San Jose Costa Rica Airport (SJO) Arrival and Departure Guide

Are you ready to fly in or out of the San Jose Costa Rica Airport?

The San Jose Costa Rica Airport (SJO) is one of two primary international airports in this beautiful paradise country. The official name of the airport is Juan Santamaria International Airport.

In this post, we will walk you through everything you need to know before your journey to or from SJO. From entry requirements, ground transportation, and currency exchange to border control, nearby hotels, and airport facilities, we have got you covered! 

We live less than 20 minutes away from the San Jose Airport and we fly at least twice a year to the United States or Europe. Plus, we have had countless friends and family visit us on international flights to Costa Rica. So, by default, we know the airport and how things operate very well.

Fasten your seatbelts, put your tray table in its upright position, and get ready to navigate the ins and outs of the San Jose International Airport.

Costa Rica Entry Requirements

Costa Rica is its own country. You will need a valid passport in order to fly here. 

Keep in mind that your passport must be valid for the length of your stay in Costa Rica plus one day. 

I suggest making sure your passport is valid for at least three months from the date you will arrive in Costa Rica to avoid any issues. 

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 an airline ticket (just print out or take a screenshot the confirmation email) or a bus ticket with your passport number on it.

If you are flying to Costa Rica for a vacation you are likely all set because you will have booked a round-trip flight.

North America and European nationals do not need a special visa for entry to the country. However, no matter where you are coming from, you do need a passport for Costa Rica entry.

There are some nationalities that will need a visa.

You can read all about Costa Rica entry requirements here.

You do not need immunizations for Costa Rica unless you are traveling from a country that has a problem with Yellow Fever (South American countries and parts of Africa).

When entering from one of these places you will be required to show proof of a Yellow Fever shot.

What to Do if You Have a One Way Ticket to Costa Rica

If you are planning to backpack through Central America or are booking a one-way flight for any other reason, you still need to show proof that you will be departing the country within 90 days.

I often book one-way flights to San Jose, 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 in your departure city that you will be leaving Costa Rica within 90 days.

San Jose Costa Rica Airport (SJO) Arrival and Departure Guide

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.

Ticket prices are usually under $30 for 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.

However, sometimes airlines might question this and give you a hard time about it.

Alternatively, you can purchase a flight with free cancellation from Costa Rica back to your home country. You can then cancel your flight after entering Costa Rica. 

Choosing San Jose or Liberia International Airport

costa rica airports maps

There are two international airports in the country. We suggest flying into San Jose if exploring the Caribbean coast, central Pacific, or South Pacific.

We suggest flying into Liberia International Airport if exploring the Guanacaste Province.

You can find out more in our guide to choosing a Costa Rica airport.

Arrivals at the San Jose Airport 

Landing in San Jose is really pretty (in my opinion). 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. Due to the mountains and occasional active volcanos, the plane might make a few curves toward 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. 

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.

This is the biggest airport in Costa Rica and tons of international flights come and go each day.

Border Control at SJO

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but be warned, the border control line at the SJO airport can be a total disaster show. I suggest going as fast as possible from the plane to Border Control.

If you need to use the bathroom try to do that before you get off the plane so you can straight up run to border control and beat the rest of your plane. 

There is also a bathroom in the baggage claim area if you can hold it for a bit.

San Jose Costa Rica Airport (SJO) Arrival and Departure Guide

The lines have been OK for me the past few times I’ve flown, but I’ve also heard nightmare stories as well.

In fact, my mom flew in one time and waited for two hours in the border control line because a lot of the Customs Agents had gone on their lunch break and a plane had been delayed. So two flights to San Jose Costa Rica arrived at the same time which caused a major backup.

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

They all speak English, so don’t worry about trying to speak with them in Spanish. 

However, they will, of course, appreciate it if you do make the effort to try and speak Spanish.

They will then typically ask you three questions.

1.”How long are you staying for?”

Just tell them the date you will be departing (don’t forget this date needs to be within 90 days of your arrival date). The border control officer might also ask to see a return ticket. Make sure you have this printed out or easily accessible on your phone and ready to show as needed.

2. “What is your job?”

They ask this because they need to put it into their system. 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.

3. “Where are you staying tonight?”

They just want to know the name of the hotel you are staying at for your first night to type into their computer. If you are staying at an Airbnb, just tell them the name of the Airbnb.

If you are staying with friends just ask them ahead of time for the name of a hotel nearby. 

We always give friends and family who visit the name of a hotel. This is easier than trying to explain an address.

Once the Customs officer is 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.

Just double-check after they stamp your passport. I’d hate for you to be planning on staying for two months in Costa Rica and only get 30 days written in for some reason.

Baggage Claim

sjo baggage claim

After going through customs you will come out to a duty-free area. If you would like to buy any hard liquor for your trip, this is the place to do it cheaply.

You will then walk into the baggage claim area. We find that it can be a bit slow for bags to start coming out.

On the off chance your bags do not appear, there are counters for all the airlines in the baggage claim area. 

What Should I Do if My Luggage is Lost? 

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. There are no addresses in Costa Rica so you will need to write down the name of the hotel and town.

If you are staying with friends, it is best to ask them to send you detailed directions to their house ahead of time. It is good to have this written down just in case your luggage is misplaced.

You will also be asked for contact info (your email address or a phone number where they can reach you).

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 Heymondo for travel days because they cover things such as lost luggage, delayed or canceled flights etc.

Exchanging Currency to Colones

costa rica currency exchange airport

There is a stand in the baggage claim area where you can exchange your currency into colones. We DO NOT suggest using this. You will not get the best exchange rate. 

There is also an ATM located in the baggage claim area. Typically, this will give you a much better exchange rate. 

In our opinion, your best bet is to ask your home bank to exchange currency for you. It is best to ask for this about two weeks before your trip to Costa Rica so that they have time to order the currency for you, if needed. 

Alternatively, there are ATM’s located throughout the country or you can use your credit card.

You can find out more in our guide to currency in Costa Rica.

Getting a Costa Rican Prepaid SIM Card

If you need to pick up a pre-paid SIM card to use for your phone there is a stand at the baggage claim area of the airport for Movistar.

In our opinion, your best option is to see if your normal cell phone provider has an international option that you can use for the extent of your stay in Costa Rica.

We have known so many people who have had issues using a Costa Rican SIM card in their phone. This is usually due to the fact that their phone is not actually unlocked for international usage.

You can read our full post about using your cell phone.

Leaving the Airport

After you get your luggage it is time to leave the airport. Yay! 

Before exiting the airport you have to put your luggage on one last conveyor belt for it to be checked.

Once your luggage comes out from the final check, you are good to go.

Welcome to Costa Rica!

Ground Transportation

costa rica airport exit

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

I always just say “No, gracias” to each one and keep walking.

Car Rental Pick Up

adobe shuttle

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. 

Adobe asks for your flight number when you book your vehicle. This allows them to make sure that someone is waiting to greet you even if your flight ends up being delayed.

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San Jose Costa Rica Airport (SJO) Arrival and Departure Guide

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You then will take a free shuttle to the nearby rental car office to pick up your car. 

Most San Jose International Airport car rentals are located off-site.

Check out our guide to car rentals from the San Jose Airport for more details.

Note: We suggest renting your car with Adobe because they are the most trustworthy and customer service-oriented car rental company we have found in Costa Rica. We asked if they would like to work together and they said “yes!”.

So, by booking through our website you can save 10% on your car rental plus a lot of other great perks.

You can find out more and reserve your car in our Adobe Car Rental Guide. When you reserve your car from the airport you want to use San Jose Airport (SJO) as your pickup place.

Shared Shuttle

If you would like to take a shared shuttle to your destination, that is always an option as well. We suggest this for couples or solo travelers that don’t need an entire shuttle for themselves.

We like the website Bookaway for finding the most complete selection of Costa Rica shuttles for reputable local companies.

Private Shuttle

If you are taking a private shuttle from the airport or a shuttle to your hotel, there should be a representative waiting outside of the airport exit for you. They usually carry a sign with their company name or your name.

Get a private shuttle quote to anywhere in Costa Rica

Public Bus

There is a public bus line that stops near the airport which will bring you into downtown San Jose, but if you are not familiar with the country it can be a bit confusing. I still sometimes get lost taking the bus after living here for several years.

If you do opt to take the bus, just go to the other side of the airport parking garage and you will see a bus stop on the side of the highway.

You do not need to cross the higheway. If you want to go into San Jose you are already on the correct side of the road.

There are several buses running by here so your best bet is to ask someone else who is waiting which bus you need to take.

The buses only accept colones (as far as I know) so I suggest buying something small at one of the food stands right outside of the airport exit and getting change in colones. The bus will only cost you about 500 colones (about $1).

Taxis

As mentioned above, when you exit the airport there will be many people asking if you need a taxi. These people are not always legal taxi drivers. Illegal taxi drivers have been known to drastically overcharge customers.

Instead, look for the row of orange taxis with a green triangle on the driver’s side door. Occasionally some red taxis with a yellow triangle will be here as well. These orange and red taxis are the legal taxis in Costa Rica.

taxis san jose airport

Make sure the taxi driver puts their meter on when they start driving so you do not get overcharged.

For more info please read our complete guide to taxies in Costa Rica.

Where the San Jose Airport is Located

The airport is referred to as the San Jose Airport, but it is actually located right on the border of San Jose and Alajuela. Alajuela is a large city to the west of San Jose.

The traffic in this area tends to be really bad, especially during rush hour in the morning and early evenings. 

I tell you this because this is important to keep in mind when deciding if you should spend a night in this area at the beginning and/or end of your trip. 

This is also important to keep in mind when considering ground transportation and nearby hotels.

Here is the San Jose Airport on Google Maps

Should I Spend a Night Near the International Airport After Landing in Costa Rica? 

I know you are probably eager to get out of the city and head to the beach or jungle. But, there are a few reasons why we suggest considering spending the night at a hotel near the airport.

– The sun sets in Costa Rica between 5:15pm and 5:45pm all year round. If you arrive after sun set and plan to rent a car, you might consider spending the night near the airport. It can be difficult to navigate driving at night in a foreign country for the first time. The roads here can be kind of crazy.

– If you plan to rent a car and are dealing with major jet lag and a time difference, you might want to spend a night near the airport.

We have done that lovely long flight from Europe to Costa Rica many times, and it is always so draining. You will likely arrive sometime in the afternoon, which will be late at night in your mind.

If this is the case for you, your best option might be to find a nice hotel to relax in for a night and hit the road in the morning.

If you do end up spending a night or two in this area, there is plenty to do. We suggest driving into the hills above the town of Alajuela to visit Poas Volcano, Hacienda Alsacia, or La Paz Waterfall Gardens.

Note: If you rent your car with Adobe they are happy to deliver you car for free within 12 miles of their office. That means that if you need to spend the night near the airport you can arrange for them to deliver your car in the morning and then you can easily hit the road onto your next destination.

Hotels Near the Juan Santamaria International Airport

There are plenty of hotel options near the airport. As I already mentioned, the airport is loacted outside of San Jose city proper. I do not suggest staying in downtown San Jose unless you have a reason to want to go downtown. The traffic is just too crazy.

All of the hotels I listed are within a 10 minute drive of the airport. I also marked places that have a free airport shuttle.

High End

Costa Rica Marriott Hotel Hacienda Belen

AC Hotel by Marriott Heredia Belen (free airport shuttle)

Residencias Cityzen cerca del Aeropuerto (free airport shuttle)

Mid-Range

Casa Maria Aeropuerto

Casa Garitas GuestHouse Pura Vida (free airport shuttle)

Holiday Inn Express San Jose Airport (free airport shuttle)

Budget Friendly

Alexander b&b

Juan Santa María Around

Our Final Tips for Landing at SJO

– Don’t forget to 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.

– There is free wifi that you can connect to in the airport. The network is called SJO Free WiFi.

– If your flight arrives late at night and you are looking for some food there is a Denny’s which is open from 6am until midnight located about a two-minute drive from the airport.

We wouldn’t typically recommend Denny’s, but it is one of the only restaurants near San Jose airport that is open late at night.

– There are some toll booths on the highway near the airport if you are heading towards the Pacific coast. They do accept dollars if you do not have colones.

We suggest paying with a $10 bill because they will give you change in colones. This change will be enough to pay for the rest of the tolls.

– Costa Rica is part of Central Standard Time. The country never changes their clocks during daylight savings. If you would like to know more, check out our guide to Costa Rica time.

– If you are a US citizen, we suggest registering with STEP before flying. This is a free program put on by the US government that allows them to easily notify you and get in contact with you if a natural disaster or something happens while you are traveling in Costa Rica.

-If you need to check the San Jose airport flight status of arrivals click here.

-If you would like to book your flights to Costa Rica, we have a full guide to finding cheap flights which includes info about our favorite search engines and the cheapest time of year to visit Costa Rica. But, we can just tell you, we almost always find the best deals on Skyscanner.

San Jose Airport Domestic Terminal

There is a domestic terminal located at the Juan Santamaria International Airport, but it is not located in the same building. It will take you about five minutes to walk to.

Keep this in mind when booking any domestic flights because you will need to give yourself a decent amount of time between your international flight arrival and domestic flight departure.

We created a guide to domestic flights in Costa Rica to walk you through where you can fly to, how to book a domestic flight, and what to expect at the San Jose domestic flight terminal.

Departures from SJO

At the end of your Costa Rica vacation, it will be time to leave paradise and head back home. Flying out of the Juan SantamarÍa International Airport is typically a stress-free experience.

Here is what you can expect….

Ground Transportation to the Airport

We suggest staying near the airport the night before your flight if your flight is sometime in the early morning.

If you have to return your rental car, most rental car companies open at 5am. They will then take you on their shuttle to the airport. 

If you rent with Adobe they will come pick your car up during office hours if your hotel is within 12 miles of their office.

If you have an early morning flight we suggest having them pick your car up the night before so you don’t have to think about returning it in the morning. Then take the shuttle provided by your hotel to the airport.

On the airport website they recommend that you arrive three hours before your flight, but I think that is really excessive. 

Two hours will be plenty of time unless you know that you have an issue you need to sort out at the airport.

Checking in for Your Flight from SJO

san jose departures gate

We always suggest checking in online before your flight if possible. This will save you time when you arrive at the airport. 

If you are unable to check in before your flight, there are check-in computer stations in the main departure check in area.

If you need to go to the airline counter to drop off your luggage, you usually won’t have to contend with long lines, but you never know.

Departure Tax

Every person that flies out of SJO needs to pay a $29 departure tax. However, almost every airline includes this in their ticket price.

Here is a list of all the airlines that include this tax in their ticket price. If your airline is NOT on this list, you will need to pay this tax when you enter the airport.

  • Aeromexico
  • Air Canada
  • Air France
  • Air Panama
  • Alaskan Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • Avianca Group
  • British Airways
  • Condor
  • Copa Airlines
  • Delta Airlines
  • Edelweiss
  • Iberia
  • Interjet
  • JetBlue Airways
  • KLM
  • Lufthansa
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Spirit Airlines
  • United Airlines
  • Volaris Costa Rica
  • Volaris Mexico

The tax desk is to the right when you enter the airport.

Security at SJO

Security is usually a breeze. The line always looks long when I’m there but it moves quickly. Normal rules apply such as restrictions on liquids and gels, removing your laptop etc. 

There are plenty of people working at security and they are usually really nice and helpful if you have questions. 

Also, you usually do not have to take off your shoes. I always just ask before I take them off.

Duty Free Shops

sjo duty free shops

Once you go through security you will enter a large duty free area. This is a great place to buy souvenirs.

I think their rates are a bit higher than you would get in some other shops throughout the country, but usually not by too much.

They sell a variety of Britt Coffee products, which I think make great gifts to bring back home.

I’m not usually someone who shops in airports, but the shops at the San Jose airport are my favorite! They have some really nice products from local companies which are great to bring back as souvenirs for your loved ones (or yourself).

Two of my favorites that you should check out in the airport are products from Holalola (cutest Costa Rica themed posters and prints that I’m obsessed with) and cueropapel&tijera (they make super pretty leather bags and I want them all).

Places to Eat

For such a small airport there are plenty of food options and some cute stores.

san jose airport food court

The airport was recently renovated and there is now a nice food court near the duty free area as well as a smaller food court near gate #16.

In the food court there is a California Pizaa Kitchen, a burger place called TORO that serves burgers, and a health food restaurant called Avokato Fresh & Healthy. In my opinion, the California Pizza Kitchen is the only decent option that doesn’t charge insane prices for very little food.

There are also a few sit down restaurants throughout the terminal as well as plenty of places to grab a sandwich and some coffee.

If you would like a beer, there is a place called Bar Imperial located across from gate #9.

Seating Areas at Gates

San Jose Costa Rica Airport (SJO) Arrival and Departure Guide

The gate areas are big and there are plenty of seats for you to relax in.

I like getting a spot near the full-length windows so I can watch all the action happening outside with the pretty mountain in the background.

Just note, there is a huge seating area near gate 1, but it seems to always be freezing. If you can, you might want to avoid sitting there.

Departures from San Jose Costa Rica Airport Final Tips

-There is free wifi in the airport. The network is SJO Free WIFI.

– You can check your current flight departure status here.

– There are water fountains in the airport if you need to fill up your water bottle

– There is a currency exchange stand in the departure terminal if you need to change colones back to your currency. However, they don’t give the best rate.

san jose costa rica airport infograph

Conclusion: SJO Airport

In conclusion, the San Jose Costa Rica airport is centrally located, easy to navigate, and well organized. Overall, you should hopefully have a pleasant experience here at the start or end of your Costa Rica vacation.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you out!

You Might Also Like:

San Jose Airport or Liberia Airport Guide – Get all the details on which airport is best for your vacation

San Jose Airport Rental Car: Everything you need to know when booking a car

Guide to the Best San Jose Airport Hotels: This will give you all the details you need on where to spend the night after you arrive in Costa Rica or before you fly out of the country

Costa Rica Domestic Airlines – Find a Flight

Costa Rica Transportation Guide – How to get around the country with ease

Cheap Flights to Costa Rica: Get the Best Deals

Costa Rica Travel Details: What You Need to Know

๐Ÿš— Should I rent a car in Costa Rica?

Having a rental car will give you the most flexibility when traveling in Costa Rica. This will also allow you to take fun day trips on your own.

๐Ÿ„๐Ÿฝ How can I book things to do?

We find that Viator tends to have the most comprehensive selection of activities with secure booking and good cancellation policies.

๐Ÿ I’m overwhelmed with planning. Can you help?

Of course! I suggest joining our Facebook group for specific questions and head to our Start Here Page to get started planning.

โœˆ๏ธ What is the best way to book a flight?

Usually, we have the best luck finding great prices with Skyscanner. Check for flights to both San Jose Airport (SJO) and Liberia Airport (LIR).

๐Ÿ›๏ธ What is the best way to book my Costa Rica hotels?

We highly suggest Booking.com for hotel bookings and typically use VRBO for Costa Rica vacation rentals.

๐Ÿ—ฃ๏ธWhat is the main language in Costa Rica?

The main language in Costa Rica is Spanish. Most people working in tourism speak at least some English.

๐Ÿ’ฐ What is the currency in Costa Rica?

The currency used in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colรณn (CRC). However, the US dollar is widely accepted in most tourist areas

๐Ÿ“ž What is the best way to stay connected?

An eSIM from Airalo is the easiest way to get 4G data while traveling in Costa Rica.

๐ŸŒด Is Costa Rica safe?

Generally, Costa Rica is considered safe for tourists. However, like any travel destination, it’s best to use caution and be aware of your surroundings.

๐Ÿ›‚ Do you need a passport to go to Costa Rica?

Yes, Costa Rica is its own country. You will need a passport to visit.