When it comes to Costa Rica, how long you can stay is one of the most common concerns of travelers. We can see why. This is one of the most amazing countries in Central America. It’s got waterfalls and mountains, green jungles where sloths live alongside multi-colored birds, and beaches of pure tropical quality, offering surf and sun to all who come their way.
But it isn’t just about all the fun things to do and see. Costa Rica also has simple border restrictions that should make getting a visa pretty easy. It’s one of those places that help to reduce the stress of travel and welcome visitors with open arms.
This guide will look at border restrictions in Costa Rica, how long can you stay, and all the various visa options out there for travelers going to this lush land of rainforests and waves this year. From trips of sloth spotting in Monteverde to hiking around massive Arenal Volcano and surfing in Tamarindo, to exploring old San Jose and its rustic canteens, it’s a good place to start planning your adventure.
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Visa exemption – up to 90 days extendable
From the Pacific to the Caribbean, the small country of Costa Rica offers rich biodiversity, picturesque landscapes, rainforests, stunning beaches, and volcanos that attract high numbers of visitors every year.
Costa Rica is a popular eco-tourism destination that promotes slow travel, so those who want to enjoy the most of what this country has up its sleeve will usually want to stay as long as possible. The good news is that citizens of over 60 countries can visit this beautiful Central American gem for up to 90 days without having to get a visa at all.
If you’re from the US, Canada, the EU, the UK, South Africa, Australia, Mexico, or Singapore (and many more besides), you can simply fly into the country and go straight to passport control without having to complete any forms or pay any fees.
There are, however, a few things you need to have in order to enjoy this visa exemption.
Your passport must be valid for the whole duration of your stay plus one day. It is recommended to have an extra six months of validity to avoid any issues at the airport, though. You also need proof of a return ticket within 90 days of arrival. On rare occasions, the border official may want to check if you have enough money in your bank account to support your holiday, so it’s wise to have easy access to your bank account to prove that as well.
It is possible to extend your stay beyond the allowance of 90 days, but you will need to apply for an official tourism extension. On top of that, although you can usually stay in the country for up to 90 days with this pass, it is the immigration officers of Costa Rica that determine exactly how long can you stay for when they stamp you in, so be sure to check the date in your passport.
Visa exemption – up to 90 days non-extendable
If you’re dreaming of surfing in Tamarindo or Guanacaste, hiking the cloud forests of Monteverde, or enjoying the stunning beaches in Manuel Antonio, but you’re not on the first visa waiver list, don’t worry just yet.
There are a further 38 countries that can enjoy the lush green landscapes of this land for 90 days without having to apply for a visa. That includes countries like Russia, Ukraine, Malaysia, Turkey, the Philippines, and more. But you won’t be able to extend your trip beyond the limit. That’s the only catch.
There are also a few differences between this exemption scheme and the first one. You cannot extend your stay beyond the allowance (as noted), and you need to make sure that your passport is valid for at least three months after your planned departure. You also need a ticket confirming that you’ll leave the country no later than 90 days after touching down, and you might need to prove that you have sufficient funds to cover the trip.
30-day single entry visa
It’s not the end of the world if your country isn’t on the first two waiver lists. You can still come to explore the famous national parks and beaches of Costa Rica, how long can you stay might be limited to 30 days, however.
Visitors that hold a passport from over 80 countries including India, China, Colombia, and Thailand need to get a visa in a consulate before arriving in Costa Rica. You need to apply in person with the documents translated into Spanish. They include:
- Passport valid for at least six months and a copy of that
- A visa request letter (with your personal information, itinerary, and purpose of travel)
- Two pictures (2X2 inches)
- Proof of funds
- Police records
- Return flights reservation
There’s also an online application form to do once all documents have been presented to the consulate. It costs $52 to apply and you can enter the country within 60 days of your visa approval. Although this visa process seems quite lengthy and complicated, it’s well worth the effort when you consider what waits beyond passport control.
There is also a shortlist of 16 countries that need to arrange a restricted visa to travel to Costa Rica. Those are mostly territories that are currently suffering conflicts, including Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, but also citizens from countries such as Sri Lanka, Jamaica, and Cuba.
Just like with the non-restricted visa, you can stay in the country for 30 days with a possible extension to 90 days. It also allows a single entry, but the process of application is slightly different. You will need to appoint either a relative living in Costa Rica or an attorney to send the application for you. They will attach a letter to the Commission of Restricted Visas for approval. Your visa will then be issued by your nearest consulate.
As with the non-restricted visa, you need to make sure that your passport is valid for at least six months after your planned trip. Unfortunately, if you’re application is denied, you will only be able to reapply after waiting another six months.
Overstaying in Costa Rica
Although most people are lucky enough to be able to stay visa-free in Costa Rica for up to a whopping 90 days, some people still decide to overstay that. Costa Rican authorities are pretty strict about overstays. They usually charge fines of $100 for every extra month beyond your limit. They might also impose some restrictions on your returns, or even ban you from ever visiting this lush green country again!
While you might think that $100 isn’t too much for an extra month to enjoy the relaxed lifestyle, we don’t recommend it. Other than restricting your visits, you could also be deported, which would indicate extra costs. Plus, that doesn’t look great on your passport record and could prove problematic with getting visas elsewhere.
If you’d like to extend your stay, you can usually apply for an official extension. Whether you want to stay beyond your visa-free 90 days or want an extension to your 30-day visa, it’s a case of heading to the General Directorate of Immigration with the relevant forms.
How long to stay in Costa Rica for surfing?
Although most people associate Costa Rica with cloud forests, rich biodiversity, and eco-tourism, it is also an amazing surf destination. It is up there with places like Bali, Portugal, and Australia when it comes to the quality and reliability of waves. You can enjoy the best surfing conditions in the wet season that runs from May to November.
We recommend spending around two weeks hopping between spots in Guanacaste, Nicoya Peninsula, or Puntarenas. They all have reliable swells and some of the best surf in Costa Rica, how long you can stay and enjoy regular waves almost every day will be governed only by the length of your visa – that’s usually 90 days.
How long to stay in Costa Rica for beaches?
If beaches are the reason you want to come to this beautiful country, you may be wondering where to go and how long to stay. Costa Rica has access to both Pacific and Caribbean coasts, and both sides of the country offer amazing sands and pristine waters.
We’d recommend at least a few days by the stunning Playa Conchal on the Pacific side to enjoy swims in the turquoise ocean that splashes onto the shiny shells that cover the beach. And for tropical beach vibes with palm trees in the background, you could opt to spend a couple of days either by Punta Uva or Playa Espadillia.
For us, anything from a fortnight to a whole month is perfect for exploring the beaches of Costa Rica, but it’s a good idea to pick one coast and stay there, as hopping from side to side can waste precious sunbathing time.
Costa Rica: how long can you stay? The conclusion
Most visitors can enjoy this biodiversity paradise for up to 90 days without the hassle of applying for a visa. That gives most travelers around three months to enjoy the best of what Costa Rica has to offer.
Some people, however, do need to apply for a visa in advance and that process is quite lengthy and complicated. Those are single-entry visas that allow you to stay in the country for up to 30 days.