Costa Rica and the Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Last Updated: March 5, 2021

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 and announcements so that you can ensure you have the most accurate and up-to-date news. 

Current Situation

Is Travel Allowed?

Yes, on August 1, 2020 Costa Rica’s international airports reopened to tourists from some countries. Since November 1, 2020 there is no longer any travel ban. Residents from all countries and all U.S. states can now enter Costa Rica by air.  

To enter, visitors must buy special travel insurance and fill out an online health form. A COVID test is no longer required to enter Costa Rica. To see the complete 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

Some countries like the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, etc. are requiring a negative Covid Test before you fly back home. For more information on these requirements, read our post, Preflight Testing For Departing Costa Rica: Logistics And Tips. For a robust list of testing locations around Costa Rica, see our post, Where to Get a Covid-19 Test in Costa Rica

Newest COVID Stats

As of March 5, there have been 206,640 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Costa Rica, 187,484 people recovered, and 2,833 deceased, leaving 16,323 active cases. We typically update this post daily, except weekends and holidays when no new data is released.

Recent Developments

  • 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 October 14, with 1,542 new cases. On March 5, there were 347 new cases reported. 
  • Currently most businesses are able to operate, with some exceptions (see sections below).        

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 be fatal.

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 Cases of Coronavirus

Current Data

Currently (as of March 5) there have been 206,640 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Costa Rica, 187,484 recovered, and 2,833 deceased. The first fatality was recorded on March 18, 2020.

Of the deceased, 1,057 have been female and 1,776 have been male. The age range for those who have passed away spans from 2 to 101-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 Alajuela, Desamparados, and San Jose have the most active cases. For the complete breakdown by canton, see the newest info-graphic shared on the Ministerio de Salud’s website here. This breakdown is updated each weekday 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 whenever possible 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, 2020 (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, 2020 started showing symptoms. More than 25 of the first Costa Rican citizens who tested positive were directly linked with that man.  

Where to Get Updates

Official announcements are published on the Ministry of Health News website. They also share information to their Facebook Page.

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

Tourists

Costa Rica closed its borders (land, air, and sea) to all foreign travelers between March 18 and July 31, 2020. A partial reopening for visitors from some countries began on August 1, 2020. More countries and many U.S. States were slowly added to the list. As of November 1, 2020, residents from all countries and all U.S. States are allowed to enter by air or sea (land borders remain closed to tourists). 

To enter Costa Rica, visitors will need to complete an online epidemiological form and carry specified travel insurance. A quarantine period is not required for tourists when entering. COVID-19 tests are also NO LONGER required (since October 26, 2020). 

Read our post, Traveling to Costa Rica During Covid-19: Entry Requirements, Protocols & What to Expect for up-to-date information on the latest entry requirements, type of insurance needed, and specific protocols to expect throughout the country.

Citizens, Residents, and Relatives

As of August 14, 2020, all Costa Rican citizens and legal residents (those with permanant or temporary residency) are 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?

Overview

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 bi-weekly 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 bi-weekly briefing on Facebook Live, Tuesdays and Fridays around 1:00 p.m. CST.

Below are some of the specific actions that Costa Rica has taken during the pandemic. You might also like our post: Covid-Travel: What it is like in Costa Rica Right Now, which details what it is like to travel around the country and how locals and tourist are dealing with the situation. 

Specific Actions

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. For private testing options, see our post, Where to Get a Covid-19 Test in Costa Rica

• 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. 

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. 

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.

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. They are required in all indoor spaces, except for private homes and restaurants (customers are exempt but not staff). Since 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.

• Costa Rica has contracted with several global pharmaceutical companies to supply the country with approximately 3 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine. The public healthcare system has purchased specailized freezers to store the vaccine and has already started to vaccinate select groups within the population.

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

Reopening Measures

Like many countries, Costa Rica closed many businesses and public areas/services at the start of the pandemic. In late April, 2020, 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 2020, 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. 

Since August 31, officials have eased restrictions to allow most businesses with a health permit (e.g. restaurants, shops, many services) to open at 50% capacity and hotels at 100% (with common areas at 50%). Additionally, since October 9, bars and casinos were able to reopen, with strict health measures in place. Beaches currently have limited hours of 5:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. all week long. 

You can read details of the health measures on the Ministry of Health Announcement page or in more detail on the Presidential Alert Page

The original reopening measures announced by the Ministry of Health.

Closures

Mass gathering events like concerts, sporting events, festivals, and fairs will remain closed for the forseable future, even with reopening measures.

Emergency Alerts

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.

CNE Alert issued January 12, 2021 showing cantons in yellow and orange alert.

Ongoing since June, some cantons and districts have been issued an Orange Alert, with greater restrictions. These zones very generally show where cases are spiking, or where authorities feel there is a high risk of an increase. 

Originally, nonessental businesses in Orange Zones may have been temporarily closed or only allowed limited operating hours. However, since September 9, most businesses have been allowed to remain open, even if they are in an Orange Alert (see reopening section above). The local governments in these zones must have an approved action plan in place in order to qualify.

In some cases the local government will implement restricted hours of operation for businesses like restaurants and shops (for example, they might need to close at 8:00 p.m. instead of 10:00 p.m.). Some communities under Orange Alert also have limited beach hours, though this is not that common. 

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.

Vehicle Restrictions 

To restrict the movement of people, driving restrictions have been put into place. Currently, vehicles can only circulate between the hours of 5:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. all week long. These times coorespond with the hours that most businesses are allowed to be open. 

Previously, driving on certain days was also restricted, based on your license plate number. But as of March 1, 2021 all license plate restrictions have been lifted. All cars can now circulate everyday, except in downtown San Jose (for traffic control purposes). See this chart for San Jose restrictions.

Note: Tourism related vehicles (e.g. shuttle vans/tour vans) as well as rental cars are exempt from the driving restrictions. If you need to drive outside the allowed hours or within the San Jose downtown area (e.g you need to catch an early morning flight or are staying at a hotel in San Jose), you should be fine if you present your plane ticket/hotel reservation to the traffic police. 

Should I Cancel or Delay My Trip?

Before cancelling your plans, 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. 

• 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 you can travel, 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

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.
  • 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.

If you need a COVID-19 test while you are in Costa Rica, they are available through the public healthcare system (only if showing symptoms, call #1322) or private hospitals, medical clinics, and labs. For information on private testing locations see our post, Where to Get a Covid-19 Test in Costa Rica

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.  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.

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: March 5, 2021

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. 

Preflight Testing For Departing Costa Rica: Logistics And Tips – Do you need a negative Covid test to return to your home country? This article will sumarize the requirements and give you tips to make the process as easy as possible.  

Rental Car Discount – Looking for a rental car for your upcoming trip. Use our discount to save 10-20% and receive free extras like a second driver, cell phone, and more. 

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.

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