You can easily lose three or four days of your vacation trying to replace lost or stolen travel documents. Much of this time will be dedicated to simply waiting for copies to arrive at the local embassy or consulate, and some of it can be avoided by a few minutes effort before you leave home.
Be Prepared with Instantly Accessible Copies of Your Travel Documents
You should minimally have copies of your passport, driver’s license, and any airline, or bus tickets (or the e-ticket confirmation information), and you might also consider copies of hotel and tour reservations, car rental agreements, your birth certificate and social security card, travelers checks and credit cards.
It begins to sound like you’re going to have to carry a filing cabinet around, but modern technology can be a wonderful thing. Use your phone, digital camera, or scanner to capture .jpeg images and then attach them to an e-mail or text message to yourself. You don’t need to carry a computer or phone with you to take advantage of these copies since the embassy, consulate, hotel, or rental car agency etc. will have one.
NOTE: the U.S. embassy will not allow you to bring your cell phone, computer or other electronics into the compound. In order to expedite replacement of a U.S. passport you’ll want to have a copy on paper or on the cloud.
After you Arrive
You will need your actual passport to go through immigration both in Costa Rica and when you return home and you are required to carry your passport or a copy* with you at all times when traveling.
For obvious reasons it’s advisable to leave your passport in the hotel safe while you’re out waterfall rappelling or whitewater rafting but make sure you have an acceptable copy of you may end up in the hoosegow while someone fetches it for you.
Anywhere near the borders of Panama or Nicaragua there are both fixed and mobile document check booths, patrols that randomly request paperwork and you must have it for traffic stops.
*An Acceptable Copy of Your Passport
Must be made after you arrive in Costa Rica because it must include both the photo and id pages as well as the visa page showing the stamp that immigration added when you arrived. Officially it must be a paper copy and the easiest place to get one is your first hotel or the rental agency if you’re picking up a car.
We’ve talked our way through checkpoints with a picture on our phone but unless you’re gregarious and speak Spanish well I wouldn’t recommend trying it.
Banks and rental car agencies do not accept copies so bring your original.