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.
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 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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!
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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