is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office
at the U.S. Embassy in San José. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security
conditions in Costa Rica. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Costa Rica country page for
original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of
which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC
The current U.S. Department of
State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s
publication assesses Costa Rica at Level 2,
indicating travelers should exercise increased caution due to crime. Review
OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
The U.S. Department of State has assessed San
José as being a HIGH-threat location
for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Exercise increased caution in central
Limon, Liberia, the Desamparados neighborhood in San Rafael, and the Pavas and
Hospital neighborhoods in San José due to crime.
Crime is a concern in Costa Rica;
non-violent petty crime occurs most frequently. All individuals are potential
targets for criminals. The majority of crime and safety threats to the U.S.
official and private communities are opportunistic acts of theft. U.S. citizens
commonly report theft of travel documents. Theft is common in highly populated
and tourist areas, particularly in cases where individuals are not watching
personal belongings closely, to include leaving items on beaches or in parked
vehicles. The most common types of thefts that occur involve vehicle
burglaries, home robberies, pickpocketing, smash-and-grabs, muggings, and
purse/wallet snatchings. Random acts of petty theft remain the primary area of
concern. More serious crimes, such as armed robbery, sexual assault, and homicide
occur, although less frequently. There is generally a spike in home burglary
and robbery during the holiday season. If a thief confronts you, remain calm
and do not resist. Most theft-related injuries occur when victims resist or try
to fight back. Review OSAC’s report, All That You Should Leave Behind.
Practice good situational
awareness with regard to their passports. Theft of travel documents is a common
complaint among foreign visitors – particularly during peak tourism season in
the dry season (December – April), when criminals take advantage of larger
crowds. Use a well-secured safe or lockbox wherever you stay. Make copy of your
passport identification and entry stamp pages and leave it in your hotel room, or
keep a picture of them on your phone.
Downtown San José is a tourist
destination during daylight hours. After dark, be aware of surroundings, and
limit visits due to the increased potential for crime. Avoid overt displays of
wealth and limit travel to established and frequently visited areas in order to
avoid “wrong place-wrong time” scenarios.
is aware of reports of robbery of isolated rental properties. Research any
rental homes to ensure they have adequate security and remember to properly
secure all doors and windows. Review
OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.
Costa Rica has experienced a
steady year-over-year decrease from its 2017 record high murder rate of 12.1
per 100,000 people. In 2019, there were 545 murders (10.6 per 100,000 people),
down 5% from 2018. The main factor driving this level of violence is
competition among local groups engaged in the sale and transport of drugs.
During the past few years, the
Government of Costa Rica has passed legislation and undertaken a public
campaign to curb promotion of the country as a destination for sex tourism, and
to highlight the legal risks of sexually exploiting minors. Tourists who engage
in/solicit prostitution exponentially increase their chances of being a victim
of theft or violent robbery, or being arrested for violating Costa Rica’s
Organized crime is an increasing
concern. Costa Ricans and third-country nationals alike participate in
organized crime via car theft rings, drug trafficking, petty theft, and burglary.
Organized criminals use less-monitored areas on Costa Rica’s borders and
beaches to traffic drugs and other types of contraband. Criminal organizations favor Costa Rica's central location
to commit financial crimes, including money laundering and financial scams. To
address this trend, in 2017 Costa Rica completed its anti-money laundering
legal framework and strengthened implementation of these laws. Proceeds from
international narcotics trafficking represent the largest source of assets
laundered in Costa Rica, although human trafficking, financial fraud,
corruption, and contraband smuggling also generate illicit revenue.
Costa Rica has cybersecurity concerns
similar to many other countries. There are no identified cybersecurity issues
unique to Costa Rica. Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics,
Best Practices for
Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile
Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones:
Critical or Contraband?
Costa Rica commonly encounter credit card theft/fraud. Many victims maintain
physical possession of their cards, but criminals steal credit card information
and later use it without their knowledge. Review
OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.
Road Safety and
U.S. citizens commonly report
motor vehicle accidents. Driving can be extremely challenging, even to the most
experienced driver. Roads are often in poor condition, and large potholes are
common and can cause severe damage to vehicles. Additionally, most roads are
insufficient for the quantity and types of vehicles using these roads. This often
results in significant traffic jams and delays, which can lead to aggressive
driving behavior, and accidents that can significantly impact travel times and
hinder law enforcement, medical, and fire department response to an emergency. Drivers
often ignore traffic laws and speed limits, rarely use turn signals, pass on
dangerous stretches of highway, and do not give pedestrians the right of way. Motorcyclists
commonly drive without respect to rules of the road, often passing on the
right, weaving in and out of traffic without warning, and creating lanes where
none officially exist. Heavy traffic provides the opportunity for thieves to
steal property that is left in plain view in vehicles. Another challenge
confronting drivers is the lack of street signs/names, which makes finding an
address extremely difficult even with a GPS. Practice defensive driving and
exercise common sense.
Obey all traffic regulations and
be familiar with road conditions prior to traveling. Traffic Police
occasionally enforce traffic rules, and citations can be costly and must be
paid before leaving the country. Road conditions may change drastically and
suddenly due to weather, construction, or accessibility. In downtown San José,
the government imposed a law restricting cars from operating on certain days of
the week depending on the last number on a vehicle’s license plate. This tactic
has relieved some of the traffic congestion. However, traffic delays remain a
common daily occurrence.
Driving outside of San José at
night can be treacherous due to narrow or poorly maintained roads, many of which
lack adequate lighting, markings, guardrails, and signage. During the rainy
season (May-November), landslides and washed-out roads are common.
The accident and related fatality
rate for pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists is high. Due to a lack of
resources, the Traffic Police are not proactive and do not monitor roads regularly,
mainly responding to traffic accidents. Costa Rican law prohibits the movement
of vehicles involved in an accident prior to the arrival of investigative
authorities. Those involved in traffic accidents should prepare for a significant
wait. As a result, single-lane roads can often back up for miles. The Government
of Costa Rica may prevent any driver involved in a vehicular accident from
departing the country until all injury claims are settled, regardless of
whether the driver is at fault or has insurance coverage. The courts often
delay imposing a settlement until all injured parties have recovered fully and the
definitive costs are known.
Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad,
Driving Overseas: Best
Practices, and Evasive Driving
Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving
and road safety abroad.
Only use taxi cabs from reputable
companies. Officially registered taxis will be red or orange with a yellow
triangle on the side door and functioning meters. The triangle will include a
designated number that matches the number on the license plate. Uber is
available within Costa Rica and is in heavy use among residents and visitors alike.
Ongoing disputes between Uber and the taxi union have resulted in protests and
strikes. Review OSAC's report, Safety
& Security in the Share Economy.
In general, air travel is reliable
without major security concerns or unnecessary travel delays. Changes in
weather conditions and increased levels of volcanic ash can cause flight cancellations
or delays. There are two main international airports in Costa Rica.
Juan Santamaria International
Airport (SJO) is located approximately 12 miles west of downtown San Jose. It
is the primary airport serving international travelers to the country’s capital
and central valley regions. SJO is rated the second-busiest airport in Central
America, serving over four million passengers annually.
Daniel Oduber Quiros
International Airport (LIR) is located in Liberia, Guanacaste Province. LIR
serves as a tourism hub for visitors to the Pacific coast and western Costa
In addition to the larger
international airports, there are multiple smaller airports and airstrips
serving various regions within the country through smaller domestic carriers
and a variety of charter flights. Smaller domestic carriers and charter flights
do not have the same type of oversight and regulation as the commercial
aviation industry in the United States.
Various agencies, including U.S.
Customs and Border Protection, and Transportation Security Administration, work
closely with the Government of Costa Rica to improve airport procedures for the
increased safety of passengers and efficiency of airport operations. Review
OSAC’s report, Security In Transit:
Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.
When traveling in remote areas or
by boat, be mindful of limited mobile phone reception and limited first
The U.S. Department of State has
assessed San José as being a LOW-threat
location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government
interests. There are no specific threats of terrorism regarding Costa Rica. Due
to Costa Rica’s relatively porous borders, the threat for terrorist elements to
use the country as a transit point does exist.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
The U.S. Department of State has
assessed San José as being a LOW-threat
location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S.
government interests. Costa Rica has a long tradition of being a stable
democracy. The country has not had a military since 1948, and prides itself on
its peaceful nature and efforts to maintain neutrality. In 2019, Costa Rica
implemented sweeping economic changes that have and will impact some pensions
and retirement benefits for a segment of its residents. The country experienced
political incidents that involved threats and incendiary devices in various
locations; these incidents were isolated and not associated with any other
organizations or movements.
Protests occur in heavily-populated
areas on occasion, and typically center on fair pay and working conditions. Protests
are generally peaceful. Avoid all protests as a safety precaution and avoid any
perception of interfering in local politics. The Constitution bars foreigners
from political activity, and authorities could arrest foreigners involved with
protests, even peaceful ones. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.
Costa Rica is generally free from
anti-U.S. sentiment. Costa Ricans regard U.S. nationals and other Westerners in
a positive manner, and are known for their friendliness toward foreigners. Due
to the country’s reputation as a leader in ecotourism and biodiversity, Costa
Rica annually receives millions of foreign tourists, and national/local-level
authorities and businesses work to maintain the country’s positive image as an
attractive tourism destination.
Costa Rica is located in an
active earthquake and volcanic zone. The last large earthquake occurred in
September 2012, with a magnitude of 7.6. It was one of the largest earthquakes
recorded in Costa Rican history but caused limited damage, considering its
size. Smaller earthquakes in the seismic range of 4-5 are much more common and
occur throughout the year.
Avoid Turrialba Volcano National
Park due to continuing volcanic activity. Access to the park remains
restricted. Check on the status of the various volcanoes before traveling to
the parks. Access additional information regarding volcanic activity and other
natural disasters in Costa Rica from the Costa Rican National Emergency Commission
and the Costa Rican Volcanic and Seismic Observatory (both in
Experts from the
Health Ministry and the National University have stated that fine particulate
matter from volcanic ash (frequently from Turrialba and Poas) and automobile
exhaust can be a public health concern in greater San José, to include
parts of Alajuela, Cartago, and Heredia. These areas are home to approximately
60% of Costa Rica’s population, 70% of its vehicle fleet, and 85% of its major
industry. Although the average annual amount of fine particle pollution in the
greater metropolitan area ranges between 22 and 25 micrograms per cubic meter,
the amount of fine particle pollution (PM2.5) can vary depending on location. According
to the Embassy’s Air Quality Monitoring system, operational since August 2019, PM2.5
levels around the Embassy have been below 12 micrograms per cubic meter 80% of
Serious flooding occurs annually
in the Caribbean province of Limón and the Pacific province of Puntarenas. Flash
floods and severe landslides occur in other provinces as well, depending on the
time of year and rainfall.
Exercise extreme caution when
swimming in the ocean. Many beaches with dangerous rip currents do not have
lifeguards or warning signs. If caught in a rip current, swim parallel to the
beach and not against the rip current. Once out of the rip current, swim at a
45° angle away from the rip current to get back to shore.
Review OSAC's report, Central America Natural
Disaster Emergency Planning: OSAC Guidance and Resources.
Use extreme caution when making
real estate purchases or investments, consult with reputable legal counsel, and
review contracts thoroughly. There is little the U.S. Embassy can do to assist
U.S. citizens who enter into land or business disputes; you must be prepared to
take your case to the local courts. Civil archives recording land titles are at
times incomplete or contradictory. Coastal land within 50 meters of the high
tide line is open to the public and closed to development. Foreign nationals cannot
own the next 150 meters inland (“Maritime Zone”), which the local municipality administers.
Expropriation of private land by the Costa Rican government without adequate or
prompt compensation has hurt some U.S. investors.
security and access controls on any private property. Organized
squatter groups have invaded properties, taking advantage of legal provisions
that allow people without land to gain title to unused property. Victims of
squatters have reported threats, harassment, and violence.
In very limited situations,
cultural or religious ideologies may lead to discrimination based on sexual
orientation. Costa Rica is a leader in the region in support of human rights
and was the first country in Central America to recognize same sex marriage, in
May 2020. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+
Accessibility and accommodation
is limited. Many buildings and public transportation options remain
inaccessible. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers
Costa Rica’s strategic location, unevenly
monitored borders, limited security forces, and thinly-patrolled waters make it
a major transit and temporary storage country for illicit drugs. The homicide rate
has, in part, been attributed to the increase in organized drug trafficking and
associated activities. As the number and size of groups associated with
narco-trafficking have increased, so has the presence of illegal drugs, greater
domestic drug consumption, and associated turf wars. The government is steadily
increasing its spending on law enforcement agencies and improving its focus on
counter-narcotics programs and organized crime. A key factor in combating the
increasing drug-related criminal activity is the strong security cooperation
with the U.S. Government. The recent accomplishments in Costa Rica’s
counter-narcotics programs are partially due to the improvements in equipment,
training, and infrastructure achieved in cooperation with the U.S. Government.
The kidnapping rate is very low
and rarely involves U.S. citizens. The majority of kidnappings are a result of
feuds between rival criminal organizations. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.
The police emergency line in Costa Rica is 911. Reach
Police at 2586-4620, -4287, -4457, -4458, or -4143
Response times may vary due to the availability of manpower/vehicles
and based on location, time of day, and severity of the accident, particularly
outside of San José or major tourist centers.
U.S. citizens detained by police have
the opportunity to contact friends or family, and should contact the U.S.
Embassy at 2519-2000. Harassment of foreigners is not common. A defendant has a
right to a public defender and translator services.
To have police investigate/prosecute
a crime, you must reported it to the investigative/judicial police (OIJ, 2295-3639
- Fuerza Publica: Uniformed police agency. Performs ground security, law
enforcement, counter-narcotic, and border patrol functions. This agency is
within the Ministry of Public Security.
- Organismo de Investigación (OIJ): Investigates all crimes for prosecution.
This agency is within the judicial branch.
- Policía de Transito: Transit police enforces traffic laws and responds to all traffic
accidents. This agency is within the Transportation and Public Works Ministry.
- Directorate de Inteligencia y Seguridad (DIS): Costa Rica’s intelligence
agency. This agency is within the President Ministry.
- Unidad Especial de Intervención (UEI): Special weapons and tactics
(SWAT) police unit, specializing in counter-explosives and tactical operations.
- Migración: Controls immigration at the borders and maintains the immigrant
detention center for pending deportees. This agency is within the Governorship
and Police Ministry.
The medical emergency line in Costa Rica is 911. Medical care in San José is
U.S. medical insurance is not
always accepted and most hospitals will require payment or deposit up front for
services. Public hospitals generally do not accept private insurance, but
private hospitals will, if the plan includes suitable coverage for care while
abroad. To have coverage under the Costa Rican public health system, an
individual must be a Costa Rican citizen or resident. Medicare and Medicaid do
not offer coverage outside the United States. Review your insurance plans to guarantee
coverage in the event of an emergency during travel. Supplemental medical
insurance with specific overseas coverage, including a provision for medical
evacuation, has been useful in many emergencies. The Embassy recommends purchasing
private medical evacuation (medevac) insurance before travel. The Costa Rican
government can place a departure impediment on individuals who attempt to
depart without paying their medical bills. Review
the State Department’s webpage on insurance overseas.
For clinics offering alternative
medical treatments, thoroughly research these clinics and their providers. The
Embassy has received reports of hospitalizations as a result of clients at
so-called wellness centers undergoing medically unverified “alternative
Malaria is rarely found in Costa
Rica. However, there have been limited confirmed cases in the past in Osa
Peninsula (Puntarenas Province), Matina Canton (Limón), Sarapiquí Canton
(Heredia), and San Carlos Canton (Alajuela). Travelers planning to visit these
areas should take precautions to prevent mosquito bites and malaria
The CDC has updated guidance on
the risk of Dengue in Central and South
The CDC offers additional
information on vaccines and health guidance for Costa Rica.
Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way,
Medication, I’m Drinking What in My
Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of
Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad.
OSAC Country Council Information
The San José Country Council
currently meets quarterly by invitation only. Contact OSAC’s Latin
America team with any questions or to join.
U.S. Embassy Contact Information
Via 104, Pavas, San José (Across the
street from Centro Comercial del Oeste Pavas)
Business Hours: Mon-Fri, 0800 – 1630
Regional Security Office: +506-2519-2313
American Citizens Services: +506-2519-2590
Visa Inquiries: +506-4000-1976
Before you travel, consider the following