Last Updated: September 24, 2020
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 (Covid testing, insurance, etc.), airport protocols, and let you know what to expect at hotels, restaurants, and on tours.
Who Can Enter Costa Rica?
Costa Rica reopened its airport borders to certain countries and US states beginning on August 1. See the sections below for the full list.
Tourists from the following countries can travel to Costa Rica as of today, or as indicated in the date provided:
- Cypriot Republic
- Czech Republic
- Federal Republic of Germany
- French Republic
- Grand Duchy of Luxembourg
- Hellenic Republic (Greece)
- Italian Republic
- Jamaica (October 1)
- Kingdom of Belgium
- Kingdom of Denmark
- Kingdom of Norway
- Kingdom of Spain
- Kingdom of Sweden
- Kingdom of Thailand
- Kingdom of the Netherlands
- Mexico (October 1)
- New Zealand
- Portuguese Republic
- Principality of Liechtenstein
- Principality of Monaco
- Republic of Austria
- Republic of Bulgaria
- Republic of China
- Republic of Croatia
- Republic of Estonia
- Republic of Finland
- Republic of Hungary
- Republic of Iceland
- Republic of Korea
- Republic of Latvia
- Republic of Lithuania
- Republic of Malta
- Republic of Poland
- Republic of San Marino
- Republic of Singapore
- Republic of Slovenia
- Republic of Uruguay
- Slovak Republic
- Swiss Confederation
- United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
- United States (certain states only; see list below)
- Vatican State
The government has clarified that tourists without a passport from one of these countries can enter Costa Rica through a flight from a permitted country under certain circumstances. Specifically, they 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.
Approved US States
The government announced on August 19 and 27, and September 10 and 24, that tourists from certain states in the United States can enter Costa Rica. Tourists from the following states can enter starting on the dates indicated below:
- Arizona (September 15)
- California (October 1)
- Colorado (September 15)
- Connecticut (September 1)
- Maine (September 1)
- Maryland (September 1)
- Massachusetts (September 15)
- Michigan (September 15)
- New Hampshire (September 1)
- New Jersey (September 1)
- New Mexico (September 15)
- New York (September 1)
- Ohio (October 1)
- Oregon (September 15)
- Pennsylvania (September 15)
- Rhode Island (September 15)
- Vermont (September 1)
- Virginia (September 1)
- Washington, DC (September 1)
- Washington (September 15)
- Wyoming (September 15)
Visitors from the US will be subject to an additional requirement to verify that they are residents of an approved state. See the Entry Requirements section, below, for more information.
Tourists from authorized states may enter Costa Rica even if their flight route includes a stop at a destination that is not authorized. This is stated on the Tourism Institute’s (ICT) website.
A recent video from ICT clarifies this. According to the video, the flight must originate in an approved state/country. A traveler can have a layover in an unapproved state or country as long as the duration of the stop does not exceed 18 hours AND the traveler does not leave the airport.
Upon arrival at the airport in Costa Rica, the traveler must demonstrate that their flight originated in an approved state/country. This can be easily done using their boarding pass.
Adding New Countries/States
Costa Rican officials have said that they will continue to analyze which countries/states can be added to the list based on the Covid situation in Costa Rica and around the world. We are updating this post as new locations are added.
For information on Costa Rica’s current Covid numbers, read our separate post Costa Rica and the Coronavirus.
The government wants to begin reintroducing tourism in a very slow and controlled way to limit the virus’ spread. So they are limiting flights into the country.
Only up to five flights per week (total, not per country) have been scheduled to start from Europe.
Travel originating in the United States began in September with flights from Newark, New Jersey (EWR). Flights from other US cities have been available, but these were repatriation flights that tourists cannot book. More commercial flights are being added slowly, though.
According to the ICT, starting on September 13, United Airlines will fly every day from Houston, Texas (IAH) to San Jose Airport (SJO), and three times per week to Liberia Airport (LIR). In October, United expects to offer more flights from Newark, New Jersey as well.
For service from Denver, Colorado (DEN), United is aiming to have a flight to Costa Rica by the end of October.
American Airlines also resumed flights to Costa Rica on September 9. American is planning to now have daily flights from both Dallas/Forth Worth (DFW) to SJO and Miami (MIA) to SJO. Starting on October 8, they plan to have a daily flight from Miami to Liberia.
Texas and Florida aren’t on the approved list yet, but travelers from approved states can have a layover in these states. As we explained above, connecting flights are fine as long as you don’t leave the airport and the layover is 18 hours or less.
Click here to see flights from the US to Costa Rica that have been approved by the Ministry of Health for September.
Here is a link to the SJO Airport website where they list when each airline expects to begin offering flights again.
Costa Rica Entry Requirements for Tourists
To enter Costa Rica, visitors will need to do the following. For the requirements for Costa Rican citizens and residents, see the section below.
1) Present a Negative COVID-19 Test
This test must be done within 72 hours of your scheduled flight to Costa Rica (previously the requirement was 48 hours). The specific type of test required is a PCR-RT test. Other tests like the rapid test will not be accepted.
2) Complete an Online Epidemiological Form (Health Pass)
This short form called the Health Pass (found here) asks for personal information like your name, age, nationality, passport number, and flight details. You will also need to provide your hotel/accomodations in Costa Rica.
The form asks if you have been tested for COVID-19, on what date, and the results. You will need to upload the results.
For the mandatory insurance (see below), you will need to indicate if you are using one of the Costa Rican companies or an international provider. If an international provider, you also will need to upload your policy so that the Tourism Institute can verify it in advance of your arrival.
*If you are from the United States, you will be asked to upload a photo of your driver’s license or state ID card to show you are from an approved state.
The form can only be filled out within 48 hours of your flight, not sooner.
The Health Pass ends with making you agree to declarations. One is that you do not have symptoms of Covid-19 now and that you will comply with a quarantine order if you get Covid-19 during your visit.
A QR code then will be generated, which you can show on your mobile phone at the airport or using a printed document.
English Language Option: The Health Pass 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 Covid-19 during their trip. The insurance must cover medical expenses and accommodation expenses for 14 days of quarantine. Specific coverage amounts are provided below.
You have two options for the insurance. One is to purchase it directly through a provider in Costa Rica. These have been preapproved by the Costa Rican government (Superintendencia General de Seguros (SUGESE)) to offer Covid-19 insurance, so these policies will be automatically accepted when you arrive in country.
Alternatively, you can buy insurance that meets the requirements through an international insurer of your choice. Then you will need to go through a verification process before you will be allowed to enter the country. See below for more details.
For coverage amounts, $20,000 in Covid-19 medical coverage is required if you use a Costa Rican insurance company. If you use an international insurance company instead, the minimum amount is $50,000. Accommodation coverage in case of quarantine is the same no matter which coverage you choose ($2,000).
Costa Rica Insurance Options
Currently, there are two companies in Costa Rica that are approved to sell Covid insurance, INS (the government insurer) and Sagicor (a private company). You can buy the INS insurance in conjunction with the Health Pass by following the link provided in the form or by following this link. You can buy a policy from Sagicor directly through their website.
Sagicor’s rates are around $10-13/day for travelers under age 70. Here is a link to their rates chart.
International Insurance Options
International insurance policies are also acceptable, provided they meet the minimum requirements. Specifically, the insurance must cover at least $50,000 for medical expenses associated with Covid-19 and $2,000 in accommodation expenses to cover at least 14 days of quarantine. You can find these requirements on the Tourism Institute (ICT)’s website.
We are not aware of any travel insurance policy that covers accommodation expenses for quarantine, but will update this post if we hear of any options. If you know of one, please let us know in the comments below.
Verifying Your International Policy
The country’s Tourism Institute is in charge of verifying that international policies comply with the requirements. The process is now digital. You will give your insurance information as part of the online Health Pass (see above).
After you complete the Health Pass, it will generate a colored code that you can show immigration when you arrive. If you meet all entry requirements, it will make a green code. If ICT needs to manually validate your documents, a purple code will be generated. If certain requirements are not met, then it will generate a red code.
ICT will still be at the airport to assist people.
Previously, tourists needed to show compliance by requesting from the international insurer a certification (issued in English or Spanish) stating the following. It would still be a good idea to bring this document with you.
- The validity of the effective policy during the visit in Costa Rica.
- That it guarantees coverage for medical expenses associated with the pandemic disease COVID-19 in Costa Rica, for at least $50,000 (US dollars).
- That it includes a minimum coverage of $2,000 for extended lodging expenses due to pandemic illness.
4) Abide by the Regulations Put in Place by Costa Rica’s Ministry of Health During Your Visit
You must abide by all government regulations regarding Covid-19 during your visit. We cover below the requirements at the airport and throughout your trip.
5) Proof of Residence – Applies to Travelers from the US Only
Visitors from the United States will need to show their driver’s license or state identification card to prove they are from one of the approved states. The announcement that states IDs are also acceptable was made during the press conference on August 27.
This requirement does not apply to minors traveling with their parents.
Other Entry Requirement Information – Quarantine
These are the only requirements for tourists 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 (see below for additional detail). Tourists do not need to quarantine.
Costa Rica Entry Requirements for Citizens and Residents, and Tourists with a Direct Relationship
On August 14, the government made significant changes to the entry requirements for legal residents. They also clarified when tourists with a direct relationship to a Costa Rican citizen can enter.
Another major change is that citizens, legal residents, and those with a direct relationship to a Costa Rican can avoid the 14-day quarantine under certain circumstances. We cover this below.
Tourists with a Direct Relationship
Those traveling on a tourist visa who have a first-degree familial relationship to a Costa Rican citizen or resident can now enter the country on their own. Examples are parents of minors, minor children, spouses, and minor siblings.
The tourist must prove the direct relationship with the applicable formal document (e.g., birth or marriage certificate). They also need to present: (1) their passport, and (2) proof that they will be leaving Costa Rica within 90 days (e.g., plane ticket back to their home country).
In addition, they will need to purchase the required travel insurance and complete the Health Pass (see above for requirements).
They will be required to do a 14-day quarantine unless they are traveling from an approved country, have been there for at least 14 days, and have a negative Covid test that meets the requirements above.
For additional details on the requirements for those entering via a direct relationship, visit this website.
Costa Rican Citizens and Residents
Previously, if a resident left Costa Rica after borders closed in March, they would not be permitted to reenter the country. That has now changed. Permanent residents and temporary residents with legal status (cedulas) can enter from any country. They will need to present their passport, cedula/DIMEX card, and complete the Health Pass.
In addition, they will need to either (1) prove that their Caja payment is up to date; or (2) if their Caja is not current, purchase insurance with a minimum coverage of 22 days. During those 22 days, the resident is expected to settle up their Caja to ensure they are paid in full. Previously, residents could enter only with proof of their Caja being paid; however, after a few people were denied entry recently, the government modified this requirement.
Residents will be required to do a 14-day quarantine unless they are traveling from an approved country, have been there for at least 14 days, and have a negative Covid test that meets the requirements above.
For additional details on the requirements for residents, visit this website.
People with Residency Applications in Process
Those who have filed their residency application but have not yet been approved are considered tourists for purposes of entering Costa Rica.
Nationals only need to complete the Health Pass. They can avoid the 14-day quarantine if they are coming from an authorized country, have been there for at least 14 days, and present a negative Covid test.
What is Open for Tourists?
Costa Rica has been working hard to reopen its economy for tourism. In most places, 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 and Yellow 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 than yellow alert areas. In general, 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.
Previously, most businesses were closed in orange alert zones except for those that sell essentials (e.g., grocery stores, pharmacies). However, beginning in August, more businesses were opened. Starting on September 9, most businesses were allowed to open even in orange alert zones.
For tourists, this means that restaurants, bars, supermarkets, shops, etc. are open at 50% capacity. Everything that is open is subject to strict sanitary measures, which we will discuss separately below.
Hotels now can be open at full capacity in both orange and yellow alert zones. Common areas like pools and hotel restaurants need to be at 50% capacity. Beaches can be open from 5:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. countrywide. 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.
This government website has more specific information on what is open (in Spanish).
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. Countrywide, driving is permitted Monday through Friday from 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. and from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on weekends. 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.
Wear a Mask
Masks covering the nose and mouth 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.
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.
Preventative Measures to Protect Travelers (and Locals)
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.
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.
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 have many measures in place, including the following.
At check in, the receptionist should wear a mask 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 (a uniform, 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.
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.
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.
Rental Cars and 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 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.
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 people can get back to enjoying everything that Costa Rica has to offer.
Last Updated: September 24, 2020
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.