Flying into San Jose Costa Rica can be a bit nerve-wracking if it is your first time. Although going through customs can seem stressful, I promise it is fairly simple at the San Jose airport. We’ve flown into this airport too many times to count and have become somewhat of pros at the whole process.

Here is everything you need to know about flying into San Jose Costa Rica.

Flying into San Jose Costa Rica – Entry requirements

passport and tickets costa rica

Before flying to Costa Rica you need to secure some type of proof that you will be leaving the country within 90 days. This proof can come in the form of a plane ticket (just print out the confirmation email) or bus ticket. If you are flying to Costa Rica for a vacation you are likely all set because you will have booked a round-trip flight.

If you are planning to backpack through Central America or are booking a one-way flight for any other reason, you need to show proof of departure.

I often book one-way flights to Costa Rica from the US. When I book a one-way flight I am not able to check in for my flight online before departure. I always get a message when trying to check in which says, “you need to speak to an employee at the check-in counter.”

If this happens to you, the only way you will be allowed to board your flight is by showing proof at the check-in counter that you are leaving Costa Rica within 90 days.

If you do not know how long you plan to stay in Costa Rica, the cheapest way of doing this is to purchase a bus ticket to Nicaragua from Tica Bus. It will cost you $28.75 to purchase a one-way ticket from San Jose, Costa Rica to Managua, Nicaragua. You can purchase this online.

The nice thing about Tica Bus is that they will allow you to change the date of your ticket at any of their ticketing offices in Central America for about a $5 fee.


Flying into San Jose Costa Rica – Declaration Form

Before landing in Costa Rica the flight attendants on your flight will come around with a Customs Declaration form for you to fill out. I snapped a picture for you on my last flight so you can see what all the form entails.

Most of it is pretty straightforward, but I tried to answer some of the confusing ones for you.

San Jose Costa Rica declaration form

You will need this form along with your passport after you get off the plane. I suggest keeping both somewhere easily accessible so you are not searching all your carry-on bags for these forms once you get off the plane.

Flying into San Jose Costa Rica – Landing in San Jose

San Jose Costa Rica landing

Guys, landing in San Jose is seriously beautiful. If you can, definitely snag a window seat to take some pics of the scenery. See, San Jose is a valley surrounded by mountains. The view is amazing!

Landing here can be a bit freaky. Because of the mountains and if any of the volcanos are erupting the plane might make a few curves towards the end of the flight. Don’t worry! It is totally normal.

Also, if you are tracking the flight you will likely notice that you will fly over to the Pacific coast before looping back and landing in San Jose facing east. This is normal. I have only seen planes land at the airport from the other direction once due to unusual wind.

What I’m trying to say is, for anyone with flying anxiety like myself, it may seem a bit scary to land in San Jose, but don’t worry. Everything is fine and normal!

Flying into San Jose Costa Rica – Customs

Flying into San Jose Costa Rica - customs

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but be warned, the customs line at the SJO airport can be a total disaster show. I suggest going as fast as possible from the plane to customs. If you need to use the bathroom try to do that before you get off the plane so you can straight up run to customs and beat the rest of your plane.

It has been OK for me the past few times I’ve flown, but I’ve also heard of people waiting over an hour in line.

Once you get to the front of the line and speak with customs agent they will ask for your passport.

They usually also ask where you are planning to stay (make sure you know the name and town of the first hotel you are staying at).

Sometimes they ask how long you plan to stay. I like to have my return flight info printed out or easily accessible on my phone just in case they ask for it.

They also always ask what your job is. Just keep it simple and tell them your general profession rather than explain in detail. They have a list of jobs and need to check off one. For example, I just say I am self-employed or an entrepreneur. My dad, bless him, took about fifteen minutes in customs last time. He went into detail about what he does as a town Conservation Administrator does. Eventually, the Customs Agent just marked him as an administrator and he went on his way haha!

Once they are satisfied they will stamp your passport and write in how long you are allowed to stay in the country. Usually, they will write in “90” (as in 90 days) unless they have a reason to give you a shorter stay time.

san jose costa rica passport stamp

You do not give the customs agent the form you filled out on the plane. That comes later.

Now on to baggage claim!

Flying into San Jose Costa Rica – Baggage claim

San Jose Costa Rica baggage claim

After going through customs you will come out into the baggage claim area. We find that it can be a bit slow for bags to start coming out.

If on the off chance your bags do not appear, there are counters for all the airlines in the baggage claim area. Our luggage got lost once with Iberia and the staff at the counter were very helpful. You will be asked to fill out a form with the address where they can deliver your bags. This is when it becomes important to know the name and town of each hotel you are staying at. They will also ask for contact info (your email address or a phone number they can reach you at).

We had our luggage delivered within 48 hours, so hopefully, if this happens to you it will also be a short wait.

Tip: We like to buy travel insurance through World Nomads for travel days because they cover things such as lost luggage.


Flying into San Jose Costa Rica – Leaving the airport

leaving the airport at San Jose Costa Rica

After you get your luggage it is time to leave the airport. Yeay! Before exiting the airport you have to put your luggage on one last conveyor belt for it to be checked. You will then hand your filled in customs declaration form to the attendant working. They usually don’t really look at it too closely.

Once your luggage comes out from the final check, you are good to go. Yeay! Welcome to Costa Rica!

Leaving the airport can be a completely overwhelming experience. Get ready for tons of taxi drivers asking if you need a ride.

If you have rented a car (we suggest renting with Adobe for a 10% discount and great customer service) someone with a sign from your rental car company will be waiting to meet you. You then will take a free shuttle to the nearby rental car office to pick up your car.

If you need to take a taxi you can ask one of the many drivers. Make sure they put their meter on. They are known for overcharging unassuming tourists.

The other option is to take an Uber. Uber is now technically illegal according to the Costa Rica government but Uber has stated that it is not illegal and they will continue to run. We still use Uber (they are wayyyy cheaper than taxis), but be warned the police are on the lookout. Your Uber driver will likely ask you to sit in the front seat so that the police are less likely to pull them over.

Flying into San Jose Costa Rica – Last tips

Kolbi San Jose Costa Rica

– Make sure you remember to pack a pen so you can fill out the customs forms on the plane.

– Pack some clothes to get you through the first few days just in case your luggage is temporarily misplaced and needs to be delivered to you.

– If you need to pick up a pre-paid Kolbi card to use for your phone there is a stand at the baggage claim area of the airport. You can read our full post about using your cell phone here.

-If you need to exchange currency you can also do this in the baggage claim area. We have a full post about paying in Costa Rica for more info.

-The San Jose airport is actually located in Alajuela. If you are looking for affordable nearby accommodations for after you arrive at the airport, check Alajuela rather than San Jose.

– If your flight arrives late at night and you are looking for some food there is a Dennys which is open 24/7 located about a two-minute drive from the airport.


Let us know in the comment section below if you have any questions about flying into San Jose Costa Rica. We are happy to help you out!




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