NOTE: As always tourist visas are issued to visitors upon arrival. However, since Nov 2020 the length of stay indicated on the visa has been reduced from the previous automatic 90 days to the number of days of required Covid insurance on your pase de salud. If you have one week of insurance your tourist visa will be valid for exactly one week (see how to extend your Costa Rica tourist visa).
Proper documentation is the sole responsibility of each traveler. This information was accurate at the time of writing, but Costa Rican immigration is the only authoritative source for passport, visa and other entry requirements (their website migracion.go.cr has pdf documents with specifics for each country of origin and the requirements).
If entry is denied travelers normally do not receive any refund for airline tickets or missed vacations. Most travel insurance is not valid if travelers do not have proper documentation.
The U.S. Department of State and the equivalent offices in other countries make the general recommendation that if your passport expires within six months of your travel dates you should renew it.
Costa Rican Immigration Requirements
If you are traveling on a U.S., Canadian or European Union Passport you do not have to apply for a visa in advance (see list of other easy entry countries).
When you arrive in Costa Rica the minimum requirements are
- a QR encoding of an “electronic health pass” that includes proof of travel insurance for Covid medical care and quarantine
- a valid* passport
- an onward ticket (to leave Costa Rica at the end of your vacation)
- $300 U.S. (you don’t have to pay $300 just show that you have at least that much). A little known requirement is that you be able to show “proof of economic sufficiency”. It’s not clear how you’re going to survive on $3.30 a day ($300 divided by 90 day visa) but that’s the number. We’ve only heard of this coming up once and it seemed probable that the immigration official just didn’t like the attitude of the potential visitor. Be polite.
The requirements for entry into Costa Rica are subject to change at any time and without notice and it is the sole responsibility of the traveler to ensure they are in compliance. Please check the Costa Rican government links or call the offices listed below for the current official requirements.
The Costa Rica Embassy in the U.S. maintains a list of requirements for individual countries in English. The Ministerio de Gobernación y Policía Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería has the official version in Spanish – visa requirements for all countries
Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores -Ministry of Foreign Affairs may be able to help if you’re not on the list of “easy entry” citizens.
P.O. Box: 10027-1000 San José, Costa Rica
Phone : (506) 2223-7555 / 2223-0522
Fax : (506) 2223-60-94
Ultimately it is up to the discretion of the immigration official on duty to determine whether you will be granted permission to enter Costa Rica and for how long.
Historically tourist visas have automatically been issued for 90 days. However, since December 1, 2020 immigration has been limiting the visas to the number of days of travel insurance indicated on the electronic health pass QR code.
If you entered Costa Rica prior to December 1, 2020 you are permitted to stay until March 2, 2021 no matter how many days your visa indicates. Yes, it sounds ridiculous but it is verified by the minister of immigration. If you arrived after, read on.
The U.S. embassy states that it is impossible to obtain a visa extension from inside of Costa Rica and visitors wishing to stay longer must leave the country and return; thus obtaining a new visa. Technically according to immigration it is possible to get an extension but like most bureaucracy in Costa Rica it is so convoluted and difficult it may as well be impossible.
Here are the online instructions to request a Costa Rica Visa extension including where to deposit the $100 application fee. They are only available in Spanish so google translate is helpful.
As usual however, there are “alternative” solutions.
First, there are no established penalties for overstaying a tourist visa. The lawmakers have battled about it for years and scofflaws have always been punished by an unofficial policy of making things difficult and harassment when they tried to return.
Second, an immigration official informed us that if you make an appointment to apply for residency (at migracion.co.cr or by calling 1311) you will receive an e-mail confirmation of the appointment and that will automatically extend your tourist visa to 90 days no matter what is stamped in your passport. Seriously. We couldn’t make this stuff up if we tried.
All of the above information applies only to visas and immigration permission to be present in the country. As noted there are no official fines or consequences for ignoring these rules. However, ignoring a health order may result in a fine of 450,200 – 2,300,000 colones (U.S. $750 – $4,000). That means it’s absolutely essential that you purchase the required insurance to cover every day you are present in the country whether you have a valid visa or not. As laughable as the legal system is Costa Rica does not mess around when it comes to economic protections and penalties.
The Covid test requirement was eliminated in November of 2020 and the only requirement is filling out a health survey about fevers, sore throat etc. Visitors are required to have insurance covering medical and quarantine costs in case they contract Covid while visiting.
For 99% of visitors there are no health certificates or immunizations required to enter Costa Rica
The only vaccination requirement is for citizens of or travelers coming from a country in South America or Africa where yellow fever is present. If you have stayed in (transit through an airport or port does not count) one of the countries where it is endemic you will need
- a certificate of immunization dated at least a week before your arrival in Costa Rica
- passport stamp(s) showing you have spent at least one week in a country with no yellow fever
- a normal (37 °C, 98.6 °F) body temperature
NOTE: Tourist visas are issued when you arrive and are now valid for the number of days you are covered by travel insurance. The previous automatic 90 days permission to enter has been suspended and if your QR code shows one week of Covid travel insurance your visa will be for 7 days! It is (nearly?) impossible to extend this visa from inside Costa Rica so plan ahead if there is any chance you’ll want to stay longer.
Your Airline Will Try to Help With Visa and Passport Questions
Typically if you are denied entry to Costa Rica the airline that you arrived on is held responsible by immigration, must pay a fine, and must fly you home within 24 hours. Since this is expensive and inconvenient for the airline they typically try to be sure you will be permitted to enter. Most airlines request your passport information at the time you purchase your tickets and if you need to renew or apply for a visa they will let you know.
Most airlines check again before they allow you to board the plane, but that’s not a very helpful time to find out that you should have renewed your passport.
The airlines use something called TIMATIC WEB 2 which costs €499 ($550) per year plus €0.15 per inquiry to access current information from the International Air Transport Association (IATA – airline trade association).
An unsigned passport is not valid and cannot be signed once presented to an immigration official. A torn, smudged or otherwise damaged passport may not be valid. A passport without sufficient space for new stamps is not valid.
¡Sign Your Passport!
If you’ve gotten a new passport for your Costa Rica travels please remember to sign it! Your passport is not valid until you sign it and if you hand it to the immigration official unsigned they may declare you ineligible for entry and send you home. You may not be allowed to sign it on the spot. No kidding.
The argument is that the passport could be stolen and belong to someone else (who just happens to look identical to you). Of course if they let you sign it then try to validate your signature by having you sign a piece of paper the two signatures will look the same because they are both “forged” by the same person who “stole” the passport of someone who looks identical to the person in the picture (you).
Once they’ve decided, you’re done for, and it won’t matter that you’ve also got a drivers license, library card and half a dozen credit cards that are already signed – you’ll be on your way home.
Everyone regardless of age and regardless of whether they are traveling with their parents or not must have their own passport and electronic health pass.
According to the Costa Rican Embassy in the U.S. “Minors who are not Costa Rican nationals nor legal residents in Costa Rica do not require a permit from the parents to enter/exit Costa Rica. However, we recommend a letter of consent duly notarized from the parent who is not accompanying the minor.”
We strongly recommend you follow that advice and make sure your kids under 18 are accompanied by a signed and notarized letter giving the parent or guardian who is traveling permission to cross the border with the minor.
You may read a lot of false information on the internet saying that an onward ticket is not really required. While it’s generally true that the official will not ask to see your onward ticket it is an official requirement that you have one. Do not assume that this requirement will not be enforced or you may find yourself headed home instead of the beach.
We recently traveled from Costa Rica to Panama and back and were required to show onward tickets when crossing the border in both directions. In addition we were actually required to show that we had tickets back to our passport issuing country. So when we crossed from Cost Rica to Panama we had to show tickets for the Nature Air flight to San José and tickets for the Southwest Airlines flight from San José to Denver.
They do check occasionally and most vacationers have round trip or continuing travel plans so there’s no problem. For traveler’s that do not have an onward ticket the most common solution is to simply buy one and cancel it within 24 hours. Nearly all airlines issue full refunds for at least one day.
Green Cards, Residence Permits & Trans National Permissions
There are all sorts of special cases from special places but the most common one we get questions about is whether a U.S. Green Card (or European Union Residence Card etc.) can be used for travel to Costa Rica. The answer is sometimes yes. As this wikipedia page explains in some circumstances citizens of countries like India which would normally require a Costa Rican Visa may travel for up to 30 days if they also hold a Green Card valid for at least six months after arrival.
Sound complicated? It is. If you’re a special case please check with the official resources listed above to make sure you’ve got it figured out.
Immunization records (such as a WHO card or doctor’s letter) are only required for travelers who have passports stamps indicating that they have recently traveled to an area where yellow fever is present. If you’ve been to Asia, Africa or South America you may need evidence of a yellow fever immunization.
U.S., Canadian and most European (maybe all, check with the consulate to be sure) driver’s licenses are valid to rent and drive a car in Costa Rica for the period of your Visa. You do not need an international or Costa Rican driver’s license unless you stay longer than the Visa duration stamped in your passport.
If your driver’s license expires during your travels there is no grace period. Renew it at least one month in advance of your travel or you may end up like I recently did with crossed fingers and a temporary license that probably wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on.
After you arrive it’s a good idea to make a copy of your passport (both the picture & info page and entry stamp pages – you can’t do it at home because you won’t have the required entry stamp until you enter).
Your passport is required for ID and must technically be on your person at all times. However, you are allowed to leave your passport in the hotel safe and carry a copy of these two pages instead.
We often rent a car and the agency always makes a copy for their records so we just ask for an extra. If you’re not getting a car ask at your hotel or lodge.
Taking photos with your phone or digital camera may work (we’ve talked our way through immigration stops with a photo a couple of times) but technically a paper Xerox copy is required.
Seems obvious but the automatic reflex to fold the copy and stick it in your passport is a very bad idea… put it somewhere else so if your passport is lost or stolen you have the information to start the replacement process.
NOTE: A paper copy is also more helpful if your U.S. passport is lost or stolen. No cell phones, laptops or other electronics are allowed to be carried into the embassy.
Passport holders from all of the countries listed below are allowed entry into Costa Rica for a maximum of 90 days (non-renewable) without obtaining a consular Visa in advance. In other words, just show up and they’ll let you in unless Interpol or the FBI is after you or there are other extenuating circumstances.
No Consular (in advance) Visa Required. Just Show up with a Passport valid for at least ONE DAY.
Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Chile, Cyprus, Denmark, Germany, United Arab Emirates, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Qatar, Estonia , Finland, France, Hungary, Ireland, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Montenegro, Norway, New Zealand, Netherlands, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Principality of Monaco, San Marino, Peru, Puerto Rico, Serbia, South Africa, Kingdom of Great Britain, Northern Ireland, Czech Republic, Republic of South Korea, Hellenic Republic (Greece), Romania, Holy See, Singapore, Sweden , Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, United States of America, Uruguay
No Consular (in advance) Visa Required. Just Show up with a Passport valid for at least 90 DAYs.
Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Bolivia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Brunei State, Russian Federation, Philippines, Fiji, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Northern Mariana Islands, Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, Kazakhstan, Kiribati, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Micronesia, Naurupalaos, Kingdom of Tonga, Samoa, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Seychelles, Suriname, Taiwan, Tuvalu, Turkey, Ukraine, Vanuatu, Venezuela
Don’t Underestimate the Capacity of Bureaucrats for Pettiness
To be on the safe side we personally renew our passports at least three months before they are scheduled to expire.
Previously Costa Rica required passports be valid for at least three months. This caused international tension and a nightmare for the tourism industry when immigration officials refused entry to families on vacation because their passports expired eight or ten weeks after their vacation was scheduled to end.
The policy was changed and in early 2016 the Costa Rican embassy website stated that passports from the U.S., Canada and E.U. only needed to be valid on the day of arrival. As crazy as the previous requirement seemed, granting entry on a passport that expires the next day seems even crazier. Foreign visitors are not allowed to travel around using an expired passport and won’t be allowed to return home using an expired passport.
Even if someone convinced an airline to fly them to Costa Rica a day before their passport expired their only legitimate options would be to return home the same day or head straight to their embassy for an emergency renewal.
As mentioned above we renew our passports at least three months before they are scheduled to expire just to avoid this sort of silliness.