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Traveling to Costa Rica is about to get a lot easier as the government lifts its COVID-related Costa Rica travel restrictions for travel insurance and health passes.
Effective April 1, unvaccinated foreigners will no longer have to buy travel health insurance to enter the country, and they will no longer have to fill out the epidemiological form called the pase de salud (“health pass”).
The health insurance requirement was imposed in 2020 to cover any medical and lodging costs that might arise if visitors contracted COVID while in Costa Rica. The government removed this requirement in August 2021 for those who are fully vaccinated. But as of April 1, 2022, it’s being dropped for all people entering Costa Rica, vaccinated or not.
Also, neither a negative COVID test nor proof of vaccination is required to enter Costa Rica. However, you may need a negative COVID test to return to your home country.
A costly requirement
As reported here in August 2020, the cost of travel health insurance for a 45-year-old was then about $131 for a two-week stay, or $252 for someone over 71 years old. But this requirement will now be totally abolished.
The change is a reflection of declining COVID-19 rates in Costa Rica, as well as a desire to remove expensive requirements that make the country a less attractive destination for tourists.
As for the health pass (pase de salud), it was free, but it required filling out a form online that some foreigners found confusing.
Yves “Pepito” Malette, a French Canadian whose company Costour has been providing border runs to Nicaragua for seven years, said:
“The biggest mistake they [recent clients] were making is not filling out the pase de salud properly. But that’s going now, that’s gone, so that’s a big problem that’s going to be resolved. I think that’s good news for everybody.”
All COVID requirements dropped
The new rules mean that as of April 1, Costa Rica will apparently not ask ANY questions or require any documents related to the COVID-19 pandemic for anyone entering the country.
No negative test, no proof of vaccination, no health insurance, no health pass. You’d think this was 2018 again (except you’d better wear a mask).
So other than Costa Rica, what about the countries you’ll be departing from or returning to? That could be a different story.
What about the U.S., Canada and Europe?
Whether you’re flying from Arkansas, Alberta or Andorra, we would strongly recommend that you find out what COVID restrictions your home country has in place before you travel.
Will they want a negative COVID test when you’re ready to go home? Many countries do. But you can get one of those tests pretty easily in Costa Rica. You don’t need one to get INTO Costa Rica, but you may need one to get out.
Remember that in all international travel, at least two countries are involved, so you need to know the rules of more country than one before you book your travel.
Nicaragua travel requirements
Many foreigners live in Costa Rica virtually full-time, but they have to leave the country every 90 days to get their tourist visas renewed. In Guanacaste, many of these expats make a one-day “border run” to Nicaragua every three months.
Malette, who has hosted hundreds of these border runs, clarifies that Nicaragua does require a negative COVID test to enter the country. And it has to be the PCR test, not the antigen test, and the test has to be conducted less than 72 hours before entering Nicaragua.
“You know what the agent told me?” said Malette, referring to a conversation he had with one border official. “Anything walking on two feet needs a PCR test in Nicaragua.”
(Even my pet duck?!)
So for any expats in Guanacaste making border runs to Nicaragua, they will not need a negative COVID test to get back into Costa Rica – but they will need one to get into Nicaragua.
However, Nicaragua does not require any travel health insurance, and neither country requires proof of vaccination.
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Tourists’ biggest mistakes
Malette said he has noticed that for the past couple of months, Costa Rican officials have been “very, very, very ‘by the book’.” He said they used to let some things slide during the height of the pandemic, but there’s been a shift toward “now we apply the law properly.”
He said some of the biggest mistakes that tourists make when trying to make a quick run to the border are:
An early exit ticket gives them a short visa.
To enter Costa Rica on a tourist visa, you must have one of two things:
- An exit ticket from Costa Rica within 90 days. (This is usually an airline ticket, although you can buy a cheap bus ticket at the border if you’re in a jam.)
- Or an official document called an expediente proving that you have applied for Costa Rican residency and your application is in process.
Some people actually buy an exit ticket that they never plan to use, and they cancel it as soon as they cross the border. BUT, if they present an exit ticket for, say, 30 days from the moment they enter Costa Rica, then the border official will give them only 30 days on their visa, instead of the customary 90.
Perpetual tourists could get a visa for just 15 days.
“Perpetual tourists” are expats who live in Costa Rica and renew their tourist visas every 90 days, but they don’t apply for residency. As part of a crackdown on perpetual tourists, border officials may opt to grant them just 15 days in the country instead of the usual 90.
Their passport expires in less than six months.
Easy to forget but very important: If your visa expires in less than six months, you can be denied permission to enter Costa Rica, Nicaragua and many other countries.
They might be forced to provide proof of income.
Malette told the story of one gentleman who had “all his ducks in order, everything, everything by the book.” And yet the border agent told him: “I need to see proof of income, I need to see either your credit cards or your bank account, I need to see proof that you have enough money to stay in Costa Rica for 90 days.” The man wasn’t prepared to provide that, so he was given a visa for just 15 days – two weeks to gather all that info and then return to the border.
The last border agent might have forgotten to stamp their passport.
Incredible but true, an absent-minded border official may have forgotten to stamp your passport with the crucial entry or exit stamp. This happened to one of Malette’s clients, a woman who had all her papers in order to make a border run – but it turned out the airport in Liberia had forgotten to stamp her passport when she entered the country. Malette said the same thing happened to him once at the Nicaragua border.
“Every time people go to any border desk, whether you’re entering Costa Rica, you’re entering Canada, you’re entering the States,” he said, “when the border agents give you your passport, always check your stamp to see the date, plus the length of the visa.”
The good news is still good – this new initiative will make it easier for anyone to enter Costa Rica.
The lifting of these Costa Rica travel restrictions should increase the flow of tourists to this country, where tourism remains the top industry – and where 5 million of the happiest people in the world are waiting to greet you.
So travel safe, wear a mask, and welcome to Costa Rica!