or cancel their vacation. The CDC has a page set up to answer travel questions and evaluate the risk of traveling to certain countries. Currently, Costa Rica, like most other countries, is in the orange category of risk, which means that “[The] CDC recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to Costa Rica.” Check the website for any updates.
• If your trip needs to be canceled and the deadlines for cancellation have passed, it is worth reaching out to individual service providers to see if you can postpone the reservations for a later date or at least get a partial refund. We have found in helping our clients with refunds and changes that most tourism businesses are being lenient on their policies because of the situation. Keep in mind that some fees are unavoidable (credit card processors, PayPal, etc., usually do not reimburse their fees on a refund, so the operator takes the hit and sometimes must pass these on to the client).
• If your trip is several months away, it may be beneficial to look at the individual cancellation policies for your airfare, hotels, transportation, and tours now. Cancellation policies usually have a deadline to cancel or modify (typically 15-30 days for hotels and 7 days to 24 hours for tours, shuttle transfers, and rental cars). These policies usually also lay out any associated fees that come when cancelling (e.g., 100% refund with 30 days’ notice, first night charged with 15 days’ notice). Consider these cancellation policies when picking a date to make your final decision about whether to cancel.
• If your travel is allowed, still consider official warnings from health officials on travel and self-care. If you fit into the category of a high-risk individual, determine if travel to Costa Rica is necessary or could be postponed. According to the CDC’s website, people of high risk may be:
o Older adults
o People who have serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, or lung disease
While the Coronavirus (COVID-19) is scary, worldwide health officials urge that protecting yourself and others can go a long way in preventing its spread. Here’s what we should all be practicing:
- Regular and thorough hand washing (at least 20 seconds)
- Disinfecting surfaces
- Always covering the mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing.
- Wearing a mask if you must go out.
- Avoiding close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing
- Staying home at the first sign of symptoms
What If You Get Sick During Your Trip?
If someone comes down with the Coronavirus during their trip to Costa Rica, the protocol here is to call 1322. English-speaking operators are available. For emergency situations use 911.
In addition, private urgent care facilities are available to help. We received information from a local doctor who we trust about the process of what would happen. He said that Costa Rica has implemented international protocols for urgent care providers. If someone presents with symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection (sore throat, fever, coughing, sneezing, headaches), the doctor will evaluate them, and if necessary, report a suspicious case to INCIENSA (Costa Rica’s Center of Disease Investigation). The person will be told to remain in isolation at his or her current location (hotel or vacation rental) so as not to potentially spread the virus. After this, the doctor will work with the Ministry of Health on how to proceed with the patient. They will only transport a patient to a higher grade care center like a hospital if they have acute respiratory distress and their vital signs are not stable.
These type of private urgent care facilities are located all around the country and basically all have English-speaking doctors. You can find them in Quepos/Manuel Antonio, Jaco, Tamarindo, Monteverde, La Fortuna, Samara, and many more towns that are popular for visitors.
We hope this post will help you understand the current Coronavirus situation in Costa Rica. While not a fun topic, it is important to share all the details as they develop. Viewing this all from Costa Rica, we have been impressed so far with the government’s response. You can read more about our experience living through the pandemic in Costa Rica here.
We plan to update this post as often as needed until Coronavirus is under control worldwide. We hope everyone stays safe and doesn’t have to change their travel plans. If you do have to postpone, we hope that you’ll be able to visit soon!
In the meantime, we recommend checking out our Virtual Field Trip posts, which have some interesting information and activities to help you connect with Costa Rica from home.
World Health Organization’s (WHO) – Latest Updates on COVID-19
European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control – Latest Updates on COVID-19
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Information for Travel
Johns Hopkins – Map of confirmed cases worldwide
The Tico Times – English-language online newspaper in Costa Rica
Disclaimer: We are not experts in disease prevention or doctors and are not intending to give medical or other professional advice. If you’re unsure if you should travel to Costa Rica, consult the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and WHO (World Health Organization) websites for more information or seek the advice of a medical professional.
Last Updated: September 19, 2020
Are you hoping to visit Costa Rica soon? Here are some resources to help you plan:
Traveling to Costa Rica During Covid-19: Entry Requirements, Protocols & What to Expect – This post has all of the information you will need to know ahead of time. Includes what to expect for safety protocols at the airport, hotels, attractions, and more.
Best Time to Visit Costa Rica – Need to reschedule your trip? Check out this post for details on when might be a good time of year to visit. Includes information on busiest and slowest times for tourism.
Packing for Costa Rica – Wondering what you need to pack for Costa Rica’s mountains vs. the beach? We’ve got it all covered in this post. Includes recommendations for rainy season travel as well.
Weather in Costa Rica – Learn about the different seasons and why you can’t rely on your phone’s weather App. for accurate info. Includes charts of past weather data to help you plan.