Last Updated: January 20, 2022
With Covid spreading rapidly due to the omicron variant, many people are wondering what happens if you test positive for Covid in Costa Rica. Countries like Canada, the United States, and much of Europe are requiring a negative test before you can board a flight home. But what if the test doesn’t come back negative? In this post, we’ll give you an overview of Costa Rica’s quarantine requirements and some practical considerations as well.
Background on Traveling to Costa Rica During Covid
Here are some helpful links before we get into what happens if you test positive.
For Costa Rica’s current Covid numbers, read our post, Costa Rica and the Coronavirus.
For current entry requirements, read our post, Traveling to Costa Rica During Covid-19.
For information on Covid testing requirements for getting back into the United States, read our post on Preflight Testing.
For information on Covid testing locations in Costa Rica, read our post, Where to Get a Covid Test. It has options all around the country, in San Jose and major tourist destinations.
Background – Testing Positive for Covid in Costa Rica
The Costa Rican government does not have clear information for tourists about what happens if you test positive for Covid during your trip. The official Tourism Board (ICT) currently does not cover this on their website.
Below we give our understanding based on various regulations from the Costa Rica Ministry of Health and what we have gleaned from living here and working in the travel industry. You can find the Ministry of Health’s regulations on their website. Here is a link to one important document (in Spanish) for those interested. And another recent document from January 19.
You also can find some information on the US Embassy’s website.
Although we have tried to ensure that the information we are giving is accurate, your experience may differ somewhat.
If you have tested positive in Costa Rica and want to share your experience, please leave a comment below to help others know what to expect.
Receiving a Sanitary Order
Prior to being tested for Covid in Costa Rica, the lab or medical clinic will ask for certain personal information like your email and phone number. They will use this to email your test results. Remember too, that you will have provided the Costa Rican government with personal and travel information when you fill out the online health pass before entering the country.
If your test comes back positive, the testing facility will send you the positive test result by email. There is a formal procedure where they will then notify the Costa Rican government.
You are then supposed to receive a quarantine order, called a sanitary order in Costa Rica. This will come from the Ministry of Health or local hospital/clinic. Usually, it takes a day or two to receive it after the positive test result.
If you have not received your sanitary order within a couple of days, call the Covid hotline at 1322 for help. You could also try calling the lab/facility where you were tested to see if they can contact the government for you.
Quarantine orders can be for 7-10 days in Costa Rica. (Previously, it was 10-14 days, but on January 19, the Ministry of Health decreased the mandatory quarantine period. Here is a link to the relevant document.)
The exact number varies depending on the severity of symptoms. The Ministry of Health regulations say, for example, that people who are asymptomatic should receive a 7-day sanitary order. It is the same 7-day period for people with mild symptoms.
The start date of the sanitary order is usually the date of the positive test but it can be earlier (see FAQs below).
Travelers can pick where they do their quarantine. The Costa Rican government does not have quarantine hotels. You can choose any hotel or vacation rental that has space and make your own arrangements, at your own cost.
Note: If you are already in a hotel or vacation rental when you get tested (because you have not yet checked out), the government may state in the quarantine order that you must stay in that accommodation for the duration of your quarantine.
You will need to inform the government of where you will be doing your quarantine. The Ministry of Health or local public clinic is supposed to call you every day to make sure you’re staying there and not leaving, in compliance with the order.
We have heard, however, that not everyone gets called.
Still, you should know that Costa Rica takes sanitary orders very seriously so you would not want to be caught not abiding by one. It is a legally binding order. The only exception we have seen in the regulations for leaving during a quarantine is for getting medical attention. There is a hefty fine for being caught in violation of a sanitary order. Depending on the violation, the fine is 450,200 to 2,300,000 colones or about $700-$3,560.
You will need to pay all expenses associated with your quarantine. This makes it a very good idea to get travel insurance.
Some companies do cover quarantine expenses. Check out our post, Costa Rica’s Required Travel Insurance: 15 FAQs. Though insurance is now not required for those who are vaccinated, this article has links to several travel insurance companies that cover quarantine.
Airline Quarantine Requirements
Travelers also should check the quarantine requirements of their airline. The US Embassy advises that most US airlines require a person receiving a positive test result to do a 14-day quarantine before boarding a flight. This is according to CDC guidelines.
FAQs About Testing Positive for Covid in Costa Rica
What about the rest of my travel group/family? If they test negative, can they leave?
It seems that as long as the rest of the group tests negative and is not showing symptoms, they can leave Costa Rica. A sanitary order is in the name of a specific person.
This was the case for a family who we helped with some travel planning. Four out of five people tested negative. The person who tested positive was a child so one parent stayed back with them, while the others returned to the United States.
When does the sanitary order begin and expire?
Ministry of Health regulations state that the sanitary order begins on the positive test date and cannot be retroactive. However, the regulations then go on to explain that in determining the exact number of quarantine days, they will take into account the time between the onset of symptoms or the last contact with a positive case. We have heard of cases where the sanitary order date began before the positive test date.
The sanitary order will have a specific expiration date. The order expires at the end of that day.
Can I retest out of the quarantine?
According to the US Embassy, the Ministry of Health has stated that sanitary orders cannot be appealed. This is so even if the results of subsequent tests taken during the mandatory quarantine are negative (see applicable Ministry of Health document here). So it seems you need to wait out the expiration of the sanitary order.
What do I have to do to get back home after my quarantine? Retesting and proof of recovery.
The requirements to board a flight after testing positive differ by country.
For US travelers, the CDC does not recommend retesting within three months after a positive test result. This is because people who have recovered from Covid may continue to test positive.
The CDC advises that if you have had a positive test within the past 90 days, and you have met the criteria to end isolation, you may travel with your positive test result and a signed letter from a licensed healthcare provider or public health official that states you have been cleared for travel. These are referred to as documentation of recovery.
The CDC site explains that the letter must have information that identifies you personally (e.g., name and date of birth) that matches your passport. The letter needs to be signed and dated on official letterhead with the name, address, and phone number of the healthcare provider or public health official.
We have heard that the Ministry of Health will email a document saying you are cleared to travel one business day after the quarantine period expires. This document may not come automatically. It’s best to contact the local health clinic that issued your sanitary order. The email address should be on the first page of your sanitary order.
If you do not receive a document of recovery from the Ministry of Health, you could also go to a private clinic or hospital to request one after your quarantine period expires.
Where should I quarantine?
Being quarantined isn’t all that fun, of course, but you can make the best of it. We’ve heard of people picking Airbnbs with a private pool and other things to do on the property so that they can pass the time faster.
We also have had clients end their stay at a beach location (and get tested locally there). That way, if they test positive, they will have a nice spot to wait out their quarantine.
Quarantine Options Near the Airport
If you would prefer to quarantine near the airport so that you are close for when you fly home, the Hilton Garden Inn is a good option near Liberia Airport. They have an onsite restaurant so would be able to bring you food.
For recommendations in the San Jose Airport area, check out our post, Best Hotels Near SJO Airport.
How can I get supplies when I’m in quarantine?
In popular tourist destinations in Costa Rica, it is actually easy to get food delivered to your door. Most restaurants offer express (delivery) for free or a small charge. A few grocery stores deliver too (e.g., Automercado). Often the driver will have a credit card reader that you can just tap your card to pay.
In San Jose, you can use Uber Eats. Uber Eats also offers grocery delivery.
If you’re not in San Jose, it’s worth asking your Airbnb host or hotel front desk if they could help get you groceries. They should be able to do some shopping for you and just charge for their time. Costa Ricans are usually very friendly and helpful.
First, we hope that your Covid test comes back negative! We also hope that our article has given you a better idea in general of what happens if you test positive for Covid on a trip to Costa Rica.
Have a question about testing positive for Covid in Costa Rica? Ask us below.
Looking for more information to plan your trip to Costa Rica? Check out these posts:
Itineraries: Still trying to figure out the best itinerary for your trip? Check out our sample itineraries.
Getting a SIM Card for Costa Rica: Read our tips on using local cell carries for phone and Internet in Costa Rica.
Driving in Costa Rica: What to Know Before You Go – Planning to rent a car? Read our guide for information on what to expect for road conditions and customs.