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!

Book Your Trip: Our Go-to Travel Companies

Flights: Skyscanner is always our go-to choice for finding flights. They seem to always have the best prices on the internet. 

Transportation: We suggest a local company called Adobe Rent a Car for your rental car needs. Book through us for a 10% discount plus other great perks. For private shuttles, we always use Adobe’s transfer company for dependable service and great prices. For taxis from the Liberia airport and Guanacaste area, contact our favorite family of local registered taxi drivers for a $10 discount.

Hotels: We always use Booking.com because they almost always have the lowest rate and offer great cancellation policies. 

For home rentals, we are now using VRBO instead of Airbnb. They have much better customer service. 

Activities: It is always nice to book activities directly through local activity companies. However, lately, we have been booking most day trips through Viator due to their good cancellation policies. 

Travel Insurance: Trawick International is the best insurance we have found that will cover you for COVID related travel changes, illness, lost luggage, and more. 

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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