Last Updated: January 13, 2021
With borders reopening 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.
Announcement Re: Restrictions for January: On December 23, the government announced new temporary restrictions.
- For the first two weeks of the year (January 4-17), capacity of bars and casinos is limited to 25% and national parks will be limited to 50% capacity. Beaches will be open only from 5:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. until January 31. (Initially, beaches closed at 2:30 p.m., but the government extended the hours until 6 p.m. starting on January 13).
- Starting on January 9, driving restrictions will change for the month to include an even/odd schedule on weekends. These plate restrictions do not apply to rental cars.
Long-term Visits and Visa Lengths (Nov. 6) – You need to purchase insurance for the exact number of days you plan to be in Costa Rica. See the section below for more details.
Covid Test (Oct. 26): As of October 26, Costa Rica no longer requires a negative Covid test to enter the country.
**If you need to get a Covid test in Costa Rica before you go back home, check out our post, Where to Get a Covid-19 Test in Costa Rica.
***We are updating this post regularly with new information on insurance, etc. We are following these issues closely as things develop over time.
Who Can Enter Costa Rica?
Costa Rica reopened its air borders (air only, not land borders) to tourists from certain countries and US states beginning on August 1.
*As of November 1, travelers from all over the world (all countries and US states) can enter. The Costa Rican government made this announcement on October 16. Travelers still need to meet entry requirements (see below).
Land Borders: On November 1, Costa Rica opened its land borders with Nicaragua and Panama to legal residents of Costa Rica (holding a DIMEX). They still need to meet the applicable entry requirements for residents (see below). Currently, tourists can exit Costa Rica via the land borders. However, they cannot enter the country this way. Entry for tourists is permitted only by air. We have no information on when land borders will reopen to tourists.
Now that travel is unrestricted, it is becoming much easier to find flights to Costa Rica. Here is a good link to the SJO Airport website with information on when each airline began, or will begin, offering flights again.
United Airlines has flights into San Jose Airport (SJO) from Houston (IAH), Chicago (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX), and Denver (DEN). It also has flights from IAH into Liberia Airport (LIR).
American Airlines resumed flights to Costa Rica in September. American has daily flights to SJO from both Dallas/Forth Worth (DFW) and Miami (MIA). They have a daily flight to Liberia from DFW and MIA as well.
JetBlue has resumed flights to SJO, from Fort-Lauderdale (FLL), Orlando (MCO), New York (JFK), and LAX. They also have flights from Boston (BOS) and JFK to Liberia.
Spirit Airlines has resumed operations to and from FLL and SJO.
Delta has flights into SJO from Atlanta (ATL) and LAX.
Air Canada has started flying again as of November 1.
For European travelers, Iberia, Air France, Lufthansa, KLM, and Edelweiss have resumed flights.
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.
IMPORTANT: Costa Rica no longer requires a negative Covid test to enter. This requirement was eliminated as of October 26.
1) Complete an Online Epidemiological Form (Health Pass)
The form can only be filled out within 48 hours of your flight, not sooner.
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.
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.
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.
English Language Option: The Health Pass defaults to Spanish, but there is an option at the top right to change to English.
TIP: If you are getting errors filling out the Health Pass, make sure you are doing it 48 hours or less before your flight. You can’t fill it out sooner than that. If you are within the 48 hours, the problem may be your web browser. Some people have reported problems when using Chrome. Microsoft Edge seems to work without any glitches.
2) Get a Travel Insurance Policy
Visitors must purchase travel insurance for the duration of their stay to cover their expenses in case they get Covid-19. 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 to offer Covid-19 insurance, so these policies will be automatically accepted.
Alternatively, you can buy insurance that meets the requirements through an international insurer of your choice. Then you will need to go through an additional verification process. See below for more details.
For coverage amounts, $20,000 USD 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 USD. Accommodation coverage in case of quarantine is the same no matter which coverage you choose ($2,000 USD).
IMPORTANT NOTE ON LONG-TERM STAYS (Nov. 6): Refer to the section below called Long-Term Visits and Visa Lengths for information on how your insurance coverage affects your visa.
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 through their website directly or using a local broker for no additional cost. You can buy a policy from Sagicor directly through their website.
Sagicor’s rate is a flat daily rate, which usually makes it less expensive for shorter trips than INS.
The INS rate is more variable based on your age, trip length, etc. We have heard from people that it is usually cheaper for longer visits than Sagicor.
International Insurance Options
International insurance policies are also acceptable, provided they meet the minimum requirements. Specifically, the insurance must cover at least $50,000 USD for medical expenses associated with Covid-19 and $2,000 USD in accommodation expenses to cover at least 14 days of quarantine. You can find these requirements on the Tourism Institute (ICT)’s website.
Update, November 6 – International Insurance Options
We have been hearing from readers about international insurance options that they have used to enter Costa Rica. They have said that ICT has approved the policies when they submitted them for approval. So it seems they meet Costa Rica’s requirements, including the $2,000 for accommodation coverage in case of quarantine. Below is a list of companies.
Canada Residents: For Canadian residents, we have heard of people entering with Blue Cross Blue Shield. They request a confirmation letter from them saying that it covers Covid and the $2,000 USD accommodation expense.
Another option we recently heard has worked for Canadian residents is Manulife. See comment from Bari on December 30. We have also heard that it worked for a couple of other people in December.
If you know of another insurance option, please let us know in the comments below.
IMPORTANT: Keep in mind that these insurance companies/policies have not been preapproved by the Costa Rican government. So you will still need to upload them for approval as part of the Health Pass.
We also cannot vouch for the companies in general, as we have not used them before. So you will need to do your own due diligence to make sure that the specific policy you’re buying meets the requirements and you are comfortable. Make sure they cover $50,000 in medical expenses for Covid-19 and $2,000 in accommodations due to quarantine.
If you’re using international insurance, we highly recommend emailing ICT/the Tourism Board with your policy information in advance so that you don’t have any problems. Print the email response from ICT and bring a hard copy in case you need to show it at the airport.
ICT’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Our advice is that if the prices are similar, to just go with the Costa Rican insurance companies to make life easy. These are preapproved so all you will have to do is put in your policy number in the Health Pass, and won’t have to worry about getting approval of your policy and a QR code that will automatically allow for entry. If there is a big price difference, then it can be worth it to do the extra work for getting an international policy.
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.
3) 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.
Other Entry Requirement Information – Covid Test and Quarantine
These are the only requirements for tourists entering Costa Rica.
Previously, a negative Covid-19 test (RT-PCR) was an entry requirement. However, on October 22, the government announced that a Covid test would no longer be required starting on October 26.
Costa Rica does not require tourists to quarantine.
Long-Term Visits and Visa Lengths
If you are planning a long-term visit to Costa Rica and are entering the country on a tourist visa, you should know about an important government circular.
On November 1, Immigration announced that the number of days granted to tourists upon entry would depend on the travel insurance purchased. So, for example, if someone purchased 14 days’ worth of insurance, they would be granted a 14-day visa stamp.
Normally, the standard visa duration in Costa Rica is 90 days. (The exact number of days is up to the dicretion of the immigration official, but 90 days is standard.) However, because tourists were purchasing insurance to cover only a small part of their stay (e.g., insurance for 7 days with the intention to remain in the country for several months), Immigration issued this new rule.
The new rule contradicts an older decree that Immigration issued in September. This states that tourists who entered before November 30, 2020 would be given an automatic visa extension until March 2, 2021 (provided they entered Costa Rica after December 17, 2019). Those who enter after November 30 would need to leave the country based on the visa stamp they receive. But if you entered before the end of November, your visa was all set until March 2 of next year.
The advice of reputable lawyers in Costa Rica is now to purchase insurance for the full duration of your stay. So if you want to stay for 90 days, purchase 90 days’ worth of insurance and make sure your plane ticket out of Costa Rica matches and is for the same date. Here is a link to more explanation from a law firm in San Jose.
Monthly and Annual Rental Car Discount: If you are planning a longer stay in Costa Rica, be sure to check out our monthly and annual car rental page. The rates are much lower than just renting by the day or week. This is through Adobe Rent a Car, who we have been recommending for years.
Showing Your QR Code and Documentation to Airport Officials
We have been closely following how it has been going for people entering Costa Rica during this time. Based on what we have seen, the process at the airport can be somewhat chaotic, but as long as you have everything you need, you will be fine.
At the airport during check in, people have been reporting that some airlines want to see your actual paper documents and not only your QR code. This includes your insurance documents. So it’s best to bring hard copies.
When you arrive in Costa Rica, officials will check your QR code and only need to review your documentation if needed based on what you submitted online through the Health Pass. If you have international insurance, they may want to review the policy. We have heard from many people that getting through customs and immigration at the airport has been very fast.
Costa Rica Entry Requirements for Citizens and Residents, and Tourists with a Direct Relationship
Below are the entry requirements for (1) Costa Rican citizens; (2) residents of Costa Rica; and (3) people with residency applications in process.
Citizens and residents are no longer required to quarantine for 14 days after entering Costa Rica.
Costa Rican Citizens and Residents
Permanent residents and temporary residents with legal status (cedulas) will need to present their passport, cedula/DIMEX card (or approval resolution if they haven’t received their DIMEX yet), 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.
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 to enter.
What is Open for Tourists?
Costa Rica has been working hard to reopen its economy for tourism. As of late December, much of the tourism industry is back open again. Many hotels, restaurants, attractions, and tour operators are open. The country’s beaches are also open.
This is typically when high season starts in Costa Rica. Peak travel season is during Christmas and New Years. It does seem that tourism has been picking up recently, with many people coming through the international airports.
To give you an idea of what it’s like to go to restaurants, on tours, visit the beach, and more, we wrote a separate article called Covid Travel: What It Is Like in Costa Rica Right Now.
Because Costa Rica does have ongoing Covid-19 cases, some restrictions remain in place. We will cover them below.
*IMPORTANT UPDATE: On December 23, the government announced temporary restrictions that apply during parts of the month between December 31 and January 31. We cover them in full below (see sections in italics).
For information on Costa Rica’s current Covid numbers, read our separate post Costa Rica and the Coronavirus.
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. 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). Starting in September and continuing now, most businesses are allowed to be open even in orange alert zones.
For tourists, this means that restaurants, 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 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.
As of October 8, bars are open at 50% capacity. However, they are subject to strict procotols, including that music be kept at a low volume and no dancing will be permitted. Acrylic barriers will be in place to separate patrons at the bar and at tables.
Casinos at hotels can also reopen at 50%, subject to certain limitations. These include temperature checks upon entry and cleaning measures. No alcohol will be served.
*Temporary Restriction: For the first two weeks of the year (January 4-17), capacity of bars and casinos is limited to 25%.
As of October 15, beaches are open all day (see below for temporary restriction). The hours are as follows:
- Monday through Friday – 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
- Saturday and Sunday – 5:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
*Temporary Restriction: From January 4-31, beaches will be open only until 6:00 p.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.
This government website has more specific information on what is open (in Spanish).
Costa Rica has driving restrictions that limit travel during the week 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 9:00 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.
Health and Safety Protocols
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.
Airport Health Accreditation
In October, San Jose Airport received the Airport Health Accreditation from the International Council of Airports. This recognizes that SJO Airport has safe facilities and that appropriate precautions are being taken to reduce health risks. SJO Airport is currently one of 58 airports around the world with this designation.
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.
Where to Get a Covid-19 Test in Costa Rica
If you need a Covid-19 test at the end of your trip for purposes of onward travel, there are several convenient options. Read our separate post, Where to Get a Covid-19 Test in Costa Rica, for recommended hospitals and labs and what to expect.
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. With these measures in place, hopefully, Costa Rica’s reopening will be successful and people can get back to enjoying everything that Costa Rica has to offer.
Last Updated: January 13, 2021
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.