View Full Version : Transportation and Costa Rica "Visa" problems

03-22-2014, 03:22 AM
I have recently seen on other message boards, and have heard from a couple of people personally, about issues involving travel to or from Costa Rica due to invalid or insufficient documentation. Some have been denied boarding by airlines, detained by immigration, or had their visits to CR disrupted. In my judgment, this is due to a misunderstanding of the situation and the rules regarding immigration law in Costa Rica. I don't usually give this information out for free, as it's part of my business, but I hate to see people get railroaded by silly stuff like this. I am familiar with the law in the USA and Costa Rica, a little bit with some other Western countries, and not so much other countries. If you're not from the US and feel that anything that I say might not quite hold true in your home country, you should double-check, as I say right now that some of this info is USA-specific.

1) Tourists to Costa Rica from the USA do NOT typically need or receive a Visa. You normally receive an Entry Stamp at the airport or border crossing. A Visa is a specific authorization to enter and exit a country under specific terms. An Entry Stamp is basically given to anyone who meets very basic criteria.

2) In the past, Costa Rican Immigration (CRI for brevity) has pretty much just scanned your passport and stamped it. As long as you didn't have any specific issues in CR, you were allowed in. Now, CRI is beginning to become a little more attentive, and in the near future will be handshaking with US criminal databases. Expect the rules to be more rigidly applied as time moves on.

3) The requirements for entering CR are:

a) Passport valid for ONE DAY upon entering Costa Rica. There is no requirement for any blank pages or spots left for an entry stamp. However, the Passport MUST be in good condition. A little bending or wear is OK. If it has tears or creases, it needs to be replaced. That's the LEGAL side of it. DO NOT play this game going to CR or any other country. You should always have a Passport that is valid for at least 6 months and at least 2 blank pages. If you don't, you're almost guaranteed to suffer a lot of grief from an airline employee, an immigration official, or any other of a dozen other organizations.

b) Proof of onward travel. A receipt with a confirmation number for an international airline flight is good enough. Always be prepared to show it. In the past, I must have entered CR 100 times or more, and never got asked for it. Now, it is becoming more common. If you are not yet certain of your travel plans, book a full-fare, fully refundable ticket for 85 days after you are going to enter CR. You can always cancel the ticket later. It does not have to be travel to your home country, just outside of CR.

c) Proof of $100 for each month you will be in CR. This one is rarely invoked, but it is technically required. My recommendation is to carry $350 in cash when you enter CR. Even after accounting for the $29 departure tax, you have proof of funds for a full 90 days.

d) Proof of Yellow Fever vaccination if you are entering from certain countries, including several in South America. A lot of guys do CR/Colombia trips and it has bitten some of them badly.

4) With all items in #3 considered, here are the issues I mentioned that have been experienced by some guys:

a) Denied boarding in the US for a flight to CR. The important thing to remember is that the airline may not be familiar with all of the details of CRI law. They are protecting their own butts. If CR refuses your entry, the airline has to remove you from CR at their own expense, and probably pay a fine. The gate agent might be a $9/hour employee working her way through Junior College -- don't assume she knows CRI law. A CR citizen or resident traveling on a one-way ticket or the return leg of a round-trip ticket needs to have either a CR Passport or some documentation proving residency. I know of at least 2 instances where a gate agent initially did not accept a CR cedula as proof of residency.

b) CR is not required to give you 90 days of permission on your entry stamp. They can give UP TO 90 days. This is where your proof of onward travel comes in handy, and that's why those who are not certain of their plans need to book that ticket for 85 days after entry. 90 is suspicious, but 85 days will get you at least an 85-day stamp. If the agent still balks, explain that you have confirmed plans (show the receipt) and politely ask to speak to a supervisor. I seriously doubt that will happen.

03-22-2014, 04:45 AM
A bit more info on this one:

CRI law seems to be interpreted slightly differently at least twice each year, and often your treatment depends upon the agent that you happen to get. For now, I am reasonably consistently getting input that so-called "perpetual tourism" is OK with CRI, as long as those people are willing to jump through the appropriate hoops. I even know a couple of guys who overstayed (one was in CR for about 110 days and the other for almost 5 months) -- they were allowed to pay their $100 and $200 fines and re-enter just a few days later. I also have met a few guys who have had to obey the "3 times" rule even after paying the fine. As usual, the law is interpreted and enforced sporadically. I have had mixed, unreliable reports on the "pay $100 for another 90 days" issue. The "same country twice" and "15 day rule" appear to be not enforced at this time. However, as usual, don't assume that because that is the way it is today, that it will be that way tomorrow. CR has no law preventing "perpetual tourism", but every new law usually technically whittles away at the ways that perpetual tourists can comply with the letter of the law. In my experience, the guys who are contrite and polite, even when they have obviously broken the law, get away with a slap on the wrist. It also helps if they have the cash to cover the fines immediately available. Unless you are working and earning money illegally in CR, a deadbeat, or some kind of criminal, CRI has no reason to want you to leave or to kick you out of the country.

Also, although I have not heard of this problem at the Nicaraguan border, the Panama border crossing has also recently been demanding proof of onward travel and sufficient funds to support your visit. It always pays to have a little cash on hand and proof of onward travel, whenever you cross a border -- whether it be by land, sea, or air.

03-26-2014, 05:02 AM
Perpetual Tourism:

If you have not yet been exposed to this concept, you will be if you continue to travel to Costa Rica on a regular basis. For those who don't know, it refers to the practice of nonresidents who nevertheless reside in CR, traveling outside of CR and then returning to get a new entry stamp, avoiding overstaying their previous stamp permission (usually, but not always, 90 days).

The problem with perpetual tourism is that the way most people conduct it is pretty obvious and common. Most folks do land-border crossings to Panama or Nicaragua to renew their entry stamps. Both of those scenarios have their own issues and problems. Here are some tips:

1) Consider flying. Air travelers receive less scrutiny, in most situations, than land-border crossers.

2) There is no immigration requirement to remain outside of CR for any period of time. However, CR customs DOES REQUIRE that you remain outside of CR for at least 72 hours if you wish to bring in items without customs duties. You will notice that there is no question about the "72 hours outside" on the immigration form, and that they do not request to see the customs form. However, I have had some clients who have not been outside CR for 72 hours "pop up" on the immigration officer's computer screen and then they did ask to see the customs form and made a little mark on it for the customs agent to see. On the other hand, I have actually checked "NO" on the 72-hour question, and neither the immigration nor the customs officers even looked at the form.

3) This changes constantly: However, for now at least, it seems that CR's immigration department is perfectly content to allow people to practice perpetual tourism. Less than one year ago, the Head of Immigration basically said (I paraphrase), "We don't care if someone wants to leave the country and come right back in, to get a new entry stamp. As long as they comply with the rules, it's OK with us." My take on this, after talking to immigration officials, is that CR government is getting a lot of complaints about harassment of foreigners, and also from businesses who say that tourist income is still way down from what it used to be. A lot of these complaints are probably just political posturing, and a lot of it is probably really true.

4) Despite the info above, those who do enter CR with less than a 72-hour absence, are more likely to receive a stamp with a shortened duration or asked to present proof of onward travel, according to my data.

5) Also, those who enter from Nicaragua or Panama are more likely to receive a "short stamp", according to my data.

6) A little trick... Many countries (even the US) will often give entry, exit, or "souvenir" stamps, even when they are not required. A person who only goes from the US to CR by air will typically have an unbroken string (several pages) of CR entry stamps. It draws attention to you. Take advantage of the opportunity to receive "souvenir" stamps anywhere and any time that you can. Ask to receive a stamp to "commemorate" your vacation. It works about 50% of the time.