Costa Rica can be deceptively similar to wherever it is you call home, but several basics are a bit different. Read this list, print it out and pack it in your bags, because our tips will help make your trip to paradise a bit smoother.
Costa Rica does not observe Daylight Saving Time. From March through October, during U.S. Daylight Saving Time, Costa Rica's time zone is equivalent to Mountain Standard Time. November through March, Costa Rica's time zone is equivalent to Central Standard Time.
Your North American appliances are compatible with Costa Rica's electrical system, which functions at 110 volts. If you bring 3-pronged appliances to Costa Rica, make sure to bring a converter, as many of Costa Rica's outlets are only 2-pronged.
Unless specifically labeled "no potable," you can drink Costa Rica's water. This means that you don't have to worry about fruit or vegetable salads, fruit drinks, or any other food item made with water that has not been boiled.
Shots & Inoculations
You do not need any shots or inoculations to come to Costa Rica, despite what people may tell you. However, it’s always wise to make sure you're up-to-date on your tetanus shot.
Mosquitoes & Dengue Fever
Dengue fever, a viral infection transmitted by mosquitoes, is found throughout Latin America. Though not a major problem in Costa Rica, it affects hundreds of people in isolated pockets of the country every year. The virus is most prevalent in urban communities. Also known as break-bone fever, it causes severe flu-like symptoms, lethargy, nausea, joint pains and a rash. There is no treatment for Dengue other than rest and re-hydration. Symptoms can last anywhere from one to three weeks. As there is no inoculation for the virus, prevention is key. Be sure to bring plenty of bug repellent (or buy some here), and wear long-sleeved shirts on buggy evenings.
Driving Costa Rica's roads can be an adventure sport, with few street signs, aggressive drivers, and distances that seem deceptively short on a map. Keep your eyes and ears open at all times, budget plenty of driving time, and practice both offensive and defensive driving.
Costa Ricans do not use North American-style directions. An address or directions will be given by referencing a landmark, and can be a little tricky to understand at first. For more information, see Navigating San Jose
Credit cards are widely accepted in heavily touristed spots, but you can't use them in some of the more rural areas. Hotels and restaurants will generally accept credit cards and dollars, but once you fan out from San Jose, small businesses, restaurants, and hotels will ask for cash payment in colones, the local currency. Don't worry, ATMs are scattered throughout the country, and usually offer good exchange rates.
You can find camera memory cards for sale on almost every San Jose corner, though heavy import taxes make them expensive. Try to bring backups from home.
Restaurant bills will almost always include tax and tip, except in certain tourist areas. Before you buy, look for I.V.I. on both the menu and bill which means that a 13% sales tax and 10% tip have already been added. Note: 10% can seem like a stingy tip, but in Costa Rica, it's perfectly acceptable. If service is exceptional, feel free to round up or add a small additional tip.
At hotels and the airport, $0.50-$1/bag is an appropriate tip for the concierge or baggage handlers. On the street, you'll often find area guards willing to watch your car until you return. For their services, a $1 tip is appropriate. Tip tour guides $5-$20 per person, depending on the guide's knowledge and the cost of the tour. Don't tip the taxi driver, unless you want to round the fare up a bit. For more information, read our suggested tipping guide.
Coin laundries are virtually non-existent in Costa Rica. Instead, you'll find lavanderias throughout the country, where employees will wash, dry, and fold your laundry for less than $5 per load.
Leaving Costa Rica
On the way out of Costa Rica, you'll have to pay a $26 exit tax, payable with cash or credit card at the international airport. If you're traveling with an underage child without his/her second parent, you will need extensive paperwork to be allowed out of the country. Don't come without it.