Whether you are planning to enter Costa Rica by air, by land, or by sea; there are several things you need to know in order to successfully gain access to the country. Costa Rica entry requirements are not ridiculous, but they are heavily forced.
I have dealt with being denied entry (you can read about it at the end of this post) and we don’t want you to have to go through the same thing. Because of that, we have pored through all the information from the Costa Rican government to put together this comprehensive guide on Costa Rica entry requirements.
Passports requirements for Costa Rica entry
You need a passport to travel to Costa Rica. It is required for entry.
If you do not have a passport we suggest ordering one several months in advance of your trip. It can sometimes take a while for everything to be processed.
If you are a US citizen you can order a new passport. It is possible to expedite it if you are short on time.
Everything I have read online says that your passport needs to be valid for your length of stay in Costa Rica plus one day. This is a new law that was enacted in 2016.
However, I suggest that you make sure your passport is good for at least 3 months from the time you will leave Costa Rica. I have been denied international travel in the past due to passport validity length, so it is always better to be on the safe side.
Also, make sure you have at least one available page in your passport for entry and exit stamps.
You may be denied entry if your passport is severely damaged. This includes having holes, being ripped, etc.
We also suggest making a few color copies of your passport before traveling. This is helpful in case your passport gets lost. When traveling, we usually keep our passports locked in our hotel safe and just bring the color copies if we need to show some form of ID.
Do I need a visa to enter Costa Rica?
Most visitors to our site are from the US, Canada, or the EU. If you are a citizen of any of these places there are no visa requirements to enter Costa Rica. You must have a valid passport (which meets the passport rules I stated above), an onward or return ticket, and required vaccines. You can then stay for 90 days in the country.
There are four different groups of requirements for entry into Costa Rica. Let’s go through each one.
Group One: Citizens are NOT required to have a visa for Costa Rica entry. Must have a valid passport, onward ticket, and required vaccines. These people can stay for 90 days in the country.
The countries in group one are: ANDORRA, ARGENTINA, AUSTRALIA, AUSTRIA, BAHAMAS, BARBADOS, BELGIUM, BRAZIL, BULGARIA, CANADA, CROATIA, CZECH REPUBLIC, CHILE, CYPRUS, DENMARK, ESTONIA, FINLAND, FRANCE, GERMANY, HOLLAND, HUNGARY, IRELAND, ICELAND, ISRAEL, ITALY, JAPAN, LATVIA, LIECHTENSTEIN, LITHUANIA, LUXEMBOURG, MALTA, MEXICO, MONACO, MONTENEGRO, NORTHERN IRELAND, NORWAY, NEW ZEALAND, PANAMA, PARAGUAY, POLAND, PORTUGAL, PUERTO RICO, REPUBLIC OF SOUTH KOREA, SAN MARINO, SERBIA, SOUTH AFRICA, SLOVAKIA, SLOVENIA, SPAIN, UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN, UNITED STATES
Group Two: If you are from one of the following countries please contact your embassy to check how long you can stay in Costa Rica. I have read two different things on official government websites. Some sites say that you can stay for 90 days and some say for 30 days. Either way, you do not need a visa to enter. You will need an onward ticket, required vaccines, and a valid passport.
The countries in group two are: ANTIGUA , BARBADOS, BELIZE, BOLIVIA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, EL SALVADOR, FIJI, GRANADA, GUATEMALA, GUYANA, HONDURAS, MARIANA ISLANDS, MARSHALL ISLANDS, SOLOMON ISLANDS, KIRIBATI, MALDIVES, MAURICIO, MICRONESIA (FEDERATED STATES), NAURU, PALAU, PHILIPPINES, KINGDOM OF TONGA, RUSSIA, SAMOA, SAINT KITTS AND NEVIS, ST. VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES, ST. LUCIA, SAO TOME, AND PRINCIPALITY, SEYCHELLES, SURINAM, TUVALU, TURKEY, VANUATU.
Group Three: If you are from one of the following countries you will need a consular tourist visa before entering into Costa Rica. You will also need to meet the passport requirements, vaccine requirements, and posses a return or onward ticket.
The countries in group three are: ALBANIA, ANGOLA, SAUDI ARABIA, ALGERIA, ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN, BAHRAIN, BENIN, BELARUS, BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA, BOTSWANA, BRUNEI-DARRUSAL, BURKINA FASO (UPPER VOLTA), BURUNDI, BHUTAN, CAPE VERDE, CAMBODIA, CANERUN, COLOMBIA, IVORY COAST, COMOROS, CHAD, ECUADOR, EGYPT, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, GABON, GAMBIA, GEORGIA, GHANA, GUINEA, GUINEA-BISSAU, MALAYSIA, Equatorial Guinea, INDIA, INDONESIA, JORDAN, KAZAKHSTAN, KENYA, KIRQUIZISTAN, KOSOVO, KUWAIT, LESOTHO, LIBERIA, LIBYA, LEBANON, MADAGASCAR, MALAWI, MALI, MOROCCO, MAURITANIA, MOLDOVA, MONGOLIA, MOZAMBIQUE, NAMIBIA, NEPAL, NICARAGUA, NIGER, NIGERIA, OMAN, PAKISTAN, PAPUA NEW GUINEA, PERU, QATAR, ARAB REPUBLIC Saharahui (SAHARA WESTERN), CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC, PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA , REPUBLIC OF MACEDONIA, REPUBUCA OF CONGO, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO, (ESBLIZACAIREDE) Democratic People’s LAOS, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, RWANDA, SENEGAL, SIERRA LEONE, SUDAN NORTH,SOUTH SUDAN, SWAZILAND, THAILAND, TAIWAN ,TANZANIA, TAJIKISTAN, EAST TIMOR, TOGO, TUNISIA, TURKMENISTAN, UKRAINE, UGANDA, UZBEKISTAN, VIETNAM, YEMEN, DJIBOUTI, ZAMBIA, ZIMBABWE.
Group Four: You will need a restricted visa to enter Costa Rica if you are from one of the following countries. You will also need to meet the required passport, vaccine, and onward ticket rules.
The countries in group four are: AFGHANISTAN BANGLADESH CUBA ERITREA ETHIOPIA HAITI IRAN IRAK JAMAICA MYANMAR (AFTER BIRMANIA) NORTH KOREA (PEOPLE’S DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF) PALESTINE SYRIA (ARAB REPUBLIC OF) SOMALIA SRI LANKA
Do I need any vaccinations?
If you are flying directly from the US, Canada or Europe you will not need any shots. If you are visiting any of the countries listed below before visiting Costa Rica (this includes just for a stopover) you will need the Yellow Fever Vaccine. This vaccine needs to be administered 10 days or earlier before your flight to Costa Rica. You will need to show proof of the vaccine for entry.
The countries that are considered at risk for Yellow Fever are: Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Guyana and Venezuela.
How long can I stay in Costa Rica?
You can stay in Costa Rica for 90 days as a tourist (unless you have a visa that specifies something different). When you enter the country you will be required to show proof that you are leaving within 90 days. You can not stay longer than 90 days without a visa.
This proof can come in the form of airline tickets (it can be to any country outside of Costa Rica) or a bus ticket to Panama or Nicaragua with your name and passport number on it.
Just note that this usually isn’t a problem when actually entering the country. It is more an issue when you try to check in for your flight to Costa Rica. If you have a one-way flight to Costa Rica you will usually not be able to check in online and will have to check in with an attendant at the airport.
The immigration official will ask you for a return flight, onward flight, or bus ticket. Make sure you have this or they won’t even let you get on the plane.
If you are backpacking through Central America and have a return flight from a different country this is totally fine as well.
What is it like to go through Customs at the Costa Rica airport?
Customs at the airport tends to be pretty stress-free.
While on the plane you will fill out an immigration form. You only need to fill out one per family. The form is very basic and just asks questions like where you are staying, if you have recently been hanging out with any livestock, etc.
Don’t stress too much about getting all the info perfect. Nobody ever actually looks at your answers.
After exiting the plane we suggest walking relatively quickly to the Customs area. It can get backed up if there are not a lot of employees working.
When you get up to the Customs desk the officer will ask for your passport, your profession, where you are staying first, and when you are leaving Costa Rica. You do not need to give them the form you filled out on the plane.
Just tell them your job (keep it very general because they need to select an option on their computer), the name of the hotel and town where you are staying, and how many nights you are staying in the country. It is best to also have your return ticket information on hand to show them if they ask. Just having the flight or bus ticket on your phone is usually completely fine.
The Customs officer will then give you an entry stamp in your passport and write in how many days you are allowed to stay. They almost always write in 90 days unless you seem suspicious or there are some problems.
After you pick up your bags your luggage will go through one last scan. This is where you will hand over the form you filled out on the plane. You just add it to the stack of other forms.
After that, you can exit the airport!
We have a full guide to landing in San Jose to help you with stuff like ground transportation, exchanging money, etc.
What is it like to go through Customs at the borders?
The borders are a bit more involved with their Costa Rica entry requirements than entering at the airport. We created a guide to crossing the Nicaragua border and a guide to crossing the Panama border to help you out with this process.
Our experiences entering Costa Rica
We have only had one major issue entering the country. Well, actually, I had the major issue. Thomas has never had any problems.
Last year we went to the Galapagos for our honeymoon. It was amazing and I made many lifelong friends. ↓
Unfortunately, when it came time to actually leave Ecuador and head back to Costa Rica I was not allowed to fly.
See, before visiting I had researched the Yellow Fever shot and learned that you do not need the vaccine to enter the Galapagos. It is not required by law and there isn’t any Yellow Fever there.
This was a relief because once you get the shot it takes 10 days for it to become active in your system and there was a shortage of Yellow Fever vaccines in Costa Rica at that time.
However, as I stated above, if you travel to any South American country you need to show proof of the vaccine before you travel to Costa Rica. I obviously did not know this and was not allowed to fly.
Thomas, however, was allowed to fly.
After freaking out in the Quito Airport and trying to find a doctor who could give me the shot and forge the date (needs to be administered 10 days before flying) I finally succumbed to tears.
Thomas offered to skip his flight and stay with me, but he needed to get home to go to work the next day and I didn’t want both of us to have to pay for new flights.
He left and I was left alone with no luggage (we had already checked it through to Costa Rica in Thomas’s name) and a few credit cards.
After pulling myself together I figured my best option would be to fly to the US and then down to Costa Rica. If I opted to stay in Quito I would either have to stay for 10 days after getting the shot or find someone to forge the papers for me. That seemed like too much of a hassle, especially since I didn’t have a single change of clothes.
$400 later I had an overnight flight up to Miami and then down to Costa Rica.
It ended up being quite the adventure, but about 20 hours after Thomas left I finally made it home to Costa Rica.
It was probably mildly illegal that I still went to Costa Rica after leaving Ecuador, but shhh, don’t tell anyone that I’m such a rule breaker.
Anyway, the lesson is, don’t be like me. If you are traveling anywhere in South America, before visiting Costa Rica, get that Yellow Fever vaccine. It will save you a lot of trouble.
Just note that the information for entry is always changing and we are not legal experts. Definitely, check the Costa Rican government website for updated information before traveling.
If you have any questions about entry requirements for Costa Rica please leave them in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you out!
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