Things Your Travel Agent Forgot To Tell You


Things that will ensure you have a most wonderful time exploring or learning about our beautiful little country!

These are the answers to questions that I get asked all the time, and thought I would address them here, to ensure you have all the information to make sure your time spent in Costa Rica is fabulous!

The water here IS safe to drink! Exceptions may be in VERY remote or rural areas, but unless you are way out in the boonies, you’re OK.  Now if you are one of those with a seriously sensitive tummy… well then, perhaps bottled water would be recommended. Most water is spring water, and a lot of places it is chlorinated.

You do NOT need typhoid, malaria or any other shots when you visit Costa Rica. That is just silly, but I constantly meet folks who get a bunch of inoculations before visiting. It is NOT necessary to get all the shots!!

DO be a little bit concerned about Dengue Fever/ Zika!  Do not go bonkers. Just use spray whenever you go into populated areas … the mosquito has to bite a person with dengue, and then bite you, for you to possibly get the disease.  If you’re nervous… use bug spray. I do, but only because I hate getting bitten by any bug … not because of dengue. The mosquitos that carry dengue are day time biters, and in the dry / High season, there are very few of them.  Insect repellant is expensive in Costa Rica, so it is wise to bring it from home.

We are less than ten degrees North of the Equator, so bring sunscreen and use it.. Sunscreen is very expensive here in CR, so bring it from home, too.

If you rent a car here, remember to download WAZE before coming to CR, it is the best gps system for getting around Costa Rica! It will get you everywhere!

Drinking and driving is NOT LEGAL!  Passengers can drink and have open liquor.  The Police force now has breathalyzers!   Don’t drink and drive!  Drive defensively at all times!   If you have an accident here, you MUST remain at the site without moving the vehicles until BOTH the police AND the insurance agent show up.

Distances here are weird. Folks look at a map and say things like, “We can drive that in an hour, honey!”. No… you can’t.  We have lots of things that make it take longer!  A tractor on the road, a slow-moving farm truck! All the things that make our country great.  Slow down and enjoy the scenery!  Waze will give you pretty exact travel time to your destination.

  “Oh, they accept dollars and credit cards everywhere in Costa Rica”. 
Hotels and nearly all restaurants take credit cards of course, and many will accept dollars, but there are MANY places where nothing is accepted except the colón. The good news is that CR is full of ATM’s where you can use your bank card to get some colones at the proper exchange rate.  NO place, not even a bank, will accept traveler’s checks!

Use your ATM card to get cash funds in colones. You are allowed $100 – $300 per day, as a withdrawal at most Banks (depending on the ATM machine and bank).  Banco de Costa Rica and Banco Popular are the best for this.  I believe Costa Rica is about the ONLY country that does not extort money when you exchange foreign currencies. There are exceptions (like at the San Jose airport!), but in general, you will be treated fairly and get a good exchange rate!

Finally, and VERY important, TELL YOUR BANK and your credit card companies that you are going to CR. Many will block your credit cards, especially for cash withdrawals, if you miss this important step. Set a realistic daily withdrawal limit that fits your needs.  Primarily this is a cash-based society…. so bring US $ and exchange at any Banco National or Banco De Costa Rica.  You will get a good exchange rate. I have traveled extensively and Costa Rica is the only place I know where you will not get screwed exchanging dollars for colones… even at hotels. 

When renting a car here, LARGE deposits get pre-authorized on your credit card. This freezes your available funds. Organize your credit and cash needs before you come. If your credit card covers rental car insurance, you only need to purchase the mandatory insurance.   

Tipping: Check your bills at restaurants,  to see if they have added one or two tax items listed at the bottom of your receipt. One is the sales tax on food – the IVI; and the other will be for the country wide 10% service / tip charge.  Not every place charges it automatically. If there is only one (the IVI) then, you will need to leave the entire tip. If there are two, you can choose to leave more tip, depending on service received. DO NOT OVER TIP!

Don’t carry your passport if you go to the beach or are walking. You can have a copy made of your front (picture) page and the entry stamp. The police here are cordial to tourists and most of the time they will accept that as a valid ID.  I have had clients who were fined $250 for not having their passport and Drivers License with them while driving.  Just recently, Jan 2019, I spoke with a local rental car company who has had the plates taken off two cars, by the police; because drivers could not produce their Driver’s license and passport!  They told me it is a serious deal, and will take them many months to get the plates back, and be able to rent the cars! Save yourself and the company, the hassle and always have your documents with you. 

If you leave the car, take them with you, or hide them in the car – in the spare tire hole, if there is one; or tucked into the springs under seat, or locked in the glove box, etc.  Anywhere it will take time for a thief to look for them!  They are looking for fast, snatch and grab!  They can’t take the time to search your car for your things.   Use your ‘spidey” senses, just like you would at home!

Relax!  Be polite! Enjoy this wonderful country and remember always that you are a guest.  Things are different here, and not always the way you want them. 

Foreign travel IS foreign; and the Costa Rican culture is wonderful, but it can be different from your home country.

Costa Ricans are a gentle people, and do not do well with “bravado”!   The minute you raise your voice, the Ticos shut down!  You will get nowhere!
Stay calm, keep your voice normal and all things will be resolved! 

You can eat the food here; EVERYWHERE! It is quite good and some of the best spots are the little roadside restaurants and ‘sodas’. There is often some little old abuelita (grandmother) working in the kitchen and she likely makes a truly excellent meal.  

With this information in your pocket, now you can relax and have a fabulous time exploring this beautiful country and its gentle people! 

HAVE FUN!  Contact us if you have any other questions, we are more than happy to share what we know!

The team at C21 Ballena Properties

Marcel, Bill, Karen and Darrel

Do you have questions about this article, or buying property in Costa Rica? Contact us!

Published by ajimenez

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