Country guides South & Central America
Electrical current is 120 volts, 60Hz. Flat two-pin plugs and three-pin (two flat blades with round grounding pin) plugs are in use.
Spanish is the official language, but English is widely spoken.
The Costa Rican colon (CRC) is divided into 100 centimos and is the official currency, although US dollars are also widely accepted. US dollars can be exchanged in banks and many hotels, but currency other than US dollars is difficult to exchange. Using black market exchange options is risky, as these unofficial outlets have been known to pass on counterfeit bills printed in Colombia. Banks close anywhere from 3pm to 4pm. Major credit cards are widely accepted; ATMs are available in major towns throughout the country, but it is advisable to always have some local cash handy.
Hotels add a 10 percent service charge and a three percent tourist tax to their bills, and a tip of 10 percent is usual in tourist areas and at upmarket restaurant. Taxi drivers are not normally tipped but passengers can use discretion if it's been a long trip or there was intense traffic. People will often round off the fare to the nearest Costa Rican colon or US dollar. Tour guides, on the other hand, are normally tipped. In general, staff will appreciate a five to 10 percent tip if service has been particularly good.
Vaccinations for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and typhoid are recommended, and a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required if visitors are arriving from a country where yellow fever occurs, excluding Argentina and Panama, or if they are coming from Tanzania or Zambia. There is a year-round risk of malaria in some regions of Costa Rica and advice should be taken on what areas are currently risky places to visit. Travellers should also find out the precautions and medication they must take to protect against the disease. Water in cities is generally safe but it is advisable to buy bottled water, especially outside the main towns where there is a risk of contamination. Dengue fever is one of a number of diseases carried by insects that also occur in this region, especially during the rainy season; protection against insect bites is the best prevention. Medical services are reliable in cities and the standard of hygiene and treatment is very high.
There is no history of terrorism in Costa Rica, though there are incidents of violent crime that occasionally target tourists. There has been an increase in attacks on tourists leaving the airport in hired cars in San Jose, so visitors should watch their belongings carefully at all times and in all places, particularly in bus stations and on public transport. Theft of, and from, cars is common. It's advisable not to wear jewellery or carry large amounts of cash, and to avoid moneychangers on the street. Strikes, protests and blockades can take place without warning, and demonstrations could disrupt travel on main roads, particularly those connecting San Jose with the coast. Visitors should check local information and plan their trip carefully, so as to stay well away from these incidents where possible.
Costa Ricans are conservative when it comes to family values, and roles between male and female are expected to be traditional. Machismo is a key characteristic of Costa Rica culture, although women are quickly becoming more empowered in Tico society. The population is largely middle-class, Catholic, and ethnically homogenous.
Costa Rica has a formal business environment, where men and women wear conservative suits, appointments are made and meetings begin on time. Business projects can be slow, however, as Costa Ricans are conservative in their approach to new ideas and keen to avoid risk. Spanish is the main language, but most business people speak English. Nevertheless, it is polite to have business cards as well as other promotional material printed in both English and Spanish. A lot of women have high profile jobs but the business world, like the society in general, is still male dominated. Visiting businesswomen will be treated with respect once their ability and authority is clearly established. Hours of business are generally 8am to 4pm Monday to Friday with a two-hour lunch break from 12pm.
Travellers to Costa Rica over 18 years do not have to pay duty on 3 litres of alcohol; 500g of tobacco or 400 cigarettes or 50 cigars. Perfume for personal use is allowed provided it is a reasonable quantity.
The international access code for Costa Rica is +506. Costa Rica has one of the most advanced telecommunications systems in Latin America and WiFi is available in most hotels, restaurants, and cafes.
Passport & Visa
All foreign passengers to Costa Rica must have return or onward tickets, the necessary travel documentation for their next destination, and proof of sufficient funds to cover their stay in the country. Extensions of stay for those who are visa-exempt can be arranged on arrival. A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required if visitors are arriving in Costa Rica from a country where yellow fever occurs, excluding Argentina and Panama, or if they are coming from Tanzania or Zambia. It is highly recommended that travellers' passports have at least six months' validity remaining after the intended date of departure from their travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
US citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Costa Rica. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
British citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Costa Rica. A visa is not required for stays of up to 90 days, provided the passport is for an endorsed British Citizen or British Overseas Territories Citizen. A British National (Overseas) does not require a visa for a stay of up to 30 days.
Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Costa Rica. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Costa Rica. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
South African citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Costa Rica. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Costa Rica. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Costa Rica. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
Costa Rica Tourism Board, San Jose: www.visitcostarica.com911 (General Emergency Helpline)
Embassies / consulates in other countries
Embassy of Costa Rica, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 499 2991.
Embassy of Costa Rica, London, United Kingdom (also responsible for Ireland): +44 (0)20 7706 8844.
Embassy of Costa Rica, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 562 2855.
Costa Rica Consulate-General, Sydney, Australia (also responsible for New Zealand): +61 2 9262 3883
Honorary Consulate of Costa Rica, Johannesburg, South Africa: +27 (0)11 486 4716.
Embassies / consulates in Costa Rica
United States Embassy, San Jose: +506 2519 2000.
British Embassy, San Jose: +506 2258 2025.
Canadian Embassy, San Jose (also responsible for Australia): +506 2242 4400.
South African Consulate-General, San Jose: (+506) 222 1470