Renting a vehicle in Costa Rica is surprisingly expensive for visitors used to north American or European rates. The roads are rough and hard on vehicles. The import duties, taxes and circulation fees all add to the cost of maintaining fleets.
local | shop twice | don’t rent | skip days | unused | insurance | car vs 4WD | big mistake
The tips below can save you up to 50% on the cost of renting a vehicle in Costa Rica.
#8) Don’t Rent – if it seems like more hassle than it’s worth maybe it is. Instead of renting get a van and driver. The cost may be similar or possibly less. We’re happy to arrange transfers for you and even provide a price comparison of any itinerary with a rental vehicle or using drivers. Just fill out this no-obligation trip request. – save from zero to 25%
#7) Shop ahead and shop around. Looking for a car at least three or four months ahead of time is a good idea not only because you’ll find better prices but also because Costa Rica always runs out of cars in high season. Not just some agencies or some areas but every car in the whole country is likely to be rented from December through March.
#6) Skip a day or two – if your flight doesn’t arrive until afternoon you’re not going very far anyway so just pick up the car in the morning. You’ve got at least an hour of immigration, customs and baggage claim then if you tried to pick up a car another hour for that. It’s dark by 5:30 p.m. and never a good idea to drive at night in Costa Rica. Take a shuttle to a nearby hotel and get the car (many agencies deliver) in the morning. Similarly most flights depart in the morning and you might as well check the car in the previous day and take the shuttle to the airport. – save $30 to $180
#5) Rent local – Locals sometimes offer their personal cars for rent on facebook where you’ll also find a few really small informal companies with a random assortment of used vehicles and cash only policies. We don’t have any experience with these options but there are some legitimate local companies with long histories of great service. We recommend and have used Vamos Rent-a-Car – save from zero to 30%
#4) Skip three or four days – why pay $150 to $300 for vehicle that’s just going to sit? There are a number of destinations (especially at the beach) where it’s easier to walk to restaurants than hunt for parking and more convenient to use the free shuttles provided by the tour companies if you want to go ziplining. Get a car for half your trip and go exploring then dump it and relax. Some caution is necessary especially if you’re considering airbnb or rental houses – there may not be anything within walking distance and tours often limit transportation to hotels and resorts. – save $120 to $300
#3) Shop again – we check back often and at least half the time find a lower rate. Most agencies don’t charge for cancellation so if the price drops make a new reservation then cancel.
#2) Credit card insurance – saves money but read the fine print – save 10%-20%
#1) By far the best way to save money renting a vehicle in Costa Rica is to choose a car instead of an SUV. See “Do I Need 4WD in Costa Rica?“- save 50% or more
How NOT to Save on Costa Rican Rental Cars
There are dozens of online travel sites from travelocities to bobsblog-bestcars offering unbelievable deals but if it seems to good to be true it definitely is. We’re not inherently opposed to sites like that and use priceline and others to get very good deals in the U.S. and Europe but that’s not the way it works in Costa Rica.
You will not pay “only $9.95 a day with all fees, insurance and taxes included” no matter what it says on the reservation. You will pay more at the counter and you will not get a refund from the online site.
Another way to pay more is a “10% discount offer” from bloggers who’ve befriended you on the internet. We’ve been approached numerous times to promote the same “discount” offer but can do math. A 10% discount off of rates that start 30% higher isn’t a bargain.
Reserve directly with a rental car company.