Costa Rica and the Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Last Updated: April 6, 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 cancel 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: Since March 18 at midnight, Costa Rica has closed its borders (land, sea, and air) to foreign travelers. The travel ban has been extended and will last until April 30 at midnight. During this time, only Costa Rican citizens and residents will be permitted to enter the country and must quarantine for 14 days.

As of April 3, there have been 467 confirmed cases of Coronavirus COVID-19 in Costa Rica and 2 deaths. We will be updating this post with any relevant changes as much as possible.

Costa Rica and Coronavirus (COVID-19)

About Coronavirus

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
• Cough
• 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.

Costa Rica Cases of Coronavirus

Currently (as of April 6), there have been 467 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Costa Rica and 2 deaths. The first death (an 87 year-old Costa Rican man) was recorded on March 18 and the second on March 19 (also an 87 year-old Costa Rican man). Of the 476 individuals, 435 are from Costa Rica and 32 are foreigners. The range of ages is 1-87. 

Geographically there are reported cases in every Costa Rican province. The cases are spread throughout 50+ cantons. The canton of Alajuela has the most cases. For the complete breakdown by canton, see the daily infographic shared on the Ministerio de Salud Facebook Page.  

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 are now fully recovered, finished their 14-day quarantine, and are 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 Costa Rican citizens who tested positive are linked with that man.  

All confirmed individuals are being isolated either in their homes or hotels under medical supervision. 

Where to Get Updates: Check for more recent updates on the Ministry of Health News website. This is where official announcements will be published. The Ministry of Health shares this information to their Facebook page so that is a good source as well.

Travel Restrictions

Costa Rica has announced that it will close its borders (land, air, and sea) to all foreign travelers between March 18 and April 30 (at midnight on both dates). During this time, only Costa Rican citizens and residents will be allowed to enter the country. Those allowed to enter will need to quarantine for 14 days.

Starting on March 24, any foreign national that leaves Costa Rica during the COVID-19 crisis will lose their residency status if they try to re-enter the country during the border shutdown. This applies to permanent and temporary residents, residents under a special category, and people who have submitted residency applications. It does not apply to foreign nationals that already left Costa Rica before March 24.

On March 19, the US Department of State issued a level 4 travel-advisory stating that US Citizens should avoid international travel and if they are currently traveling abroad, they should try to return home as soon as possible.  

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. Health officials are currently meeting daily and issuing press briefings regularly on their website. Visit the Ministry of Health News Page for the latest official updates. At the top right of the page, you can select your language.

Here are some notable actions taken

• Since February, Costa Rica has had the proper laboratory test for diagnosing COVID-19. All testing will go through INCIENSA, the country’s Center of Disease Investigation. Announcements on the number of positive cases will be issued by the Ministry of Health.

• Hospitals as well as emergency services (like 911) have protocols in place to deal with patients showing or describing symptoms.

• Campaigns by the government-run healthcare system (CCSS) are informing the public of preventative techniques such as hand washing and cleaning. They are delivering the information through television, radio, and social media.

A new telephone hotline (1322) was put in place on March 13. This line is dedicated to Coronavirus consultations with the intention to free up the 911 service that was previously being used. 911 remains available for other emergencies.

•There is now a 50% occupancy limit for restaurants, cinemas, and other meeting places. As of March 15th, 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.

Vehicle Restrictions

  • Effective March 24, vehicle transit on all roads is restricted between 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. The order applies to all vehicles except emergency personnel, health workers, media, and cargo. 
  • Starting Friday, April 3 until Tuesday April 7, no vehicles (except essential or emergency services) will be permitted on roads after 5:00 p.m. During the day (5:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) starting Saturday April 4, only vehicles with the corresponding licence plate numbers will be permitted on the roads (75 km maximum travel distance). The schedule is as follows: 
    • Saturday & Monday: vehicles with plates ending with 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 are permitted. 
    • Sunday & Tuesday: vehicles which plates ending with 0, 2, 4, 6 and 8 are permitted.
  • Between April 8 and April 12, no vehicles are permitted on Costa Rica’s roads, except to go to the grocery store, pharmacy, or health centers. The purpose is to curb the movement of citizens during Semana Santa (Holy Week), which is typically Costa Rica’s busiest travel holiday. Those that do travel to the supermarket or pharmacy during this time will be able to do so on the following schedule: 
    • Wednesday: vehicles with plates ending in 0 or 1 are permitted.
    • Thursday: vehicles with plates ending in 2 or 3 are permitted.
    • Friday: vehicles with plates ending in 4 or 5 are permitted.
    • Saturday: vehicles with plates ending in 6 or 7 are permitted.
    • Sunday: vehicles with plates ending in 8 or 9 are permitted.
  • On April 13, the restrictions put in place on March 24 (above) will resume. 

Closures

  • National parks will be closed until further notice.
  • All beaches in Costa Rica have been closed.
  • Buses must start their route at no more than 60% capacity. Anyone showing symptoms will be denied entry.
  • All schools and educational facilities will be closed until at least April 13.
  • As of March 10, the government has suspended mass gathering events like concerts, sporting events, festivals, theaters, etc.
  • All religious centers are obligated to close.
  • During the dates April 3-April 12, which includes Semana Santa (Holy Week), most commercial businesses will be closed, except supermarkets and pharmacies.  
Costa Rica Ministry of Health Guidance Coronavirus
Guidance from the Ministry of Health on what to do now that COVID-19 is in Costa Rica

Should I Cancel or Delay My Trip?

If your trip falls between the dates of March 19 and April 30, your trip will need to be rescheduled or cancelled 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 is in the middle category of risk (marked with yellow on the map), which is “ongoing community transmission.” Check the website for any updates.

• If your trip needs to be cancelled 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, 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 (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 travel back into Costa Rica 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

If you do plan to travel, it is important to consider purchasing travel insurance. Because COVID-19 has become a “named event,” you are unlikely to be covered if you cancel your trip because you are afraid to go. However, you will have medical coverage (depending on your policy) if you become ill while traveling. Travel insurance policies are usually very reasonable and worth the peace of mind.

Protecting Yourself

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
• Thoroughly cooking meat and eggs
• 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.

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.

Conclusion

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. Coordination between agencies seems to be smooth and information sharing has been good as well. 

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 to Costa Rica. If you do have to postpone, we hope that you’ll be able to visit soon!

Additional Resources

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: April 6, 2020

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22 Comments

  1. Thanks for the updates guys. Missing you all! I was supposed to come back to CR this week (have been spending a few months back in the states) and now it looks like I may be canceling for now. Not happy about it, but trying to be safe.

  2. Thanks for the update. We are coming for our first trip to CR in about a month. No way we’re missing out on coming! Thanks for all your great info….

  3. Great update, thanks. We are retiring to Costa Rica in mid September and hope that the situation by then has relaxed. At the moment our plans stay as they are. The car is already on it’s way by boat. Pura Vida

  4. Thanks SO much for sharing such comprehensive information! My family and I will be heading to Costa Rica on the 18th, so I will definitely be keeping an eye on this for updates.

  5. Thanks for the useful info; I’m looking forward to my visit in a few weeks. I will feel safer in Costa Rica than in the U.S., given the ease of outdoor living and less crowded spaces!

  6. Thank you for this. It is helping us with making our choice to travel to our bucket list location of Costa Rica.

    I do have a question. We have excursions booked for our trip coming up on the 1st of April until the 8th. Have they cancelled these excursions in any way or are they still up and running? We are zip lining, visiting Arenal and the hot springs and also doing the river cruise. As we are not really concerned with travelling to Costa Rica itself, we do not want to lose out on our cancellation credit if we cannot take part in these excursions.

    Thanks again, we will be paying attention to your updates as they are layed out quite well.

    Tony,

    Ontario, Canada

    1. Hi Tony, Yes, all tours are running like normal. There are still tourists arriving in Costa Rica. We were out to dinner last night and there were several larger groups who had just gotten into town. So while travel is way down overall, some people are still coming. If you end up having to cancel your trip, you should contact the individual operators to see if there is flexibility regarding rescheduling for a later date. We have been doing this for a lot of clients, and tour operators have been modifying without any cancellation penalty. This is all a big hit to the local economy so most businesses are just trying to get people here, even if it is later on. We hope this helps.

      1. Hi Jenn and Matt,

        First, I topok the time to read up on your story after asking my question to you. Quite fascinating and very jealous I might add! Congrats to you both for making such a successful and life changing decision.

        Your information was so very helpful. We have made the difficult decision to postpone our trip. Sunwing cancelled all flights recently anyway so it was inevitable . Our borders are also no closed but our biggest decision not to travel was not wanting to be responsible to get others sick and put people at risk. I think that is the biggest thing we all need to understand right now. it is everyone else we need to take into consideration. As most of us would recover, its our aging population that will suffer the worst.

        Sunwing granted us a full value travel voucher that we WILL use to visit Costa Rica! It has been on both of our bucket lists for a long time. Maybe you can share a time of year not to travel to Costa Rica from a weather standpoint? Being from Canada we would want to travel between November and March because of wanting warmth.

        Thanks again. Maybe we should take a drive and meet for dinner at a place you’d recommend?!

  7. thanks your posts has made it easier to relax – we are from the UK and things are changing every hour… we have been on hold for month wondering if we will be going my son is 11 he has medical insurance to cover him and we have insurance the travel agent said its still ok for us to fly at the moment but on other pages it says things are changing and they are stopping people coming in because they are worried about CR healthcare system and cancelled many hotel with tour operaters , and people are stuck at airports and have to come back after waiting hours is this not true…want the best for our family like everyone else

  8. Hi Jenn and Matt,
    I’m supposed to do a border run by this Friday, my 90th day in Costa Rica. I’d much rather not, as I already have pre-existing respiratory issues related to a heart condition. I’m thinking of filing for the 60-day visa extension, and I know that time is running short. Are you familiar with the process at all? Most importantly, would I be legal here after having submitted my application, even if I haven’t heard back by Friday? Thank you.

    1. Hi J,
      Sorry for the delay, you’ve probably already read the updates but the borders are closed until April 12 at midnight. According to recent Outlier Legal Services news post, Tourists (non-Residents) who entered the country after December 17, 2019, can legally remain in Costa Rica until May 17, 2020 with their current stamp. You can read the whole article here.

  9. Hey, I’m currently in Costa Rica. We’ve been here for 4 days and are meant to stay for another 10. Has there been any information for tourists who are already in Costa Rica? We are considering if we need to go home early. We really don’t wan to but we’re worried how quickly everything will start to close. Thanks!

    1. Hi Lizzy, We’d rescommend rescheduling your flight if you haven’t already so that you leave soon. Now that Costa Rica has closed its borders, airlines are cancelling a lot of flights. Safe travels and sorry that your trip was cut short! 🙁

  10. We are US citizens in CR now… we’ve been here three weeks and had planned another week but are returning to the US early while we can. The Auto Mercado in Herradura is fully stocked. People seem calm but today the beaches were all closed so we are hunkered down in our rental until we fly out on Tuesday.

  11. We have a trip scheduled to Costa Rica from the US April 25 – May 1. Do you think we need to go ahead and reschedule? We have excursions and flights already booked

    1. Hi Dawn, We’d go ahead and reschedule everything for later this year. It’s very unlikely that they will reopen the border and that flights will be running as usual by April 25th. If you could reschedule starting in July or later, that would be the safest option in terms of when to expect things to be getting back to normal. Of course, you never know, but that’s our best guess right now.

  12. Hi Guys, your website is very helpful and the comprehensive info and links too. Please could I ask your advice regarding our daughter who is currently working at a cloud forest in Costa Rica and having a fantastic time. We are from the Uk and have booked her onto the last flight leaving to London on Saturday. However, her preference is to stay but we are concerned about her well being if she falls ill. It’s probably an impossible question to answer but do you have any advice that you could pass on? Many thanks

    1. Hi Mike, Yes, we would recommend that she leave to go back home so that she doesn’t get stuck here. Medical care in Costa Rica is fairly good, but they have closed the borders and there is no way to know how long that will last. We’d get her on a flight now while you still can.

  13. Hello,
    This is absolutely off subject nothing to do with covid 19. My fiancé is from and living in Costa Rica and we plan on getting married this May. Can you help me with what I need and who I can contact to make this a more easy process. I know I need a few things to be able to marry in Costa Rica but Im not sure what they are exactly. Your guidance would be greatly appreciated.

  14. Any updates on airlines flying after April 13th CR border lock from Canada? Air Canada shows flights leaving Toronto – San Jose May 2nd. Curious to know if there’s any airline flying in earlier. Thank you!

    1. Hi Marcus, You may have heard, but yesterday, Costa Rica extended the travel ban until April 30th. It may extend beyond that as well. Hopefully we are out of this in a few months and you can travel here again soon.

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