Pre-Departure Information Packet
Welcome to Costa Rica! To visit our country there are some requirements which must be met.
Please read this packet, so that you can prepare for Costa Rica, pack accordingly, and enjoy your travel experience.
Section I : Visa & Passport Info / Entry Requirements
Section II: General Health Tips
Section III: Country Information
Section IV: Additional Notes
Section V: Packing List
Section I: Visa And Passport Info/ Entry Requirements
A return flight ticket is needed when entering Costa Rica. The immigration officer will ask for it upon your arrival. It is advisable to make a photocopy or take a picture of your passport with the entry stamp to carry at all times during your stay.
- Your country of origin determines the amount of days available to stay in Costa Rica as a tourist.
- In some cases, the Immigration official may request you show economic solvency for your stay in the country
- Even with a 90-day tourist visa, the immigration official determines the duration of your stay as allowed by your passport.
Visitors to Costa Rica must have a valid passport as well as proof of their intent to exit the country before their visa or entry stamp expires, usually within 90 days.
All non-resident travelers must possess a return ticket or a ticket as proof of when they intend to exit the country, commonly referred to as an outbound exit or onward ticket. An onward ticket is required of non-residents who are:
- Traveling on a one-way ticket
- Entering the country with a return ticket dated more than 90 days after arrival
- Flying into Costa Rica and flying out of another country
By law, an onward ticket includes any of the following on approved, commercial transport:
- A pre-purchased bus ticket out of the country
- A pre-purchased flight out of the country
- Proof of passage on a cruise ship
Once you arrive or depart from an airport in Costa Rica, remember if you carry an amount equal to or greater than US$10,000 or its equivalent in other currencies, cash or securities, you must declare it before the Customs Authority in the baggage area, through the form provided for this purpose, stated by Costa Rican law (No. 8204, article 35).
What inoculations do I need before entering Costa Rica?
Starting on July 30, 2007, all travelers coming from the following countries must possess a yellow fever vaccination certificate before entry into Costa Rica will be allowed: Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Bolivia, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and the Republic of Guyana.
American citizens/USA Passport holders do not need a visa to enter Costa Rica. However, they must have a current valid passport and show proof of a return ticket to exit Costa Rica. Please carry a copy of your return itinerary with you in case the customs agent asks to see it, as they often do.
Remember that while in Costa Rica, you are subject to local law. Showing contempt to a Costa Rica government official at the port of entry or elsewhere, is a serious offense.
Upon arrival at the international airport, you will of course have to go through immigration and customs. Once you have collected your baggage and are leaving the cordoned area into the public area, an AEA representative will be waiting for you. They will be holding a placard with your university name, and the paging board will have the easily recognizable AEA logo.
Section II: General Health
Although food and beverages served in the restaurant establishments we use are prepared and served under hygienic conditions, if you have not traveled outside the US, your stomach might be sensitive to foreign bacteria. Please read the below information carefully to minimize your risk of falling ill.
It is important to notify your travel agent and of any existing allergies, conditions, or concerns. We can make the following suggestions based on our own experiences, but you should be sure to check with your primary care doctor before making any decisions regarding your health.
Warnings & Suggestions
- If you require any regular medications, please be sure to bring them with you.
- We recommend taking probiotics (immunity boosters) a couple of weeks prior to and during the program. One is called an acidophilous treatment. This will help your body build up “good” bacteria to help ward off any foreign bacteria you may encounter. Some people also find grapefruit seed extract helpful. We are not medical doctors, so you must consult your doctor & read instructions prior to use.
- Tap water in Costa Rica is drinkable and, in many areas of the country, quite good. However, if you have a sensitive stomach. To play it safe, visit any supermarket and buy bottled water or bring a water bottle to fill up at filtered water stations to reduce the amount of plastic used on your trip. That being said, STAY HYDRATED! One of the most common and easily avoided health issues when traveling is dehydration. Bring a reusable water bottle for ease of carrying, and drink at least eight cups of water each day, including the day of departure for Costa Rica. On the day of departure from the USA, fill your water bottle after you pass through security at the airport, so that you have water to drink throughout the flight. It is also important to be mindful that drinking alcohol requires more water to be consumed.
- Bring antibacterial hand-wipes and/or small bottles of hand sanitizer and packets of tissues with you. You’ll find that they’re useful throughout the day – cleaning your hands before eating, after using the bathroom, etc, as tissues, soap, and paper towels may not always be available in public restrooms.
- If you get any cuts during the program, be sure to treat them immediately to avoid infection. It is helpful to travel with New Skin – it is an antiseptic as well as a liquid bandage.
- If you get sick from bacteria in food or water, it usually lasts for about a day, and can include vomiting and/or diarrhea. Most cases of travelers’ diarrhea are mild and do not require either antibiotics or antidiarrheal drugs. However, we recommend bringing along antidiarrheal medicine, to have on hand in the event you do become ill. Adequate fluid intake is essential. Please let your group leader know if you are not feeling well, particularly if it lasts more than a day.
- If you need medical assistance when you are in Costa Rica we are willing to help contact care. If it is a medical emergency that is life threatening we recommend to always call 911 first. Then you can contact your Costa Rica agent to help facilitate any additional medical care you need –
- FIND MY COSTA RICA Local number – 2479 -7275
- FIND MY COSTA RICA After hours number – 8546 5752
Please check with your doctor or travel clinic (at least 4 weeks before the program) regarding vaccinations.
Germs & Diseases
Reduce exposure to germs by following these tips:
- Wash your hands often, especially before eating.
- If soap and water aren’t available, clean hands with hand sanitizer.
- Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. If you need to touch your face, make sure your hands are clean.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (into your elbow, not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
- Try to avoid contact with people who are sick.
- If you are sick notify the group leader and stay home or in your hotel room, unless you need medical care.
- Diseases such can be spread through body fluids, such as saliva, blood, vomit, and semen. Protect yourself:
- Use latex condoms correctly.
- Do not inject drugs.
- Limit alcohol consumption. People take more risks when intoxicated.
- Do not share needles or any devices that can break the skin. That includes needles for tattoos, piercings, and acupuncture.
- If you receive medical or dental care, make sure the equipment is disinfected or sanitized.
All participants are strongly recommended to take out medical travel insurance with evacuation – prior to departure – for coverage for the duration of the international stay.
Section III: Country Information
Costa Rica is on Central Standard Time. Costa Rica observes Central Standard Time all year. There are no Daylight Saving Time clock changes.
The official language of Costa Rica is Spanish. The people of Costa Rica are friendly and generally interested in meeting you, but they may not be as open as you are initially. They also may not speak any English. Learning some of the language before you arrive will greatly help you in making friends and enjoying your time to the fullest.
Though generally classified as a tropical country because of its close proximity to the equator, Costa Rica has no real “winter” season – the sun shines here throughout the year. In general, the weather can be classified as dry or “high season” and wet or “green season.” With over 12 hours of sunshine a day, the sun rises at about 5:45 am and sets at about 5:45 pm consistently throughout the year.
Although Costa Rica is a small country in terms of area, there is a lot going on weather-wise. With a diverse and varied climate, Costa Rica can be divided into several climate zones, each of which are distinct and individual. This means that it may be sunny and hot in one area, but cool and rainy just a few miles down the road. You should prepare by packing layers (and definitely a rain jacket), and expect the unexpected. Depending on where you are and what you are doing, in one day, you may experience cool temps, rain, hot sun, and humidity.
Do learn some Spanish. Though English is widely spoken in Costa Rica, you’ll enjoy your trip even more if you can converse with all the locals you meet, and they really appreciate the effort.
Do tip your server at restaurants, if a service charge isn’t included in the bill (usually 10%).
Do smile and say hello or “hola” to everyone, even in passing on the street. Costa Ricans are very friendly and will more than likely say hello first.
Do enjoy a cup of fresh coffee in the morning or afternoon. Costa Rican coffee is some of the best in the world.
Do practice “Pura vida” (pronounced poo-ra vee-da). This phrase is very common in Costa Rica and is used in lots of situations. Usually it means “no worries” but is also used in other ways. Embrace the Pura Vida attitude: RELAX and enjoy your experience and don’t get too caught up in your worries and concerns – because the prevailing attitude in Costa Rica is Pura Vida!
Don’t be in a hurry. Costa Rica runs on “Tico time,” which might be more leisurely than what you’re used to. For example, buses are often late, and food at restaurants sometimes takes a little longer than what you may be accustomed to in your country.
Don’t feed animals. Always stay on marked trails, and don’t pick flowers or collect seashells. Please do your best not to disrupt the natural habitats you encounter. (“Take only memories, leave only footprints.”)
Don’t overdo public displays of affection. While a quick kiss or hand-holding isn’t any big deal, over-the-top displays (like making out) may be frowned upon by Costa Rican locals, particularly in the rural areas.
Don’t carry valuables around if it can be avoided. Keep them in a safe and hidden place if possible. Petty crime can happen anywhere in the world, so be proactive and protected. In fact, try not to bring anything too valuable.
Don’t throw toilet paper in the toilet! You’ll notice a little trash can next to every toilet – throw your used paper in there. Anything extra in the toilet can clog delicate plumbing systems.
We have given some suggestions and warnings in Section I. If you have any food allergies, be sure to share this information with your travel agent. Otherwise, please be open to experiencing the local cuisine! Some popular local foods include:
- Gallo Pinto, or rice and beans: prepare to eat a lot of rice and beans! This is THE staple food in Costa Rica (and much of Central America) and you may have it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.The most common dish for breakfast is Gallo Pinto which consists of rice mixed with black beans, often served with natilla (sour cream), eggs (scrambled) and fried plantains. Costa Ricans usually drink a cup of coffee or fresh fruit juice with it.
- Casados are often served for lunch or dinner. Casados are typically made up of rice, beans, salad, a type of meat or fish, and also usually include plantains, white cheese and corn tortilla. You may notice that the rice and beans in casados are separate, but in gallo pinto are mixed together.
- There is no typical meal for dinner, but another typical main dish in Costa Rica is arroz con pollo (rice with chicken), which can be served with different vegetables from the area like camote, chayote and yuca. Seafood is also common thanks to the country’s proximity to both the Pacific and Caribbean.
- Small dishes before or in between meals are called Bocas, like black bean dip, chimichurri (tomatoes and onions in lime juice) served with tortilla chips or ceviche (fish/ shrimp with onion in lime juice). Ensalada de frutas (fruit salad) consists of different pieces of tropical fruits, like papaya, banana, maracuya and many more.
One of the most common desserts is called Tres Leches, a cake bathed in evaporated, condensed and regular milk with a whipped cream top.
Visitors are advised to take basic safety precautions, much the same as they would in other major cities around the world. Basic safety precautions include:
- Do not walk alone at night, especially in unlit streets.
- Do not draw unnecessary attention to money or jewelry on your person. We recommend leaving expensive jewelry and accessories at home.
- Do not be tempted into payment games or gambling.
- Do not buy gold, diamonds, or other seemingly valuable items offered for sale on the street; they are often stolen or fake.
- Do not leave your property unattended in a public place.
- Always have a friend with you when transacting at an ATM and avoid using them after dark and/or in secluded locations.
- Do not travel off the beaten track before informing someone and asking advice on the safest routes.
- Do not resist when confronted.
- Do not accept rides from strangers.
- Do not venture into the township areas unless you are part of a tour group led by a reputable tour guide.
- Lock valuables in the hotel safe.
- Check your route before leaving the hotel.
- Lock your hotel door at all times – whether you are in the room or not – and check through the peephole when someone knocks on your hotel door.
- Lock your car doors at all times and leave your windows closed.
- Listen to the advice of your guides, hosts, and hotel personnel.
- Park in well-lit areas when going out at night.
- Lock any personal items and luggage in the boot (trunk) of the car.
- Contact the police and your local coordinator immediately after a crime.
- Use only reputable taxi companies – ask the hotel to call one for you and/or suggest one.
- Avoid excessive alcohol intake, as your judgment may be clouded under the influence of alcohol.
The Costa Rica currency is called colón. The current exchange rate is ¢578 colón to one US dollar. Please verify as the exchange rate changes daily
Costa Rica is generally safe; however, when handling money, please do not flash wads of cash. To you, $10 or $20 in small bills may not sound like a lot of money, but to someone very poor, this can look like a lot. It is helpful to keep small amounts in one pocket and larger bills in another pocket, so you do not have to pull your wallet out for small purchases.
You might want to bring a money belt with you that wraps around your waist to keep your credit cards or extra cash and passport when you do not have a safe or other place to keep it. When a safe is available in your accommodations, we recommend using it for valuables.
Please do not bring very expensive items like expensive jewelry, computers, or photography equipment. If you do bring an expensive camera, for example, it is best to keep it in an inconspicuous backpack when not in use.
Remember to have your passport ready when exchanging money – as it is a government requisition – and a copy of your passport will be kept by the money changer.
Almost all restaurants include a 10% gratuity on the bill. Tipping above this amount is not expected or necessary, but if you receive excellent service it is always appreciated. Cab drivers do not expect a tip. If you stay in a hotel and the bellman takes your luggage to your room it is proper to give a tip. Once in the room you may leave a tip to room service personnel and to housekeeping. Also to note, waiters will not bring your bill until you request it. Your plates will be picked up, but they will not hurry you out of the restaurant. You will need to ask for the bill before it will be brought to you.
Cash Machines (ATMs):
Do not change money at the airport. US Dollars are readily accepted instead of the local currency. ATM machines allow you to take out both the Cordoba and the USD. Make sure to confirm with your bank any fees related to credit card charges and ATM fees overseas. Some credit cards (ex. Chase) often do not charge foreign exchange rate fees.
You can also find cash machines in shopping malls and at some other shopping areas. We do not recommend using the single ATM in a box style. It is not that hard for someone to watch you withdraw funds and then follow you. Do not allow any seemingly friendly strangers to assist you with the cash machine. During banking hours, there may be a uniformed attendant with a nametag and photo ID that can help you, but don’t expect them to speak English. Don’t stand around and count your money – put it away immediately. There are a few important notes about ATM availability that you should keep in mind so that you can plan ahead: Not all machines are created equal, in that not all machines will accept the same cards. By far, most machines are designed for locals and accept mainly the local bankcard. However, there are many that accept Visa and Master Card if you wish to make a withdrawal on your credit card. Some even take cash network cards like Exchange, Cirrus, Plus, Pulse, Star, etc. These are generally available only at the airport and at Banco Nacional, Banco de Costa Rica, Banco Cuscatlan, Banco de San Jose, and Banco Banex.
- Look for a machine that carries a logo corresponding to that on the back or front of your card.
- Banks, and even their mechanical lobbies, are closed on holidays and some are closed on weekends. Plan ahead.
- Of course, all ATMs in Costa Rica dispense only Costa Rican currency.
Check with your bank prior to leaving to determine what they charge for international usage. This will usually give you the most favorable exchange rate, too.
You can also get cash by using a credit card in ATMs. These machines are available almost anywhere. Look for the Visa or Master Card stickers. Fees for cash advances will apply so these transactions cost more.
You don’t need or want to go to the bank every day. The lines are long for the machines and the wait can be long if you need to speak with a teller that probably doesn’t understand English. When you get back to the hotel, be sure to put most of this money in your room safe.
Power And Plugs
Electric current in Costa Rica is AC and uses 110 volts. The sockets are Type A and Type B, but budget places often don’t have a place for a grounding prong, so bring an adapter. While many hotels clearly label electrical outlets, others don’t. If you’re in doubt, ask first. Check the power adapters of your laptop, battery chargers, and other electric appliances before you go. Many are designed to automatically accommodate input current from 110 to 250 volts while others are only for 110. Some are switchable and others not. If you have something that only accepts 250 volts, you may want to consider purchasing a voltage adapter before you travel.
It is best to check with your provider before traveling, to inquire about access and costs. If you have an unlocked phone, you may be able to buy a local SIM in Costa Rica, where the costs of making and receiving calls will be much lower.
Section IV: Additional Notes
Photography: Please always ask your guide or driver when it is appropriate to take photos and be sure to ask the subject of the photo as well. Never take photos during a meeting or discussion session without prior permission and approval of all participants. Please always do so in a sensitive and dignifying way. And if the person asks you not to photograph, please respect this wish.
Section V: Example Packing List
Example Packing List
In handbag/money belt
- Wallet (keep in front pocket)
- Personal identification
- Air tickets
- Luggage key
- Emergency phone numbers
- Light jacket, cardigan
- Personal journal and pen
- Kleenex tissue pack
- Toiletries for flight (in 100ml containers, total not exceeding 1L)
- Personal medicines / extra prescriptions
- Hand sanitizer
- Photocopy of your passport and tickets
- All your electronic equipment, including cameras, video recorders and laptops etc.
- All batteries must be fully charged
In checked luggage
- Clothes – we suggest lightweight clothes that dry easily. Costa Rica is very humid!
- Comfortable, closed toe walking shoes (they offer better protection)
- Toiletries including sunscreen
- Good rain jacket: it is likely to rain every day, even if only for a short time, so bring one that’s comfortable!
- Sun hat
- Extra batteries for camera or camera charger
- Rubber sandals/flip flops or other shoes that can get wet are ok for casual down time when you are not at the project site
Luggage Restrictions & Information
Please check with your international carrier about the weight and pieces you can carry as these policies change frequently. Please ensure you have your luggage locked before each check-in.