Preflight Testing for Departing Costa Rica: Logistics and Tips

Last Updated: December 6, 2021

Many countries are requiring travelers to take a Covid-19 test before returning home from a visit to Costa Rica. Canada, many European countries, and the United States require it for reentry. For the United States, all air travelers ages 2 and up need to show a negative test. As of December 6, the test must be taken one day before your flight. In addition, those entering the United States who are not a US citizen, US national, or permanent resident will need to be vaccinated.

In this post, we’ll lay out the general requirements for Covid testing, explain how testing works in Costa Rica, and give tips on creating an itinerary that will make testing as easy as possible. We also will explain the new order requiring proof of vaccination for non-US citizens/residents.

IMPORTANT: Costa Rica does not require a Covid-19 test to enter the country. The requirement is only for your return to certain countries.  

Covid Testing Departing Costa Rica

Covid Testing Requirements for Departing Costa Rica – Overview

The exact testing requirements vary by country. For Canada’s requirements, visit this website. For the United States’ requirements, visit the CDC website. For the UK’s requirements, visit this website.

In this post, we will cover the US requirements. These apply to connecting flights as well, so travelers from Canada, Europe, and elsewhere with a layover in the United States will need to meet them.

US Testing for International Arrivals

Overview

Per the amended CDC order (Dec. 2, 2021), all air passengers (ages 2 and older) arriving to the United States from a foreign country need to meet Covid-testing requirements. 

You will need to get a Covid test even if you are vaccinated.

If you have recently recovered from Covid, you can instead present documentation showing recovery within 90 days (see below).

Specific Requirements

All air passengers ages 2 and up will need to show a viral Covid test to check for an active infection (NAAT or viral antigen test). It must be taken within one day of your flight.

In Costa Rica, there are two tests that meet these requirements. One is the RT-PCR, the deep nasal/throat swab molecular test. The other is the antigen (rapid) test, also a nasal test.

Note: Importantly, the standard is one calendar day, not 24 hours. This means that you can get tested at any time one day before your flight without having to worry about counting the exact number of hours. For example, if your flight is Thursday at 2:00 p.m., you could get tested on Wednesday at 9:00 a.m. This is within one calendar day, even though it exceeds 24 hours. The idea behind it is to give travelers more flexibility. See the CDC’s website for more explanation.

Non-US Citizens and Non-Residents – Vaccination Requirement

If you are not a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, lawful permanent resident, or traveling to the United States on an immigrant visa, you will need to show proof of being fully vaccinated against Covid-19 to travel to the United States. This started on November 8, 2021. If you are not fully vaccinated against Covid-19, you will not be allowed to board a flight to the United States, unless you meet the criteria for an exception. See the CDC’s website for more information.

Children under 18 are exempt. People with a documented medical contraindication to receiving a Covid-19 vaccine are also exempt.

If you are fully vaccinated, you will still need to meet Covid testing requirements.

Presenting Your Test Results

Upon checking into your flight, the airline will verify your negative result. You can show a paper or electronic copy, so an email is fine.

You will be denied boarding if you do not present a negative test result.

The results must state: (1) the type of test, (2) entity issuing the result (e.g., lab, hospital, or telehealth service), (3) date sample was collected, (4) your full name plus at least one other identifier such as date of birth or passport number, and (5) test result.

The CDC order does not require the results to be in a certain language. Results in Costa Rica are provided in Spanish. Airline officials at Costa Rica’s airports will be able to interpret them.

San Jose Airport Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s SJO Airport

Showing Proof of Recovery from Covid in Last 3 Months

If you have had Covid-19 in the last 90 days, another way to meet the requirements is to show documentation of recovery.

If you have had a positive viral test in the past three months and have met the criteria to end isolation, you may present the following documentation (paper or digital copies): (1) Your positive test result, and (2) a letter from your healthcare provider or a public health official that says you have been cleared for travel.

For more details on the requirements to show proof of recovery, see the CDC’s order at pages 1-2.

Attestation Requirement

In addition, each passenger must fill out an attestation document. This affirms that the person has received a negative Covid-19 test result within the required timeframe or recovered in the last 90 days and is cleared to travel. Many airlines have made the attestation electronic. 

Covid Testing Options in Costa Rica

Public and Private Health Care Systems

Covid testing in Costa Rica is done through the public health care system for citizens and residents. Tourists may use the public system only if they are evaluated and showing symptoms.

For tourists who need testing for travel purposes, Costa Rica has a robust private health care system. Medical clinics and labs are located throughout the country. There are also several reputable private hospitals. Many of these are modern facilities with English-speaking doctors and nurses, especially in larger tourist areas.

Covid Testing at CIMA Escazu
Hospital CIMA in Escazu (San Jose) offers Covid testing with results in 24 hours

Most tourist destinations across Costa Rica have testing sites available. You can find an updated list by reading our article, Where to Get a Covid-19 Test in Costa Rica.

Test Cost and How Long Results Take in Costa Rica

Currently, an RT-PCR test costs about $100-$130, plus tax. The cost is higher in some rural areas. Results are typically available in 24-72 hours. Testing is available at both international airports, with fast turnaround times. Many labs in San Jose can guarantee results in 24 hours. It can take longer in rural areas.

Antigen (rapid) testing is available in most of the country as well. The cost is $50-70 at the airport and in the San Jose area and up to $100 in rural areas. Results are provided the same day. The airport lab gives results in one hour. 

For testing options in the areas you will be visiting, read our post, Where to Get a Covid-19 Test in Costa Rica.

Tips for Making Testing Easy

If you can make an itinerary keeping testing in mind, this will make the whole testing process a lot easier.

A couple of things to consider for Costa Rica specifically are that some labs/clinics outside San Jose are not open all weekend, especially on Sundays.

This means that if you get tested on the weekend, you may not receive your results within one calendar day. When booking flights, try to plan on having your departure be on a Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, if possible. Avoid Sundays and Mondays, as this would require testing/processing over the weekend.

Another thing to consider is your last destination and its proximity to a testing facility. Aim to end in San Jose for the most flexibility, as there are many testing options there and this area has the fastest turnaround.

But if your flight doesn’t leave out of San Jose, or you don’t want to spend extra time there, it’s still fairly easy to get results in time in more remote areas. You just need to do some careful planning. First, make sure there is a facility where you’ll be going that can do the test. Second, make sure they can get you results in time, given their hours of operation. 

Conclusion

We hope this post helps ease your worries about getting a Covid-19 test for return travel from Costa Rica. Although it is a bit of a hassle, testing options are expanding every day and becoming easier for travelers.

Have a question about getting a Covid test to meet travel requirements? Ask us below.

Looking for more information to plan your trip to Costa Rica? Check out these posts:

Traveling to Costa Rica During Covid-19: Entry Requirements, Protocols, and What to Expect – Learn about the required online health pass and current restrictions in effect.

Covid Travel: What It Is Like in Costa Rica Right Now – Wondering if restaurants, hotels, and tours are open like normal? Check out our post for current information.

Costa Rica and the Coronavirus – Get up-to-date information on Costa Rica’s current numbers.

Covid Vaccination Rates in Costa Rica – Learn about how the vaccination campaign is going in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica Rental Car Discount – Having a rental car is a great way to explore the country. Check out our discount to save 10% and get free extras.

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