Costa Rica is an amazing country, but as with almost every country, there are some common scams in Costa Rica that you should be aware of. We want you to fall in love with this country like we have, but we realize that being scammed can put a major damper on your amazing travel experience. To keep your travels awesome we have outlined some common scams and how you can avoid them

Common Scams in Costa Rica- The Fellow Gringo Scam:

scams in costa rica

We read recently about two guys pulling this particular scam in San Jose to passing tourists. The men doing the scam speak US English and stop tourists by asking where they are from in the US and pretending to be from the US living in Costa Rica. After striking up a conversation they will ask if you’d like to get a drink/ explore the area with them etc.

Once they get you away from a touristy area they will offer you free weed (which you obviously should never accept) or they will secretly plant it on you. They will then claim to be an undercover cop and force you to go to an ATM to “pay them off”.

I’ve even heard of them calling some scary looking friends to keep an eye on you so you can’t run while withdrawing money.

How you can avoid this: I hate to say that you shouldn’t be friendly, but if someone seems a bit suspicious, they probably are. It’s never a good idea to go off from a busy area with someone you’ve just met. I tend to go with my intuition and so far it seems my intuition has not let me down.

 

Common Scams in Costa Rica-The Rental Car Scam:

scams in Costa Rica

Many of the rental car companies here will scam you by offering a really low rental car rate on either their website or through a third party site like Expedia. You will think that you have secured a super cheap rental car until you actually go to pick up your car. It is then that you will discover that Costa Rica has a mandatory rental car insurance which hasn’t been included in your price.

This is completely true, Cosa Rica does have a mandatory rental car insurance, but because you were unaware of it they now have you hooked. You need that rental car and will end up paying hundreds of dollars more than you expected to pay.

How you can avoid this: Before renting a car, make sure the price you are quoted is the absolute total price. We have had this happen to us and smartened up. We started renting with the only company we really trust here called Adobe. Because we love them so much we have partnered with Adove to bring our readers a 10% to 20% discount on your rental car. You can read more about renting a car and grab your discount here.

Common Scams in Costa Rica-The Broken Taxi Meter:

scams in costa rica

Taxi drivers love to scam people in Costa Rica and I think with Uber now legal in Costa Rica the problem is becoming worse. Many taxi drivers will tell you the taxi meter is broken and overcharge you or they won’t reset it from the previous ride so you’ll have to pay more.

How you can avoid this: Don’t take taxis in Costa Rica. We depend solely on Uber because their prices are generally half of the price of a taxi. Also, in our experience, the Uber drivers in Costa Rica are extremely nice and helpful. We’ve never had the same experience with a taxi.

 

Common Scams in Costa Rica-The Exchange Rate Scam:

common scams in costa rica

We had this almost happen to us while crossing the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. There are verified people who can exchange money for you on the border, but that doesn’t mean they will actually give you the correct money.

We knew the exchange rate ahead of time (download the free app XE Currency to always be up on the correct exchange rate) and the person exchanging money for us confirmed that this way the correct rate, but then tried to give us about $10 less than he was supposed to. 

Luckily we counted out the money he had given us and told him he owed us more money. We had a friend that is a native Costa Rican with us who argued with him until we got the correct rate. This man obviously thought he could pull one over on stupid gringos.

How to avoid this: Make sure you know the exact exchange rate and count out how much money you receive. If you’d like to completely avoid this I suggest getting money out of an ATM. Check with your bank to find out about international ATM fees. I have an account with Charles Schwab and all my international ATM fees are automatically refunded into my account.

 

Common Scams in Costa Rica- The Double Charge Scam:

This happened to someone Thomas knows last time they were visiting. Because they didn’t want to deal with carrying a lot of cash/ exchanging money they decided to depend entirely on credit cards while traveling in Costa Rica.

This seemed like a good idea until they returned to Germany and their credit card was accruing charges from Costa Rica. It turned out that one the places they used their credit card at had copied their credit card info and was charging them multiple times on their credit card machine.

How to avoid this: At large supermarket chains, reputable restaurants, and large hotels I wouldn’t worry too much about using your credit card. You will likely be completely fine. However, at small mini markets, little restaurant etc. I suggest trying to pay with cash as often as possible.

 

We are not trying to scare you off with these common scams in Costa Rica, but we just want you to be aware of things that sometimes can happen. We just want you to have an amazing time visiting!

If you’d like some more safety tips please check out these two articles:

How To Stay Safe in Costa Rica

Why You Need Travel Insurance in Costa Rica

Have you heard about or experienced any other scams in Costa Rica? Please share your experiences in the comments section to help out your fellow travelers.

 

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Traveling in Costa Rica should be an amazing experience and it can be if you watch out for these common travel scams.

Traveling in Costa Rica should be an amazing experience and it can be if you watch out for these common travel scams.

15 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for sharing! We have been to Costa Rica many times and have had no issues what so ever. But we follow pretty much every tip you posted. And follow them whether we are in Costa Rica or Hawaii etc. Can’t wait to be back day after Xmas this year!

  2. Most needed post on Costa Rica that could also be applicable to in many places. The credit card scam is the one that we can easily fall into. You are right to suggest paying in cash, I might also add that travelers should analyze their receipt or bank statement before leaving the country.

  3. Change your money on the Nicaraguan side of the border….much safer…but, obviously, check the exchange rate on the day you travel.

    As to taxis, I have had few problems.
    No maria – taximeter -or the maria not working and I get out…..but it has only happened a few times in the ten years I have been here.

    The gringo beggars are the ones that annoy me…all the hard luck stories imaginable to extract some cash or bum a meal.

  4. It’s frustrating to know that there are things like this happening not only in Costa Rica but anywhere around the world and many tourists fell into such scams. Thank you for taking time in writing about all these scams. It’s very helpful and bring awareness to other travelers.

  5. These are great tips. The taxi one is pretty standard in a lot of places – I HATE taking them anywhere, even in my native US. The fellow gringo one is pretty clever and scary. I can see how even savvy travelers could get caught up in that one.

  6. Pinned! That’s crazy at how many scams go on there! Thank you so much for sharing, I will definitely be aware of these now when I travel there.

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