If a one week vacation turns into a forced stay of a couple of years it would have severe consequences for your job, your home and your family.
A Hypothetical Situation
Tom slams on his brakes to avoid hitting a child dashing across the highway. The car following crunches into the rear of Tom’s rental car. The damage is minor, the accident report is filed and insurance covers the repairs.
A couple of days later at the airport Tom is confused when he is denied an exit stamp at immigration and he’s told he has to report to municipal court in two months.
A couple of years later Tom is still in Costa Rica – jobless and homeless – because of an injury claim for the other driver’s sore neck.
Travelers Cannot Exit Until All Claims Resolved
The hypothetical collage of actual situations above is definitely not typical but far from impossible.
If one party makes a claim after an accident it can easily take six months to a year to get a hearing date. Hearings are often delayed for up to a year at the last minute and it can take many hearings to reach a settlement.
The system sets up a form of extortion. The “victim’s” lawyers know they can hold foreigners hostage almost indefinitely regardless of culpability or innocence.
Insurance, whether from a rental car company, credit card coverage or a policy from home will not pay for extortion so the payoff has to come from personal savings, selling a home, the kid’s college fund, or a cash advance on a credit card.
A Costa Rican lawyer once said to me “If I were an American, especially if I was innocent, I would swim across the Río San Juan to Nicaragua then walk home to the United States before I walked into a Costa Rican courtroom.”
That may be a bit extreme but this is not some sensational attention grabbing click-bait headline. It’s real.
The U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs warns that a fender bender and whiplash case could ruin your life…
“Visitors who plan to drive in Costa Rica should be aware that the Costa Rican government may prevent any driver involved in a vehicular accident from departing Costa Rica until all injury claims have been settled. This is true regardless of whether or not the driver is at fault or covered by insurance. The courts often delay imposing a settlement until all injured parties have fully recovered and the definitive costs are known. Travelers may be prevented from leaving the county for months, or even years, until a local judicial resolution is reached. Visitors should carefully consider the hardships such an extended stay in Costa Rica could impose on themselves and their families before deciding to drive in Costa Rica”
read more on the Entry, Exit & Visa Requirements tab at travel.state.gov
This warning applies to citizens of all nationalities even though it was posted by the U.S. government. If you are in a traffic accident you should immediately contact your embassy and a Costa Rican lawyer even if there are no injuries that are apparent at the time of the accident.