Departure Tax

Departure Requirements for Costa Rica

Changes for 2015…or maybe 2016?

The departure tax may be included in the cost of international airline tickets purchased after June 2015.

The new system was announced with great fanfare in November of 2014 but nothing happened and change comes slowly when the government is involved. Despite what you may read in the newspapers or online it probably won’t be safe to assume you’ve paid the tax for at least another couple of years.

Repeat announcements were made in December of 2014, January and March 2015 but nothing was implemented at that time.  The scale of the program was officially reduced in April of 2015 so only some airlines are included but it’s not clear which ones.

At the end of July 2015 we identified two airlines (United & American) that appear to be collecting the tax.  We called their customer service lines to confirm but neither could say for certain that no further payments would be required when departing from Costa Rica.   Southwest & Spirit are not collecting the tax.  See Examples & Is It Included?

Don’t Pay Twice!

We’ve watched Costa Rican bureaucracy work for decades and it’s very unlikely that they will stop you from paying the departure tax a second time at the desk even if you have already paid it in the price of your airline ticket.  It will be up to you to check with your airline in advance and if the tax is included go to check-in not the departure tax desk.

Departure or Exit Tax

If the departure tax for Costa Rica was not included in your airline tickets it must still be paid in cash (U.S. dollars or Costa Rican Colones) or by credit card (extra fees apply) before you check in at the airline counter for your flight.  The tax is $29 per person.

You will not be allowed to check in without first paying this tax, and because of the way the tax works (see below) you may not be allowed to check in at all if you have not reached the counter at least one hour prior to your scheduled departure.

Passengers boarding at San Jose Airport
Passengers boarding at San Jose Airport

The departure tax is used for a variety of public projects including road improvements and marketing campaigns to try to attract more visitors to pay the departure tax…

Paying the Tax in Advance

You may pay your departure tax in advance by presenting your passport at participating hotel and resort’s front desk.  Generally the hotels will charge you a service fee of $2 to $10 per person and accept the same methods of payment as at the airports.  You may also pay your departure tax in advance at any Bank of Costa Rica but this can be a tedious process.

Why isn’t this Included in the Airfare Like Everywhere Else in the World?

There's a secret office for paying your depature tax at LIR. We've never seen a line at Banco Lafise east of the check-in gates
There’s a secret office for paying your departure tax at LIR. We’ve never seen a line at Banco Lafise east of the check-in gates

Collecting this tax from you in person is unusual.  Typically all the taxes and fees you have to pay are included in the price you pay for your airline ticket, but Costa Rica and a couple of other countries prohibit the airlines from including the tax.

One of the reasons for collecting the tax in person is that between the time you pay the tax and the time you board your plane immigration is using the information you provide to check up on you and make sure there is not an “impedimento de salida” (legal restraining order prohibiting you from leaving) issued in your name or any other reason (unpaid speeding tickets etc.) to prevent you from leaving.

Because they need time to check this data you may not be allowed to check in for your flight if you are not at the counter more than one hour in advance.  In the past they commonly overlooked this rule, but now they are sporadically enforcing both this regulation and the regulations pertaining to entering the country to the letter of the law.

Departure Tax Examples & Is It Included?

There are several reasons to figure out if the departure tax is included in your airfare or not.

  • If you’re looking for the best airfares you need to know that some include the extra $29 and some do not.  If it’s not included you will have to pay it later increasing the effective fare.
  • If you don’t know it has already been included you may pay it twice (once in the ticket and again at the airport).
  • If it is included you can leave for the airport 15-30 minutes later because it’s one less line you have to wait in.

If your round trip tax total for flights from the U.S. is roughly $130 it probably is included and if the total is $100 it probably is not.  It’s not simple to determine for certain if your fare includes departure tax or not.  Ultimately the airline customer service center will be your best resource.

There are four examples below of the tax breakdowns from four different airlines (book July 2015, travel January 2016).  None of them list a “departure tax” or any single tax that is equal to the $29 total normally paid at the departure tax desk.

United lists “International Boarding Tax” and “Costa Rica Baggage Inspection Fee” totaling $29.

American airlines also seems to be collecting the tax but their nomenclature is even harder to decipher.   It seems that the $29 is listed as “Other Taxes” plus a “Sierra Leone – Immigration Fee.”  Obviously the itinerary doesn’t go anywhere near Sierra Leone and they’ve either made a mistake or are just using this as a bizarre placeholder.

In any case you’ll need to carefully inspect the tax breakdown on any tickets you purchase or consider purchasing and then probably call customer service to be certain.

All of this is likely to change at any time and without notice.

United (included)

total $130.93

September 11th Security Fee $5.60
U.S. Passenger Facility Charge $4.50
U.S. Passenger Facility Charge $4.50
U.S. Transportation Tax $17.70
Costa Rica Tourism Arrival Tax $15.00
Costa Rica Security Fee $1.52
U.S. Transportation Tax $17.70
International Boarding Tax $27.00
Costa Rica Baggage Inspection Fee $2.00
Costa Rica Security Fee $1.52
Costa Rica Common Area User Charge $6.29
U.S. Customs User Fee $5.50
U.S. Immigration User Fee $7.00
U.S. APHIS User Fee $5.00
September 11th Security Fee $5.60
U.S. Passenger Facility Charge $4.50
United Airlines Total Adult Tax $130.93

Southwest (not included)

total $101.42

Base Fare $536.00
U.S. Excise Taxes $35.40
U.S. Security Fee $11.20
U.S. Passenger Facility Charge $13.50
U.S. Customs User Fee $5.50
U.S. APHIS User Fee $5.00
U.S. Immigration User Fee $7.00
Costa Rica Security Fee $5.30
Costa Rica Tourism Arrival Tax $15.00
Costa Rica Common Area User Charge $3.52

Spirit (not included)

total $101.93

CR – National Tourism Fee $15.00
US-International Departure Tax $35.40
CR-Security Fee $3.04
Security Fee $11.20
Passenger Facility Fee $13.50
US APHIS Fee $5.00
US Immigration Fee $7.00
US Customs Fee $5.50
CR-Common Area User Fee $6.29

American (included)

total $130.93

U.S. Security Fee $11.20
U.S.  Passenger Facility Charge $13.50
Costa Rica-Tourism Arrival Tax $15.00
Sierra Leone-Immigration Fee $2.00
Other Taxes $27.00
Costa Rica-Intl Security Fee $3.04
U.S. Transportation Tax $35.40
U.S. Aphis User Fee $5.00
U.S. Customs User Fee $5.50
Costa Rica-Common Area User Charge $6.29
U.S. Federal Inspection Fee $7.00