I believe that bad things can happen anywhere. We had a gun pulled on us once, in Germany, a country that is extremely strict on gun laws. You don’t have to be in a foreign country that is known for sometimes having problems with petty crime to be robbed. However, being aware and using some basic steps of caution will help you stay safe in Costa Rica and other countries.
Before you start getting scared, I believe Costa Rica is relatively safe. People here use a lot of caution (such as big fences, barbed wire, and bars on windows) but that doesn’t mean it is dangerous. We’ve been here for over a year and have never had anything happen to us, but we have heard about people being robbed before while walking alone at night.
A little caution will go a long way here. These are the things we do (and I suggest you do as well) to try to stay safe.
1.Register With STEP:
If you are an US citizen, you should definitely register with STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) before traveling. This allows the US government to notify you regarding potential security threats in the area you are visiting, get in contact with you regarding natural disasters, and gives family and friends a way to contact you in the case of emergencies. I always register with STEP before I travel anywhere and definitely feel a little safer knowing that the local embassy knows that I’m in that country in case of disaster.
2. Get Travel Insurance:
Travel insurance has multiple benefits. Not only will it help you out in case you get hurt, it is also great if one of your belongings are stolen. I highly recommend World Nomads. They are the only company I use and I absolutely love them. I’ve gotten sick abroad and they covered everything. You can read about my experience here. I luckily have never had anything stolen, but I know people who have and they were fully reimbursed for their losses. Check ’em out here!
3. Know Your Address:
If you get lost, your phone dies etc. it is good to know the address of the place you are staying in your mother tongue and in Spanish. I write it down and keep it on me. Sometimes in a panicked situation, it’s easier to just hand someone your address rather than try to think of it. In Costa Rica this is difficult because there are no addresses, it’s strange but true. Instead make sure you know the name of your hotel and any landmarks that are located nearby the place you are staying.
4. Be Aware Of Your Surroundings:
When you are traveling it’s easy to get distracted by all the beautiful new sites, but you need to also be aware of the people around you. Look around often and avoid standing in large crowds. If you feel uncomfortable in a situation or place, just leave.
5. Research What Areas To Avoid:
If you are not familiar with Costa Rica you might sometimes find yourself in an area you don’t want to be in. To stay safe in Costa Rica you should avoid walking around downtown San Jose alone at night.
6. Carry A Fake Wallet:
If someone asks you for your wallet pull out the fake wallet and throw it past them. When they run after it, run away.
7. Keep Money In Several Locations:
Don’t put all your money in your pocket or purse. It’s best not to carry much money at all, but if you have to, divide it up. I put some in my shoe, some in my bra, and some in each of my pockets. That way if I am robbed they hopefully won’t find all of the money and I can just give the money from one spot.
8. Get A Secure Bag:
If you want to walk around with a backpack get one that has a lock. It will make it more difficult for anyone to steal anything out of it. If you like to carry a purse, I recommend a cross body bag. It is too easy for someone to slip a bag off your shoulder. Also, with a cross body bag, you can position it so it rests on your front thigh so you can always see the zippers.
This is my favorite anti-theft backpack! It has a ton of storage and offers great security. Check it out on Amazon here.
I’m obsessed with this bag. It’s secretly like Hermoine’s purse and can hold so much stuff. Plus, I feel safe wearing it and it comes in a ton of fab colors. I just flip it over so the clasp to get into the bag is resting against my leg and nobody can get into it. Check it out on Amazon here.
9. Avoid Dark Areas:
Stay on roads with streetlights and avoid walking really late at night. Not to scare you, but few weeks ago here in Thomas and I were walking home around midnight (something you should never do) and passed a hotel. A tour bus was sitting outside and some people were unloading suitcases. A guy was lurking in the shadows just waiting to steal the suitcases.
10. Keep Personal Info Private:
People in Costa Rica are bound to be interested in your story. They generally really enjoy talking to tourists and they are generally extremely nice and welcoming, however to stay safe in Costa Rica you should still be cautious. Don’t reveal too much. If traveling alone, NEVER tell anyone that. I always just say I’m with my boyfriend and he is on his way.
11. Dress Minimally:
I know, it can be tempting to buy a ton of new super cute clothes to wear while on vacation, but don’t. Dress simply and conservatively. Don’t wear any flashy jewelry. If you stand out you are much more likely to be a target. I know, sometimes you’re automatically a target because of your skin color, but don’t add to that by being showy.
12. Lock Everything:
When going out make sure you lock your car, hotel room etc. Also, don’t leave anything of value in your rental car. It is not unheard of for windows to be smashed and things stolen. When driving lock your doors and don’t keep your windows rolled down all the way. We have heard stories of people getting robbed while waiting at traffic lights.
13. Copy Your Passport:
Some people say to copy credit cards as well. I don’t like to risk someone getting their hands on my credit card numbers so I copy them and leave the copies at home with someone I can trust. If something happens abroad they can always relay this information or fax it to you. I don’t carry my passport with me. To stay safe in Costa Rica I always keep it locked up in a secure spot at my hotel. You can ask your hotel to lock up your passport in their safe (if you trust the hotel). I only carry a photocopy in case I need to show it to the police for whatever reason. Of course, I always forget this when I’m in the US and try to buy alcohol and get denied because I don’t have a proper ID…grrrrr!
14. Walk Facing the Traffic:
If you walk facing traffic motorcyclists will not be able to drive up behind you and grab your bag. Where we live in Costa Rica this happens. Walking facing traffic also means you will see any cars coming and are much less likely to get hit (and people drive like maniacs here).
15. Only Use Registered Cabs:
Here in Costa Rica the registered cabs are red and have a special sticker. The cabs from the airport will be orange. However, taxis here are ridiculously expensive and I suggest taking an Uber when possible. You’ll save A LOT of money.
16. Don’t Fight Back:
If someone robs you, let them. It’s better to have to cancel your credit cards and lose some money than to fight back and get attacked. It’s just not worth it.
17. Tell Someone Where You’ll Be:
In order to stay safe in Costa Rica, you should always tell someone where you’ll be when going out. Even when traveling alone just send someone from home a quick message telling them where you are going that day.
18. Don’t Leave Your Drink Unattended:
Roofies. It can happen. If I feel a bit sketched out by a place I always order bottled beer and keep my finger over the opening when I’m not drinking it.
19. Trust Your Instincts:
If you feel hesitant about a person or a location, trust yourself. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
20. Know The Address And Phone Number Of The Embassy:
If something does happen to you, it is important to be able to get in touch with your local embassy. They are there to help you. We live near the US Embassy in San Jose and I like to think they have some secret bunker for US citizens if one of the nearby volcanos erupts or something. Thomas thinks I’m crazy, but I feel weirdly safe being near the embassy. Whatever helps me sleep at night I guess. 🙂
21. Keep Your Room Secure:
Try to get a room not on the first floor of a hotel (they are most often broken into). I always put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on my door even when I’m not there, so it looks like someone is in the room. I recent heard a great piece of advice to travel with a rubber door stopper and wedge it between your door. Even if someone breaks the lock the rubber door stopper should keep them from getting in. I haven’t tried this myself yet, but it seems like a good piece of advice.
I really hope this list does not deter you from visiting Costa Rica. As I said in the beginning, bad things can happen anywhere. If you just use some caution you should be fine and will have a great trip in paradise.
Want to feel a little more secure? Here are some great products.
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