costa rica travel checklist

Costa Rica Travel Checklist – What to do before you go to Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a stunning country to visit.  Richer by far than her surrounding neighbors, but with immense natural resources.    Costa Rica is an easy country to travel around, with a little forward planning.  So here are our recommendations and tips for things that you need to do before you go to Costa Rica.  Welcome to our Costa Rica Travel Checklist and Travel tips.

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Check the Entry requirements for Costa Rica – Visas

Whilst citizens of most countries do not need a visa to travel to Costa Rica, what is key is the number of days that you are allowed to stay in the country.  Costa Rica’s Travel requirements include a strict requirement for proof of onward travel.  This is specifically enforced if you are flying into the country.

We do not, as British Citizens, currently need a visa and we can stay up to 90 days in Costa Rica.  We always check with the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.  Do you need a visa to travel to Costa Rica?  Here are some key links for your entry requirements for Costa Rica.

Sign Up for Foreign Travel Advice for Costa Rica

Regardless of your country of residence, your government provides Costa Rica travel advice for your trip.  Here in the UK, this is the FCO, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.  We recommend that you sign up to be notified if this advice changes.  Your government department responsible for citizens travelling in that country will update you automatically by email.    You can find the links in the section above.

While you will likely be aware of the weather and the issues around you if you are travelling during hurricane season, it’s worth signing up to get the notifications that your government will send you.

Is Proof of Onward Travel Required for Costa Rica?

Yes.  Proof of onward or return travel is required for Costa Rica.  If you are flying in, you will likely be asked for an outbound flight, some agents may be satisfied with a bus ticket, others won’t.  It is I’m afraid the luck of the draw.

You may also be asked for proof of sufficient funds.  (if this is the case, then an electronic copy of a bank statement showing funds is usually enough.   We’ve never been asked about funds but did have to provide proof of onward travel BEFORE we were allowed to board our plane to San Jose Airport, Costa Rica.

The easiest way to organize proof of onward travel is to book a flight with a carrier or supplier that lets you cancel within a certain period. Expedia lets you do this.  We have more on providing proof of onward travel here when we really don’t know when or how we want to leave a country.

You can also use a service like Onward Ticket – a company formed by Digital Nomads to give you a PDF ticket and a valid PNR for your transit through immigration.  It’s an excellent idea, with a great price, and a super service > get it here!

Get the right Travel Insurance for Costa Rica

Costa Rica is an AMAZING country for outdoor experiences.  You can hike up and down what seems like endless volcanoes, scuba dive, snorkel, skydive, and paraglide.  The list is endless.  Unfortunately, this all adds to your Costa Rica travel insurance requirements.

You’ll want to check the altitude coverage on your insurance, especially if you plan to hike some of the volcanoes.  Rincón de la Vieja is 6,286 feet (1915 metres ) and Poás volcano is around 9,000 feet (2,743 metres).   You’re likely to visit Poas just as a day trip – possible from San Jose, but you’ll need to make that your insurance covers you.  Altitude sickness is no joke. And having no insurance to get you down if you have an accident is no laughing matter either.

We recommend and work with WorldNomads. > Get an insurance quote NOW.  READ THE SMALL PRINT about what is covered and take the packages for adventure sports if you plan to.  We love World Nomads because they enable you to buy, extend and claim online, even after you’ve left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from over 130 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travelers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage, and a range of adventure sports and activities.

Prebook your accommodation in Costa Rica

You can turn up in most countries and find somewhere to stay.  Sometimes you can get it cheaper than you can find online.  But.  I like that we travel and have a private room and a private room.  And I LOVE that when we pre-book our accommodation we get to spend our time in a destination exploring it.  Not knocking on doors, or fending off hustlers trying to take us to a dodgy room somewhere.

Here are our recommendations for your time in San Jose, Costa Rica

Spurge on luxury at the Grano de Oro Hotel Perfect location with a rooftop garden, it’s a great place to acclimatize to Costa Rica.  There’s free wifi in all areas and air conditioning in all rooms.  Each room features a flat-screen TV, a private bathroom and you can also opt for a balcony or terrace. >  Get a price and reserve a room now.

Incredible reviews at the Capital Hostel de Ciudad Seriously clean with a fabulous breakfast.  There are barbecue facilities, a garden, and a terrace.  Each room has a kettle and you’ll find some with a kitchenette, a microwave, a toaster, and a fridge.  It gets justifiably rave reviews for the superb free wifi. > Check availability and book now!

Small, friendly, practice your Spanish at the Hotel Trianon A superb location very close to the San Jose Main Square, the owner here speaks English but is happy to let you practice your Spanish with her.  There’s wifi throughout the property and private bathrooms are available.  Breakfast, which is included, is a fabulous introduction to Costa Rican cuisine. > Book your room now.

And so, we always recommend, where possible you prebook accommodation.    Even if that’s not in your nature, then you’ll want to take a note of Costa Rican public holidays.  And you really SHOULD prebook your accommodation if you’re traveling during these times, because there is very likely to be no room at the inn if you don’t.

Costa Rica Public Holiday Dates 2022

1 JanSatNew Year’s Day
11 AprMonJuan Santamaria Day
14 AprThuMaundy Thursday
15 AprFriGood Friday
1 MaySunLabour Day
25 JulMonGuanacaste Day
2 AugTueLady of the Angels Day
15 AugMonAssumption Day
15 AugMonMother’s Day
15 SepThuIndependence Day
10 OctMonCultures National Day
1 DecThuAbolition of the Army
25 DecSunChristmas Day

ASocialNomad readers pre-book their accommodation 6-8 weeks before travel.  Check out your options now here.

Plan how to get from the Airport to your Hotel

If you’re flying into Costa Rica, then you’ll want to plan how you’re going to get from the airport to your hotel, hostel, or homestay.  Especially if you’re getting off an international flight then you’ll want to write your accommodation address in Spanish, then if you do get lost and can’t find your hotel or hostel, then having this in writing will allow anyone to help you.

Our guide on how to get from San Jose Airport to downtown San Jose has all your options.  You can read it here.

You can also book a shared shuttle from SJO to San Jose that will take you from the airport direct to your hotel or accommodation. Check prices and availability here.

Do you need to carry ID in Costa Rica?

It’s not necessary to carry your passport when you are traveling around Costa Rica.  In fact, if you don’t need it specifically we recommend that you keep it safe in your hostel or hotel room.   We travel with a portable safe that allows us to secure all our valuables (two laptops, two cameras, passports, and cash) and attach them to an immovable object – like a bed frame or plumbing.  If you plan on snorkeling from the beach it’s a great choice to take with you.  Secure your valuables inside it, and then attach it to a tree – then no one has to be billy no mates on the beach!  Check out Pacsafe Options here.

What about Electricity in Costa Rica?

The voltage in Costa Rica is 100 volts.  North America is 120 volts, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, 230 volts.   Do you need a converter in Costa Rica?  The answer is possibly.  The most common electric socket that you will find is a 2-pin pronged flat one, so if you’re traveling from the US your plugs and devices will work.   You will be able to use your devices in Costa Rica if the voltage of the device is between 110 – 127 V (Most South American countries, the USA, and Canada.  However, power surges and fluctuations are common.

You will find it difficult to buy an adapter for British, Europe, and other countries in Costa Rica.  Bring one from home, you can buy one here.

What About Health Issues in Costa Rica?

If you are traveling from certain countries you will need a Yellow Fever certificate in order to enter Costa Rica.  Check with your government advice.

Be aware also of Zika outbreaks, which again your government can advise you about.

Costa Rica is not a malarial area, but remember things can change.  And remember just because you’re traveling in a non-malarial area doesn’t mean that there aren’t mosquitos.  There are mosquitos in Costa Rica.  If you’re prone to being bitten (like Sarah), then stock up on mosquito repellent (see your options here )and wear appropriate clothing to protect yourself. And of course, make sure you have appropriate health and travel insurance.

Didn’t get insurance yet? Get a quote from World Nomads – which you can even take out AFTER you’ve left home.

Can you drink the water in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica’s tap water is generally viewed as drinkable, especially in major towns and cities.    However, depending on where you are in Costa Rica and the time of year that you are visiting this may change.  In the dry season, for instance, water may be provided from tanks.  The pipes may not be clean.  The major water supply companies in Costa Rica are known for their regular checks, but I’m sure that checking on who supplies the water in your holiday hotel is high on your list of Costa Rica vacation plans.

Bottled water is readily available everywhere.  But we do not recommend the use of any single-use plastic.  We travel with a filter water bottle and a Steripen.    This means that regardless of the source (apart from saltwater) we can drink water safely.   Check out our guide to filter water bottles here.

Apps and Websites to use in Costa Rica

This is a shortlist of apps and websites that will aid your trip to Costa Rica massively.  Installing them on your device of choice and learning how to use them before you get to Japan will help you immensely.  You’re going to want to focus on using apps that work as well offline so that you don’t chew through any data allowances you might have.

Download and Install Google Translate – and the Spanish Dictionary

While you’ll be able to communicate – at least basically – with most people in the more touristy areas of Costa Rica, it definitely helps to be able to translate to some extent.

Download XE currency converter to use in Costa Rica

While you’re downloading apps for travel to Japan get yourself the XE currency converter app.  The Costa Rican Colon (CRC) is one of the currencies you can track and work out how much or how little you’re paying for things.  Even if you don’t have internet access XE will give you an idea of the exchange rate from your last internet connection.

Use Google Maps or Maps.me when traveling in Costa Rica

If you use Google maps then be sure to save the map for offline use.  GPS positioning will still work even if you don’t have access to the internet.  We like to have a backup and tend to use maps.me as well as Google maps.  Sometimes the content is the same, sometimes it’s different and it’s good to see an alternative point of view!

Maps.me is just one of the resources that we use when planning a Trip > you can check out where else we (and a host of other travelers) look when we’re trip planning.

Download WAZE if you plan to drive in Costa Rica

Does WAZE work in Costa Rica?  Yes!  It is easy and convenient to rent a car in Costa Rica, but if you do you’ll want to download the WAZE app.  It gives you way better navigation than Google Maps.  You won’t need to rent a GPS, its easy to get around using WAZE in Costa Rica.

If you need to rent a car in Costa Rica we recommend Discover Cars for car hire.  You can search, compare and save up to 70%, with no hidden fees and free cancellation, it’s the perfect option! Get a price for a rental car in Costa Rica here.

Download WhatsApp for use in Costa Rica

You’ll find WhatsApp used everywhere in Costa Rica.  Send text messages, and audio messages, get directions, and make last-minute bookings.    97% of Costa Ricans use WhatsApp, so if you want to communicate it’s the best way here

Tell Your Bank You are Going to Costa Rica

You’ll likely be pre-planning your accommodation and travel when you travel to Costa Rica and therefore paying for it ahead of time, on a card.  Make sure you have a card that doesn’t charge you for foreign currency transactions.  Or if it does make sure it’s a low rate.

We recommend Wise (formerly Transferwise) and their multi-currency account for great rates and ease of management.  You get great currency transfer rates and can use the debit card anywhere around the world at the best rates.  You can also use the Wise debit card easily and for free for up to GBP200 (and equivalent in your local currency) per month for withdrawals PLUS no foreign transactions fees on card purchases!  – Read how we save with Transferwise here.

Be sure to tell your bank that you’re traveling to Costa Rica and ensure that you have plenty of funds for your trip.

Organise your Transport in Costa Rica

If you plan to self-drive during your time in Costa Rica, its easy. Rent a car, download WAZE and off you go. The buses here are also awesome, and prebooking them is easy.

In Costa Rica, use bookaway for private and shared shuttles – and to check bus schedules and prebook where possible – you can see all the routes and schedules, and prices for Costa Rica buses here.

Try and Learn a Few Words of Spanish for Travel to Costa Rica

If you’re using Google Translate, then it’s likely that you will pick up some words of Spanish and most touristy places in Costa Rica will speak English to some degree, but you’ll get a lot further if you have a few words of Spanish.

Here are a few Spanish phrases to get you started:

  • Hello – Hola
  • Goodbye – adiós
  • Yes – si
  • No –  no
  • Please – por favor
  • Thank you – gracias
  • To ask for the bill  – la Cuenta

Want to learn Spanish?  Check out how we decided on Guatemala for our Spanish lessons.

What is the Wi-Fi like in Costa Rica?

Wi-Fi is readily available in Costa Rica.    You’ll get it in the international airports, and in some central parks.  Wi-Fi is available in 99% of all hotels and hostels.  The strength of the signal may differ.    You may even find mobile internet on some vehicles provided by transfer companies.

However, all this free Wi-Fi access comes with potential challenges.   You don’t want to log into private accounts – like bank accounts on an unsecured connection.  We recommend and use it for all our connections on public Wi-Fi, a VPN. 

Download and Use a VPN in Costa Rica

We always travel with a Virtual Private Network (VPN).  We fire up our VPN when connecting to public Wi-Fi networks to ensure that no one is snooping on our data when we’re booking things, looking at our bank details or paying bills.

It also lets you do things that might be blocked geographically.  Like, watch Netflix or the BBC.

Get the best VPN that we’ve found that works in ANY country we’ve been to including Turkmenistan, China, Myanmar &Cuba.  This link gives you a coupon for THREE MONTHS for free as a reader of ASocialNomad

Do you need a VPN in Costa Rica?  There are no reports that the Costa Rican government blocks access to certain websites, in fact, they embrace and promote freedom of speech, but we’ve found that cloaking our location helps us find cheaper flights.  We found the best Costa Rica VPN to be ExpressVPN.

As you’re likely to be connecting to the public Wi-Fi in hotels, hostels, and the like, you’ll also want to fire up your VPN before you put any passwords, banking details, or credit cards into whatever site you’re using.

We recommend ExpressVPN, which we’ve used in some of the world’s most difficult countries to access the internet – check it out here.  This link will give you 3 months for free!

READ THIS POST
How A VPN can secure you and help you save BIG when traveling

Tipping in Costa Rica

Tipping in Costa Rica isn’t mandatory, although you will find a service charge added on in restaurants that comes to around 10%.  It depends on where you eat and drink.   Hotel bartenders tend to get the equivalent of US$1 a drink.    If you’re taking taxis then 500 CRC up to 2500 CRC depending on how far you go and what the service is like – or simply keep the change.

We stayed in small hostels and hotels, did not have anywhere that had a hotel bar, and tipped small amounts rounding things up.   Tips were never unwelcome, but also never expected.

Pre-book Your Tours in Costa Rica.

A trip to Costa Rica is expensive, especially in comparison with the countries that surround her.    So you’ll want to ensure that you maximize your time there.   If there are specific trips and tours that you want to go on we recommend that you pre-book them.

The Seasons in Costa Rica

There are 2 seasons in Costa Rica.  The wet season and the dry season.    The best time to visit is usually the dry season, which is December to April.    This is also the busiest time of the year to travel to Costa Rica.  If you’re planning to visit during the dry season you should try and plan your accommodation and tours around 6 months in advance.

Rain during the wet season tends to be brief, but, heavy showers.

Travel Tips for Exploring Costa Rica

Final words on planning your trip to Costa Rica

We hope you’re enjoying this stage of planning your Costa Rica trip and that this post helps you with that.  Don’t forget to download our Costa Rica Checklist!

Let us know how your Costa Rica trip planning goes and what other questions you have either in the comments

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