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Costa Rica¹ is a travelers paradise, with unspoiled natural scenery, awesome wildlife, sunny beaches and vibrant cities. Adventure travelers can check out volcanoes and impressive waterfalls, sun seekers can choose beaches in the Caribbean or Pacific, and those looking for culture or cuisine are well catered for, too.
Before you pack your bags, though, you’re probably wondering if it’s safe to visit Costa Rica at the moment. This guide covers all you need to know about how safe Costa Rica is for American visitors, and where to get updates on Costa Rica travel restrictions. We’ll also introduce the Wise Multi-currency Account as your perfect partner for international travel all over the globe.
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Most trips to Costa Rica are trouble free — but the best way to stay safe no matter where in the world you’re headed is to do some research in advance to know what sensible precautions to take.
Let’s get a quick overview before we dive into the details and answer the key question: is Costa Rica safe for Americans?
|Transport & Taxi
In recent years, Costa Rica has experienced an increase in some types of violent crime, including homicides. Work is being done to target the causes of these crimes, and in reality most travelers will never be impacted by serious offences.
The more common issues for travelers in Costa Rica include petty crimes like theft and pickpocketing, scams and occasional muggings. As with almost anywhere, being aware of your surroundings, staying alert and not taking any unnecessary risks are essential — here are some tips:
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Common scams in Costa Rica tend to involve someone offering help to a traveler and then demanding a payment or tip. This help may be with finding your hotel, carrying your bags or arranging a tour. While people in Costa Rica are often super friendly, keeping your wits about you is just a smart precaution.
Other issues — which are also common in other countries — can include taxis with ‘broken’ meters, or persistent hawkers who can be a nuisance. It’s also worth knowing that some more serious problems have been reported where drivers are targeted by criminals who cause a minor accident and then rob or kidnap their victim. If you choose to drive in Costa Rica do not stop in rural or isolated places.
No matter where in the world you’re traveling, you can keep your money safe with a Wise Multi-currency Account. There’s no need to carry large amounts of cash when you travel, and no need to worry about getting ripped off on currency exchange either.
Just download the Wise app, and open your international account in just a few steps. You’ll be able to top up in dollars, switch to the currencies you need using the real mid-market exchange rate, and spend and make withdrawals with your linked Wise debit card. Manage your money on the go, get instant transaction notifications, and freeze or unfreeze your Wise card from the app any time you like. Easy.
Costa Rica is safe for solo female travelers. The US Department of State issues general advice and guidance to female travelers online, including³:
- Get to know local customs and norms where you’re headed
- Stay away from dark, isolated areas at night
- Be wary of sharing details of your plans or itineraries with strangers
- Use facial expressions and body language to help create boundaries and fend off unwanted attention.
In short — when you’re traveling solo you’ll want to take the same basic safety steps that you take at home.
On the whole, Costa Rica is a safe place to visit. As we’ll discuss in a moment, the main risks tend to be around petty thefts in busy tourist areas. So while you’re not likely to be able to avoid all busy and popular tourist haunts, simply picking a destination that’s on the quieter side can make a lot of difference. Here are some great places to consider where you’ll get the best of Costa Rica without necessarily getting stuck in the crowds — you can also browse some fabulous itineraries on the Visit Costa Rica website for inspiration⁴.
On the Caribbean coast, Puerto Viejo is a perfect beach destination with surfing, sun and poolside cocktails. It’s got a laid back, alternative vibe and as a smaller town doesn’t get so packed out with tourists. This means that while you’ll be able to find bars, restaurants and everything else you might want to make your trip enjoyable, it stays pretty safe.
Over on the Pacific coast, in Guanacaste Province, Tamarindo is another solid bet for a safe trip to Costa Rica. With a reputation for being one of the safest places in Costa Rica, Tamarindo offers great beaches — and if you’re there at the right time of the year you might even get to see leatherback turtles.
Monteverde is one of the top ecotourism destinations in Costa Rica, and a safe place to visit. The main draw is the cloud forest where you can trek and tour, and take in the stunning natural scenery. Although it’s possible to hike and visit alone, you’ll get more out of it by hiring a local guide, and can contribute to the local economy at the same time as spotting the wildlife.
It’s worth knowing that many of the crimes reported by US tourists in Costa Rica are pickpocketings which take place in busy, crowded tourist areas. This is even more prevalent during the holiday season when crowds are bigger.
Keep your wits about you when you’re in a bustling crowd, particularly in bigger cities — and consider skipping Quepos if you can. As a popular and busy tourist destination, there are fairly high rates of minor crimes reported here.
In terms of more serious potential issues, the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) Costa Rica report suggests visitors avoid downtown San José after dark — in fact US officials are prohibited from staying in certain downtown hotels due to crime and safety concerns.
Make sure you’re familiar with what to do in an emergency when you travel. While nobody wants to think about things going wrong during a trip, knowing some basics can help stop a small problem becoming a crisis. Here’s all you need to know about getting help and assistance when you’re in Costa Rica.
In an emergency, call 911. It’s worth knowing that some remote areas have limited cell phone coverage, so you’ll need to keep someone informed of your plans when you’re out of range.
If you need support from the US Embassy in Costa Rica you can call on + (506) 2519-2000 or + (506) 2220-3127 for emergency assistance. Here’s the address if you need in person help:
U.S. Embassy San José
Calle 98, Via 104
San José, Costa Rica
You can also enrol in the US government’s Smart Traveler program to get updates and safety information when you travel⁵.
At the time of writing the US government has a Level 4 travel advisory in place for Costa Rica due to Covid. This means that you’re advised against traveling.
However, international restrictions and travel rules are changing rapidly, so you’ll need to check the up to date situation from official sources when you plan your trip to Costa Rica.
Good resources to use include the State Department country page for Costa Rica and the US Embassy website. Make sure you fully understand the rules for travel and any specific covid related requirements before you make any bookings.
Let’s run through some common questions about travel to Costa Rica.
Planning ahead when you travel is the best way to stay safe and have a stress free trip.
|💡 Important considerations when it comes to transport in Costa Rica
The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) describes driving in Costa Rica as extremely challenging⁶. Road conditions can be poor which causes damage to vehicles, and roads in populated areas can be extremely busy. This can lead to delays and aggressive driving, as well as accidents. Drivers are also targeted by criminals — one reported method is for criminals to force drivers to stop by causing a minor accident, before robbing or kidnapping the victims.
Hitchhiking is not advisable in Costa Rica due to the risk of crime.
It is usually safe to drink tap water in Costa Rica. If you’re in an extremely rural or under developed area you may decide to use bottled water instead.
The food in Costa Rica is safe. Take normal precautions around food hygiene and you’ll be just fine.
You may be required to have a Yellow Fever vaccination if you’re arriving in Costa Rica from certain countries in South America or Africa⁷.
Costa Rica is not experiencing a Zika outbreak at the time of writing. You can get up to date information on Zika prevalence in different countries through the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention website⁸.
|Tip: Avoiding mosquito bites where possible will further reduce the risk of any problems with Zika. Take and use mosquito repellant when you travel to Costa Rica, cover up — especially after dark, and use a mosquito net at night.
It’s safe to use Airbnb in Costa Rica. Use the same precautions when booking an Airbnb in Costa Rica as you would in any other destination, choosing reliable, well rated hosts, and making sure people you know are aware of your destination and plans.
Costa Rica has a reputation as a welcoming place for the LGBTQ+ community. Homosexuality is legal and same sex marriages are recognised. You’ll find gay bars and venues, as well as plenty of gay-friendly destinations. As you’d expect, attitudes among individuals vary, and you’ll still come across very conservative attitudes in some places in Costa Rica.
There’s general advice for LGBTQ+ travelers on the State Department website if you have specific concerns⁹.
Costa Rica is a dream destination for many travelers. And using some basic safety precautions it’s also a perfectly safe place to head to once the world gets moving again. Use this guide as a starting point to help you plan — and don’t forget to open a Wise Multi-currency Account to help cut the costs of currency exchange and keep your travel money safe.
|Read more: the cost of living in Costa Rica
- Visit Costa Rica
- US Travel - Costa Rica travel advisory
- US Travel - Travel with special considerations: women
- Visit Costa Rica - Where to go
- US Travel - International travel, Costa Rica
- CDC - Zika information
- US Travel - Travelers with special considerations: LGBTI
Sources checked on 11.11.2021
This publication is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its subsidiaries and its affiliates, and it is not intended as a substitute for obtaining advice from a financial advisor or any other professional.
We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether expressed or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.
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