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Costa Rica Visa Requirements for US Citizens

Costa Rica welcomes close to two million international travelers every year and a majority of them are from the United States of America. 

Over 1,199,200 travelers from the USA visited the central American nation in 2017 and the number is expected to go up in the coming years.  

Here’s what American travelers need to know about visiting Costa Rica.   

Do US Citizens Need A Visa  

American citizens do not need a visa to enter and stay in Costa Rica for visits related to tourism. They are also eligible to travel to the country with their American passport and a return flight ticket.  

Costa Rican immigration does not allow American travelers without proof of onward journey (a return ticket) to enter the country as a tourist. 

Such passengers will have to face legal actions including fines. Only citizens of Costa Rica, holders of Costa Rican residency permit or a visa can enter the country without a return tick 

This waiver is only for short-term visits that do not exceed 90 days and the passport should have a validity of at least one day from the date of entry to Costa Rica.  

At present, citizens of over 90 foreign countries are eligible for visa-free entry to Costa Rica for tourism.  

Requirements to Visit Costa Rica for a US Citizen  

Citizens of the US are eligible to enter Costa Rica without a visa for tourism. They have to provide a passport and a return flight ticket to legally stay in the country for 90 days. 

If they want to extend their stay, they can apply for an extension at the immigration office in Costa Rica.  

When would a US Citizen Need a Visa to Costa Rica  

Americans are eligible for visa-free entry to Costa Rica. However, this is only for visits related to tourism. 

US citizens who wish to study, research or spend their retirement in Costa Rica will have to get a provisional visa to enter the country.  

They have to, later on, apply for a temporary residency visa at the office of immigration.  

To apply for a provisional visa, applicants must approach the Costa Rican embassy/consulate in the US. They need to schedule an appointment, complete the application form and submit their passport and other required documents to get a provisional visa.  

Once they receive their provisional visas, they can travel to Costa Rica. Once in Costa Rica, they have to change this visa into a temporary residency permit Note that a provisional visa is only an entry visa.   

Staying in Costa Rica as Teacher 

If an American citizen wishes to teach in a school or university in Costa Rica, he/she will need a visa. Teachers need to get a Costa Rican provisional visa for teaching and for this, they need to apply in the nearest Costa Rican consular mission with adequate documents.  

The documentation and processing fee may vary. However, most applicants are required to submit their birth certificate, passport copy, application form and invitation letter from the university or school. 

They also need to provide a federal criminal background certificate, proof of funds and pay the processing fee.  

Note that to apply for a Costa Rican provisional visa, American citizens need to have a passport with a minimum validity of six months.    

Once they receive the provisional visa, they can enter Costa Rica. After arriving in the county, they are required to apply for a temporary resident permit at the Costa Rican immigration office to work as a teacher.  

Opening a Business in Costa Rica 

Costa Rica is politically stable and has a comparatively lesser crime rate in Central America. Costa Rica is also considered a good destination to invest in.  

To open a business, foreigners including Americans do not necessarily need a visa. They can come in as a tourist and complete the paperwork to start the business.  

However, Americans and other foreigners cannot work as laborers and in other similar posts in the country. They can only manage the business. Once they get a temporary or permanent residency, they can start working in other posts.  

Volunteering in Costa Rica 

Costa Rica is very rich in natural resources and welcomes foreign volunteers who can lend a hand in protecting its biodiversity.  

Like international students, citizens of the US who wish to volunteer in Costa Rica need a provisional visa. They must apply for it in a Costa Rican embassy/consulate with all the required documents.  

Once they receive the provisional visa, they can enter Costa Rica. However, American volunteers should complete the visa process at the immigration office in Costa Rica. 

A temporary resident permit is a legal authorization granted by the immigration department to stay in the country as a volunteer for more than 90 days.  

Visiting Costa Rica for Research 

American students who wish to do research in Costa Rica too need a provisional visa and temporary resident permit. 

They need to apply for a provisional visa in a Costa Rican embassy/consulate in their country. They should personally appear (in most cases) before the consulate with their completed application forms and required documents and pay the fee. Once approved they can travel to the country.  

Applicants from the US have to complete the application process at the office of Costa Rican immigration and get a temporary resident permit for the duration of the research.     


While Americans do not need a visa to travel to Costa Rica as a tourist and stay for a maximum of 90 days, they need a provisional visa to enter as a student, teacher and volunteer.  

Apart from the above-mentioned categories, American citizens who wish to spend their retirement days or who wish to rent a property in the country too are required to get a provisional visa. 

Note that they need to submit proof of regular pension or income to get this type of visa.  

Except for tourists, US citizens need a resident permit to remain in the country for more than 90 days.  

Keep in mind that a Costa Rican provisional visa does not guarantee entry to the country. It is based on the decision of the immigration officers. US citizens must keep their documentation in order and answer the queries of the official honestly to be allowed into the country.  

If the entry is denied, they have to return to the US and in such cases, their visa fee is not refundable.   

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