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
- 1 Common Scams in Costa Rica – The Fellow Gringo Scam:
- 2 Common Scams in Costa Rica – The Rental Car Scam:
- 3 Common Scams in Costa Rica – The Broken Taxi Meter:
- 4 Common Scams in Costa Rica – The Exchange Rate Scam:
- 5 Common Scams in Costa Rica – The Double Charge Scam:
Common Scams in Costa Rica – The Fellow Gringo Scam:
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:
I’m not sure if I should really call this a scam, or just a really shady business tactic, but several rental car companies offer 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 including the mandatory Liability Protection. 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 Adobe 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:
Taxi drivers love to scam people in Costa Rica and I think with Uber now kind of legal (it exists in some sort of legal gray zone at the moment) 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. If you do have to take a taxi make sure it is a legal, registered taxi and that the driver sets the meter.
Common Scams in Costa Rica – The Exchange Rate Scam:
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 have a complete post on paying in Costa Rica here
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:
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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