Traveling to Costa Rica During Covid-19: Entry Requirements, Protocols & What to Expect

With borders beginning to reopen around the world, travel as we know it has certainly changed. But what is traveling to Costa Rica like during Covid-19? With some key changes and extra precautions, we think that visitors can still experience what makes this country special. Beautiful beaches, verdant green mountains, diverse wildlife, and warmhearted locals. In this post, we’ll share what you need to know when traveling to Costa Rica during Covid-19. We’ll cover entry requirements, airport protocols, and let you know what to expect at hotels, restaurants, and on tours.

Traveling Costa Rica During Reopening Covid

Who Can Enter Costa Rica?

Permitted Countries

Starting on August 1 at 11:59 p.m., Costa Rica will begin allowing tourists traveling from the European Union & Schengen area, United Kingdom, and Canada. The complete list of EU countries is as follows: 

Germany, Austria, Spain, Estonia, Italy, Latvia, Netherlands, Poland, Belgium, Finland, Liechtenstein Portugal, Denmark, Slovakia, France, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Czech Republic, Sweden, Slovenia, Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland.

The government has clarified that travelers without a passport from one of these countries can enter Costa Rica through a flight from a permitted country under certain circumstances. Specifically, the travelers must quarantine in the permitted country for at least 14 days, without showing symptoms, before departing for Costa Rica. Upon arriving in Costa Rica, the immigration official will ensure that the passenger did not make only a stopover in the permitted country.

Costa Rican officials have said that they will continuously be analyzing which countries can be added to the list of permitted countries based on the Covid situation in Costa Rica and around the world. We will update this post as countries are added.

For information on Costa Rica’s current Covid numbers, read our separate post Costa Rica and the Coronavirus.  

Flight Schedule

Only up to five flights per week (total, not per country) will be scheduled to start. This is because the government wants to begin reintroducing tourism in a very slow and controlled way to limit the virus’ spread.

The first flights into San Jose Airport will be from Frankfurt, Germany and Madrid, Spain. Travel originating in the UK and Canada will begin in the coming months.

Here is a link to the SJO Airport website where they list when each airline expects to begin offering flights again.

Airports reopen in Costa Rica

Costa Rica Entry Requirements 

To enter Costa Rica, visitors will need to do the following:

1) Present a Negative COVID-19 Test 

This test must be done within 48 hours of your scheduled flight to Costa Rica. The specific type of test required is a PCR-RT test. Other tests like the rapid test will not be accepted. A negative Covid-19 test is required for all travelers over age 12.

2) Complete an Online Epidemiological Form 

This short form (found here) asks for personal information like your name, age, nationality, passport number, and flight details. There is also a health background section with questions regarding preexisting conditions and current health (if you have a fever, loss of smell, etc.).

The final part of the form asks if you have been tested for COVID-19, on what date, and the results. For this reason, it would be best to fill it out once you have your test results in hand.

English Language Option: The form defaults to Spanish, but there is an option at the top right to change to English.

3) Get a Travel Insurance Policy 

Visitors must purchase travel insurance to cover their expenses in case they get sick during their trip. Specifically, the insurance must cover at least $20,000 for medical expenses associated with Covid-19 and $4,000 in accommodation expenses for quarantine.

The travel insurance needs to be purchased from the government insurance company, INS. We will update this post with definitive information on how best to purchase this insurance once more is known.

4)  Abide by the Regulations Put in Place by Costa Rica’s Ministry of Health During Your Visit 

We cover below the requirements for travelers at the airport and during a visit.

Other Entry Requirement Information – Quarantine 

These are the only requirements for entering Costa Rica. Notably, Costa Rica does not require tourists to quarantine. The 14-day quarantine requirement only applies to Costa Rican citizens and legal residents reentering the country. This was put in place months ago and has not been changed. Tourists do not need to quarantine.

What is Open for Tourists?

Costa Rica has been working hard to reopen its economy for tourism. Fortunately, starting on August 1, many things will be open for tourists. In major destinations, many, but not all, hotels and restaurants are open. The country’s beaches are also open for most of the day and tourism companies are beginning to reopen slowly.

Hopefully in the coming months, more and more hotels, restaurants, and tour operators will reopen as more visitors are allowed into the country.

Because Costa Rica does have ongoing Covid-19 cases, some areas do have restrictions. We will cover them below. 

Orange Alert Zones

Costa Rica has an alert system for sanitary restrictions. Areas under an orange alert, which are experiencing the most Covid cases, have greater limitations. Most orange alert zones are in the greater San Jose area. The list of areas under orange alert is subject to change based on how the pandemic progresses. To find information on the current breakdown, visit this site and click Alerta.

Currently, most businesses are closed in orange alert zones except for those that sell essentials (e.g., grocery stores, pharmacies). The closure includes restaurants and tour operators.

Starting on August 1, more businesses will be open in these zones (except for a temporary closure from August 10-21). For tourists, that means that restaurants, supermarkets, and shops will be open at 50% capacity. Everything that is open is subject to strict sanitary measures, which we will discuss separately below.

Hotels can be open at 50% capacity in orange alert zones and beaches in these areas can be open from 5:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Surfing and other non-contact sports are permitted. Visitors must stay within their social bubble (see below).

National parks that have been listed as reopened can operate at 50%, as well as thermal hot springs resorts, wildlife centers, and botanical gardens.

Yellow Alert Zones 

Yellow alert areas are experiencing fewer cases and have fewer restrictions. Most businesses are open. Hotels can operate at 100% capacity, but only 50% in common areas like pools. Restaurants can offer dine in at 50% capacity. Stores and shops are open at 50%. Bars remain closed. National parks that have been listed as reopened can operate at 50%, as well as thermal hot springs resorts, wildlife centers, and botanical gardens.

Beginning on August 1, the government announced an additional relaxing of certain key measures in yellow alert zones. Specifically:

  • Beaches will be open from 5:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Surfing and other non-contact sports are permitted. Visitors must stay within their social bubble.
  • Tours that take place outdoors will be permitted in social bubbles (e.g., hiking, zip lining, cable cars, rafting, water recreation, air recreation).
Costa Rica Beach During Covid-19
A nearly empty beach along the central Pacific coast during reopening

Driving Restrictions

Costa Rica has driving restrictions that limit travel based on license plate number. Since rental cars are exempt, most tourists will not be affected by this. If you are pulled over by transit police during your stay, you will just need to show them your rental car contract.

Keep in mind, though, that there are nighttime curfews. In yellow alert zones, driving is permitted Monday through Friday from 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. and from 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m on weekends. In orange alert zones, driving is permitted from 5:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every day of the week. Rental cars are still exempt from these requirements, but if you want to avoid getting pulled over, we’d recommend avoiding driving during the curfews.

Safety and Sanitary Measures That Travelers Need to Follow in Costa Rica 

Since tourism is a huge part of the local economy in Costa Rica, the government is ready to welcome visitors once again. They have emphasized, however, that visitors need to follow all sanitary requirements to slow the spread of Covid-19. Costa Rica has a socialized health care system and a limited number of hospital beds that are filling up quickly. Making sure that the hospitals do not become overwhelmed is essential to further reopening tourism, and keeping both visitors and local residents safe.

Below are the main protocols that visitors to Costa Rica will need to abide by.

Follow Airport Protocols 

Upon landing on Costa Rican soil, travelers must wear face protection (cloth mask that covers the nose and mouth) and comply with all airport protocols. This includes following the physical distance requirements, allowing for their temperatures to be taken, hand sanitizing at designated stations, and following any other sanitary measures.

Stay in Your Social Bubble 

Costa Rica uses the social bubble philosophy for social distancing. People are encouraged to stay within their personal social bubble. Your social bubble is the people who you live with, most commonly, your family. For travelers, this will be easy. Your social bubble will be whoever you are traveling with.

You’ll notice when you get here that some common areas will be partitioned off or marked for social bubbling. At a few of the more popular beaches, they have put up bamboo markers to space people 1.8 meters (6 feet) apart. At other public spaces, similar measures have been put in place.

Social Bubble Costa Rica
Social bubbles at an outdoor shopping/dining area

Wear a Mask 

Masks are required in most indoor spaces in Costa Rica. One is needed at grocery stores, all other stores and shops, banks, on buses and at bus stops, and in taxis. Some tours and attractions may require masks as well, so it’s always a good idea to carry one with you.

Masks are not required for customers at restaurants. However, the staff needs to wear them.

Masks can be either cloth coverings or plastic face shields. The government has stated that if you do not wear a mask, you may be denied entry. Businesses can temporarily lose their operating permit if customers are found in violation, so most establishments take the rules very seriously.

Masks During Covid in Costa Rica
Shoppers using a handwashing station and wearing masks to enter a big-box store

Preventative Measures to Protect Travelers (and Locals)

Overview

Sanitary Protocols

The Ministry of Health and President’s Office have established various sanitary guidelines that all tourism businesses must follow to protect both travelers and workers. Costa Rica’s tourism institute, the Instituto de Costarricense de Turismo (ICT), has specific guidelines that implement these protocols.

We have combed through these guidelines at length. They are extremely detailed and cover many different situations. They address the measures that tour guides and the staff at restaurants, hotels, rental car companies, etc. need to follow. They are aimed at providing training for the people who you will be interacting with during your trip.

Below are some notable measures that tourism businesses need to follow. They include measures on cleaning, sanitation, social distancing, personal protective equipment, food preparation, and lots more. This list is by no means exhaustive. We just included some of the more essential and interesting points.

Handwashing and Masks Requirements Costa Rica
Handwashing station and mask reminders in Jaco

Safe Travels Stamp 

In addition, it is worth noting that Costa Rica has received the Safe Travels stamp from the World Travel and Tourism Council. It has implemented 16 global health and hygiene protocols to promote safety in tourism.

Airport

Preventative measures at SJO Airport include signage with physical distance guidance throughout the airport, sanitizing carpets, handwashing and sanitizing stations, temperature checks, continuous cleaning and disinfection, and luggage arrangement service at baggage claim.

For departing flights, a guard will screen at the entrance to make sure only passengers will be allowed in the terminal. Ticketing agents will be behind glass barriers. There will be social distancing in seating areas, and boarding passes will be self-scanned.

Here is a great video showing the airport protocols at SJO.

Hotels

Hotels have many measures in place, including the following.

At check in, the receptionist should wear a face shield and maintain social distance with fellow employees and guests. The reception area should be cleaned at least every 30 minutes.

Marks should be put on the floor to ensure guests are at least 1.8 meters apart.

Guests should handwash/sanitize before check in.

The phone numbers of hospitals and medical centers should be posted in the reception area.

Pre-check-in should be used whenever possible to limit time at the reception desk.

UV technology should be used to disinfect room keys.

Bellhops should disinfect the guest’s luggage as well as the baggage cart afterwards.

Cleaning staff needs to wear personal protective equipment (uniform, a mask, and gloves). They follow strict cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing procedures using approved chemicals. They should clean all bedding without shaking it and deep clean high-touch items like remote controls, doorknobs, light switches, lamps, coffee makers, etc. They need to keep a cleaning record.

Whether a room should be cleaned daily should be decided by the guest.

Guests should be informed of the sanitary practices being carried out at the time a reservation is made and on the hotel website.

Restaurants

At restaurants, employees must wear a mask and follow handwashing and cough and sneeze protocols. The restaurant must maintain and refill soap and hand sanitizing stations (automatic if possible) and in the bathroom. They must constantly clean and disinfect, with records to keep track.

Restaurants can be at 50% occupancy. Tables should be rearranged so that the backs of chairs are at least 1.8 meters apart.

Digital menus should be used when possible.

Markings should be added to the floor to maintain social distancing at waiting areas (bathrooms, cashier areas, etc.).

Food at buffets and salad bars should be handled by workers only.

Instrumental music without singing is permitted.

Social distancing at restaurant in Costa Rica
Sanitizing station and social distancing at a restaurant

Tours 

Tours can operate at 50% capacity within social bubbles.

Tour guides must inform clients of the sanitary protocols and rules that they will be following during the activity.

Tour guides must have personal protective equipment, including masks. They must maintain distance between themselves and clients and have hand sanitizer available. They need to regularly disinfect frequently touched items like binoculars, scopes, lifejackets, flashlights, etc.

Social distancing between people of different social bubbles must be maintained. There should be at least 15 meters (50 feet) between different groups.

For hiking activities, they will limit groups to no more than 6 people. Groups should be people from the same social bubble. *You will see that many tour operators are offering only private tours for this reason.

Handwashing is required before entering a tourist site and when leaving.

Electronic payment is encouraged.

If a tour guide suspects a Covid-19 case, they will communicate this with the Ministry of Health using the official methods.

Hanging Bridge in Monteverde

Rental Cars and Shuttles

Shuttles

Shuttle van companies need to clean and disinfect all vehicles before and after use. They need to give special attention to high-touch areas like handles, railings, seatbelts, seats, dashboards, and mirrors. They should keep daily cleaning records and wear personal protective equipment.

Drivers and personnel should wear a mask or face shield. They need to ensure that passengers comply with the mask requirement and not allow anyone in the van who appears sick.

They need to provide visitors with hand sanitizer before they enter the vehicle and disinfect their bags. Cleaning products and hand sanitizer should be available in the vehicle at all times.

Companies must display the sanitary protocols of the Ministry of Health in vehicles. They will provide information to passengers about ways to minimize health risk.

Rental Cars

Rental car companies must follow similar requirements.

They need to intensify cleaning and hygiene measures in their offices, focusing on surfaces where there is greater contact (e.g., handles, reception furniture, doorknobs, computers, railings).

Cars must be cleaned and disinfected before and after each rental using approved products. They should keep daily cleaning records. Employees must wear personal protective equipment.

Masks and gloves must be provided to employees who work with customers directly.

Hand sanitizer should be available to customers.

Companies should mark the floor to maintain social distance among customers who are waiting.

The temperature of both customers and employees should be taken upon entering a rental car office.

For car pickups and deliveries not at the company’s office (e.g., at hotels or vacation rentals), the employee must inform the customer in advance of the preventative and cleaning measures being taken. The employee will use preventative measures when interacting with the customer to maintain social distance. Examples include asking the customer to put the keys on the hood rather than exchanging them directly for returns and disinfecting high-touch areas like the steering wheel, gear lever, and door handle when dropping off a car for a customer.

Companies should email vehicle inspection reports to customers.

They should implement electronic payment methods or contactless credit/debit cards when possible.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, Costa Rica has many measures in place to keep travelers safe during the Covid-19 pandemic. The government has gone to great lengths to implement procedures for each sector of the economy so that tourism and other businesses can reopen and the economy can get started again. With these measures in place, hopefully, Costa Rica’s reopening will be successful. We hope that visitors from more countries will be allowed to enter soon so that more people can enjoy everything that Costa Rica has to offer.

Have a question about traveling to Costa Rica during Covid-19? Leave us a comment below.

Looking for more information? Check out these posts:

Costa Rica and the Coronavirus: We are updating this post almost every day with the latest data and restrictions in place.

Living in Costa Rica During Covid-19: Our more personal account on what it has been like to live in Costa Rica during this time.

Destinations Summary Guide: If you’re at the beginning of your planning, this guide can give you a head start. It summarizes every destination we cover on our website to help you narrow your itinerary.

Rental Car Discount: If you plan to rent a car during your upcoming trip, check out this discount to save 10-20% with one of the most reliable companies in Costa Rica. Safety protocols are a top priority.

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6 Comments

  1. We are a 64 yr old Canadian couple that were planning a 6 month trip to Costa Rica but sadly we had to cancel it is almost impossible to go for a test in Canada and get the results within 48 hrs and that insurance is very costly you can’t buy it here and buying in CR will be over 1200 for 3 months.The 90 day stamp visa holds us back also in other yrs we could do the border run not now it’s sad because we would have helped all the businesses probably would have spent 20 to 25 thousand dollars

    1. Hi Gerald, The government announced the other day that they are going to reconsider the insurance so hopefully the rate through INS will go down significantly or they will start accepting international insurance. Yes, border runs will be tough for quite a while as it is unlikely that they will open the land borders since Panama and Nicaragua have such high numbers. Thanks for commenting and we are hopeful that things will turn around soon.

  2. Great information – thank you! We miss Costa Rica and were thinking about returning in March. Hopefully by then, the U.S. sees improvement and we will be permitted. Fingers crossed!

  3. Great summary Matt, hopefully some of the restrictions will ease up in the future because the insurance thing is really an expensive add on for tourists.

  4. I feel that Costa Rica is arbitrarily discriminating against U. S. citizens. Allegedly based on COVID regulations of WHO, an entity that discriminates against the U. S. for calling out its CCP bias and our defunding, it still makes no sense. Of course, Germans are known for their lock-step obedience to government regs and thus a low death per Million count, Spain has a death per M that is 125% of the U. S.
    I have been here for a year assessing whether I want to stay permanently. I doubt I will stay.

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