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Getting here! Arriving in Costa Rica

November 2, 2017

Congratulations on your great decision to visit Costa Rica! It’s an amazing and beautiful country, filled with natural wonder, adventure, and animals to inspire you every moment you’re here.

Here are a few BEFORE YOU FLY:

See if any of your credit cards have a “no foreign transaction fee” benefit. If one does – use that one. Note that Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted. American Express is in many places, but not as many. To avoid a delay or hassle while you’re here, it’s best to let your bank or card issuer know you’re coming here… and for what dates… ahead of time. That way when you’re buying a Starbucks at SJO your card won’t be declined for fraud alert. Also call your bank because you’ll want to use your ATM card to get Costa Rican Colones to spend while you’re here. Just let them know you’re traveling here, they’ll make the notes and all should be good.

For many people coming to Costa Rica, it’s their first time here.

What should I expect at the airport?

That’s a question we get often. In this post, we’ll go over the basics and hopefully help you make it as smooth and easy as possible.

First of all, relax. It’s not dangerous or stressful or scary in any way. SJO (Aeropuerto Internacional Juan Santamaría in San Jose) is a modern, well-equipped, excellent airport. Many European and North American airlines have direct flights into San Jose. It’s the most populous city  and the largest airport in Costa Rica.

Once you land, you’ll first go through passport control where they’ll review your passport and give you a visa stamp. As long as you’re staying for less than 90 days (for most countries), it’s a simple process. You may be asked to show your return flight information to show that you’re planing on exiting Costa Rica within the visa time limit.

After passport control, you’ll go to the checked-bag claim area. Look for your flight info and you should find your bags quickly. Note two things here: 1 – always use a porter. Just pay a few dollars and let them help you with your luggage. It will help ensure getting through customs is quick and easy, and it helps the locals earn a decent living. 2 – there is an ATM in the bag claim area that dispenses Colones (Costa Rican currency) and has a favorable exchange rate. Avoid the money changing services – there is a huge gap in buy/sell rates and it’s just not a good value. Seasoned travelers will never use them. Note, too, that you don’t have to have Colones in Costa Rica – everyone (or nearly everyone) accepts US dollars and EUROS. But – there is a catch. You’re at the mercy of what they choose to use as the exchange rate. For instance, to make things easy for the cashiers, the toll booth operators use a US dollar exchange rage of $1 to c1.000 Colones. That means your $1 toll will cost you about $1.75 (as the real exchange rate as of this writing is about $1 US to c575 Colones).  Same can be true in shops and restaurants.  People generally don’t try to rip you off here, but sometimes easy is better for them. Best advice is to use Colones.

Once your porter has your bags, there’s one more check – an X-Ray scan as you leave baggage claim. This is the point where the porter is most handy. Just let him put the bags on the belt and grab them on the other side. It’s a fast machine, not like those when you’re getting to the airport to board a flight.

After that – you’ll see car rental counters. If you’ve rented a car (do it in advance!)… find your company and they’ll help you. Generally, you’ll be escorted to the curb outside where you’ll wait for a van to drive you to the car pickup area (a few kilometers from the airport).

If you’re renting a car, make sure you “drop a pin” or just make a note of where the car return is. Sometimes there are several with the same name and it can be confusing on your return. Also – allow yourself an hour to return the car and get to the airport when it’s time to go home.

If you’re being met by a driver, you’ll see drivers waiting (along with anxious family members greeting their travelers) just past the car rental counters. Look for your name… and your drier will tell you where to wait. They’ll then go to the parking lot, get their car, and come pick you up.

If you have questions about arriving in San Jose, Costa Rica – we are here to help! Email us and let us know how we can help.