A central American nation known for its biodiversity; Costa Rica has been attracting many international travelers. Its rugged terrains, expansive coastlines, volcanos, rainforests and unique cities offer something for every traveler.
The entry policy is very lenient for most travelers. American and Canadian citizens do not need a visa to Costa Rica for short term visits (valid passport will be needed). Visa-required travelers, students wanting to stay long term to do research, and volunteers will need to visit the embassy for a formal visa application process. Travelers traveling to Costa Rica may need to fill out a health form online.
Foreigners visit Costa Rica for a wide range of reasons. Most of them visit the Central American country to explore its pristine beaches, bustling cities, ancient monuments and rainforests. They are home to rare animal and plant species including quetzal birds and spider monkeys. A vast majority of travelers entering Costa Rica are tourists who plan to remain in the country for a few weeks. They focus on touristy experiences and explore the country and its culture as much as possible.
Foreign students and teachers come to the country to pursue their educational aspirations. Some take up teaching jobs in various schools and universities. Foreign students arrive in the country to study niche courses in ecology, conservation and culture. Many foreigners also visit the country to lend a helping hand to wildlife protection activities of the Costa Rican government and other agencies. They volunteer in various capacities to make the world a better place for future generations. Some of them attend short-term courses that do not exceed three months and some others join study programs that are of longer duration.
A politically stable country with a crime rate lesser than many of its neighbors, Costa Rica is considered a haven for foreigners to spend their retirement. Many of them rent homes or properties in the country’s serene locations to spend time. Foreigners arrive in the country to invest in or start a business. Some foreign travelers come to the country to visit their family members or to get medical treatments.
Travelers based on the country of origin and nature of visit will need certain documents and authorizations such as a provisional to enter the country. Other factors that may affect the entry process are the duration of their intended stay in the country and their previous convictions. While citizens of certain nations are granted visa-free entry, visitors from some other countries are issued only restricted entry visas.
The government of Costa Rica grants four different types of travel authorizations to foreign travelers based on their nationality.
International travelers from over 90 foreign countries can enter Costa Rica without a visa. They can arrive in the country with their passports and a return ticket. Travelers from visa-exempt nations like the US, Canada and European Union states can enter the country with their passport with a minimum validity of a day from the date of entry. They can stay up to three months.
Similarly, citizens of a few eligible countries can enter Costa Rica visa-free and with a passport that is valid for 90 days from the date of arrival. They can stay in the Central American nation for a maximum of one month. Travelers from visa-required countries must get a tourist/provisional visa to enter Costa Rica. They are required to apply for the document in the Costa Rican consular mission in their country.
Costa Rican immigration also offers restricted visas to foreign nationals from countries like Bangladesh, Cuba, Iran and Iraq.
Costa Rican visas are the authorization granted to foreigners by the director general of migration under the ministry of foreign affairs. All visitors from visa-required countries need this authorization to legally enter and remain in the country.
Most foreigners enter Costa Rica as tourists. However, every one of them does not need a tourist visa to visit the country. This basically depends on their nationality and duration of stay. A vast majority of foreign tourists arriving in the country are from the US and this is followed by Germany, Switzerland, Spain and France. Travelers from over 90 foreign nations including these countries do not need a visa to enter Costa Rica as a tourist.
They can arrive in the country with just their passports with the required validity and a return flight ticket.
Travelers from visa-required countries need a tourist visa to visit Costa Rica. They have to apply through the Costa Rican embassy or consulate in their home country. The processing time, fee and documents to be submitted can vary depending on the country and the mission. While entering the country, they need to show their tourist visa to the immigration officers.
Note that a tourist visa may not guarantee entry to the country and this is decided by the immigration officer at the port of entry up to arrival. If a foreigner wishes to change his/her tourist visa to temporary residency, it is possible. He/she needs to complete the application process and pay the necessary fee.
Foreigners who wish to study in Costa Rica should get a visa. A vast majority of foreign students coming to Costa Rica enroll in various short- and long-term programs in Spanish language, ecology, environmental sciences and conservation. All international students irrespective of their nationality need a provisional student visa to enter Costa Rica. To get a provisional visa, they need to apply in the Costa Rican Consular mission in their country. This visa will expire within 90 days. Once they enter the country, they have to officially register their arrival at the office of the ministry of public security. After this, they have to convert their provisional student visa to a temporary student resident permit. For this, they need to approach the office of Costa Rican immigration.
Note that family members (spouses and minor children) of international students with a temporary resident permit can come to the country with a dependent visa. They are allowed to stay in the country for up to 90 days. If they wish to remain in the country for a longer period, they have to get a resident permit.
The government of Costa Rica grants visa-free entry to citizens of close to 100 foreign nations. To enter the country, they need to show their passports with the required validity and a return flight ticket to the immigration officers at the port of entry.
They also should have documents to prove funds to support themselves for the duration of their stay in the country. Note that they are not allowed to work in the country.
Apart from the above-mentioned foreign travelers, holders of diplomatic passports of a few eligible foreign nations, PR (permanent residency) of Schengen states and American Green Card can enter the Central American nation without a visa.
Except for foreign tourists, all other international travelers are required to get a provisional visa to enter Costa Rica.
Foreigners arriving in the country with a provisional visa must register their arrival at the office of the ministry of public security.
After that, they should apply for a temporary resident permit. Note that the processing time for a Costa Rican provisional entry visa and a temporary resident permit is comparatively longer. In some cases, it will go up to 60 days.
Applicants must start their visa application process early. Note that a provisional visa is valid only for 90 days. Overstaying this time period is deemed illegal. Foreigners on a provisional visa must get their temporary resident permit within three months.
Foreigners can apply for two types of residency permits in Costa Rica - temporary residency and permanent residency.
A residency permit allows a foreigner to legally remain in the country for more than three months for work, study, joining a family member and as a retiree. A permanent residency can be obtained if a foreigner is a blood relative of a Costa Rican citizen or he/she has been staying in the country on a temporary residency permit for more than three years.
Application for a temporary residency permit must be made when the applicant’s entry visa is legally valid and before its expiry.
The application processes should be completed in the office of the Costa Rican immigration department.
Costa Rica offers an excellent opportunity for researchers in the area of ecology, environment and conservation. Many Foreigners arrive in Costa Rica to volunteer in these fields. Both foreign researchers and volunteers need a provisional visa to enter Costa Rica.
This visa is a legal authorization to stay in the country for up to 90 days. They need to apply for temporary residency if they want to remain in the country for more than three months.
As of 2021, American citizens visited Costa Rica the most. Over 868,900 Americans visited Costa Rica in that year.
This is followed by European Union countries such as Spain, Germany and France. The tourism industry in the country expects to grow further in the coming years.
Some foreigners do attempt and manage to enter Costa Rica without proper authorization from the country’s government.
A vast majority of these illegal immigrants eventually wish to enter the USA through the Nicaraguan border.
Entering Costa Rica illegally is punishable under the country’s law and visa rules. Illegal migrants and foreigners arriving in the country with fake documentation will face legal action like fines and deportation. Once deported, the person cannot enter Costa Rica for the next five years.
A visa does not guarantee entry to Costa Rica. Immigration officers will take the final call after verifying the documents of the foreigners at the port of entry. They may ask them a few questions with regard to their visit and stay. If they find something amiss, they may deny entry. In such cases, the foreigner will have to return to his/her home country. If their documents are in order, they will be provided with an entry stamp.
There are two international airports in Costa Rica. The Juan Santamaria airport in San Jose is the busiest in the country followed by the Daniel Oduber international airport. Travelers can enter the country through any of these airports.
There are many direct flights from San Jose and Liberia to the United States of America. British Airways too operates direct flights to the country.
Foreigners can cross the Nicaraguan border to enter Costa Rica. One of the most preferred checkpoints on this border is at Penas Blancas. Travelers have to ensure that they have all the relevant travel and identity documents. They also should prove their intention to leave Costa Rica within 90 days. For this, they have to submit a return flight ticket.
Travelers can go directly up to the immigration officer at the Costa Rican immigration counter and submit their passports. The officer may ask a few questions with regard to the traveler’s identity, occupation and travel plans. They may ask for a return ticket.
Once approved, the office will stamp their passports with the tourist entry stamp. This normally is issued for a duration of 90 days.