If you’re reading this you’ve probably heard horror stories about renting cars in Costa Rica.
It may be more expensive than you’re used to but it doesn’t have to be a trauma.
Simple Instructions for Avoiding Frustration
- Reserve a car with an international rental agency or as part of a complete vacation package from a certified travel planning service
- When you arrive at the counter agree to pay the required liability insurance and the company’s collision damage waiver (cannot be collected in advance by agencies or services). Skip the fuel “prepay”. If you are nervous purchase “full coverage.”
- Enjoy your trip!
You will pay a total of about $40-$60 per day for a small SUV, $55-$80 for medium and $75-$135 per day for a large luxury vehicle depending on season and whether you opt for full coverage.
Whatever you do don’t start reading the itemize price breakdown and start an argument you cannot win over seemingly unfair charges or “I thought that was included”. Just focus on the bottom line or you’ll be sucked into a spiral of rising blood pressure and “…I’m not going down without a fight!”
There will be a few other costs associated with renting a car but they’re predictable like fuel, tolls, and ferry boats.
If you’re convinced you can do better renting from an online discount site then prepare for battle…
Instructions for Reserving at TravelPedia with 85% Discount then Fighting Unfair Policies & Misleading Practices
Warning: Do not expect to win the battle at the rental counter- a draw is the best you can hope for.
They are much better at this than you are and hold an Ace in the hole that they pull out when they see the veins in your temples starting to throb, “I’m sorry ma’am but if this isn’t acceptable may we suggest you try another agency.”
Disclaimer: We do not recommend ruining your vacation by doing everything below… some of the battles might be worth fighting but we mainly provide these instructions to show you it’s really not worth it.
- Go online and find the lowest rate from TravelPedia, CheapCarBob or your favorite travel discount site.
- Pay TravelPedia $9.95 per day and print out your confirmation and the “all taxes and fees included” policy.
- Read up on the types and requirements for rental car insurance and other coverage in Costa Rica.
- If you want to avoid paying CDW then read up on “Using Your Credit Card Rental Car Coverage” then assemble your documentation (cardmember services phone address, statement of policy and coverage, signed letter from CC company indicating you’re a customer etc.). Also read the policies of every agency that the discount booking website you used represents. They usually represent many and do not generally guarantee that your car will be provided by a particular company and it may change at the time of rental. Some agencies have internal policies that override the discount travel site policies (like no car off the lot without additional CDW).
- Prepare your strategy for avoiding fabricated fees and other extra costs. For example according to the Costa Rican Car Rental Association, there is no such thing as an “airport tax” on rental cars.
- Carefully plan your travel route to ensure you remain on “designated roadways” at all times. There are places you cannot reach in Costa Rica via “designated roadways” so cross them off your destinations (each agency may have a different definition – for example some prohibit driving cars to Monteverde, check with yours).
- Make sure you have several thousand dollars available on your credit card. If you do manage to win the battle over extra coverage charges some agencies jack the deposit authorization way up. Also make sure you have a credit card with bumpy numbers.
- If you’re considering using a debit card – forget it. You cannot do any of the insurance finagling with a debit card.
- Pay the license plate fee and environmental fee (yes, these are real and no they are not usually included in the “all taxes and fees included” price you already paid).
- Skip the fuel prepay. It’s a scam. The only way you break even is to return the vehicle without a drop of gas in the tank and driving around with the gauge on “E” is not a good idea in Costa Rica.
- If you want to reduce the cost of the government required liability insurance (SLI/OAS) it’s rumored it’s ten times cheaper purchased directly from the INS (Instituto Nacional de Seguros) than from the rental agency. We’ve never heard of anyone actually accomplishing this but some rental car agencies suggest in their fine print that it might be possible. We suggest you arrive in Costa Rica 1-3 weeks early (or possibly a year or two because you might have to get residency first…it’s not clear) to navigate the bureaucracy.
- Enjoy your trip!
Totally ridiculous?… Don’t believe it?… Got a car last summer in Italy and only paid twelve bucks a day and you’re gonna’ do it in Costa Rica too? Fine – but first go search TripAdvisor for “Costa Rica Car Rental Ripoffs” and know that no matter how long and hard you fight it may end up costing as much as the stress free method.
Oh, and we almost forgot step thirteen…when you get home
13. File your complaint(s) and refund request(s) along with all required documentation at TravelPedia and the car rental agency home office (you did screenshots and documented the entire process right?…).
Why is it Like This?
Blame the advertising driven nature of the internet and lack of regulation of online discount booking engines and Costa Rican rental car companies.
When travelers buy based on nothing but advertised price then the discount sites and Costa Rican rental car agencies will do anything to advertise the lowest price.
They offer impossibly low rates for rental then require or hard sell insurance, damage waivers, assistance, theft policies or fees to make a profit and stay in business. If you pay a “too good to be true price” then you should be ready for the upsell.
Think of it this way.
If you were buying a new car for $30,000 and said to the salesman “I like the car and want to buy it but I don’t need the warranty. I know how to work on cars myself so you should take $5,000 off the price.” What do you think the salesman would say?
It’s not going to happen. The price is the price and it includes the basic warranty.
If there weren’t laws preventing it they’d soon be advertising the car for $25,000 and adding some sort of $5,000 “required for your own protection” maintenance plan when you go to pick it up (sort of like pricing on rental cars in Costa Rica…).
If you’re renting a car in Costa Rica the itemized costs may vary but they’ll add up to more than $9.95 a day and if you want to drive off the lot you will pay them.
If you’re a young Ralph Nader crusading against misleading consumer practices then be my guest. Get all worked up, refuse to be manipulated, reject the rental agreement, walk back to the airport, change your flight home, call the Tourism Board, write the Costa Rican legislature and then post a Facebook rant instead of driving to the beach.
Otherwise, budget for high rental car prices and get on with enjoying your Costa Rica vacation.