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Visiting Costa Rica during the pandemic? Here’s what to expect [updated Oct. 10]

October 10, 2020

Costa Rica is reopening its airports to tourists from all U.S. states starting Sunday, November 1.

We’ve been covering the coronavirus crisis in Costa Rica since mid-February. If you’re now considering visiting Costa Rica, here are the most important things you need to know as you plan your trip.

Requirements for entry

Tourists are welcome via air travel from dozens of countries. As of November 1, the entire United States will be added to the list. (Currently, only residents of select U.S. states are allowed to visit.)

Arriving visitors must meet the following requirements:

  1. All people entering Costa Rica must complete the digital epidemiological form. This is known as the “Health Pass” or “Pase de Salud.” Click here for a link to the form.
  2. Tourists must obtain a negative RT-PCR coronavirus test. The sample for this test must have been taken at most 72 hours before the first flight in your itinerary.
  3. Tourists must purchase travel insurance that covers accommodation in case of quarantine and medical expenses due to COVID-19. This policy can be international or purchased from Costa Rican insurers.

Two Costa Rican companies sell pre-approved travel insurance plans: The National Insurance Institute (INS) and Sagicor. This means their policies are guaranteed to be accepted when you enter Costa Rica.

Tourists opting for a foreign policy must demonstrate proof (in English or Spanish) that their policy:

  1. Is valid throughout the planned visit to Costa Rica.
  2. Covers medical expenses in cases of COVID-19 in Costa Rica, for at least $50,000 (fifty thousand United States dollars).
  3. Includes a minimum coverage of $2,000 for expenses of extended lodging due to the pandemic.

If you have questions regarding the insurance policy requirements, email the Tourism Board at seguros@ict.go.cr. While there is no legally established exception to the insurance requirement, some homeowners have reported being exempted for the lodging requirements on a case-by-case basis.

Tourists who meet the requirements to enter Costa Rica do not need to quarantine/self-isolate.

What is open in Costa Rica?

Most common tourist attractions are allowed to operate normally. This includes all open-air activities, such as hiking, ziplining, horseback riding, snorkeling, etc.

As of mid-October, Costa Rica’s beaches will be open from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m. on weeknights, and 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends. (Some municipalities have more limited beach hours, but this is temporary and relatively uncommon.)

Most national parks are open. Hotels and other forms of accommodation can operate at 100% capacity. Restaurants can operate at up to 50% capacity.

As of early October, bars and some casinos can reopen, though they must adhere to a series of sanitary measures.

All essential services, such as supermarkets, pharmacies, health clinics, etc. are operating normally.

What is closed in Costa Rica?

Some national parks haven’t reopened all trails or attractions yet. Most city (municipal) parks remain closed, too.

Nightclubs/discos can’t operate.

Mass-gathering events in general remain suspended, though there are exceptions for religious gatherings (and some others) that maintain proper physical distancing. Popular year-end festivals in Costa Rica have already been canceled.

The crisis has hit Costa Rica’s economy hard. Unemployment is at a record high, and the tourism sector has been particularly affected. Keep that in mind as you plan your visit; with such low demand, some tour operators and other businesses might be closed.

Finally, protesters demonstrating against new taxes blocked important highways throughout Costa Rica in early October, impacting travel. While it would be rare for blockades to continue a full month into November, consider checking Waze or asking your hotel about known disruptions in the days before your travel.

What restrictions do I need to be aware of?

There are somewhat complex daytime driving restrictions. However, as a tourist you will likely be exempt from these restrictions, because they have the following exceptions: The rules don’t apply if you are driving a rental car, if you’re driving to/from the airport, or if you are driving to/from a hotel (or AirBnB) reservation. It’s a good idea to have proof handy in case you’re stopped by traffic police.

Most businesses’ hours are tied to the driving restrictions. This means establishments will close at 10 p.m. on weekdays and 8 p.m. on weekends.

You must wear a mask when inside any public establishment. Exceptions include: While eating at a restaurant and while in your own residence/hotel room. Infants and people with certain disabilities are also exempted. If you do not have a mask, you may be denied entry into an establishment.

Some businesses have also instituted temperature checks (with an infrared thermometer) and/or require that guests wash their hands before entering. Grocery stores sometimes limit entry to a single member of a family/group.

In general, you will be expected to maintain physical distancing (6 feet or greater) between your “social bubble” and others. This includes at the beach and at national parks.

Remember to be respectful of local laws and guidelines, even if you do not agree with them.

What happens if I need to quarantine?

If you are suspected of having COVID-19 or test positive for the coronavirus, you will be issued a 14-day home-isolation order. During this time, you will be required to stay in your habitation alone. (There are exceptions for minors and the elderly, among others.)

Costa Rican law describes the quarantine as follows: The isolation of a person or group of people means their separation from all others, with the exception of the personnel in charge of their care. 

In other words, you cannot have visitors during this period. You also are not allowed to leave Costa Rica until the sanitary order expires. While you won’t be monitored 24/7, violating the quarantine order carries a hefty fine and possible detainment.

Dial 1322 if you believe you may have the coronavirus in Costa Rica. English-speaking operators are available.

What is the coronavirus situation in Costa Rica?

The U.S. State Department has issued a Level 4 travel advisory for Costa Rica due to the coronavirus. The country has confirmed 86,053 cumulative cases and 1,055 deaths. This corresponds to 1,687 cases and 20.7 deaths per 100,000 people.

The densely populated Greater Metropolitan Area (GAM), which includes the capital of San José and the cities in its immediate vicinity (Alajuela, Heredia, Cartago), is the country’s epicenter.

Costa Rica has fortified its public-health system; at no point has a coronavirus patient been denied a hospital bed or ventilator. The country has currently filled about 55% of its available ICU beds for COVID-19 patients at public hospitals.

What official sources can I follow?

For the Costa Rican Presidency’s official website of coronavirus alerts, click here. The Health Ministry publishes daily coronavirus updates here.

Because both of these sources are in Spanish, The Tico Times publishes daily updates on our website as part of our efforts to keep our English-speaking audience informed.

The Costa Rica Tourism Board (ICT) has an English-language website detailing the entry requirements. Click here to visit that site.

Anything else you’d like to know?

Let us know on Facebook — we’ll try to answer more common questions!

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