This is one of the few countries in the world which does not require a PCR test upon entry into its territory. No quarantine either. In order to preserve its economy, which is essentially based on tourism, the Costa Rican government has opted for the lightest possible restrictions.
As soon as they get off the plane, passengers grab their QR Code when they get into the line for the border control. The wait is longer than usual for arrivals at the airport in San Jose, Costa Rica. The barcode, in digital format or printed on a sheet of paper, is the key to entering Costa Rica. It is generated for each traveler who will have filled out, 48 hours in advance, their health declaration form.
In addition to this simple formality, tourists must obtain an insurance covering possible hospitalization and isolation costs in case of contraction of Covid-19. A coverage that the group of retired people from Lorraine, currently stranded in Costa Rica after having tested positive, have benefited from. But after 24 days of isolation and not being able to present a negative test – a sine qua non-condition to return to France – they have exceeded the 2,000 dollars covered by the insurance…
The opening of air borders on November 1st to all foreign nationals was accompanied by a relaxation of entry conditions. From now on, the PCR test is no longer imposed on tourists, nor is a quarantine. “In order to reactivate employment in tourism, especially in rural areas of Costa Rica, the government has decided to facilitate the conditions of entry into the country”, argues Gustavo J. Segura, Minister of Tourism. “This decision takes into account the fact that the Pan American Health Organization, in a document dated October 9th, considers that it is not necessary to require tests or order quarantines for the resumption of international travel”, adds the minister.
These simplified entry conditions appealed to Mathilde and Theo. A French, honeymoon couple travelling the globe, as best they can, at the whim of international restrictions. The newlyweds are expected to be in Indonesia on a humanitarian mission. With borders being closed, they had to find a fallback destination. Every day, they learnt about measures taken by each country. “Since Costa Rica reopened, entry conditions have never changed. That’s why we chose to come here”.
To travel around the country, particularly to discover the national parks, which are now open at 100% capacity, the couple rented an SUV. Tourists pass through vehicle restrictions since rental cars and people with hotel reservations can drive freely. However, motorized vehicles are prohibited from 10 pm. to 5 am. 10 pm is also the end of service for bars and restaurants, whose capacity is limited to 50%. Hotel restaurants do not have the same restriction and are not subject to curfew.
Sanitary protocol and idleness
But these restrictions do not seem to restrain tourists. On Samara beach, many of them enjoy a cocktail at sunset, while a group of young vacationers return from a kayak ride in the bay. After a last paddle stroke, they return to the hostel where they have chosen to stay for the week. Woodstock Hostel has been fully booked since mid-December. Owner Eva Marcelli says she is surprised by the number of guests: “We are working like a normal year, even better. And we welcome a lot of French people, which represents almost 70% of our clientele. Of course we respect the gestures of the barriers”.
Hand washing, shoe disinfection, hydroalcoholic gel or temperature taking… No establishment derogates from the application of the sanitary protocol. Perched in the mountainous jungle of Carrillo, the 3-star Peace & Lodge hotel and restaurant is experiencing a “sharp drop” in reservations. “Normally at this time of year, in high season, the restaurant is running at full capacity and the lodges are full with a 90% occupancy rate. In January, it dropped to 62%”, deplores its owner Laura Gusberti, who notes the appearance of a new clientele: “I have more and more customers from Russia and Eastern Europe. Usually they go to Asia, but with the closing of the borders there, they are turning to Costa Rica”.
A total of one million people visited the country of ‘Pura Vida’ in 2020, three times fewer than the previous year. At all costs, Costa Rica is trying to maintain its economy, which is mainly based on tourism, while at the same time showing an encouraging health situation. “We are gaining ground on the virus”, said Alexánder Solís, president of the National Emergency Committee (CNE), at a press conference on Friday, February 5. The “little Switzerland of Central America” has seen a decrease in the number of infections recorded in recent weeks, as well as a decrease in mortality and hospitalizations related to the pandemic.
An alternative objective is to attract another type of traveler: digital nomads and remote workers. This way of working has increased dramatically during the Coronavirus crisis due to the fact that many companies have been forced to allow their employees to work remotely. When Nikolas Iwan arrived in Costa Rica just before Christmas, with his wife and two daughters, he thought he was only going there for a vacation. However, after seeing the deteriorating health situation in Germany, where he is Managing Director of H2 Mobility, the father decided to stay: “What really made me decide to stay was that there is a coworking space in Samara that guarantees me a stable Internet connection”.
LAST UPDATE : Tourist visa extension
Through a formal request by the Ministry of Tourism, the Government has granted a final extension for tourists in Costa Rica up to JUNE 1ST, 2021. This extension concerns all foreign citizens under a tourist visa with an entry date between December 17, 2019, and June 1st, 2021, without distinction.
The Tourism Board, the Ministry of Health and Immigration Authorities have however made it clear that this is the last extension that will be allowed, and that it is not automatic, but will require the tourists to prove that they have a valid health insurance with Covid related medical and hotel expenses for the duration of their stay. This proof must be sent to the email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This extension also means that no monetary fines will be applied for overstaying the granted visa, provided the tourist has taken the required insurance and notified it as explained above. Finally, regarding the foreign driver’s license, a similar directive is expected from MOPT’s COSEVI, as has been the norm for the latest extensions.