Driving in Costa Rica is not for everyone. So make sure you know what you're getting into before getting behind the wheel of a car in Costa Rica. The following are the 7 most frequently asked questions about driving in Costa Rica. These questions come in from my popular podcast about Costa Rica from folks from the US, Canada, and Europe.
1. What type of cars are available for rent?
Renting a car in Costa Rica is more expensive than in the US so most people rent the smaller more compact cars that are a little cheaper.
Prices vary and during the high season you will pay more. Around $ 20 or more per day. Renting during Christmas / New Years will add another $ 50 or more per week. I looked at five car rental company cars in Costa Rica and the average for renting a small car like a Toyota Yaris will cost around $ 205 per week. Please note this does not include the required by law insurance which will add at least $ 10-20 per day. So you're looking at $ 250-300 to rent a small car per week.
You will find all the major car rental agencies in Costa Rica such as Hertz, Avis, Dollar, Budget, and others.
2. I s driving a good idea?
It depends. Driving in Costa Rica compared to other countries can be a very scary proposition for most. Costa Rica has one of the highest vehicle accident rates in the world. Traffic laws and speed limits are often ignored. Crazy and illegal turns across lanes of traffic are common. Turn signals are rarely used and dangerous passing is common. So you might driving on your lane when all of a sudden here comes a car in your lane going the wrong way because they're passing on a blind spot. The roads are in poor condition, and large potholes which could cause serious damage to your car is common.
Although the road conditions in the beach areas are worse the actual driving is not as scary since there is less traffic and since the roads are not the best people tend to drive a little slower.
I like to have my own transportation so renting a car is something I like to do but it all depends on your comfort level. I've had friends and family who had never driven outside of the US they found driving to be scary but a fun adventure. So just take it easy and slow and you will be fine. Do not worry about the other drivers, just do your thing.
3. Do I need car rental insurance?
By law you will need the INS (Instituto Nacional de Seguros) liability insurance regardless of your own car insurance coverage or credit card coverage. The insurance required by law is known as TPL, SLI, SLC or API. The cost ranges from $ 10-20 USD per day depending on the vehicle. This insurance only covers damages to other people, cars, or property. You will need to buy supplemental coverage to cover damages to the rental car or yourself. However your own car insurance policy or credit card might cover that so call your insurance agent at home before leaving for Costa Rica and ask him or her if your insurance policy covers you for damages in Costa Rica. You might also want to call your credit card issuer and ask them the same question. If your own policy covers you in Costa Rica you're set and you do not need the supplemental coverage. If they do not cover you, then I suggest taking out a supplemental policy offered by car rental agencies.
Optional-CDW or LDW – collision damage waiver which covers the cost of the car's deductible amount which varies depending on the type of car and agency. The cost will range between $ 10-20 USD per day.
Optional-Zero Liability – This will reduce your liability to zero against theft and vandalism, for example, the cost for this insurance is between $ 5-20 USD per day depending on the agency and car.
As you can see the supplemental insurance cost can add up fast so it's important that you check with your insurance agent and your credit card company since you might not even need the optional / supplemental coverage.
If your insurance agent gives you the thumbs up do me a favor and get it in writing! You do not want any surprises.
4. What are car rental requirements in Costa Rica?
Requirements may vary depending on the car agency you use so check with them. Most require a valid driver's license (one from your home state or country is fine), a valid passport with your entry stamp, the Costa Rica mandated liability insurance, and you must be at least 21 years of age.
5. Is it safe to drive at night ?
The problem driving at night is not crime, it's just the unsafe driving and poor road conditions which are compounded even worse when you have poor visibility. The roads are not lit up well and it gets pitch dark after 6:00 PM making it unsafe to drive for an inexperienced driver.
6. What are road conditions like?
The road conditions are very poor compared to the super highways of the United States or the Autobahn in Germany. Drivers have to contend with unsafe driving habits of motorists, huge potholes, and even the highway is a two-lane road. The roads get worse during the rainy season since road washouts from the mudslides from the mountains are common.
7. What side of the road do they drive on in Costa Rica?
On the right hand side, like in the US and Canada.
One final tip
Make a copy of the profile page of your passport and your entry stamp and carry that with you along with your car rental papers. You might get stopped by police and you will need to show this to them. Do no carry your passport with you just make copies. The Costa Rican government now allows you to carry copies instead of your actual passport.