The U.S. announced as of January 26th, 2021 all travelers arriving by air will be required to provide proof of a negative test (antigen or rtPCR viral assay, in Spanish – Prueba Diagnostica COVID-19) sampled within 3 days (calendar days NOT 72 hours) before their flight or a positive test result from the previous 90 days and doctor’s written statement that they have “recovered from Covid-19 and are cleared to travel”.
Update March 28, 2021 – Info that was helpful as recently as yesterday is completely out of date and could cost travelers a lot of time and money. The expensive, inconvenient, and time consuming rtPCR test ($90 to $250, 1 to 3 days for results) is no longer necessary to return to the U.S. Many labs in Costa Rica are now offering the rapid antigen test for about $50. Locations available near many popular tourist destinations but more importantly near both international airports. Although the kits are officially not approved, travelers from the U.S. are reporting success bringing a “Do It Yourself” test from home – $30, 15 minutes.
“Rapid” antigen test are accepted by the U.S., UK and many countries in the EU. Antigen test are NOT accepted in Canada. Antigen rapid test are either “do it yourself” for $30 or in labs $50-$75 (see location updates below).
There is a lot of confusion about whether “rapid” tests are acceptable or not. This is because “rapid” is ambiguous. Months ago rapid tests were nearly all antibody detection which is NOT acceptable by the U.S. or most other contries. Currently the antigen detection test is the most common rapid test and it IS acceptable.
“Why does the Order specify 3 days rather than 72 hours? What is considered 3 days?
The 3-day period is the 3 days before the flight’s departure. The Order uses a 3-day timeframe instead of 72 hours to provide more flexibility to the traveler. By using a 3-day window, test validity does not depend on the time of the flight or the time of day that the test was administered.
For example, if a passenger’s flight is at 1pm on a Friday, the passenger could board with a negative test that was taken any time on the prior Tuesday or after.”
The alphabetical list in this dropdown menu has all the locations near the most popular tourist destinations.
Note April 2021 – Lab Echandi has an exclusive concession to provide antigen testing in Liberia Airport. Like everything else in the airport it’s twice as expensive but very convenient and guarantees 1 hour results.
Several upscale hotels and resorts have announced they will begin onsite testing. Check with yours. Ask your hotel or airbnb – they know where the cheapest, fastest and most convenient test locations are nearby.
If you’d like to have it all taken care of for you, we’ve been optimizing itineraries around specific requirements for decades and would be happy to include a convenient stop at a reliable test center in your custom vacation plan.
The nearest major center is in Cuidad Quesada (San Carlos) about 40 minutes east where Lab Echandi (contact and appointments) does rapid antigen ($55) and in house PCR with results in 24 hours on weekdays ($115).
In La Fortuna you can submit a sample at the Unimed Clinic (phone 2479-1903) for testing by an outside lab ($250, PCR results in 48 hours, open 24 hours 7 days a week)
There are no testing centers on the Osa Peninsula with in house lab facilities and because of the remote location none that guarantee a 3 day or less turnaround on the samples they send out. If you are finishing your trip in Corcovado National Park or other Osa Peninsula destination we recommend you submit a sample in Uvita or San José on your way down.
If you will be on the remote Peninsula for more than three days you’ll need to arrange your itinerary to ensure you have time to get tested elsewhere before departing the country.
The nearest location for in house testing is in Quepos about an hour north. The Hospital Metropolitano location in Quepos (near Manuel Antonio) sends PCR samples to their own central lab in San José ($85, PCR results in 48 hours, 9a-4p M-F and 9a-2p Saturday, phone 2519-9733) and does in house antigen testing ($55, results in 2-8 hours).
Another in house option is Laboratorio Biotest (phone 2772-0909) about an hour north in San Isidro de El General ($130, results in 48 hours, open 7a-5p M-F and Saturday 7a-2p)
If you’re staying in the Riu, Westin, Secrets, Dreams, Las Catalinas, or any of the other north west beach areas consider stopping in Liberia on your way to the coast if the timing is right (2-3 days prior to departure).
If you’re staying at the beach more than three nights (lucky you) a convenient choice less than an hour from most of the playas is the Hospital Metropolitano in the town of Huacas. They have in house PCR lab work at reasonable rates ($85, results in 48 hours, 8a-5p M-F and 8a-12p Saturday, phone 4000-3822) and in house antigen testing ($55, results in 2-8 hours).
There are small private clinics in most of the beach towns that charge between $175 and $250 to collect and send your sample to an outside lab.
Mision Medico (MMI) clinic in Jacó will send your sample to an outside lab in San José ($130, results in 48 hours, 8a-5p M-F and 8a-12p Saturday, phone 2643 2300).
The nearest location for in house testing is in Quepos about an hour south. The Hospital Metropolitano location in Quepos (near Manuel Antonio) sends samples to their own central lab in San José ($85, results in 48 hours, 9a-4p M-F and 9a-2p Saturday, phone 2519-9733) and in house antigen testing ($55, results in 2-8 hours).
Escazú and several rapid turnaround (24 hours) drive through testing facilities are about 1 1/2 hours north.
Antigen testing is now available at LIR with results guaranteed in under 1 hour. Lab Echandi ($75, results typically in 15 to 30 minutes, 6a – 10p seven days a week).
Turnaround times for obtaining PCR results (Canada and some European requirements) are between 48 and 72 hours so you need to get swabbed at least a couple of days before heading to the airport.
Hospital Metropolitano (locations and appointments) does in house lab work ($85, PCR results in 48 hours, 7a-7p seven days a week, phone 4000-6762) and in house antigen testing ($40 – 55, results in 2-8 hours).
Hospital Metropolitano in Quepos (near Manuel Antonio) sends PCR samples to their own central lab in San José ($85, results in 48 hours, 9a-4p M-F and 9a-2p Saturday, phone 2519-9733) and in house antigen testing ($55, results in 2-8 hours).
If you are going to spend your last 2-3 days in Monteverde we recommend stopping somewhere on your way to submit a sample since testing is not readily available here.
There are no in house labs anywhere on the southern Nicoya peninsula. There are two clinics that will take a swab sample in Nosara and send it to San José. They each state that results are usually available in 3 weekdays. (Medklined BioAnálisis – $130, phone 8976-6458, $130, open 7a-5p M-F and Saturday 7a-12p -OR- Paradise Medical – $130, phone 2682-1212 open 8a-8p every day).
Since weekends don’t count you can only fly on Thursday or Friday to get results in the 3 day CDC window (submit your sample in Nosara on Monday or Tuesday).
There is nowhere to get a test within the required 3 day window.
The location for in house testing closest to the Talamanca mountain destinations is Laboratorio Biotest (phone 2772-0909) in San Isidro de El General ($130, results in 48 hours, open 7a-5p M-F and Saturday 7a-2p) and in house antigen testing ($43, results in 2-8 hours).
Remember turnaround times for obtaining PCR results are typically between 48 and 72 hours so you need to get swabbed at least a couple of days before heading to the airport.
There are hundreds of PCR options in and around San José but we highly recommend using a drive thru with in house lab work that typically turns around results in 24 hours.
Clinica Biblica drive-thru centers are in Santa Ana (Escazú) and downtown San José ($85, PCR results guaranteed in 24 hours, open every day 7a-7p, phone 2522-1000, email@example.com) and in house antigen testing ($35, results in 2 hours).
Another option is Labinlab (see locations and contact information) with dozens of locations and options for drive-thru Covid 19 testing downtown San Jose across from the National Archive and along the way to the central Pacific beaches on Hwy 27 at the Plaza Laureles in Escazú ($96, PCR results in 24 or 48 hours depending on location, open hours depend on location)
Hospital Metropolitano (location and appointments) does in house lab work ($85, results in 48 hours, 7a-7p seven days a week, phone 2521-9595) and in house antigen testing ($43, results in 2 hours).
CIMA is a modern hospital with excellent doctors if you find yourself actually needing medical care.
Uvita Medical Center (phone 2743-8292) takes swabs for testing by an outside lab ($130, results in 48 hours, open 8a-5p M-F and 8a-2p Saturday).
The nearest location for in house testing is in Quepos about an hour north. The Hospital Metropolitano location in Quepos (near Manuel Antonio) sends samples to their own central lab in San José ($85, results in 48 hours, 9a-4p M-F and 9a-2p Saturday, phone 2519-9733).
Another in house option is Laboratorio Biotest (phone 2772-0909) about an hour and a half north in San Isidro de El General ($130, results in 48 hours, open 7a-5p M-F and Saturday 7a-2p).
Where to Test?
If you’re staying near one of the airports the night before a flight or if you have an evening flight then the cheapest, fastest easiest location will almost always be in San José or Liberia since there are so many labs doing 1-4 hour turnaround antigen tests for $50 or less and there is 1 hour antigen testing at Liberia Airport for $75.
If you’re headed to any of the northern Guanacaste beach resorts the Hospital Metropolitano in the town of Huacas is convenient. If you’ll be at the beach for 2-3 days then stopping in Liberia instead may be your best bet as they have longer hours and faster turnaround.
For central and southern Pacific beaches the location in Quepos (near Manuel Antonio) might be easiest.
For La Fortuna and Arenal volcano there aren’t any good local options so you’re better off traveling to San Carlos (Quesada) or getting tested when you’re passing through San José – drive through options (servicio de autocovid) are available either downtown or in Santa Ana in the parking lot of the Clinica Biblica every day from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
The Caribbean also lacks local options so San Jose is again the cheapest and fastest.
There are literally dozens of small clinics around the country offering “testing” services. They act as middle men who pass the swab to a motorcycle courier that takes it to a lab or hospital in the central valley for analysis. There’s nothing wrong with this per se but the more intermediaries there are the longer it takes, the more it costs and the more uncertainty about when the results will be available.
The new antigen instant tests available in the U.S. for $30 starting early 2021 are acceptable but not yet available in Costa Rica.
While Costco and some pharmacies sell kits, none of the at home testing options available in Costa Rica are acceptable for travel. The fully at home options are antibody tests which do not detect the virus (required by the CDC) and the send-in/drop-off tests are the right kind of test (rtPCR) but there is no way to determine when or if you swabbed yourself.