Last Updated: July 10, 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.
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.
Important: Since March 18 at midnight, Costa Rica has closed its borders (land, sea, and air) to foreign travelers. Starting on August 1, the international airports will open to tourists from countries that have controlled COVID-19. A list of countries has not been released. We expect details in July.
During the travel ban, only Costa Rican citizens and residents (residents who left before March 25) will be permitted to enter the country. They must be evaluated for COVID-19 upon arrival and undergo a 14-day self quarantine at home.
Current Data: As of July 10, there have been 6,845 confirmed cases of Coronavirus COVID-19 in Costa Rica. 2,110 people have recovered and there have been 26 deaths, leaving 4,709 active cases. We will be updating this post with any relevant changes as much as possible.
- Costa Rica is currently in its second wave. It saw its highest daily increase of new COVID-19 cases on July 9. There were 649 new cases over 24 hours. The previous high was on July 5 with 375 cases.
- Between July 11-19, all areas under an orange alert will be subject to complete business closures (except essentials) and 24-hour vehicle restrictions (except on specified days to visit essential businesses like supermarkets and pharmacies). These measures are to try to control the exponential increase in cases, especially in the greater metropolitan area.
- On July 2, it was announced that there is ongoing community transmission (spread of the virus without knowing the exact source of each case) in San Jose’s greater metropolitan area.
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.
Costa Rica Cases of Coronavirus
Currently (as of July 10), there have been 6,845 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Costa Rica, 2,110 recovered, and 26 deaths. The first death was recorded on March 18.
Of the deaths, 11 have been female and 15 have been male. The age range for those who have passed away spans from 26 to 92-years old.
Of the 6,845 accumulated cases, 4,863 individuals are from Costa Rica and 1,982 are foreigners. The range of ages is infant to 96-years old.
Geographically there are reported cases in every Costa Rican province. Active cases are spread throughout 80 cantons. The cantons of San Jose, Desamparados, and Alajuela have the most active cases. For the complete breakdown by canton, see the daily infographic shared on the Ministerio de Salud’s website here. This daily breakdown is updated each afternoon and also includes the number of recovered in each canton.
All confirmed individuals are being isolated either in their homes, hotels, 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
Check for more recent updates and additional detail 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/ Travel Ban
Costa Rica has announced that it will close its borders (land, air, and sea) to all foreign travelers between March 18 and July 31 (at midnight on both dates).
A partial reopening for some travelers will begin on August 1. Those allowed to enter will be from countries that have controlled the spread of Covid-19. A list of approved countries and the protocol for reentry is expected to be announced in July.
During the border closure, only Costa Rican citizens and residents who left before March 25 will be allowed to re-enter the country. Those allowed to enter during the ongoing travel ban will be evaluated for COVID-19 and undergo a 14-day self quarantine.
The government also announced that any foreign national that enters Costa Rica illegally during the COVID-19 crisis will lose their residency status.
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. The US Embassy in Costa Rica is helping to coordinate occasional flights out of Costa Rica for US citizens in the country that may need to return to the United States.
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.
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. As of March 31, a number of private hospitals around the country have been permitted to start testing patients for COVID-19. See the hospitals here. 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. Additionally, a dedicated COVID-19 hospital has been set up in the San Jose area.
• Campaigns by the government-run healthcare system (CCSS) are continuously informing the public of preventative techniques such as hand washing, social distancing, wearing masks, and cleaning procedures. 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.
• As of 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. The people identified are required to quarantine for 14-days and their health is monitored during that time. This technique has allowed the government to contain many cases and minimize the spread of the virus.
• Starting in June, the Costa Rican Government began issuing yellow and orange emergency alerts in several cantons and specific districts where the virus is spreading. These alerts come with increased vehicular restrictions as well as the closure of several waterways for navigation near border areas. Additionally, businesses with a health permit must abide by specific measures in these areas.
• Starting on June 27, masks or face shields became mandatory for some situations. This includes anyone who interacts with the public (e.g., employees at restaurants, banks, churches, cinemas, theaters). The general public is required to wear them at banks, cinemas, theaters, medical centers, jails, and on public buses and in taxis. See the full list of requirements here. On July 2, the order was modified to require clients of supermarkets and all other stores to wear them as well.
Reopening Measures – Announced April 27, May 11 & May 29
On April 27, Costa Rican officials announced that countrywide restrictions will begin to be loosened gradually and on a trial basis. The decision was based on the fact that Costa Rica had seen more recovered cases than new cases for a sufficient number of days. Officials stressed that restrictions may be put back into place if they see a rise in the number of cases.
Under the plan, from May 1 – 16, movie theaters, sport complexes (for non-contact sports), gyms, and swim classes may open during the week but must meet strict health conditions. For example, they must operate at a lower capacity (25-50%) and maintain a 2-meter distance between people. Additionally, hair salons and auto parts retailers can operate all week long (including weekends), but must meet the specified health requirements. Read the complete list of measures here (choose your language at the top right).
A Four-Phase Plan For Reopening
On May 11, the Health Minister further defined the reopening measures, laying out a 4-phase plan that will be carried out between May and August.
On May 29, the Ministry of Health announced that phase II of the reopening plan would go ahead as scheduled with a few changes. This came as the number of cases increased during phase I.
Phase III of the reopening was delayed by 1 week but began on June 27, with modifications. Additionally, areas under Orange Alert are subject to greater restrictions (see section below on Emergency Alerts for more details).
Phase I (May 16 to May 31)
The first phase allowed the opening of a specified list of national parks at 50% capacity with previous purchase of tickets online. Beaches opened Monday-Friday but only from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. Recreational sports with no direct physical contact and high-performance contact sports without spectators will be allowed. Business hours for those holding a sanitary health permit will be extended to 10 p.m. from Monday to Friday. The driving curfew also will be extended to 10 p.m. on weekdays. Hotels and motels with a maximum of 20 rooms can reopen at 50% capacity.
Phase II (June 1 to to June 26)
For phase two, more national parks will open as well as museums (pre-purchase entry), both at 50% capacity. Restaurants can operate at 50% capacity on weekends in addition to during the week. Larger hotels (more than 20 rooms) can open at 50% capacity. Function halls and event facilities are allowed to open with a maximum of 30 attendees (including staff). Additionally, special transportation for local tourism can resume under special guidelines. Public parks and open spaces were due to be reopened but this has been delayed until further notice due to an increase in cases. The vehicle restrictions (see below) will continue as they were for phase I.
Phase III (June 27 to TBD)
In this phase, which was originally scheduled for June 20 to July 10, began on June 27. Beaches will be open from 5:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. (including weekends), stores can open on weekends (instead of only during the week) at 50% capacity. Churches will reopen with a maximum of 75 people in attendance, while keeping a minimum distance of 1.8 meters between each person (attendees should not sing). Cinemas, theaters, and museums (with pre-purchased tickets) can open during weekends at 50% capacity. Bars were supposed to open Monday to Friday at 50% capacity but that has been delayed until further notice.
Cantons and districts under Orange Alert (see below) will remain in phase II until further notice.
Phase IV (Dates TBD)
For the fourth phase, beaches will be open during the week for more hours (unspecified). The capacity in places of worship will be expanded to 100 people (maintaining the same distancing rules between each person). Schools will be assessed by a team of officials and may be able to open gradually in some areas. Health protocols and distancing measures for students will be implemented with reopening.
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. Currently, those areas under Yellow Alert remain in Phase III of the reopening.
Starting in June and into July, some cantons and districts have been issued an Orange Alert, with stricter vehicle and business restrictions. The most recent restrictions (effective July 11-19) can be found here. They call for most businesses to shut down (except those listed as essential) and strict driving restrictions. The hope is to restrict the movement of people and control the exponential increase in cases, especially in the country’s greater metropolitan area.
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 proof of a hotel reservation, you can drive on a restricted day. See the announcement here.
In the entire country (except those under Orange Alert) vehicle transit on all roads is restricted between 7:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. Monday to Sunday. The order applies to all vehicles except emergency personnel, health workers, media, and cargo.
All vehicles may circulate between the hours of 5:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. (except those under Orange Alert) Monday through Friday, except if your license plate corresponds with a restriction that day. The restrictions are as follows:
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.
In most of the country (Yellow or Orange Alert), vehicles are permitted on Costa Rica’s roads only to go to businesses/places that are permitted to be open. Those that travel during this time will be able to do so only on one day of the weekend between the hours of 5:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.
Border regions have the same restrictions but vehicles may only operate until 5:00 p.m.
Here is the schedule.
Saturday – vehicles with plates ending in 1, 3, 5, 7, or 9 are permitted to drive.
Sunday – vehicles with plates ending in 0, 2, 4, 6, or 8 are permitted to drive.
Should I Cancel or Delay My Trip?
If your trip is before June 30, it will need to be rescheduled or canceled 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 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.
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: July 10, 2020
Are you hoping to visit Costa Rica soon? Here are some resources to help you plan:
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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.