Preflight Testing for Departing Costa Rica: Logistics and Tips

Last Updated: February 21, 2021

Many countries are now requiring travelers to take a Covid-19 test before returning home from a visit to Costa Rica. Currently on the list are Canada and some European countries. In addition, all air travelers entering the United States are now required to show a negative test as of January 26. So what does this mean for your trip to Costa Rica? In this post, we’ll lay out the general requirements, explain how testing works in Costa Rica, and give tips on creating an itinerary that will make testing as easy as possible.

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 Requirements for International Arrivals

Per the CDC order, all air passengers (ages 2 and older) arriving to the United States from a foreign country need to meet Covid-testing requirements. This is effective January 26, 2021.

Option 1 – Present a Viral Test Taken Within 3 Days of Flight

Test Type

You will need to take a viral test to check for an active infection (NAAT or viral antigen test). The test must be done no more than three calendar days before your flight departs Costa Rica.

Note: Importantly, the standard is three calendar days, not 72 hours. This means that you can get tested at any time three days 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 Monday at 9:00 a.m. This is within three calendar days, even though it exceeds 72 hours. The idea behind it is to give travelers more flexibility. See the CDC’s website for more explanation.

In Costa Rica, there are two types of 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, which the Costa Rica government recently approved.

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 name, date of birth, etc. on the result must match your travel documents (e.g., passport).

The result must indicate that the sample was taken within three calendar days before your flight from Costa Rica. (See the CDC order for the specific requirements for connecting flights). It also must state: “NEGATIVE,” “SARS-CoV-2 RNA NOT DETECTED,” “SARS-CoV-2 ANTIGEN NOT DETECTED,” or “COVID-19 NOT DETECTED.”

The CDC order does not require the results to be in a certain language. Therefore, we would assume that English or Spanish would work. 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

Option 2 – Show Proof of Recovery from Covid in Last 3 Months

If you have had Covid-19 in the last three months, 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. (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 official order at page 3.

Proof of Vaccination

Even if you have been vaccinated for Covid-19, you will still need to show a negative test result or proof of recovery in the last three months.

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 three months and is cleared to travel. Here is a link to the document. Airlines may also choose to make the attestation electronic. 

Covid Testing Options in Costa Rica

Test Type

The CDC requires a viral test to check for an active infection. As we said above, currently, the RT-PCR test and antigen test are available in Costa Rica. Both tests meet the CDC requirements.

Private Testing

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 onward travel, 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

Until now, most Covid testing in Costa Rica was done through the public system, when locals sought out a test due to symptoms or possible exposure. Now, however, more and more testing is being done through the private system, as visitors need proof of a negative test to get back home.

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

To summarize that article, you can find many clinics and labs that offer testing in San Jose. But more rural areas are also now offering it as well. You can find testing facilities in places like Liberia, Santa Teresa/Mal Pais, Nicoya near Samara, Nosara, the Tamarindo area, Playas del Coco, Jaco, Quepos/Manuel Antonio, Uvita, San Isidro de El General, La Fortuna/Arenal, and many more.

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. Many facilities in San Jose can guarantee results in 24 hours. It can take longer in rural areas, but 72 hours is the longest we have seen.

Since it is newer, antigen (rapid) testing, is easiest to find in San Jose. However, more and more labs in rural areas are starting to offer it. The cost is $50-60 in the San Jose area and up to $100 in rural areas. Results are provided the same day. Some labs can give results within two hours.

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 a Friday or Saturday, you may not receive your results within three calendar days. When booking flights, try to plan on having your departure be on a Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, if possible. Avoid Mondays or Tuesdays, 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. 

As we said above, testing is available in most of Costa Rica. But as of now, we only know of one option in the very southern part of the country (e.g., the nearest location to the Osa Peninsula, Pavones, and San Vito is Uvita or Rio Claro). Read our post, Where to Get a Covid-19 Test, for the full list.

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 travel insurance requirements and how your insurance affects the number of days you’ll get on your visa.

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.

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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