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Yes - All classes in Costa Rica public schools are taught in Spanish. There are, however, many private bi-lingual schools for children available. These schools range from economical to exclusive and very expensive. The majority of bi-lingual schools are located around the Central Valley and the Guanacaste areas, but some other outlying areas have them also. An internet search using the key words “costa rica schools for americans” will result is a list of schools which teach in English.

Note:  A publicly funded school bus system does not exist in Costa Rica – all “school buses” are privately owned and charge for the transportation of children to and from schools.

It is helpful - Costa Rica is a Spanish speaking country. Many persons here speak some English, particularly in the tourist areas, but if you leave those areas and go out into the general population most Ticos do not speak any English. Therefore, knowing some Spanish can be helpful.

You should be aware that Costa Rican Spanish differs somewhat from the Spanish spoken and taught in other countries, so what you may already know might not work too well here. Costa Ricans appreciate those who try to speak their language and will go out of their way to accommodate and assist those who attempt to use the language.

Spanish is not hard to learn and there are dozens of schools, teachers, and other sources (including computer and on-line resources) that can teach Spanish to those wishing to become fluent in the language.

What if I need a translation? - 100% of ARCR staff are English speakers, as well as being fluent in Spanish. All will be pleased to assist MEMBERS when an unofficial translation is needed. If the necessity arises for an official translation, ARCR also has a government licensed associate who can accomplish the necessary translation process.

Most Costa Rican attorneys are also Notary Publics; therefore an attorney is required to be used to complete many routine legal actions. Most do not speak English.

There are many, many attorneys in Costa Rica, all with varying levels of expertise, experience, skill, and honesty. It behooves the expat to extensively research an attorney’s reputation before hiring one.

ARCR has reliable, English-speaking associate attorneys who can assist MEMBERS with any legal need.

Facilities for handicapped are mandated, but are currently in a stage of development; they are not universal:

– Ramps for entrance onto sidewalks or into buildings / stores are not in place in many locations.

– Most newer, and only some older, homes and businesses have bathrooms with handicapped facilities.

– Some modern stores provide motorized shopping carts for handicapped persons.

– Reserved parking spaces for handicapped person’s vehicles are designated (but the reservation is often ignored).

Some drawbacks are:

– Sidewalks, where they exist, are frequently severely uneven and not passable by wheelchairs or persons on crutches or walkers.

– Doorways are often not large enough for passage of a wheelchair.

– Automatic (remotely triggered) door openers are rare.

– Only some public buses are equipped to handle handicapped persons.

Persons with severe handicaps should be guarded about planning to visit or move to Costa Rica, and make at least one exploratory trip to determine if life here would be feasible for them before moving here.

In case of an emergency, contact your home country embassy. Every traveler and resident should register with their embassy when they arrive in Costa Rica. The United States Embassy has a program called STEP where a person can record their emergency contact information online . This will enable the embassy to be able to contact the traveler if there is an emergency back home, or notify the person’s relatives should an emergency occur while they are in Costa Rica. Check with your country’s embassy to determine what type of similar program they may have.

Costa Rica is as safe as any other country, safer than some. Every country has “bad neighborhoods” and every country has crime. Costa Rica is no different. Common sense should keep the visitor safe and sound:

  • -Do not go out alone at night.
  • -Do not wear expensive or flashy jewelry or watches.
  • -Do not visit areas known to be higher crime neighborhoods.
  • -Do not expose cameras, laptops, cell phones,etc. except to use them.
  • -Do not leave ANYTHING in sight in a rental car; rentals are easily identified and become targets of opportunity. Always lock important items (cameras, laptops, purses, luggage, etc.) in the trunk or stow them in a location where they cannot be seen from the outside of the vehicle, even when there is a guard present.
  • -Always lock your vehicle, even when you are only going to be away for a “moment”.
  • -Do not hike or explore remote areas alone; always go with an adult ‘buddy’.
  • -Do not visit remote beaches, no matter how inviting they may appear.
  • -Do not park in remote areas at beaches.
  • -At the beach, do not leave items (passports, wallets, bags, cell phones, etc.) unguarded at  any time. Money, passports, and vehicle keys in particular should always be kept under  constant, close watch.
  • -Learn the procedures for dealing with a rip current at the beach. Most Costa Rican  beaches are not posted and do not have life guards, and many are subject to rip tides.
  • -When walking in a crowded area, men should carry their wallets to a front pocket, women  should wear their purses with the strap over their heads.
  • -Do not roll down car windows at a stop light if someone taps on the window or tries to   talk to you.
  •  -At restaurants, do not give your credit card to the server to pay the bill; if they server   does   not have a remote credit card terminal to process the bill at the table, pay at the counter.
  •  -Do not sign a credit card receipt without first reviewing the charges and total.
  •  -When fueling your vehicle, always exit the vehicle and verify the pump was reset to zero    before fueling begins.
  • -Never leave your hotel room balcony door ajar for “a little air circulation” while out of the  room.
  • -Always double check your hotel room door to assure it is locked before leaving the  immediate area.
  • -Do not leave valuables out in your hotel room for maids or cleaners to see. If the hotel   has a  safe, use it.

The national monetary unit of Costa Rica is the colone. Colones are issued in both paper and coin form. The paper bills consist of ¢1,000, called a “mil” (Spanish for 1,000) or “un rojo” (because of the bill’s red color) to ¢50,000, however the ¢20,000 is the highest normally in distribution. Coins range from an almost valueless ¢5 to ¢500 (“quinientos” Spanish for 500)) and are quite heavy for the higher denominations.

American dollars are widely accepted throughout almost all the tourist areas and most elsewhere in Costa Rica. The exchange rate fluctuates daily and when American dollars are used for purchases, they can suffer a poor exchange rate as the rate will be calculated by the person you are doing business with –  and always in their favor. You will always receive change in colones, and often less than you expect.

A rule of thumb is to double the amount in colones and move the decimal point. Here are the most common bills and their estimated USD equivalent using that method:

  • ¢1,000 is about $2.00
  • ¢2,000 is about $4.00
  • ¢5,000 is about $10.00
  • ¢10,000 is about $20.00
  • ¢20,000 is about $40.00

Note: The higher the bill, the more inaccurate the above rough exchange rate will be. For example, at an exchange rate of ¢550 for each US dollar, a ¢20,000 bill will equal only about $36 instead of $40.

Taxi drivers, and smaller businesses are not likely to do the math based on the actual daily exchange rate and, if paid in dollars, may base the transaction on the “rule of thumb” rates shown above.

Where can I exchange money? There are different ways to deal with changing money in Costa Rica. The airports offer exchange locations, but at VERY unfavorable rates. Banks will gladly exchange dollars for colones at the posted daily exchange rate, with your passport for identification. Colones are also available from every ATM in the country (if you’ve authorized your card for use internationally.) Keep in mind that usually only debit cards, and not ATM cards, work. ATM machines can be found throughout Costa Rica and in most (but not all) tourist destinations, therefore it can be wise to carry some local currency with you.

Note: Some of the banks in Costa Rica limit daily withdrawals for foreign ATM / debit cards. You can, however, go into the bank to get larger amounts.

Keep in mind when using an ATM that some banks outside Costa Rica charge a “foreign transaction fee” for international use. Most Costa Rican also banks charge a fee for use of their ATM machine. And, in addition, you may be charged by your home bank for using an out-of-network machine to obain foreign currency. Check with your bank before you leave about the different fees.

Tipping is less customary in Costa Rica than in some other countries like the United States.

At restaurants, a 10% gratuity is always included in the bill. Sometimes it is a separate line item called servicio (service) that you can see on the bill. Other times, the 10% is included in the menu prices (sometimes the menu will state this but not always). Although it can be hard to tell if service is not listed separately, know that it is included somewhere and you are indeed being charged.

As for leaving more than the 10%, the locals usually don’t and servers don’t expect it, but leaving a little extra for exemplary service is always appreciated.

Note:  Some people complain of slow service (and tip accordingly) because it took “so long to get the check.” Keep in mind that servers will usually not bring the bill unless you ask for it because they think it is rude to kick you out. Just ask and they will be happy to bring it.

For someone who is taking you on a guided tour like to a national park/reserve, it is nice to leave a tip since they’re sharing their knowledge and expertise with you. Ten to 15% is a standard range.

Costa Rica is NOT an island! - It is one of the smallest countries in Latin America, often confused with the island of Puerto Rico. It is bordered on the north by Nicaragua and on the south by Panamá. About the size of the US state of West Virginia, Costa Rica boasts over 20 micro-climates, and is one of the most biodiverse locations on the planet.

While not an island, the hundreds of miles of coastline on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea offer world renowned beaches for swimming, snorkeling, diving, fishing, and surfing.

First-time visitors may not be familiar with the term Tico (male) or Tica (female.) This is how Costa Ricans refer to themselves and is in no way a derogatory term. Ticos and Ticas enjoy abbreviating words and adding diminutive phrases at the end of words; for example, Ticita, indicating a small or young Tica. It is a very friendly country but may cause confusion for the beginner Spanish speaker because some words are used differently than in other Spanish speaking countries.

Note:  The abbreviation “Nica” is often heard when referring to persons from Nicaragua. This may be considered an impolite or rude phrase in certain circumstances. It is advised that the newcomer avoid using it.

Yes - There are neighborhood gyms located throughout the Central Valley. There are probably more gyms per capita in Costa Rica than in the US. Gyms are quite popular and are reasonably priced. There are several Gold’s Gyms in San José. a World Gym in Escazu, and most tourist hotels and resorts will offer a gymnasium facility.

Yes -  There are, however, age, legal, and health requirements that must be complied with.

To ship a pet, it must be older than eight weeks and the animal must have a health certificate which shows that the pet is healthy and has all current vaccinations. The certificate is only valid for ten days and should not expire before the pet reaches Costa Rica.

Before departing the USA or Canada -  A dog or cat must be examined by an accredited veterinarian who must declare that the pet is healthy. To enter Costa Rica the animal must have an up-to-date vaccination for rabies which must be given at least 30 days prior to the day of departure and be good for at least one year. (Costa Rica does not recognize the three year rabies vaccination.) Some other vaccinations may be required depending on the country of origin. If the pet is traveling from the USA, the veterinarian must be USDA certified or, if from Canada, they must be accredited by the CFIA. Certificates of the vaccination(s) must be prepared by the veterinarian, who completes the standard Health Certificate; in the US this is USDA APHIS Form 7001.

Other possible vaccinations which are available, but are not required for entry into Costa Rica, are:

      Dogs: distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parainfluenza, parvovirus (DHLPP), and bordetella.

      Cats: feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia (FVRCP).                                                                                                                           

Arriving in Costa Rica - When a pet is traveling in the aircraft cabin with its owner, notice should be given to Costa Rica veterinary officials so they will be available to inspect the pet upon arrival of the flight. All domestic dogs and cats must be free of evidence of disease communicable to humans when examined at the entry airport, and if the animal is not in apparent good health, further examination by a licensed veterinarian may be required at the pet owner’s expense.

The owner will also need to have a personal letter stating the pet’s market value or a document that proves its value, such as an invoice. Or, you may provide this information on the Veterinary Certificate.

All pets must, within 14 days of entry, be examined by a licensed Costa Rica veterinarian who will complete the Veterinary Certificate for Costa Rica. An alternate copy translated into Spanish is also required.

If the pet travels as checked baggage or cargo and is not on the same flight as the owner, an import permit is required and you must use a licensed import company to clear customs. For more information on pet importers, do a web search using the words “animal shipping to Costa Rica.”

To make the customs process as easy as possible, the import company needs a copy of the passport of the person importing the animal, a copy of the passport of the person receiving the animal, and that person’s phone number and address in Costa Rica. They also need a copy of the animal’s valid health certificate and vaccinations, and information of the animal’s flight reservation.

Note:  The Costa Rica airport customs office is only open during normal business hours, Monday through Friday, and pets arriving on weekends cannot be retrieved until the following Monday. If your flight arrives at night, you will have to wait until the next day. The customs clearing process can take several hours, so plan accordingly.

Additional information -  Airlines which transport pets have very specific requirements for transporting them inside the airline cabin or as checked baggage or cargo. Check with your carrier to determine their regulations and charges.

For the safety of the animals being transported, they may not be tranquilized, drugged, or muzzled.



Ave. 14 and Calle (street) 42
San José, Costa Rica


Email: info@arcr.cr


P.O. Box 1191-1007
Centro Colón, San José,
Costa Rica