The Five Most Frequently Asked Questions About Getting Into Costa Rica

As the host to a popular podcast about Costa Rica, I receive a lot of questions about getting to Costa Rica.  The following are the five most frequently asked questions about getting into Costa Rica.

1. What are the entry requirements?

If you’re visiting Costa Rica as a tourist you do not need to apply for a visa.  You will need a valid passport that will not expire for at least 30 days after arrival in Costa Rica and a round trip airline ticket.  Please note your passport should be in good condition.  Costa Rican immigration services will deny entry if your passport is damaged (torn, faded, etc.).  As a tourist you are allowed to stay in the country up to 90 days without a visa.  Staying beyond 90 days requires submitting an application for an extension with the office of Costa Rican immigration.  As a tourist it is unlikely your request for an extension beyond the 90 days would be granted.  However, each application is reviewed and decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.

2. Which Airlines fly to Costa Rica?

Most major airlines fly into Costa Rica’s San José International Airport (called Aeropuerto Juan Santamaria).  Here is a list of some of the major airlines (this list is not all inclusive):

  • American Airlines
  • United Airlines
  • Continental Airlines
  • Lacsa (Costa Rica’s official airline)
  • Delta Airlines
  • Mexicana de Aviación
  • Copa Airlines
  • Iberia
  • Martinair
  • Spirit Airlines
  • Taca
  • American West
  • US Airways

3. What is the average airfare to San José, Costa Rica?

It’s very difficult to provide an average airfare since there are so many external factors outside of our control.  For example airfare from Miami, Florida to Costa Rica will be cheaper versus flying out of Omaha, Nebraska.  Plus just cracking the mysterious airline pricing code is a difficult task to tackle.  Even in domestic flights the person next to you could have paid a lot more or less than you did for the same ticket.

But to give you an idea I’ll share my personal experience flying form the Midwest of the United States (Minneapolis, Minnesota) to Costa Rica.  The average airfare is about $500.  Anything under $500 is a great deal.  The most I have ever paid is around $650.

Airfare varies greatly depending on the dates you travel.  It will cost you a lot more to fly during the tourist high season which lasts from November through April.

Follow the same guidelines for buying airline tickets to any destination domestic or international to ensure you’re getting the best possible deal:

  • Flexibility in your travel dates equals better prices.
  • The rule of thumb is to book your flight at least two weeks before your trip.  For Costa Rica make that 3-4 weeks.
  • Fly mid-week if you can. There are many studies reporting that the best prices can be found by flying on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
  • Go online.  Check out Orbitz, Travelocity, Sidestep, PriceLine, and the local airline’s websites for the best prices.

4. What are the customs regulations?

Custom duties are not charged for personal luggage.  Costa Rican law required that baggage be examined and the travelers submit customs declaration forms.  The same process required by U.S. customs.  The custom lines in Costa Rica can be very long so be prepared to wait and be patient.

5. Departure tax

After having a great time visiting Costa Rica you will need to pay a Costa Rican departure tax at the airport.  So make sure you have cash or your credit card handy.  The cost is $26 (as of this writing-March 2008).  Make sure you pay the departure tax before you get in line to check in to your flight.  If you don’t have the necessary receipts you will be kicked out of the checking line to go pay your departure tax and then you will need to get in line again (at the end of the line) to check in for your flight.  When you walk into the San José International Airport, look to your left and right and you will see the booths to pay your departure tax.  They are located across from the flight check in counters.