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Costa Rica Car Rental Scam – What to Watch Out For

costa rica car

We 100% believe that renting a car for your travels in Costa Rica is the absolute best way to get around. Having your own mode of transportation will allow you to:

– Skip expensive day tours and do things on your own

– Have the flexibility of seeing exactly what you want

– Save money (shuttles can be pricey)

However, in Costa Rica, there are some rental car companies that will scam you into spending a lot more than you planned.

We made this post to warn you about that and give you the best option for a safe, secure, experience.

The first time we rented a car in Costa Rica was horrible and unfortunately, I think most travelers have the same experience. Once we smartened up to the rental car company scams we were able to find a better way (OK actually the perfect way) of renting a car.

Here’s what you need to know before renting a car in Costa Rica so your experience can be amazing…..

Our First Experience Renting a Car in Costa Rica

costa rica car rental

A few months after we moved to Costa Rica my mom came to visit. At that time, Thomas and I did not know much about the country yet, but we figured that renting a car would be the best way to get around.

I looked on a popular search engine (I’m not going to name names but just insert any of those search engines that have flights, hotels, and car rentals on one page) and found incredibly cheap rates for renting a car. I’m talking $1 a day cheap. 

Seriously, how good is that?!? 

We were so happy that it was so cheap and we booked a car right away.

I mean, it obviously seemed a bit too good to be true, but my mom has great car insurance coverage with her credit card, so we figured we would be fine.

When my mom arrived at the San Jose Airport, Thomas and I met her and took the free shuttle provided by the rental car company to their nearby office. At the rental car company office we realized that everyone in front of us in line was arguing with the employees behind the counter.

My mom then started to panic because she wasn’t sure if she had enough proof of her insurance so that we also wouldn’t be charged more.

Sure enough, when we (finally) got to the front of the line we discovered that there is a mandatory rental car insurance which every person who rents a car in Costa Rica needs to pay. This fee added several hundred dollars on to our total.

At that point what could we do? We had already made our travel plans to La Fortuna and needed a car so we were forced to cut our losses and pay the ridiculous fee.

We were also charged a $1,000 deposit on our credit card in case something happened to the car. I later found out this is also standard in Costa Rica. 

I can understand the need for a deposit in case something happens, but with a company we already didn’t trust, we didn’t like the thought of leaving this deposit.

Anyway, the car turned out to be fine and we had a great vacation, but we were left with a really negative feeling toward rental car companies in Costa Rica.

The Process of Renting a Car

costa rica car

Alright, I want to show you what your process will be like when you rent a car and how the companies here scam you.

I just tried to rent a car on five different popular search engines and got the same results.

So here is the search page on a search engine and what I entered for my search.

rental car in costa rica

$1 a day! That’s unheard of. Booking that!

rental car in costa rica

OK so I selected my car, let’s see the total.

Perfect! It still says that it will only cost $1 per day for the car. OK, let’s go with it. So, I clicked Reserve. Let’s see what happens now!

Woot woot! The price went down to $3.60 for the four days. Amazing! OK, now we have to scroll down to reserve.

Oh I just came across this for car protection. Naw, it’s fine I have protection from my credit card company. All good. Let’s keep scrolling to reserve.

OK right before I click reserve I see this above the reserve button. “At the time of pick up, the car rental agency may charge you for additional insurance, such as liability insurance, which may be required in certain locations.” Hmmmm…..

I scrolled down a bit and found a place to click for more info. Here is what I got. More vague descriptions of possible extra charges.

I clicked again for more info. Now I get this incredibly vague reference to the mandatory liability insurance in Costa Rica.

As someone that has never rented a car before in Costa Rica I’m probably going to think I can just use my regular rental car insurance provided by my credit card (you can’t). Also, there is no information about how much this Liability Insurance will cost.

So that’s it. 

You hit “Reserve” and think you’re getting an absolute steal for your rental car. 

You arrive in sunny Costa Rica ready to start your vacation in paradise and the first encounter you end up having is at a rental car counter where you are informed that you will actually have to pay several hundred dollars more than you originally expected.

Not the best way to start your travels.

Fair? Good business tactic? I think not.

Our Research Into Costa Rica Car Rentals

road to corcovado

After this happened to us, we started doing some research on rental car companies in Costa Rica. We then came across the website for a local company called Adobe Rent A Car.

We talked to some other people in Costa Rica who we trust and discovered that they also had wonderful things to say about Adobe Car Rental in Costa Rica. 

For the next visitors (my dad and sister) we decided to try out renting with Adobe.

FIND OUT HOW TO GET UP TO 10% OFF YOUR CAR RENTAL IN COSTA RICA!

The price was obviously higher than with the other companies at first glance, but we had heard that Adobe was completely transparent with their fees and the price that they quote you is the absolute total price. 

Their price usually comes out to be cheaper than other companies once everything is added on.

Car Rental Try Number Two & Three

san jose highway

Thomas and I were completely exhausted when my dad and sister arrived in Costa Rica for their first visit in January of 2017.

The day before, we had taken a train from Hamburg Germany to Frankfurt, spent the night in Frankfurt, flew to Madrid, ran through the Madrid airport with two friends and their babies to catch our flight to San Jose, flew 11 hours to San Jose, arrived to find our luggage hadn’t made it, drove home during crazy San Jose rush hour, cleaned our apartment after not being home for three weeks, and headed the airport three hours later to pick up my dad and sister. 

Yes, we are insane.

When we arrived at the Juan Santamaria International Airport I saw that I had a text from my sister saying their flight was delayed. They eventually arrived two hours later than expected, but by this time it was almost eleven o’clock at night and I knew the Adobe office was closed by then.

I figured we would just take an Uber home and go pick up the car in the morning, but I was so surprised and thankful to find a nice man with an Adobe sign waiting for us at the San Jose airport exit.

I told him I was so surprised he was there and he said, “Well you gave us your flight number when you booked your car. We knew the flight was delayed a few hours. Of course, we would stay open to wait for you!” After such a long 48 hours I almost cried of gratitude.

We then took the free Adobe shuttle five minutes away to the Adobe office. Paid for the car with our credit card (the exact amount we had been quoted online), put down our $1,000 deposit on our card (which I actually felt fine about because I was already so impressed with them and knew by then that this was standard in Costa Rica) and drove home to finally get a good night of sleep.

Everything went absolutely perfect with the car and when we returned it ten days later my dad received his $1,000 deposit straight back on his credit card.

We then took the Adobe shuttle back to the airport, said bye to my dad and sister, waited twenty minutes for Thomas’s parents to arrive on their plane from Germany, went back to the Adobe shuttle with them (the driver looked at Thomas and I like we were crazy) and picked up our next car for five days. 

This next experience with them was also wonderful.

FIND OUT HOW TO GET UP TO 10% OFF YOUR CAR RENTAL IN COSTA RICA!

We have since had countless people come to visit us in Costa Rica and we always suggest that they rent with Adobe. 

Every single one of them has had an amazing experience! 

We really feel that they provide the best car rental in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica Rental Car Insurance

So, now you know what you need to look out for when renting a car. We want to explain a bit about the whole Costa Rica car rental insurance to you.

There are two mandatory rental car insurance in Costa Rica. One is called Liability Insurance and one is called Car Protection.

When you book a car through Adobe you will have three different protection options. 

Let’s go through each one!

Liability Protection

This insurance covers basic damages to third parties property up to $20,000 and basic coverage of third party injury or death up to $100,000 with 0% deductible. This insurance is required by law in Costa Rica. Every single person who rents a car needs to purchase Liability Protection.

When you book your car through our site using Adobe, the Liability Protection is included in your quoted price (You will see it checked off in your rental car booking). 

Most other rental car companies in Costa Rica do not include the Liability Protection in their quote.

Car Protection

This insurance covers:

-Direct car damages, collision, and rollovers

-Total or partial theft of the rental car

Car Protection is also required by Costa Rica law. This means when you rent a car with Adobe you need to check off the box for Car Protection.

Adobe rent a car

Adobe will allow you to waive the Car Protection fees if you are covered for car protection in Costa Rica by your credit card company.

Some rental car companies in Costa Rica bundle these two types of insurance together so you have to pay the car protection even if you are already covered by your credit card.

Just 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.

Total Protection

This is the final type of car protection which is offered through Adobe. This insurance covers a tow truck, road assistance, damage to things like windows and tires, and a 4 million dollar coverage for third party injury or death. 

You are NOT required to purchase Total Protection by Costa Rica law, but it is highly recommended.

We find it makes us feel more comfortable knowing we have full peace of mind over our car rental. 

Costa Rica Car Rental Deposit

la fortuna road

There is a $1,000 deposit on your car rental. This is standard with every rental car company in Costa Rica. However, we have heard of some companies charging much more or not even telling you about the deposit until you arrive.

In fact, in the rental demonstration, I did above, I couldn’t find a single word about the deposit.

We suggest paying this deposit with your credit card because it is just a hold and will be returned immediately to you when you return your car if everything is OK. 

You can also do this on your debit card, but it can take a few weeks after you return your car for the bank to process this and refund the $1,000 on to your account.

Just make sure your credit card limit is high enough for this. We wouldn’t want you to arrive and have to put down this deposit and then not have any money left for your trip because of your credit card limit.

Car Rentals in Costa Rica Discount

driving in costa rica

We started this blog because we think that traveling in Costa Rica is an amazing experience that we want you all to have, but we want it to ACTUALLY be an amazing experience. 

This means knowing how to save money, how to not get scammed, knowing the best places to visit, and more!

That being said, we reached out to Adobe Rent a Car and asked if they would like to partner with us to give you a discount on renting a car. 

They were extremely receptive and have given us a 10% and 20% discount depending on season and demand to pass on to you all.

FIND OUT HOW TO GET UP TO 10% OFF YOUR CAR RENTAL IN COSTA RICA!

The rate you will get by booking through our site is not only 10% to 20% cheaper than the rate on the Adobe site, but we also have some great bonuses for you. If you book your car through our site you also get:

-a second driver for free (it’s usually $4 per day)

-0% deductible as part of the Liability Protection (it’s usually 20%)

Free roof racks to use upon request

– Free booster or car seat upon request

– Discounted GPS

….and more!

Just keep in mind that there is a $1,000 deposit and that you do need to pay for Car Protection unless you are covered by your credit card for car protection in Costa Rica. You will just need to bring proof of this to show Adobe when you pick up your car.

Also, don’t forget to bring your driver’s license!

Book Your Car Now ↓

If you would like more info about our discount before booking with Adobe, just click here.

FIND OUT HOW TO GET UP TO 10% OFF YOUR CAR RENTAL IN COSTA RICA!

If you have questions about renting a car leave them in the comment section below. We are more than happy to help you out.

You might also find these posts helpful:

Costa Rica Transportation – A Complete Guide

Costa Rica Driving Directions – How to Easily Get Around

Note: This post is completely our opinion here at Costa Rica Vibes and does not reflect the beliefs of Adobe Rent A Car. We have partnered with Adobe on an affiliate basis. This means that if you rent a car through our website we will receive a percentage of the profits.

This allows us to keep making great content for you on budget travel in Costa Rica. You also get a discount and a car rental through a company we love. All disputes with your car rental are between you and Adobe.

LIKED THIS GUIDE TO COSTA RICA CAR RENTAL? WE’D LOVE IF YOU’D PIN IT!

About Us

We’re Thomas (the German) and Sarah (the US-er).

We met in Virginia, moved to Germany, and now live in sunny Costa Rica. It was a spontaneous decision to move here, but it was the best decision!

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42 Responses

    1. Hi Dacia, The discount is automatically applied when you book through us. If you check on the Adobe site and our site you will see the price difference. Just note that this discount is only for the car itself and not for the insurance. Also, when you pick up our car Adobe will see that you booked through us and will add in the 0% deductible and free second driver.
      Let me know if you have more questions!

  1. Does Adobe have limited hours they are open. Our flight lands around 13:3 but it is showing me 16:00 is the earliest we can pick it up and earliest to return, but our flight leaves at 14:30, so we would need to drop off around 12:00/

    1. Hi Jessica, You are flying into San Jose, right? The Adobe office there is open every day from 5am until 10pm. The office is actually located about 5 minutes from the airport but just enter your flight number in the reservation form and they will be waiting for you at the airport to drive you over with their shuttle.
      And if you have any trouble booking you can always contact Adobe directly and just let them know you would like to get the Costa Rica Vibes discount with your booking.
      You can call them from North America toll-free at: +1(855)861-1250 from 8am to 5pm Central Time
      Let me know if you have any other questions! I’m happy to help πŸ™‚

  2. We just had a terrible experience with BUDGET – can honestly say they made us want to turn around and get back on the plane never to set foot in CR again. So many car rental companies out there – DO NOT rent a car from Budget. In the end they scammed us to make more money off the car we rented. They used a maximum age rule (arbitrary rule) and wouldn’t give us the car we already paid for for 4 weeks. Left us stranded at the airport. Had to spend money on another hotel as we couldn’t get to the one we booked further away. Horrendous experience. Sharing to save others – please do yourself a favor and stay far away from budget. NEVER rent from them. They don’t deserve your money. It might take a while to get over this as all we can thinkTo be honest has single handedly destroyed the reputation of Costa Rica. I have travelled to 40 countries and will NEVER return to CR. Shame really, that one company can destroy a country’s amazing reputation.

    1. Hi Jewel,
      Ugh! I’m so sorry that happened to you. It really is a shame that such bad service can ruin the reputation of Costa Rica like that. That is also why we have this article up. We just want people to have the best experience possible and not get stuck in situations like that. Thank you for commenting though to make other people aware of what to look out for/avoid.

  3. Hi! So the $1000 deposit – what does that cover? If there is an accident do they keep the deposit or does the insurance cover that? I don’t want to have to pay $1000 if someone else hits me or breaks into my car. Thanks!

    1. Hi Emily, Basically how it works is that the $1,000 deposit is connected with the Car Protection Insurance (LDW). If something happens to the car you will be charged for damages but the maximum you will be required to pay is $1,00o. In other words, if the damage is $200 then you will only pay $200. If the damage is $4,000 then you will only ever be charged a maximum of $1,000.
      In Costa Rica, this, unfortunately, applies even if an accident was not your fault or if someone breaks into your car. This is the same with all rentals.

    1. Hi,
      You need to be 23 to rent with Adobe. However, check out Vamos. They rent to anyone over 18. Let me know if you need any other help!

  4. Hey
    thanks for the great website. Lots of great tips
    Question re Adobe car rental – does it include unlimited mileage? I was looking at Sixt and they are clear its unlimited mileage but I don’t see any mention of that on Adobe’s site.t
    thanks!
    Peggy

    1. Hi Peggy, Yes all Adobe rentals include unlimited mileage. Let me know if you have any other questions as you plan your trip!

  5. Hello! This was a wonderfully helpful article! We will definitely be booking through your sight with Adobe. I’m curious if you have any thoughts on whether or not to get one that has 4WD? Someone suggested that but I believe we’re primarily staying on main roads (Arenal, Monteverde, and Dominical). Any and all advice is greatly appreciated! Thank you!

    1. Hi Kayla! Sorry, I just saw this. 4wd will definitely be helpful in Monteverde, but you can get by with just a normal SUV as well. Especially because I’m assuming you are coming sometime in the next few months and everything will be dry again. You won’t have to deal with overly muddy and slippery roads. In Arenal and Dominical you will also be fine with just a normal SUV. Just dont book any Airbnb’s down tiny dirt roads. That always seems to be a problem in Dominical and La Fortuna.

  6. Hi, last month we booked our flight + car rental as a bundle through a travel site, but I didn’t see any extra charges. Now I’m worried….Any recommendations?

    1. Hi Dee
      Did the car price seem excessively cheap? If yes, I’d suggest contacting the rental car company directly and ask them to give you the total price. If the price was just a few dollars a day, the extra insurance costs were not included. Let me know if we can help you with anything else! πŸ™‚

  7. Hi just book a car with adobe through your website. I saw in a previous post that the 20%is taken off when you actually paid for the car is that correct? Also, the extra driver and cellphone, how do we apply that? Is that also, when we arrive at the adobe office.

    1. Hi Brianna
      The 10 to 20% off is included in the rate you got from booking through us. In other words, it is already applied. If you would like to double check you can look at the Adobe site directly to compare the rate for the dates and car you rented. You will see that their rate is 10 to 20% higher. https://www.adobecar.com/en/ Just note that the discount is only for the car, not insurance. Unfortunately, Adobe can’t give us a discount for the insurance.
      Also, everything else is automatically applied. Adobe will see that you booked through us and will automatically give you a cell phone to use and will ask you which extra drivers you would like to add when you pick up your car.
      Let us know if you have any other questions as you plan your trip! We are happy to help! πŸ™‚

  8. Hi!
    Thank you for your post. Would you happen to know if they would charge more for people renting cars under the age of 25?

    1. Hi! The minimum age to rent is 23. As long as you are over 23 years old there are no extra charges. πŸ™‚ Let us know if you have more questions!

  9. Hi, do you know if Adobe will deliver to any address within a 12-mile radius (like an AirBNB)? And if they do, does it cost extra for them to do this?

    1. Hi Stef, that is no problem! They can deliver to an Airbnb within 12 miles. You might just need to email them a map location so they know where to go after you make your reservation.
      Let me know if you need any other help!

    1. Hi Hector,
      Yes, that is no problem. Just put your hotel name and time you would like your car dropped off in your reservation and you will be all set.
      Let us know if you have any other questions!

  10. Hello. I want to know if I can rent a car even if my flight is program to land ant 21:55 or do I have to wait for the next day? It’s an international flight

    1. Hi Hector! If you rent from Adobe and include your flight info in your reservation they will stay open for you. However, if your hotel has a free shuttle nearby you could also rent for the next morning. Adobe will deliver the car for you for free within 12 miles of the airport. In your reservation just put which hotel you are staying at and when you would like the car delivered.
      I hope that helps! Let me know if you have any other questions as you plan your trip.

  11. Following the link and submitting dates, and selecting a car, it shows the mandatory liability insurance still at a 20% deductible. Is the 0% deductible still available with the special discounts you have arranged with Adobe?

    1. Hi Andrew! Unfortunately Adobe was unable to change that in their computer system specifically for us. However, it still applies with our discount. When you go to pick up your car Adobe will see that you booked through us and will automatically apply the 0% deductible.:)

      However, I completely understand it is not always easy to trust what you read on the internet. If you would like to be reassured, please email Adobe at [email protected] and they will get back to usually within 24 hours.

      Feel free to message us if you have any more questions as you plan your trip! We are happy to help πŸ™‚

  12. Hi there! Just wondering if this discount/ link to book the car was active and reliable still? Not sure when this was written. And you’re saying any rental car company in CR will definitely charge the $1000 deposit, it’s like a rule? Thanks so much for your insight! Such a well-written article!

    1. Hi Kylie,
      The discount is still active. In fact, if you’re booking your car for travels soon, the discount is really high right now because it is slower travel season here.
      Also, I do not know of any rental car companies that don’t charge the $1,000 deposit here in Costa Rica. You may be able to find one, but I don’t think so. It is a standard practice.
      I’m happy we could help you out! Let me know if you need any other tips as you plan your trip!

  13. I’d love to take advantage of the free car seat, but am not sure how to specify that we need a convertible car seat, not an infant seat or a booster. Our son is two and we use a rear-facing convertible car seat at home that we will travel with if necessary, but I would love not to…

    1. Hi Hanna,
      I’ll check on that for you with Adobe and let you know by later today. I am not sure how much variety Adobe has as far as the car seats go.

    2. Hi Hanna
      I was able to get in touch with my contact at Adobe and he said they only have three types of seats; infant seats, baby seats, and booster seat. I am thinking the middle one would probably be fine for you, but he said it is not rear facing. Your best bet is probably to bring your own if you are a bit hesitant. Sorry! If you decide to use Adobe’s seat, just indicate in your reservation in the comment section that you have a two-year-old and need the middle size car seat. Adobe will take care of it. Hope that helps! Let us know if you have any other questions as you plan your trip!

  14. enjoy the story great info thanks for sharing definitely going to use your blog next time to rent a vehicle.

  15. Wow, you guys are really insightful in this rental business. Thank you for all the details. It’s always best to read about other peoples experiences and recommendations.

  16. I’ve never rented through Adobe in CR but Vamos is the best and most trusted I’ve experienced. Been traveling to CR twice a year for the past three years.

  17. You guys are awesome! We are pretty much experts at renting carrs in Europe now and know what to expect with the upsell/insurance tactics etc. but we’d be kinda clueless if we ever get to CR (I visitied 10 years ago with my ex and I am constantly goading my now-hubby that we NEED to go!) so I will definitely use you guys and thanks for all your effort in putting this post/the deal together!

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