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Frequently asked questions: Costa Rica travel and the coronavirus pandemic [updated]

We’ve received dozens of questions from readers since Costa Rica declared a State of Emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

This page serves as a resource to answer some of the most common questions about how the spread of COVID-19 impacts Costa Rica travel and businesses. It’s an updated version of a story we first published in March.

How is Costa Rica limiting international travel?

Costa Rica has restricted entry to non-resident foreigners since 11:59 p.m. on March 18. (There are some exceptions, such as for diplomats, or for the immediate families of Costa Rican nationals.) This ban will last until at least June 30 at 11:59 p.m.

Non-citizen residents (or with application in process) who departed the country after March 25 are also not allowed to re-enter until further notice.

Costa Rican citizens and residents entering the country are issued a mandatory 14-day home quarantine. These travelers complete a form with identifying information, including the home address in which they will self-isolate. The Health Ministry says it may visit or call to ensure people are adhering to the isolation rules.

Costa Rica has not restricted citizens, residents or tourists from leaving the country, though realistically, there are few travel options at the moment.

Will Costa Rica’s tourist ban be extended?

Costa Rica will almost certainly extend its ban on incoming tourists beyond June 30. As the Health Ministry has repeatedly said, it is prioritizing citizen safety and would eventually consider allowing visitors only from countries with low coronavirus transmission.

Those comments seem to implicate tourists from the United States, but so far no specifics have been announced.

Several tourism chambers have petitioned that the government open its borders to help improve the economy. Costa Rica’s unemployment has reached record highs during the crisis.

While there has been plenty of speculation about when Costa Rica will reopen its borders to international tourists, nothing is official yet. We will share pertinent information as it becomes official.

What is open and what is closed in Costa Rica?

Hotels and restaurants can open week-long. Beaches are open from 5-8 a.m. on weekdays; most national parks are open on their regular hours. Most commercial businesses are open on weekdays, while grocery stores, pharmacies and health centers can remain open on weekends.

Exceptions include commercial businesses in areas that are under an orange alert due to the virus. They are as follows:

  • Cantons of Pococí, Upala, Alajuelita and Desamparados.
  • Districts of Pavas (San José), Peñas Blancas (San Ramón), Los Chiles (Los Chiles), La Fortuna (San Carlos), Paquera (Puntarenas).

In these locations, most commercial businesses must close early (5 p.m.) and stay closed on weekends.

Costa Rica’s upcoming “Phase 3” will allow for all commercial stores to remain open on the weekend, except for in areas under an orange alert. Beaches will have extended hours, and religious gatherings will be permitted. No official date has been set for this next phase, though it could begin this weekend.

Wearing face masks/shields will be obligatory in many circumstances starting Saturday, June 27.

The Health Ministry recommends wearing a mask at all times in public when in Pavas district. The U.S. Embassy is located in Pavas.

When can I drive in Costa Rica?

Generally, you can drive from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays, except for one day determined by the last digit of your license plate. On weekends, vehicles with plates ending in odd numbers can drive on Saturday; vehicles with plates ending in even numbers can drive on Sunday.

We recommend La Restricción as a tool to determine the most up-to-date restrictions based on your last digit.

Note that in regions under an orange alert, the weeknight nighttime restrictions begin at 5 p.m., but there are exceptions for through traffic on major roads. (Yes, this is all quite confusing.)

If you are a tourist and entered the country after December 17, you can legally drive with a foreign license until July 17. We recommend having a photocopy of your passport (photo page and Costa Rica entry stamp) to show traffic police in case you get pulled over.

I’m stuck in Costa Rica. What are my options?

You can leave, if desired, on a repatriation flight. There are typically several each week to/from the United States.

You can also choose to stay. Foreigners who entered Costa Rica on a tourist visa after December 17, 2019, can legally remain in Costa Rica until August 18, 2020.

Similarly, if you have residency in Costa Rica, your legal status may have been automatically extended. For instance, the validity of a permanent resident DIMEX has been extended until September 30. Click here for more.

What if I have flights scheduled for after the travel restrictions?

Airlines have typically canceled commercial flights as Costa Rica has extended its tourist restrictions. The exceptions are commercial repatriation flights that are announced in partnership with Embassies.

The latest information from Juan Santamaría International Airport is available here.

What if I think I have COVID-19 in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica has set up phone number 1322 to handle calls regarding coronavirus. The number is active 24 hours a day and staffed with emergency operators and health officials. They will instruct you on proper next steps.

Remember: If you have any symptoms of COVID-19 (sore throat, fever, cough, difficulty breathing or other respiratory symptoms), do not leave home, except to get medical attention. Dial 1322 if you have symptoms, especially if you may have had contact with someone who has the coronavirus.

Dial 911 in an emergency.


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