Country Information: General Details

Entry requirements

U.S. citizens need a valid passport.
Duty-free allowance for U.S. citizens
For U.S. citizens traveling to Costa Rica the duty-free allowance is three liters of wine or spirits, one half kilogram of processed tobacco and perfume only for personal use.

Customs regulations

The following items are considered to be luggage that may be brought into the country exempt from Customs duties:
* Used clothing
* Personal effects (used jewelry, purses, umbrellas and in quantities according to the personal requirements of the traveler).
* Medicines, food for babies or ill people, medical supplies.
* Cosmetic and beauty supplies, personal hygiene products, etc. All these items must show evidence of being used.
* Used sports equipment, carriages or strollers of children traveling with adults and wheelchair if the traveler is disabled.

Language

The official language is Spanish, although the tourist will find that English is widely spoken particularly in places such as hotels, travel agencies, banks, rental car companies, restaurants, etc.

Time

* From October to April: Costa Rica is one hour behind Eastern Standard Time.
* From April to October: Costa Rica is two hours behind Eastern Standard Time

Electricity

Same as the U.S. 110 volts., 60 cycles.

Credit Cards

All major credit cards are accepted in almost all hotels (especially the ones located in San Jose), stores, restaurants and car rental agencies. Outside San Jose and in some places the tourist should be prepared to pay in local currency; especially if the store, hotel, etc. is planning to include a service charge fee for the use of the credit card.

Bank Hours

Weekdays: 9:00 AM – 3:00 PM. Closed Saturdays and Sundays.

Shopping Hours

Weekdays & Saturdays: 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM Sundays: almost all stores are closed, especially those located in downtown San Jose or any major city. Most of the souvenir shops will be open on Sundays and during some Holidays.

Is the water safe to drink ?

Yes, the tap water in Costa Rica, that comes from the wells and/or treatment plants of the “Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados” (A y A) or in English, the Costa Rican Institute of Aqueducts and Sewers, is perfectly safe to drink. Most of the drinking water in Costa Rica is the responsibility of the “A y A.”

The “A y A” uses water from two different type sources to supply cities, sub-surface water and surface water. Sub-surface water is mostly drawn from deep wells. These sub-surface waters are very pure from the point of disease transmission but an application of chlorine is made as a preventive measure against possible contamination in the distribution system. When river water is utilized, the water is first passed thru water treatment plants. In the plants is passed thru a series of filters, then, when crystal clear, it is chlorinated. Naturally, if given water from a private water supply, perhaps on a farm, you should be careful!!!

Medical Insurance

Costa Rica offers visitors and tourist low-cost medical insurance while in the country thru a program introduced by the Costa Rican Social Security office and the International Organization of Cultural Interchanges (OICI) in response to a growing number of foreigners seeking insurance information from the social security office.

The Insurance can be bought at any travel agency, language school or tourism business office authorized by the Costa Rican Tourism institute (ICT). The insurance entitles tourists to hospitalization and surgery at any social security clinic or hospital. It also includes emergency dental attention, but does not provide service for those with preexisting illness. If you plan to reside in the Country for more than one month, monthly payments can be made at the OICI central office provided your tourist visa is up to date.

For more information, visit the OICI central office located on the fourth floor of the Mendiola building on Avenida Central, or call (506) 222-7867.

Extending your stay in Costa Rica

If you are planning to stay longer in Costa Rica, please take note of the following regulations:

Canadians citizens and nationals of most European countries: have 90 day tourist visa on arrival to Costa Rica.

U.S.citizens: receive 90 day tourist visa, provided they travel with a passport. Tourist card holders are still limited to 30 days.

Australians and other foreigners: are granted only 30 day tourist visa on entry, but they can apply for 30 or 60 day extensions at the Immigration office in downtown San Jose. If you overstay your 90 days, you will need an exit visa to leave the country; this visa is valid for 30 days from the date of issue, which means your visa will have a 30 day extension. Student

Nationwide Holidays

Listed below are the Costa Rican official holidays. On these days, most businesses close and there is little commercial activity: Also each province has it¹s own special holidays which are not listed here.

January 1 New year’s day
March 19 St. Joseph’s Day (Patron Saint of the Capital City) Holy Week Thur. & Fri.
April 11 Juan Santa maria’s Day (National hero)
May 1 Labor Day
June 29 Saints Peter & Paul
July 25 Annexation of the Province of Guanacaste
August 2 Virgin of Los Angeles Day (Patron Saint of Costa Rica)
August 15 Mother’s Day
Sept. 15 Independence day
Oct. 12 Discovery of America
Dec. 8 Immaculate Conception
Dec. 25 Christmas

Taxis – Before entering the taxi, please check the following:

Is the taxi legal? Make sure it has an identification tag with a photo of the driver attached and clearly visible inside the taxi.
Ask the driver is his meter is working (the taxi meters are called “marias”). If his meter isn’t working find another cab.
Prices from San Jose to the airport vary between $10.00 and $15.00, or the equivalent in colones and the meter is not used so establish the price before leaving.

Remember most taxi drivers are not bilingual; if you do not know the language and need to get to a certain destination using this type of transportation, make sure you get assistance from a bilingual person (desk clerk, bell boy, etc) and write down the correct direction and in Spanish for the driver.

Buses – Things you should know:

1. Bus service throughout San Jose and all over Costa Rica is good, and can be an economical and interesting way to see the country.
2. Bus schedules and fares to the many different bus lines and destinations consult the ICT tourist office at Plaza de la Cultura if you are staying in San Jose. Also if you are staying at any lodging facility the bilingual staff will be happy to assist you.
3. All buses have their fare prices written on placards above the windshield, inside the bus.
4. There are bus lines to most remote areas of the country, and following you will find some of the most important bus companies:

* Tracopa: goes to the southern zone of the country. Their terminal is located in front of the park at the Pacific Railway Station.

* Alfaro: carries passengers to Guanacaste, including Santa Cruz, Filadelfia and Nicoya. Also, it offers transportation to beach areas such as Tamarindo beach and Sámara, traveling via the Tempisque Ferry. The Alfaro bus terminal is located near the San Juan de Dios Hospital.

* Pulmitan: has service to Cañas and Bagaces. Buses depart from San Jose to Puntarenas, Manuel Antonio and Jaco, from the “Coca Cola” bus stop. It is recommended that you purchase your tickets ahead of time and that you get to the terminal on time to take your bus. The buses to Limon leave from the National Park on the eastern side of town.

Tipping – Things you should know

Tipping is entirely up to you. Depends on level of service, whether or not you feel comfortable giving tips, and your budget. Costa Ricans, as a general rule, do not tip.

At Restaurants a 10% gratuity for service and 15% for sales tax is included in your bill. Tipping is not used when it comes to taxis, unless extra service is provided.

* Front desk service personal are really your main service people so take care of them. Tip depending on their service and attitude and quality of service.
* Bellboys are often tipped a minimum of $1.00 per bag or the equivalent in colones per bag, at check-in and check-out.
* Domestic Services : $1.50 per night is acceptable. Their service is sometimes is overlooked and remember these are the people that really take care of your personal items in your room !!
* For guides and drivers it really depends on the service rendered, $3.00-500 per person is acceptable.

Local currency

* The local currency is the “Colon” and is constantly fluctuating against the U.S. dollar.
* The most commonly used bills are thousand , five thousand and ten thousand.
* If you carry cash, don¹t make it a big wad just keep about $50 to 100 dollars in colones in a money clip or separate from the bulk of you funds
* There are two legal place to exchange your currency into colones: a bank or your hotel. Please note that exchanging the money on the street or Black Market is illegal in Costa Rica. And you can be robbed !!

Security

* Be aware of where you are and of your belongings. Remember that San Jose as any other major capital city has a petty theft problem.
* Never leave belongings in your car, even if you locked the car. Rental cars are easy to spot and they will be targeted.

Rental Cars

* Most rental car agencies require a credit card, but there are agencies that will deal on a cash basis ( very few) , and security deposits charges can run as high as $1000 or more.
* Tips on Driving in Costa Rica: There has been numerous complaints from tourists who have rented cars and are stopped by traffic cops and pressured to pay “fines” on the spot, sometimes as much as $100. “In no case should anyone pay money. Drivers can only receive a ticket. They don’t have to pay one cent,” said the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, which oversees the Transit Police. If a policeman insists on being paid, insists right back on being given a ticket. If you are pressured to pay something, take down the policeman’s name , badge number and send a letter of complaint to the Ministry of Public Works and Transport as well as the Costa Rican Tourist Institute, and be sure to tell his name to your rent-a-car company.

When in San Jose or other cities, most streets are one-way, which unfortunately you can not tell until a bevy of cars is coming straight at you. The best way to avoid this is to observe which way the traffic is heading before turning onto a street. Try to avoid driving at night and remember Costa Rica is an agricultural country and there may be animals and farm equipment on the road at all hours .

Shopping in Costa Rica – Handicrafts

Costa Rica offers those who love to browse and buy a rich variety of items that reflect the country’s tastes and culture. Crafts can commonly be found in artisans markets. Handmade ceramics, wooden articles, straw items, fine leather goods and other handicrafts, all of which make excellent souvenirs. Many stores, sell reproductions of pre-Columbian gold and silver pieces, as reminders of the nation’s heritage. All these works of art can be acquired at places such as: The National Handicraft Market and CANAPI, as well as the town of Moravia, east of San Jose, that offers a wide variety of handicraft stores and workshops. The most important woodcraft center is Sarchi, a picturesque town located in the Alajuela province, here the visitor will be able to buy not only bracelets, earrings or jewel boxes made out of wood, but at the same time they can take home an impressive piece of precious wooden furniture or the famous Costa Rican ox cart, well known throughout the world.

Costa Rica Travel: Travel Information & Tips

No matter how beautiful a destination may be, it needs easy access and be reachable within the limitations of an average vacation period. Costa Rica is only two and a half hours away from Miami!