The Internet Price May be $9.95 a Day But it Will Cost MUCH More
The most common complaint on any travel forum for Costa Rica is travelers getting “ripped off” by rental car companies.
Hidden charges are a major complaint everywhere in the world but in Costa Rica it has been raised to the level of an art form. In the example above the “mandatory” add-ons more than quadruple the advertised price to a minimum actual cost of $197.20 (assuming you have credit card rental coverage and the agency will accept it – otherwise the minimum is $287.85).
High pressure upsells can bring the final price with optional coverage and navigation to $673.18 or more than fifteen times the “Rental Rate.”
Sound impossible? Here’s how it happens nearly every time
- Automatic Transmission — If you don’t know how to drive a stick then the winding mountain roads of Costa Rica are no place to learn. Some fleets are almost all manual transmission with an upsell to automatic.
- TravelPedia, bobscheapocars, and other booking site fees — in addition to offering unrealistically low and possibly misleading prices online travel “discount” sites also charge fees of $12-$32 to accept reservations.
- Insurance — Insurance can cost between $15 and $75 a day – see Costa Rican Rental Car Insurance Explained (Sort Of…)
- Government License Plate Fee — $1.50 per day will be added on top of most quoted rates.
- Airport Concourse Fee — According to the Car Rental Association of Costa Rica there is no Airport tax and there is no Airport concourse fee. There are no rental car lots, no pick-up, and no drop-off locations at either international airport.
Despite those facts and their location 20 km away from the airport some rental agencies charge an airport fee or tax of 12-18%.
- Debit Card — Some agencies will accept a debit card instead of a credit card deposit. Agencies typically require the purchase of the maximum available insurance ($45-$65 per day) when they accept debit card deposits.
- Fuel — You are usually give two choices. Either Prepay (costs an extra $15 to $50) or Return Full. With the Return Full option remember to stop and fill up within 20 miles or so before returning because gas from the rental company pump may be twice the price. Prepaying for one tank of gas at the standard service station rate and not worrying about returning the car full or paying inflated prices at the rental agency pump sounds great. In fact the only way to not get ripped off by the prepay pitch is to literally roll into the lot on fumes when returning the car. Since it’s a really bad idea to drive around with the needle on “E” and it’s very difficult hit “E” exactly when you want to, most people leave $15 to $50 in the tank (1/4 to 1/2 full depending on vehicle size).
- Under 25 — Drivers under 25 years of age may be required to pay an extra fee of $10-$20 per day and additionally may be required to purchase the maximum available insurance ($45-$65 per day). The minimum age to rent a car in Costa Rica is 21. Some agencies choose not rent to drivers under 25 years.
- Additional Drivers — $10-20 per day each. Unlike at some agencies in the U.S./Europe spouses are not free and are not automatically included as additional drivers.
- Damages — Ultimately you are responsible for damage done by potholes, vandals, thieves, falling trees, high tide, army ants, spilled food, and any other imaginable occurrence.
Four wheel drive routes, unimproved roads and crossing rivers void most insurance, waivers and credit card coverage so read the fine print or face the consequences.
- Cleaning Fees — This is usually a scam (unless you dropped a pizza upside down on the seat) and most agencies will back off if you insist that a little mud on the tires (or even mud on the roof) is normal in rainy season.
- Tax — Until 2019 rental cars were not taxed in Costa Rica. Now there is a 13% value added tax.
Other Car Rental Costs to Consider When Budgeting
- Gas — Diesel and gasoline service stations will cost about twice what it does in the U.S., but still generally less than the prices in Europe.
- Secure Parking — $2 per hour or $15-$30 per day Recommended. Never leave anything in the car!
- Ferry — Taking your car on ferry boats costs between $15-25.
When booking directly from a rental agency the additional charges are all usually at least spelled out in the fine print.
When renting from TravelPedia, bobscheapocars, etc. the hidden charges often total even more and are charged at pick-up or drop-off regardless of statements like “total price including all insurance, taxes and fees” printed on your online reservation form. In fact sometimes the insurance sold by online discount sites isn’t even accepted by the rental agency…good luck getting a refund.
Just remember “if it sounds too good to be true it is.” You should plan on spending between $40 and $55 a day for a small SUV rental even if you choose an advertised rate of $6.14.
Please don’t make the mistake of thinking you can fight the inevitable. It really doesn’t matter how much documentation you have and there are already thousands of “1 star, worst experience ever” reviews on TripAdvisor. You can argue until you turn blue in the face and threaten to cancel and go elsewhere but if you do you’ll simply find that you’re paying a much higher “last minute” rental rate PLUS all the other extra charges.