Costa Rica country information and facts for travelers.

COSTA RICA

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Country Description: Costa Rica is a developing country. Tourist facilities, particularly in the capital, are generally adequate.

Passport and/or Visa Requirements: A valid passport is required to enter Costa Rica. At the discretion of Costa Rican authorities, travelers are sometimes admitted with a certified copy of their U.S. birth certificate and valid photo I.D. for tourist stays up to 90 days. Additional information on entry requirements may be obtained from the consular section of the Embassy of Costa Rica at 2114 S Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone (202) 328-6628, or the nearest consulate in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Denver, Miami, Honolulu, Atlanta, Chicago, New Orleans, Las Vegas, New York, Houston or St. Paul.

Medical Facilities: Medical care in the capital city of San Jose is adequate. However, in areas outside of San Jose, medical care is more limited. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. Supplemental medical insurance with specific overseas coverage, including provision for medical evacuation, has proven useful in many emergencies. For additional health information, travelers may contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's international travelers' hotline at (404) 332-4559.

Travel Warnings, Advisories and Areas of Instability: Crime is on the upswing, and tourists as well as the local populace are frequent victims. Pickpocketings, muggings, house and car break-ins and thefts are common, and are becoming increasingly violent in nature. Travelers should ensure that they purchase an adequate level of locally valid theft insurance when renting vehicles. Never leave valuables in the vehicle and park in paid lots whenever possible. Car-jackings are also on the rise and motorists have been confronted at gunpoint while stopped at traffic lights or upon arrival at their homes. Two U.S. citizens have been killed during robbery attempts over the past three years. There have been several recent kidnappings, including foreigners. Incidents of crime commonly occur in downtown San Jose, at beaches, at the airport, and at national parks and other tourist attractions. There have been several assaults on tourist buses as well. Travelers who keep valuables out of sight, do not wear jewelry, and travel in groups during daylight hours lessen their risk. Local law enforcement agencies have limited capabilities. Money exchangers on the street will pass off counterfeit U.S. dollars and local currency. Credit card fraud is growing. Vehicles should not be left unattended, nor should any items be left inside.

Some trails in national parks have been closed because of low numbers of visitors and reported robberies of hikers in the area. Tourists should check with forest rangers for current park conditions.

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to local police and to the U.S. Embassy in San Jose. Travelers may wish to carry a copy of their passport data page and leave the passport, itself, in the hotel safe or other safe location. Useful information on guarding valuables and protecting personal security while traveling abroad is provided in the Department of State pamphlet, "A Safe Trip Abroad." This publication, as well as others, such as "Tips for Travelers to Central and South America," are available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402.

Drug Penalties: U.S. citizens are subject to the laws of the country in which they are traveling. Penalties in Costa Rica for possession, use and trafficking in illegal drugs are strict, and convicted offenders can expect lengthy jail sentences and fines.

Investment Issues: Costa Rica has a long history of investment and real estate scams and frauds perpetrated against U.S. citizens and international visitors. Title insurance is not available in Costa Rica. There have been numerous instances of duly registered property reverting to previously unknown owners who have shown they possess clear title and parallel registration. In addition, some U.S. citizen landowners have had longstanding expropriation disputes with the government of Costa Rica, and others have had their property invaded by squatters, whom they have been unable to evict. Pavones, on the south Pacific coast, is the area most affected by squatter/landowner disputes. Persons contemplating buying land should seek competent legal advice concerning their rights as landowners, inspect the property, and assess local conditions prior to purchase.

Aviation Oversight: In October 1991, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration assessed Costa Rica's civil aviation authority as in compliance with international aviation safety oversight standards for Costa Rica's carriers operating to and from the U.S. The same level of safety oversight would typically be applied to operations to other destinations. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation at telephone 1-800-322-7873.

Traffic Safety/Road Conditions: Traffic laws and speed limits are often ignored; turns across one or two lanes of traffic are common, and pedestrians generally are not given the right of way. Roads are often in poor condition and large potholes capable of causing significant damage to vehicles are common. All of the above, in addition to poor visibility because of heavy fog or rain, makes driving at night especially treacherous. All types of motor vehicles are sufficient for the main highways and the principal roads in the major cities. However, many roads to beaches and other rural locations are not paved, and some out-of-the-way destinations are accessible only with high clearance, rugged suspension vehicles.

Registration/Embassy Location: U.S. citizens may register with the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in San Jose and may also obtain updated information on travel and security within Costa Rica. The U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica is located in Pavas, San Jose, telephone (506) 220-3050. The Embassy is open Monday through Friday, and closed on Costa Rican and U.S. holidays. For emergencies arising outside normal business hours, U.S. citizens may call telephone (506) 220-3127 and ask for the duty officer.

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