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Country Reports

Costa Rica Country Report

Overview

INTRODUCTION

This small Central American country (population 4.9 million) is relatively peaceful and prosperous in a region plagued by political crises and endemic violence.

CRIME

However, Costa Rica is experiencing a rise in crime rates (petty crime, credit card theft, passport theft, muggings, car theft, homicides) and the increased presence of gangs (pandillas). While still low for regional standards, the homicide rate has nearly doubled in the past 15 years, to approximately 11.5 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2015. This rate, a record high for the country, has been largely attributed to turf wars between rival gangs and international narcotraffickers.

Crime rates are particularly high in areas popular with tourists, including during the day, and foreigners can be specifically targeted due to their presumed affluence.

Areas of the country most affected by gang violence include the capital San José, coastal areas between Jaco and Quépos on the Pacific coast, the area around Santa Teresa (also on the Pacific coast), and the Caribbean coastal cities of Puerto Viejo and Limón. 

There is a low risk of express kidnapping, wherein victims are abducted in the streets or while in taxis and forced to withdraw cash from ATMs. Victims are often targeted at night or when leaving work. Only licensed taxis should be used, preferably called for ahead or picked up at a taxi stand. That said, Costa Rica, along with Panama, has the lowest rates of kidnapping in Central America, with some 20 reported per year.

"Virtual kidnapping" scams have also been reported, in which perpetrators telephone the victim and falsely inform him or her that they have kidnapped a family member, often a child, and demand a ransom for their release. Specific information regarding the supposed kidnapping victim, adding a veneer of veracity to the false claims, is often collected from social networking sites.

Be aware that crimes are also more prevalent during certain times of year, such as the Christmas and Easter holiday seasons.

SOCIOPOLITICAL UNREST

Street protests and strikes are not uncommon in the country. Demonstrations are usually peaceful but may disrupt travel.

As in many countries, the frequency and intensity of protests tends to rise during electoral periods. General elections (presidential and legislative) were held on February 4, 2018, without major incident; a run-off election will be held on April 1.

Political activism by foreign nationals is prohibited under Costa Rican law. Foreigners who take place in demonstrations or other political activities, including peaceful rallies, risk detention.

HEALTH

Foreign visitors face an array of health risks when traveling to Costa Rica. It should be noted that hospital facilities are few and far between outside of large urban centers and medical care is often expensive (sometimes requiring payment prior to services). All travelers are advised to take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance prior to departure.

A number of mosquito-borne diseases are present in the country, with transmission rates generally highest during and immediately following the rainy season (May to November).

  • Dengue fever is endemic in the country, particularly in Guanacaste, Limón, and Puntarenas provinces. Although still a significant health threat, rates have fallen considerably in the first half of 2017; only approximately 1000 cases were reported in the first 14 weeks of the year. To compare, some 22,600 cases of the virus were reported in the country in 2016.
  • Cases of the Zika virus have been reported throughout the country. In the first 14 weeks of 2017, 151 confirmed cases were reported in the country, along with 719 more suspected cases. To compare, more than 4000 suspected or confirmed cases were reported in the country in 2016. While the virus is usually relatively benign (and asymptomatic in 80 percent of cases), links between the Zika virus and severe birth defects as well as the potentially fatal neurological disorder Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) have been established.
  • More than 3400 cases of chikungunya were confirmed in the country in 2016 but transmission rates have fallen significantly in 2017; only 128 cases were reported in the first 14 weeks of 2017.
  • There is very low risk of contracting malaria in Costa Rica. The only region with potential risk is in Matina canton (Limón province).

Yellow fever is not present in Costa Rica. However, travelers over nine months of age are required to present a yellow fever vaccination certificate if arriving from countries with risk of yellow fever transmission (with the exception of Burundi, Chad, Congo, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Central African Republic, Rwanda, Senegal, South Sudan, Togo, Uganda, Argentina, Guyana, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago) or having transited for more than 12 hours through an airport of a country with risk of yellow fever transmission (same exceptions).

A rise in respiratory diseases, including influenza, is common during the rainy season (May to November).

NATURAL RISKS

Costa Rica is vulnerable to natural disasters, including seismic activity. The risk is highest on the Nicoya Peninsula (north) and the Osa Peninsula (south).

Eruptions of the Turrialba Volcano, located approximately 35 km (25 mi) east-northeast of San José, are relatively common and can lead to flight disruptions at San José's Juan Santamaria (SJO) and Tobías Bolaños (SYQ) international airports, including full airport closures. The volcano also regularly drops potentially hazardous ash over the Central Valley, home to 60 percent of Costa Rica's 4.3 million residents as well as on San José (see HEALTH section). Various other active volcanoes are present in Costa Rica, including Irazú, Rincon, and Poás.

In the event of nearby volcanic activity, keep abreast of the situation and take the necessary precautions if in affected areas, such as stocking up on drinking water, wearing respiratory masks, and wearing covering clothing to protect skin from abrasive ash. Be prepared to evacuate if such an order is given.

Thunderstorms and downpours are common during the rainy season, which lasts from May through November with a peak of precipitation in September and October. Flooding and landslides, and consequent travel disruptions, are possible during this period.

TRANSPORTATION

Roads are often in mediocre condition; motorists should drive with caution, particularly on secondary roads and in rural areas. Poor road conditions and reckless local driving habits contribute to high fatality rates on the road. Additionally, roads are often closed due to flooding and landslides during the rainy season (May to November). Avoid driving at night when possible, particularly outside of cities.

Traffic congestion is notorious in the capital region (Gran Área Metropolitana), e.g. the cities of San José, Heredia, Alajuela, and Cartago, particularly on San José's Circunvalacion ring road. Traffic conditions are particularly poor in the event of protests or car accidents (common in the city) and on rainy days, especially in the event of flooding.

While the ride-sharing application is technically illegal in Costa Rica, the service continues to function. Regarding taxis, it is advisable to only use licensed taxis with working meters. City buses are generally safe, inexpensive, and well maintained; be vigilant, however, regarding pickpockets.

Criminals have been known to specifically target rental cars, sometimes puncturing tires and following the car until it is forced to pull over then robbing the occupants.

Air travel is safe in Costa Rica. However, flight disruptions are relatively common in the afternoon due to the frequency of rain and thunderstorms.

OTHER

Finally, beach-goers should be conscious of the fact that there is a significant risk of drowning due to strong riptides along both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. Lifeguards are rare. It is best to consult with local authorities before deciding to swim.

Climate

Conditions are wet and tropical along the Caribbean coast but drier inland and along the Pacific. The dry season lasts from January until May and the rainy season from April until December. Rainfall is the heaviest along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts (intense but brief showers). Costa Rica's Central Valley has a temperate climate throughout the year. Temperatures are very high along the Pacific coast in the summer and slightly cooler along the Caribbean coast (30°C).

Useful Numbers

Country Code: +506 Police: 911 Fire Dept.: 911 Ambulance: 911

Electricity

Voltage: 120 V ~ 60 Hz

Outlets:

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