Is Costa Rica Safe for Americans

Costa Rica is one of the safest countries to visit, whether you are an American or from any other country. However, you still need to take some precautions, just like you would in most cities in America. Costa Rica is even safer than some of the major cities and towns in various countries.

As an American, I always do research to know if a country is safe for me to travel to. I did a lot of research on whether Costa Rica is safe for Americans. However, I have traveled to Costa Rica several times, both with my family and as a solo traveler. Hence, I highlight tips on how to stay safe in this article. 

Key Takeaways From This Article

Costa Rica lies between Panama and Nicaragua in Central America. The country has various nationalities that are permanent residents or tourists, including Americans. However, I highlight a few key takeaways on how to be safe as an American in Costa Rica. 

  • The Global Peace Index ranks Costa Rica as the 39th safest country out of 163 countries, despite not having a standing army since 1949.
  • The primary language in Costa Rica is Spanish; learning essential words will come in handy when you need to ask for help. 
  • Always have a phone and the number of one local person you can call when you need help. Call 911 if you don’t have anyone, and depending on the emergency, they will connect you to the police, fire department, or medical assistance. 
  • Learn about the local laws and customs to avoid landing in jail, paying hefty fines, or both. 

How Americans can stay safe in Costa Rica

Recently, Costa Rica received a Level Two travel advisory, advising travelers to exercise increased caution. However, you can continue your travel plans as countries like the UK, Denmark, Belgium, and Germany have Level 2 advisories. 

While most places in Costa Rica are safe, there are areas that you, as an American, should avoid. Areas that are known to have local drug gangs are risky. 

Visiting the Cities

Significant cities in Costa Rica, such as San Jose and Liberia, tend to be unsafe for tourists. Petty theft and pickpocketing are the most common crimes in urban cities and tourist areas. The two cities have international airports and are transit areas for people going to other parts of Costa Rica. 

However, the impact extends beyond the two cities. Most tourists in highly populated areas experience the following crimes: 

Common Crimes in Major Cities
Muggings Vehicle burglary
Purse or wallet-snatching There have been instances of armed robbery, homicide, and sexual assault, but these incidents are rare.
Pickpocketing Wallet/purse snatching.
Robberies in accommodation places

As an American, I’d like to highlight a few tips for avoiding being targeted in major towns and cities.

  • Don’t wear flashy jewelry, and dress modestly. Wear clothes with deep pockets to put your wallet or money in. Put your wallet or phone in your front pocket. 
  • Carry your backpack on the front, and don’t hang it on restaurant chairs when eating, as chances of thieves grabbing and running away are common. 
  • Avoid walking at night, especially in crime-prone neighborhoods in downtown San Jose. Take an official taxi if you’re eating out at night or have gone clubbing. 
  • Keep your money in different pockets, but only carry a little cash. Leave your valuables and documents in a safe in your accommodation. Most reputable hotels provide safes, or you can buy a portable one and chain it in your hotel room.

In the rural areas

Eventually, you will have to venture out to the rural areas, as most of Costa Rica’s star attractions are outside the cities. Most national parks are in remote areas. However, most entry points to national parks are unsafe.

Research and ask when you want to travel to a remote town or village. That’s because some areas are prone to hurricanes, earthquakes, tropical storms, and floods. 

Sharing details with your friends, family, or the receptionist is essential when hiking or mountain climbing. If you are not returning at a specific time and they are unable to reach you on the phone, request that they notify the authorities.

As much as Costa Rica has friendly people, avoid accepting lifts from strangers, especially when traveling solo. 

Costa Rican Beaches

Costa Rica boasts over 300 beaches. Some are isolated and have very few visitors, while others are overcrowded. Specific beaches, such as Playa Matapalo, are exclusive to resorts. When you visit a beach that is not affiliated with your hotel, I recommend taking the following precautions:

  • Don’t leave your items unattended when at the beach. If you plan to swim, carry a waterproof bag to keep your wallet, phone, jewelry, and other valuables. But that only applies if you’re traveling solo. If you’re traveling with a group, you can watch your belongings in shifts.
  • Check with the locals to see if the beach waters are safe. Some of the Costa Rican beaches have rip tides or heavy currents. Examples include Playa Hermosa, Playa Jaco, Playa Dominical, Playa Herradura, and Playa Espadilla. 
  • Avoid swimming in unfamiliar territories, as some waterbodies might have crocodiles
  • Stay off the beach at night. If you are not familiar with the beach bonfire organizers, avoid them, as criminals have used some to lure fun-loving tourists.

Eating out or clubbing

If you’re an American visiting Costa Rica, try the local cuisine. However, I recommend eating at reputable hotels or restaurants to avoid food poisoning. Please ensure the foods are fully cooked and smell fresh in the area when you decide to eat at local eateries.

Avoid eating uncooked food or unwashed fruits and vegetables. 

Please don’t leave your drink unattended. Someone might slip a drug into your drink. When trying out local brands, I recommend a reputable bar, especially those in the restaurant you’re staying in. 

During Transit

You’ll have to use a bus, taxi, airplane, train, or rental car as you move around the country. Depending on the mode of transportation you choose, be sure to take the following precautions:

Means of Transport Precautions
Driving (a rental car) When you park your car, make sure there are no visible items to prevent car break-ins.
Always park in well-lit and secure places.
Taxis Use the official taxis, generally orange or red, with a yellow triangle on the door.
First, confirm if the taxi has a running meter and let the driver show you it’s working.
Alternatively, you can negotiate the price upfront, as some smaller town taxis may not have meters.
Always take the car’s details, like the number plate, in case you need to report an incident.
Confirm with the locals if Ubers are available in that part of town, as they are safer, more affordable, and more dependable.
Bus Stay out of isolated corners at the bus station, especially in the evening.
Keep your eyes on your luggage and avoid anyone offering to carry it for you.
Avoid bus stations at night or early in the morning.
Avoid using an ATM at the bus station, but if you must, cover the keypad with your hand.
Flying To avoid arriving or leaving the airport at night, plan ahead.

Local laws and customs

As an American traveling to Costa Rica, you must familiarize yourself with the local laws and customs to avoid getting in trouble with the authorities. There are a few local laws to observe that will prevent you from heading to jail, paying hefty fines, or both. 

  • Although you can easily find hard drugs such as cocaine, marijuana, crack, and heroin on Costa Rican beaches and in cities, it’s best to steer clear of them. They are illegal and can land you in jail. 
  • Only take photos of public buildings in Costa Rica with official authority. 
  • Don’t allow or give alcohol to a minor, as it can land you in trouble with the authorities. Learn more about the legal drinking age in Costa Rica

To avoid offending the local community, learn more about local culture, social norms, and traditions.

  • Wear more conservative clothes in public, especially around museums and churches. Avoid shorts, tank tops, or see-through dresses. 
  • While Costa Rica allows same-sex marriages, avoid public displays of affection. 
  • Ask for permission before taking photos of people (especially women and children) or sacred sites. 
  • Public protests and roadblocks can occur on the route you’re traveling. Stop at the roadblocks and follow any advisories.

Scams against Americans in Costa Rica

Unfortunately, some people will take advantage because Americans are known for their generous spirit. You might encounter some people requesting donations for local charities only to realize later that they don’t exist. 

Others might entice you with cheaper tours. Always be cautious when anyone tells you to pay for the tour in cash. Often, the tours are fake, and the client will disappear with your money. I recommend that you research online for reputable tour companies before making any payments. 

If you’re considering making Costa Rica your home, you might want to buy a home or invest in a business. Please consult a lawyer or an accountant before making any huge investments. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Costa Rica safe for solo female travelers?

Costa Rica is safe for solo female travelers. However, caution is still necessary, as women are more likely to be crime targets. Apart from following all the precautions I highlighted in the article, avoid becoming friendly with men you’ve just met. Keep them from knowing where you’re staying. 

Have a phone and the contact information of your Airbnb host, local hotel manager, a neighbor, or anyone else you can call in case of an emergency. Always look for opportunities to meet other solo travelers by joining guided tours, cooking classes, volunteer opportunities, art and music classes, or sports. 

Are Americans welcome in Costa Rica? 

The United States has deep diplomatic ties with Costa Rica. Apart from trade ties, Costa Rica is a major destination for American tourists, retirees, ex-pats, digital nomads, and business people. 

Conclusion

Costa Rica is a safe country for Americans and any other nationality. I have never experienced hate speech in all my travels to Costa Rica. However, taking precautions as you would in any other country is essential. 

Have you ever had a bad experience being an American in Costa Rica? Please share with us your experiences. 

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About 

Born in California, Michelle traveled extensively through the USA and Europe before moving to South Florida during the pandemic. Her career in Marketing has taken her all across the world. Her favorite country is France but she'll never turn down a beach vacation!

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