Costa Rica Car Rental: Key Tips for the Best Experience

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Renting a car in Costa Rica is often the most convenient way to travel throughout the country with flexibility. However, there are some things you should know before you choose a rental car company and finalize your booking.

We are a couple from the United States and Germany who have been living in Costa Rica for several years. We have rented many cars ourselves in Costa Rica and we often have family or friends who visit and rent a car. When we first moved here we had some really bad experiences. Now we know the best ways to go about the rental process with ease.

We created this guide based on everything we have learned about Costa Rica car rentals including info on mandatory insurance, scams to watch out for, the best cars to rent based on season, and more. Plus, we answered all the most frequently asked car rental questions we get here on Costa Rica Vibes.

Let’s get to all things Costa Rica car rentals!

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Car Rental at a Glance

Our Favorite Rental Car Company: Adobe Rent-a-Car

Best Car to Rent: A 4×4 SUV with decent clearance is best.

International Drivers License: You do not need an international driver’s license to rent a car in Costa Rica. Your normal valid driver’s license is fine.

Minimum Rental Age: Each company in Costa Rica is different. The average is typically 23 years old.

Why You Should Rent a Car in Costa Rica

Costa Rica Car Rental: Key Tips for the Best Experience

We believe that renting a car is the best way to get around in Costa Rica. 

A car will give you the most flexibility in your travel plans and won’t limit you to depending on day tours with transportation included.

Also, having a car is great because….

Budget-Friendly Option: Contrary to popular belief, renting a car in Costa Rica can be cost-effective, especially when considering the time and money saved on guided tours and transportation.

See, car rental prices in Costa Rica are somewhat expensive. A lot of this is due to the mandatory rental car insurance (which we will explain further in this post). However, private shuttles are also expensive. 

With a rental car, you can stay anywhere. You are not limited to staying in a town center to be within walking distance of restaurants. So, having a car allows you to find more affordable accommodations outside of a downtown area.

Also, you will save money by not depending solely on day tours with transportation included. Instead, you can explore on your own and easily find free or cheap things to do.

For example, one of the best things to do in Costa Rica is to visit the amazing national parks. It is always possible to visit these parks on your own if you have a rental car and only pay the admission fee.

However, if you do not have a car you will need to pay for a tour with transportation included. These national park tours typically range from $50 to $100 per person.

Flexibility to Explore Hidden Gems: With a rental car, you can venture off the beaten path and discover hidden places you can’t easily access with a day tour or shuttle. And, let me tell you, Costa Rica is filled with cool places that no tours will take you to.

Discover Authentic Local Flavors: When you take road trips in Costa Rica you will often pass locals with food stalls and some small nice restaurants. These places are great for getting a taste of the culture. A car provides the freedom to stop at these places whenever you want. 

Access Remote Beaches: One of our absolute favorite free things to do in Costa Rica is to just go beach hopping. All beaches in the country need to have public access by law. Having a rental car enables you to drive down any side roads next to the coastline and check out the beaches. 

Freedom to Change Plans: Plans evolve. For example, you might have a day planned and then the weather might not be ideal. Having a rental car allows you the flexibility to change your plans on a whim and move at your own pace.

Capture Unforgettable Moments: Stop wherever you please to capture scenery or wildlife. I have to say, Thomas is always the driver in our relationship. The amount of times he has given me a momentary panic attack as he slams on the brakes while driving because he has spotted a bird he wants to photograph is ridiculous. But, with a rental car, these wildlife encounters are possible. 

You Do Not Need a Rental Car if:

– If you are staying in a resort and don’t plan on traveling to multiple spots, you are probably better off getting a private shuttle to and from the airport instead.

– If you are trying to stick to a tight budget and opt for the public bus instead. Just keep in mind that the public buses don’t go between every destination so you may end up having to switch buses several times.

Want to save 10% with our favorite Costa Rica rental company? Check rates and reserve your vehicle now.

Choose a Rental Car Company

car

There are several rental agencies in Costa Rica. Some of these are international chains and some are local companies.

Our favorite rental car company in Costa Rica is Adobe Rent a Car.

We think Adobe is the best car rental agency because they are a local Costa Rican company that offers excellent customer service, has the largest fleet of vehicles in Costa Rica, provides full transparency on all their rates, and so much more!

We partner exclusively with Adobe and have a great car rental discount for you. Yay to getting the best prices!

This discount includes:

  • A 10% Discount
  • Free Additional Drivers
  • Free Roof Racks to Use
  • Free Car Delivery within 12 miles of any of their offices
  • 0% Deductible to Liability Protection Insurance
  • Discounted Smartphone with Unlimited Data
  • Free Booster Seat and/or Car Seat Usage
  • Free Airport Pickup
  • Discounted GPS

check rates and book your car with Adobe

Some of the other companies in Costa Rica include; Avis, Enterprise, Sixt, Budget, National, Alamo, Europcar, Hertz, and Vamos.

Don’t Book Through Travel Aggregator Websites

I won’t name names but, do you know those third-party sites that show a lot of listings for car rentals from several different companies?

Don’t book through those sites!

The reason for that is that a lot of companies will list cars on these sites without including any of the mandatory taxes, fees, and insurance.

You may think you are renting a car for $10 a day, but it will be several hundred more when you actually arrive in Costa Rica to pick up your vehicle.

Unfortunately, my mom had this happen the first time she came to Costa Rica. It was a really bad start to her trip when she had to pay several hundred dollars more than she had expected.

If you would like to know more, check out our post about car rental scams in Costa Rica

Cost of Renting a Car

road puerto jimenez

Renting a car in Costa Rica can be expensive (in my opinion). This is because of the mandatory insurance fees.

However, it is the most convenient way to get around so that is a trade-off you will need to consider.

The average price of car rentals can vary a lot depending on the season and type of vehicle you opt to rent.

Also, keep in mind that car rental rates have gone up a lot since 2020 and the COVID pandemic. 

Cheapest Time to Rent a Car

The most affordable time to rent a car is in the rainy season. Typically from July through November the prices go way down. 

This is because there is the least amount of demand for cars at this time.

If you are considering traveling at this time, check out our guide to visiting during the rainy season.

Most Expensive Time to Rent a Car

The most expensive time to rent a car is in the high season between the Christmas holiday and late April. This is the dry season in Costa Rica. It is also peak tourism time as North Americans and Europeans head to Costa Rica for a break from the cold. 

In our experience, Easter week typically is the overall most expensive time. This is also the time when cars sometimes completely book out and there is no availability. So, reserve several months early if you can. 

Costa Rica Car Rental Fees

If you book your car through Adobe there are no hidden fees.

You will need to pay the Liability Protection Insurance and the Car Protection Insurance as is required by Costa Rican law. 

Other than those, the only extra fees would be if you add any extra things such as GPS or having your car delivered to a location that is far from one of Adobe’s offices.

With other companies, please look out for: 

-Fees of transportation to and from the airport to their office

-If the mandatory rental car insurance is included in your price quote

-Any extra fees for extra drivers, car seat rentals etc.

Long Term Car Rental

If you plan to rent a car for longer than a month, please contact us [email protected] and let us know:

-The dates you will need the vehicle

– Which type of vehicle you would prefer

– Your pick-up and drop-off place.

Adobe may be able to provide you with a discounted rate.

Gas Prices

Gas prices are regulated by the government in Costa Rica. That means that every gas station will charge the same amount. So you never need to worry about getting the best prices. You can check the current rates here

Note: Gas stations in Costa Rica are full-service. That means you just pull up to the pump and stay in your vehicle. An attendant will fill your tank. 

Additional Fees

There are a few extra costs you need to consider when planning your rental car.

  • There are tolls on the highway between San Jose and the Pacific Coast. These tolls can be paid with USD or Costa Rican colones. They are starting to accept credit cards, but not all of them have take cards yet so cash is best. If you have US dollars, I suggest paying the first toll with a $10 bill. They will give you change in colones. The change will be enough to pay the rest of the tolls on your drive to the coast. 
  • You may consider opting to rent a GPS unit. Our experience, the free app Waze is the best way to get around in Costa Rica. However, that means you will need a phone plan that covers you internationally. If you are in the US, I know that Verizon charges $10 a day so that you can use your phone in Costa Rica. You can find out more in our guide to cell phones in Costa Rica
  • If you rent with Adobe and opt to pick up your car in one location and drop it off in another, there will be an additional cost for this. You will see it included on your rental.

Money Saving Tips

  • Use our discount with Adobe Rent a Car to save money
  • Travel at off-peak times. Car rentals (and most things in Costa Rica) are cheaper during the rainy season (May through early December)
  • Book your car early. Cars sometimes sell out so the earlier you book the more likely you are to have more budget-friendly options.
  • Book a cheaper vehicle. Check out our destination guides for the places you are visiting. Each one has info on the best car to rent based on that destination. Sometimes you might be able to get away with booking a cheaper vehicle and skip the 4×4.

Requirements to Rent a Car

road near rio celeste

The main requirements to rent a car in Costa Rica are being above the minimum age limit and having a valid driver’s license.

Minimum Age to Rent a Car

The minimum age varies by car rental agency. With Adobe you need to be at least 23 years old to rent a car.  They do not have a set maximum age to rent a car.

Some companies will allow you to rent at a younger age. For example, Sixt, Economy, and Vamos will all allow you to rent at 18, but with an added surcharge.

Driver License Requirements

You need to have a valid driver’s license to rent a car in Costa Rica. You do not need an international driver’s license or international driving permit. Your normal license from home will be fine.

This valid license must be at least two years old. In other words, you need to have been legally driving a vehicle for two years before you are allowed to rent a car here.

You can not rent a car with a temporary license or paper copy. You need your official license.

Other Requirements

  • If you plan on staying in Costa Rica for longer than 90 days you will have to get a Costa Rican driver’s license.
  • You need a credit card or debit card to put down the rental car deposit and to pay for your vehicle.

Costa Rica Car Rental Insurance Explained

In Costa Rica there is mandatory rental car insurance that every person who rents a car needs to purchase. Let me explain all the insurance types to you. 

Costa Rica Liability Protection

The Liability Protection insurance covers basic damages to third-party property up to $20,000 and provides basic coverage of third-party injury or death up to $100,000. 

This insurance is required by law in Costa Rica. Every single person who rents a car needs to purchase Liability Protection.

When you rent your car, make sure that you see Liability insurance included in the quote. If it is not included, you will have it added when you pick up your car. This means you could end up spending several hundred dollars more than you budgeted. 

The price you are quoted when you book your car through our site includes the Liability Protection fees (you will see it checked off in your rental car booking). 

Car Protection Insurance

This insurance covers:

-Direct car damages, collisions, and rollovers

-Total or partial theft of the rental car

Car Protection is also required by Costa Rica law.

Most rental car companies in Costa Rica bundle Liability Protection and Car Protection together, meaning you have to pay for both of them because they are required by law.

If you have a letter from your credit card company stating that you are covered for car protection in Costa Rica you will not need to pay for the Car Protection insurance if you rent with Adobe.

Make sure you bring a letter or email from your credit card company stating you have car protection in Costa Rica to show as proof. Adobe will not accept a basic brochure.

Costa Rica car rental conditions

If your credit card will not cover you for Liability Protection, you will need to check it off when you book your rental car from Adobe.

Total Protection Insurance

Adobe also offers Total Protection insurance. With Adobe, this covers a tow truck, road assistance, damage to things like windows, and a 4 million dollar coverage for third-party injury or death. 

You are NOT required to purchase Total Protection by Costa Rica law.

However, it is great if you want to ensure that you are 100% covered in case of an accident.

Most other rental car companies also offer a similar comprehensive insurance. 

Just keep in mind that this does not replace the two mandatory insurance plans. Total protection is on top of those plans. 

Does my car insurance cover me in Costa Rica?

No, your car insurance coverage from your home country will not meet the minimum requirements needed to cover you for a rental car in Costa Rica. 

Can I use my travel insurance as the mandatory car insurance in Costa Rica?

No, even if your travel insurance includes rental car insurance, it most likely will not meet the requirements to cover the mandatory insurance fees in Costa Rica.

Do you have any advice on rental insurance?

If you have multiple credit cards check with all of them and see if any will cover you for Car Protection in Costa Rica so you won’t have to pay for that one.

Also, Total Protection is expensive, but it will likely be cheaper than having to pay out of pocket to get a windshield or other damages replaced.

The Rental Car Booking Process

The first thing you need to do is to choose a rental car company.

As we have mentioned, we partner with our favorite Costa Rican rental car company, Adobe Rent a Car.

We love them for car rentals because they are transparent with their costs, are 100% Costa Rican, and have amazing customer service.

But as I mentioned above, there are several local and international car companies in Costa Rica to choose from. 

Again, when looking for your car, please avoid third-party car rental aggregator websites like Expedia or Kayak. When you look at these sites you might see car rentals for as low as $5 a day. This seems like an unbelievable deal. But, these listings are only for the car itself. They do not include any taxes, extra fees, or mandatory insurance. 

Instead, you need to go to each company’s local Costa Rican website. This will give you the correct rate.

Make sure the rate you are given includes insurance and all taxes plus added fees. I really don’t want you to arrive in Costa Rica and end up having to pay a lot more than you expected. 

Book Your Rental Car with Adobe

On the car rental booking form, after selecting your dates and drop off/ pick up location you will be directed to a page where you can select your car.

check rates and book your car with Adobe

Adobe has a large fleet of vehicles for you to choose from. When selecting your vehicle, pay attention to how many people the car can fit and the amount of luggage that can fit.

Note: If you are unsure what to rent, feel free to email us. [email protected] We recently had the chance to go through every single vehicle that Adobe offers. We have a good idea of what is best for your particular needs.

After selecting your vehicle you will be directed to the Reservation Form. Keep in mind that you can always change your reservation details later if you need.

For example, if you would like your car delivered to your hotel but haven’t booked a hotel yet, just leave it blank for now. Adobe is happy to update that for you at a later point in time if you need it.

The extra drivers and 0% deductible are automatically applied to all car rentals through our site. When you pick up your car Adobe will see that you rented through us and automatically add these perks. You do not need to select anything in your reservation to get them.

If you would like to add in the TRIO smartphone plan for $12 a day, or need a set of free roof racks, please leave a comment in the comment section of the reservation to let Adobe know so they can make sure to set those aside for you.

When you are finished, make sure you click “Reserve” not “Save Quote.” You should get an email within a few hours with your rental car reservation. 

You are then all set! Your vehicle will be waiting for you when you arrive in Costa Rica! 🙂

Also, just note if you need to change or cancel your reservation you can just reply to your confirmation email to get in touch with Adobe. They are usually very good at responding within 24 hours.

Note: If you are arriving at the San Jose airport you will select “Aeropuerto San Jose (SJO) as your pick up and drop off location. If you are arriving at Liberia airport you will select “Aeropuerto Liberia (LIR)” as your drop-off and pick-up location. 

I never got a confirmation email, what can I do?

Just email me: [email protected] and I can check on that for you.

What if I need to cancel my reservation?

That is no problem! With Adobe you can cancel for free at any time. Just click on your confirmation email where it says “Click here to modify this reservation” and you will be able to cancel at no cost, anytime.

Check rates and availabilty with Adobe Rent a Car

Choosing a Car

cars costa rica adobe

Now comes the difficult question, “Which type of car is the best for me to rent?”

In an ideal world, we would say get a nice four-wheel drive SUV so you won’t have to worry about any unpaved roads that you come across. However, that is also the most expensive option.

So, let’s go through what you need and if you can get away with renting a smaller more affordable vehicle instead of a 4×4.

Types of Vehicles for Rent in Costa Rica

Here are the car types you can rent in Costa Rica.

Full-Size SUV

These are vehicles that can fit between 5 – 7 passengers. However, with luggage, these are best for a maximum of 5 passengers.

Adobe carries the Mitsubishi Montero Sport and Hyundai Palisade 4WD in their fleet as a full-size SUV. 

Midsize SUV

A mid-size SUV is great for up to 4 passengers. Adobe carries the 4WD Hyundai Tucson Superior,Hyundai Creta 2WD, Mitsubishi ASX 4WD AT

Compact SUV

A compact SUV is perfect for a couple or solo traveler who wants the comfort of an SUV without the price tag of a larger vehicle.

Adobe carries the 4WD Suzuki Vitara, Hyundai Venue 2WD, Geely GX3 2WD SUV

Sedan

A sedan is fine if you will only be visiting San Jose and Cartago or just driving to Jaco or Manuel Antonio.

We once drove a sedan to La Fortuna and to Cahuita on the Caribbean coast. We managed, but it definitely wasn’t comfortable!

The issue with a small car is going to be the back roads. You will need to make sure your hotel is not on any steep side roads and that all activities you want to do are on more main roads.

For sedans, Adobe carries the Hyundai Verna, Hyundai Grand i10, Hyundai Atos Hatchback, and Hyundai Accent Superior

Van

A 7-passenger van is great if you are traveling with a larger family.

Adobe has the Hyundai Staria in its fleet. This comfortably fits 7 people and 7 suitcases.

We rented this after our wedding when traveling with our family. We drove pretty much all over the country with it and had no trouble.

Adobe also rents pickup trucks and transport vans, but I don’t suggest those for your vacation.

Best Car Based on Your Destinations

I suggest checking out our destination guides for the places you plan to visit. Each destination guide includes info on the road conditions so you can better gauge which car to rent.

Standard vs Automatic Vehicle

Most car rental companies here feature a mix of standard and automatic vehicles.

Here are the pros and cons on each one

Pros of Manual Transmission

  • Fuel Efficiency: Manual transmissions often provide better fuel efficiency, which can be helpful for longer drives and exploring remote areas.
  • Cost Savings: In Costa Rica, manual cars are generally cheaper to rent.
  • Greater Control on Hills: In hilly terrains, a manual transmission will give you more control over the vehicle, especially when ascending or descending steep slopes.

Cons of Manual Transmission

  • Learning Curve: If you’re not already familiar with driving a manual vehicle, this might be a challenge, especially when navigating Costa Rica’s diverse and sometimes interesting roads
  • Traffic Challenges: It is not unusual to come across heavy traffic in Costa Rica. The constant shifting can be tiresome and less convenient compared to an automatic transmission.

Pros of Automatic Transmission

  • Convenience: Automatic transmissions is overall a more straightforward driving experience.
  • Smoother Off-Road Driving: In certain off-road situations, especially when navigating through mud or uneven terrain, an automatic transmission can feel smoother.

Cons of Automatic Transmission

  • Higher Rental Costs: Automatic vehicles are generally more expensive to rent.
  • Limited Availability: Automatic cars are typically the most popular so they may have limited availability, especially during peak travel seasons.

Should I Rent a 4-Wheel Drive?

For most popular destinations it is not necessary to rent a 4 wheel drive vehicle. The exceptions to that are: 

  • The remote areas on the Nicoya Peninsula. If you are going to any of the towns between the ferry and Santa Teresa you won’t need a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Just check with your hotel or Airbnb though. If your accommodation is on a small side street up a hill you might need a 4×4.
  • Monteverde. You can get by with just an SUV with decent clearance but in some situations, you may need a 4×4. There are some dirt roads.
  • The mountains south of San Jose. For example, San Gerardo de Dota area is really steep.
  • The South Pacific area near Drake Bay and Pavones. This area is very remote and a lot of the roads aren’t paved.

Even if you opt not to rent a 4×4 we highly suggest renting a vehicle with good clearance (as in an SUV). 

If you have any questions, you can always email me. [email protected] or leave a comment at the end of the post. We are always here to help you out. 

Luxury Rentals

Most car companies here do not have luxury sports car rental. You wouldn’t want a sports car for driving in Costa Rica anyway.

As far as more luxury vehicles, it is possible to rent the Mitsubishi ASX or the Chevy Trailblazer.  

Vehicle for Off-Roading

You are not supposed to drive through rivers with a rental car in Costa Rica or do any off-roading.

Your insurance could become void if there is a problem with the vehicle and it is deemed to be from your driving through a river.

Picking up Your Rental Car

car la fortuna

Here are all the different ways you may opt to pick up your rental vehicle.

Picking Up Your Car From the Airport

There are two international airports in Costa Rica. You will either be flying into Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose or the Liberia Airport in Liberia.

San Jose International Airport

The San Jose International Airport is called Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) and it is located on the edge of San José near the city of Alajuela.

The airport does not have enough space for all the rental car companies to be located directly at the airport.

Every car rental company has a slightly different process for how to pick up your rental car from the airport. So, check your reservation for details.

Car Pick Up with Adobe

After you go through Border Control and pick up your luggage you will exit the airport.

Upon exiting you will see tons of people standing around asking if you need a taxi. Politely tell them “no” and look for a person in a blue shirt with an Adobe sign waiting for you. 

The Adobe representative will then take you in a comfortable shuttle less than five minutes away to the Adobe office. Here an attendant will help you to finalize your car rental, inspect the car with you, and help you get on your way for your vacation.

Find out more with our guide to renting a car from San Jose Airport

Liberia International Airport

The Liberia International Airport is located in the Guanacaste Province on the Pacific coast near the Nicaragua border.

As with San Jose, not all car rentals are located directly on the property.

Pick Up Your Car with Adobe

You will see an Adobe representative waiting for you when you exit the airport. They will take you to their office about 5 minutes away to pick up your car.

Find out more with our guide to renting a car from Liberia International Airport

Car Delivery to Hotel

Adobe will deliver your rental car for free to any hotel, Airbnb etc. within 12 miles of any of their offices. If it is more than 12 miles you may have to pay a small fee. 

When you make your reservation just indicate which hotel you will be staying in. If you haven’t booked a hotel yet when you make your reservation, that is fine. You can always update your reservation later from within your confirmation email.

Renting a Car Throughout the Country

cr map adobe

Adobe has several different locations located throughout the country. They will happily deliver your car to you for free within 12 miles of any of their offices. If you are more than 12 miles away there may be a small delivery fee. 

Their rental locations locations are:

Alajuela (Juan Santamaria Airport location), Downtown San Jose, Downtown Liberia, Liberia Airport Office, Heredia, Cartago, Ciudad Quesada, Grecia, San Pedro, Limon, Puerto Viejo, Puntarenas, Quepos, Tamarindo, and Uvita.

Can I pick up/ drop my car off at the Nicaragua border?

The nearest Adobe office is in Liberia. From Liberia, you can easily get a bus for a few dollars to the border. If you need more info, check out our guide to crossing the Nicaragua border.

Can I pick up/ drop my car off at the Panama border?

The nearest Adobe office is in Puerto Viejo. From here there is a bus that runs about every hour to the Panama border. For more information check out our guide to the Panama border.

Can I pick my car up in one location and return it in another?

Yes, you can return your car to a different Adobe office. Just keep in mind that there is usually an extra fee for this. You will see it listed on your reservation.

Returning Your Rental Car

There are a few different ways to return your rental car.

If you rent with Adobe, typically, you will drive your rental car to the Adobe office near the airport where you originally picked up your car.

You will return your vehicle and an Adobe representative will drive you in the comfortable shuttle to the airport.

We suggest giving yourself 2 to 3 hours before your flight to drop off the car. I know, this may be a bit excessive. But you never know what will happen with traffic around the airport. This especially applies in San Jose. Traffic is typically not nearly as bad in Liberia.

You can also opt to have your rental car picked up. For example, if you are staying at a hotel near the airport an Adobe representative can pick up your car from the hotel. You can then take the shuttle provided by your hotel back to the airport.

Easy. Stree free.

Check rates and availability with Adobe Rent-a-Car

Deposit

car montezuma

When you rent a car in Costa Rica you will need to pay a deposit. Each company is different as far as the deposit amount.

The deposit typically ranges between $1,000 to $2,000. With Adobe, it is $1,000.

The best way to pay the deposit is with a credit card. This will appear as a hold on your account, not an actual $1,000 withdrawal. 

Travel Tip: Check your credit card limit before traveling. We have had multiple friends from Europe go over their daily credit limit when trying to put the $1,000 deposit down for their rental car.

With Adobe, you can also pay the deposit with a debit card. However, we don’t suggest this because it can sometimes take a week or so to get the money back in your account after your trip. And $1,000 is a lot of money to be taken out of your bank account while traveling. 

With a credit card, it is just a hold and will immediately be credited back to you when you return your car without issues.

Are there any car rentals that require no deposit?

Not that we know of. The deposit is really a security blanket for the rental car companies. They need to make sure you don’t damage the car and then leave without taking care of it.

Paying for Your Rental

road la fortuna

Typically, it is best to pay for your rental car with a major credit card. Most companies take all major credit cards, but it is best to check that your card is accepted before arriving in Costa Rica.

Just make sure your card does not have a daily limit and that you notify your credit card company ahead of time that you will be traveling to Costa Rica.

That way your card won’t get blocked for looking like it’s being used for fraudulent charges.

You can use a debit card as well. However, you need to make sure that you will have enough money in your account for the car, the $1,000 deposit, and whatever you want to spend while in Costa Rica. 

Also, keep in mind that most bank accounts have a daily limit. When you rent a car you will be paying for the deposit and car all at once so, you might go over whatever your daily limit is.

Note: Also check which currency the car rental will be paid in and if your credit or debit card company offers a good exchange rate. With Adobe, all car prices are quoted in United States Dollars (USD$).

Driving in Costa Rica

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions we have been asked about driving in Costa Rica.

Which side of the road do people in Costa Rica drive on?

In Costa Rica you will drive on right side of the road, just like in the United States.

Are there tolls in Costa Rica?

Yes, near San Jose there are tolls. They accept US dollars and Costa Rican colones. If you only have USD I suggest paying with a $10 bill. They will give you change in colones and this change will be enough to pay the rest of the tolls.

How are the roads in Costa Rica?

In general, the roads are decent. Well-maintained highways connect almost all of the most popular destinations.
The road conditions within towns can sometimes be not as good. This especially applies to small towns.
For more info on the roads in the area, you are visiting check our destination guides.

What is the speed limit in Costa Rica?

The speed limit varies by location. On the highway it is typically 90 Km/h.

Remember that the speed limits are listed in kilometers per hour on signs NOT miles. You will see KPH or Km/h.

What Should I do if I get pulled over by police?

First off, don’t panic. The first time we got pulled over (just a routine check) we got so nervous because we had heard too many things about corrupt police in Central America. 

In our experience, that doesn’t seem to be an issue here. The Costa Rican government really wants tourists to have a good experience, so there is very little corruption in that way. All the police we have dealt with have spoken English and been nice.

You will likely need to show them your driver’s license, passport, and car rental agreement.

What documents do I need to carry with me?

Always have your driver’s license, passport, and car rental agreement. It is not unusual for police to set up checkpoints to check that people are legally driving. In our experience, they usually recognize tourists and just wave them through.

Also, note that there are check points near the borders.

For example, just north of Cahuita on the Caribbean coast, there is a police station that waves down all travelers to check passports.

For more info check out our guide to driving in Costa Rica

Directions

road la fortuna

Here are the most common questions we get about driving directions in Costa Rica.

Can I use a map to get around?

I wouldn’t suggest a paper map for directions. Things are constantly changing here. You will be way better off to have some type of GPS.

What is the best GPS app?

The best app, hands down, is Waze. Waze is a free app that most everyone in the country uses.
I’m obsessed with it.

With Waze you can input when you see police on the road if there is an obstacle if there is an accident, etc. And, people in Costa Rica are really good about inputting these things. So, usually, you will have plenty of warning during your drive if there are any obstacles.

Keep in mind that you will need to be connected to data to use Waze.

If you will not have a data connection you can download offline maps on the Google Maps app. This usually works alright, but I have had it glitch out a few times and then we have been stuck without directions.

Should I rent a GPS unit?

Adobe does offer GPS units to rent, but if you will have data on your phone, I really think Waze is the best option.

Does Costa Rica have addresses?

No, actually, there are no addresses in Costa Rica.

I know, it sounds like I’m lying, but it is the truth.

Instead, people say, “500 meters west of the soccer field. Blue house with white porch” 

When we first moved here we had a friend help us write out our home location in Spanish and would take that paper with us every time we had to set up any accounts like wifi. 
It was such a new thing for us!

How do I find my destination without an address?

You will always need to know the name of the place you are going. Usually, even Airbnb listings have a name that they will give you which you can put into Waze or Google Maps.

If I need to ask for directions will someone help me?

Ticos are so friendly and will usually be more than happy to help you.

The only problem is that you can’t always be confident that they actually know the correct way.

What I mean is, Ticos are so friendly that they hate disappointing people. We have found that they are more likely to give you directions that they think may be correct instead of saying, “I have no idea.”

Getting Gas

gas station

Here are the answers to all your questions about gas stations in Costa Rica.

Will the gas tank be full when I pick up my car?

Yes, the gas tank should be full when you pick up your car.

Do I need to return my car with a full tank?

Yes, you should return your car with a full tank of gas unless the employee tells you otherwise when you pick up your car.

Is there a gas station near San Jose International Airport?

Yes, the nearest gas station to Adobe is a two minute drive away. It is open 24 hours a day. Here is a Google map link so you can find it. 

Is there a gas station near Liberia International Airport?

Yes. If you are coming from the south there is a gas station about 4 minutes from Adobe. It is called Delta and they are open 24 hours a day. 

Is Costa Rica full service or self service?

All gas stations in Costa Rica are full service. That means you need to stay in your car while an attendant fills your tank with gasoline.

Can I pay with cash?

Most places will accept cash in colones or dollars. But, it is a good idea to have a credit card on you just in case.

Do most gas stations have a bathroom to use?

Yes, every decent-sized gas station should have a bathroom for customers to use. Usually these are accessible from outside the station building. Some may require a key, but usually they are unlocked.

Do most gas stations have a small store?

Not all, but most do. This is a great place to get some snacks and drinks for your road trip.I suggest buying some snacks you’ve never seen before to embrace the culture.

Accidents

town costa rica

If you get in a car accident your first move should be to call your rental car company. If there is an injury obviously call 9-1-1 first and then call the company.

If you rent with Adobe, they are super great and will send someone out to assist you and bring you another car when applicable.

When you pick up your rental car they will give you a thorough brochure with all the information and emergency numbers.

Adobe actually has a great article on their website about what to do during an accident here.

My tire popped, what do I do?

If you rented with Adobe call them at call Adobe at 2542-4888. They will instruct you what to do.

How can I call the police?

9-1-1 is the emergency number in Costa Rica.

Should I accept help from other people?

Most people in Costa Rica only want the best for you and just want to be helpful. However, if a situation feels uncomfortable, trust your instincts.

My windshield cracked, what should I do?

If you rented with Adobe call them at call Adobe at 2542-4888. They will instruct you what to do.

I am injured, where can I go?

There are doctors’ offices in every town. If you need more extensive treatment it is best to get to one of the larger hospitals (preferably CIMA) in San Jose. Don’t forget to purchase travel insurance.

Other Transportation Options

san jose road

There are a few different options if you don’t feel comfortable driving.

Taxis: Great for going out to dinner if you’ll be drinking and short rides

Public Bus: Public transportation is good for if you are on a tight budget and don’t mind a long journey

Private Shuttle: Good for if you don’t want to drive a long distance

Domestic Flights: Good for if you want to get somewhere fast and aren’t scared of small planes

Check out our guide to transportation in Costa Rica for more details

Is a private shuttle a good option?

We like private shuttles for a few different scenarios:

– You are traveling with a large group to a villa, destination wedding, or resort.

– You are going to an all-inclusive resort and won’t need a car once you are there.

– You don’t feel comfortable driving far distances. In this case you can take a private shuttle and rent a car for day trips once at your destination.

Adobe recently opened a private shuttle business. You can find out more and get a quote here

Is the public bus a good option?

We aren’t huge fans of the public bus, but if you are trying to stick to a tight budget, this is a good option.

The problem with the buses is that they don’t often connect between the locations you want to go to. For example, let’s say you want to go from Samara to Monteverde. There are no direct buses so you would have to go from Samara to Nicoya. Nicoya to Irma. Irma to Monteverde.

And if you miss your connection you might be stuck waiting a long time for the next one.

If you are going from San Jose or Liberia to another destination, you should be able to find good routes, but that is because these are the main cities in the country. 

Should I take day tours with transportation included?

Day tours with transportation to and from your hotel are always nice. This allows you to just relax and not have to think about driving or planning anything.

However, there are a lot of things that you can do on your own that will be more affordable with a rental car.

For example, let’s say you are visiting La Fortuna (which I highly suggest). Maybe you want to take a chocolate tour at Rainforest Chocolate Tours (again, this is something I highly suggest).

It is possible to book a day tour which includes a stop at Rainforest Chocolate Tours, but you can also easily drive yourself here and save a lot of money by just paying for the tour.

Maybe the next day you want to go white water rafting and zip lining. This would be a good opportunity to book a combo day tour with transportation from your hotel. That way you can just get shuttled between activities without organizing multiple things.

Does that make sense?  

Can I use Uber in Costa Rica?

For a long time, Uber has been existing in some legal gray zone in Costa Rica. We used to use Uber a lot because it’s cheaper than taxis. However, in the past few years, we have switched to only using registered taxis.

The reason for this is that the police are cracking down on Uber drivers. We have heard of police pulling over Uber drivers and the passengers being fined for using an illegal service.

Or the passenger is left by the side of the road when the driver is apprehended and has to find another transportation option.

So, you can use Uber.

But, please don’t.

What should I know about taxis?

Taxis are a good way to get around in short distances. Just make sure to always use registered taxis because pirate taxi drivers will majorly overcharge you.

You can recognize registered taxis because they are red with a yellow triangle on the drivers and passenger side doors. From the airport, taxis are orange.

You can find out more in our guide to taxis.

Ready to Book Your Rental Car?

#1 Costa Rica car rental
Costa Rica Car Rental: Key Tips for the Best Experience

Adobe Rent-a-Car

  • 10% discount for Costa Rica Vibes readers
  • Free second driver
  • 0% deductible on Liability Protection Insurance
  • Excellent customer service
  • New fleet of well-maintained vehicles

Conclusion: Costa Rica Car Rentals

In conclusion, renting a car is a great way to get around Costa Rica at your own pace. With several rental car agencies located throughout the country, you will have no problem finding a vehicle. Just be aware of the extra costs associated with car rentals such as the mandatory insurance.

Also, feel free to use our great deal with Adobe Rent a Car to save money and have stress stress-free experience.

If you have any questions about renting a car in Costa Rica, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you out!

If you are ready to book your car you can do so here.

Costa Rica Car Rental: Key Tips for the Best Experience

You Might Also Like:

Costa Rica Travel Details: What You Need to Know

🚗 Should I rent a car in Costa Rica?

Having a rental car will give you the most flexibility when traveling in Costa Rica. This will also allow you to take fun day trips on your own.

🏄🏽 How can I book things to do?

We find that Viator tends to have the most comprehensive selection of activities with secure booking and good cancellation policies.

🍍 I’m overwhelmed with planning. Can you help?

Of course! I suggest joining our Facebook group for specific questions and head to our Start Here Page to get started planning.

✈️ What is the best way to book a flight?

Usually, we have the best luck finding great prices with Skyscanner. Check for flights to both San Jose Airport (SJO) and Liberia Airport (LIR).

🛏️ What is the best way to book my Costa Rica hotels?

We highly suggest Booking.com for hotel bookings and typically use VRBO for Costa Rica vacation rentals.

🗣️What is the main language in Costa Rica?

The main language in Costa Rica is Spanish. Most people working in tourism speak at least some English.

💰 What is the currency in Costa Rica?

The currency used in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colón (CRC). However, the US dollar is widely accepted in most tourist areas

📞 What is the best way to stay connected?

An eSIM from Airalo is the easiest way to get 4G data while traveling in Costa Rica.

🌴 Is Costa Rica safe?

Generally, Costa Rica is considered safe for tourists. However, like any travel destination, it’s best to use caution and be aware of your surroundings.

🛂 Do you need a passport to go to Costa Rica?

Yes, Costa Rica is its own country. You will need a passport to visit.

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