Driving in Costa Rica: What You Need to Know

Are you planning a journey and want to know how to get around Costa Rica? Embarking on a road trip across its lush landscapes could be the adventure you’re seeking. Costa Rica offers an enticing mix of bustling cities, tranquil coastlines, and dense jungles, all waiting to be explored. However, driving in Costa Rica can be a unique experience, filled with unfamiliar rules and varying road conditions. This guide will equip you with all the essential information to navigate Costa Rica’s roads like a pro.

Understanding Costa Rica’s Road Conditions

One of the critical aspects of driving in Costa Rica is understanding the country’s road conditions. Costa Rica’s road infrastructure is a mixed bag, unlike many developed nations.

City Roads

In urban areas like San Jose, roads are paved and well-maintained. Traffic rules are more strictly enforced, and the traffic flow is relatively similar to other countries.

Rural Roads

On the other hand, rural areas present a different story. Roads are often unpaved, with potholes being a common occurrence. These roads can get muddy and slippery during the rainy season, posing challenges even to experienced drivers. Therefore, checking Costa Rica’s road conditions is always prudent before setting off on your journey.

Driving in Costa Rica in the Rainy Season

Driving in Costa Rica’s rainy season, which typically occurs from May to November, presents unique challenges due to heavy rainfall and the potential for landslides. To navigate safely during this time, it is recommended to plan your journeys for the morning when the weather tends to be clearer. Additionally, always stay updated on weather conditions before embarking on your drive to ensure a safer and more enjoyable travel experience.

Is it Safe to Drive in Costa Rica?

Safety is always a prime concern when driving in a foreign country. So, is it safe to drive in Costa Rica? The short answer is yes but with some caveats.

Road Safety

While road conditions can be challenging, especially in rural areas, you can navigate Costa Rica’s roads safely with careful planning and safe driving habits. Always keep an eye out for sudden obstacles like wildlife or potholes.

Driving Behavior

Costa Rican drivers, colloquially known as ‘Ticos,’ are known for their assertive driving style. Don’t be surprised if you find local drivers overtaking in conditions where you might feel uncomfortable. Be patient, stay calm, and stick to your comfort zone.

Security Concerns

Car theft can be an issue in certain areas. Therefore, always park in well-lit, busy areas or secured parking lots. Never leave valuables in your car.

Rules and Regulations While Driving in Costa Rica

Understanding local traffic laws is vital when driving in Costa Rica. Here are some fundamental rules to keep in mind:

License Requirements

You can drive in Costa Rica for up to three months if you have a valid international driver’s license or a license from your home country.

Speed Limits

Speed limits vary depending on the area – 40 km/h in residential zones, 60-80 km/h on main roads, and up to 100 km/h on highways. Remember, these are the maximum limits, not targets.

Seat Belts and Child Seats

Seat belts are mandatory for all passengers. Children under 12 must be secured in a child seat or booster, depending on their age and size.

Driving Under Influence

Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is strictly prohibited. The legal blood alcohol limit is 0.05%, but it’s safer not to drink and drive at all.


Insurance is mandatory when renting a car in Costa Rica. At the minimum, you’ll need liability insurance that covers damages to other vehicles. However, for comprehensive coverage, consider full coverage insurance.

Car Rental Tips

Renting a car provides the freedom and flexibility to explore Costa Rica at your own pace. Here are some tips to help you navigate the rental process.

Requirements for Renting a Car in Costa Rica

To rent a car in Costa Rica, you must be at least 21 years old, although some rental companies set the minimum age at 23. You need a valid driver’s license from your home country or an international driver’s license. Also, a credit card is usually required for the deposit.

Cost of Renting a Car in Costa Rica

The cost of renting a car in Costa Rica can vary widely depending on the type of car, the rental company, and the time of year. On average, you can expect to pay anywhere from $30 to $150 per day. Remember to factor in the cost of insurance, which is mandatory in Costa Rica, and any additional equipment you might need, such as a GPS or child car seat.

Choose the Right Vehicle

When deciding what car to rent, consider where you plan to drive. For city driving, a compact car is sufficient. However, a 4×4 might be a better choice for rural areas with rougher roads.

Inspect the Vehicle

Before you drive off, inspect the rental car thoroughly. Look for any existing damage and ensure it’s noted on your rental agreement to avoid future disputes.

Get a Local SIM Card

A local SIM card with data is invaluable for navigation and emergency calls. Most towns have shops where you can buy a SIM card.

Reputable Car Rental Companies in Costa Rica

If you’re interested in renting a car in Costa Rica, several reputable car rental companies offer their services to travelers. Here are some of the commonly used companies along with their specific requirements and policies:

Avis Rent a Car:

  • Minimum age: 23 years
  • Maximum age: None
  • Child safety seats: Available for $5.00 USD per day
  • Additional driver: Additional fee of $5.00 USD per day
  • No crossing of Costa Rican borders with the rental car
  • Prices can be higher, starting at $100/day (excluding insurance)


  • Minimum age: 21 years
  • Maximum age: None
  • Additional daily fee for drivers aged 21-24
  • Cross-border travel permitted with prearrangement
  • Restricted to specific vehicle types
  • Can drive using the driver’s license from the country of origin for up to 60 days (longer stays require an International Driver’s License)
  • Child seat installation guidance provided, but customers must install them
  • Major credit card required at the time of rental

Economy Rent a Car:

  • Minimum age: 21 years
  • Maximum age: None specified
  • Additional charge for drivers aged 18-21
  • Vehicle cannot leave the country of Costa Rica
  • Shuttle service available from SJO airport to the pickup location

Budget Rent a Car:

  • Minimum age: 25 years
  • Maximum age: 75 years
  • Vehicle must remain within Costa Rican borders
  • Additional charge for dropping off the vehicle at a different location
  • Child seats available for an additional $12 per day
  • Shuttle service available from SJO airport


  • Minimum age: 18 years
  • Maximum age: None
  • Free car seats or booster seats provided with the rental vehicle (specify requirements during reservation)
  • Car rental prices range from $30 to $45 per day, with premium SUVs costing more
  • Higher Basic Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) deductible for drivers aged 18-20, including additional drivers

Sixt Rent a Car:

  • Valid driver’s license from home country for at least 1 year required
  • Additional fee for drivers under 21 years old
  • Additional charge of USD 5.65 per day for drivers over 75 years old
  • Each rental company has its own policies and requirements, so it’s important to review them carefully and choose the one that best suits your needs and preferences.

Driving Etiquette While Driving in Costa Rica

Adopting local driving etiquette goes a long way in making your journey smoother and safer.


Overtaking is a common practice in Costa Rica. If a car behind you is trying to pass, slow down and move to the right when safe, indicating they can proceed.


Costa Ricans often use their horns to communicate – to alert other drivers of their presence or to express frustration. Don’t be alarmed by it; it’s just part of the local driving culture.

Flashing Headlights

Flashing headlights often indicate that a driver is allowing you to go ahead or warning you of a potential hazard ahead. Be observant and act accordingly.

Preparing for the Unexpected Things While Driving in Costa Rica

Even with careful planning, unexpected situations can arise. Here are some tips to tackle them effectively:

Flat Tire

Due to uneven road conditions, flat tires are common in Costa Rica. Learn how to change a tire and ensure your rental vehicle has a spare tire and the necessary tools.

Police Stop

Police often set up checkpoints to check for license, registration, and sobriety. If you’re stopped, be respectful and provide the documents requested.


In the unfortunate event of an accident, wait to move your vehicle until the police arrive, as it’s the law in Costa Rica. Contact your rental company and insurance provider as soon as possible.

Other Transportation Options in Costa Rica

When getting around Costa Rica, renting a car is not your only option. The country offers a range of transportation alternatives that can suit different preferences and travel needs. Consider the following options:

Taxis: Taxis are a standard mode of transportation in Costa Rica, especially in urban areas and popular tourist destinations. They provide a convenient and hassle-free way to get around. Choose registered taxis and ask the driver to use the meter or negotiate the fare beforehand.

Public Buses: Costa Rica has an extensive public bus network that reaches various parts of the country. Buses are a cost-effective way to travel used by locals and tourists. However, remember that bus schedules may not always be precise, so it’s essential to plan your trips accordingly.

Private Shuttles: Private shuttle services in Costa Rica offer a comfortable and personalized transportation experience. These shuttles can be arranged in advance and provide door-to-door service, making them convenient for reaching specific destinations or embarking on day trips.

Domestic Flights: Domestic flights can be a quick and convenient transportation option for longer distances or if you’re short on time. Costa Rica has several regional airports, and airlines offer frequent flights between major tourist destinations. Domestic flights allow you to cover long distances in a fraction of the time it would take by road.

Consider your travel itinerary, budget, and personal preferences when choosing the most suitable transportation option for your Costa Rican adventure. Each option has its own advantages, so you can mix and match depending on your needs and the specific locations you plan to visit.

People Ask About Driving in Costa Rica

Should I Tip My Shuttle Driver in Costa Rica?

Tipping is not mandatory in Costa Rica, but it’s appreciated. If your shuttle driver provided excellent service, a tip of around 10% is a great way to show your gratitude.

What if My Flight is Delayed?

If your flight is delayed, immediately contact your car rental or shuttle company to inform them of your new arrival time. Most companies are accustomed to dealing with such situations and will adjust your pick-up time accordingly.

What Side of the Road Does Costa Rica Drive On?

An essential yet crucial question is, what side of the road does Costa Rica drive on? Like the majority of the Americas, Costa Ricans drive on the right-hand side of the road. This might take some adjustment if you’re from a left-hand driving country, but rest assured, the transition is typically smooth for most travelers.

Which Airport in Costa Rica Should I Fly Into?

Costa Rica has two major international airports: Juan Santamaría International Airport near San Jose and Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport near Liberia. Both are great entry points to the country. Choose the most convenient for the regions you plan to visit.

Transportation around Costa Rica with a Baby or a Toddler

Traveling with a young child requires more planning. Whether renting a car or using a shuttle, ensure an appropriate child seat is available. Remember that travel times can be longer due to Costa Rica’s rugged terrain, so plan plenty of breaks to keep your little ones happy and comfortable. For navigating cities, a lightweight, easy-to-fold stroller can be beneficial.

What is the driving age in Costa Rica?

The minimum driving age in Costa Rica is 18. However, most rental companies require drivers to be at least 21 to rent a car, with some setting the minimum age at 23.

What side of the road do people drive on in Costa Rica?

In Costa Rica, people drive on the right side of the road. It’s important to remember this, especially if you’re accustomed to left-side driving.

What are the speed limits in Costa Rica?

Speed limits in Costa Rica vary depending on the type of road. In residential areas, the limit is usually 40 km/h. Main roads and highways have a speed limit of 60-80 km/h and up to 100 km/h, respectively.

How Much Does In Cost To Rent A Car In Costa Rica?

The cost of car rentals in Costa Rica can range from $30 to $150 per day, depending on the type of car and the rental company. Remember to factor in additional costs such as insurance and equipment rentals.

Age Requirements For Renting A Car

The minimum age to rent a car in Costa Rica is generally 21, though some companies require drivers to be at least 23. A valid driver’s license is also necessary.

Where To Rent Your Car In Costa Rica

You can rent a car at various Costa Rica locations, including airports, major cities, and popular tourist destinations. Avis has multiple outlets, while local firms like Vamos offer comprehensive services.

Is it Possible to Drive in Costa Rica with a US License?

If you’re from the US, you can drive in Costa Rica using your valid US driver’s license for up to three months. However, keeping your passport or a copy as proof of your entry date is a good idea.

Can Tourists Drive in Costa Rica?

Yes, tourists can drive in Costa Rica. All you need is a valid driver’s license from your home country. If you plan to stay more than three months, consider getting an international driver’s license.

Can You Drink and Drive in Costa Rica?

Drinking and driving is strictly prohibited in Costa Rica. The law sets the blood alcohol limit at 0.05%. Penalties for drunk driving can be severe, including hefty fines, imprisonment, and suspension of driving privileges.

Can You Hire a Driver in Costa Rica?

Hiring a local driver in Costa Rica is an excellent option if you’re uncomfortable driving yourself. They are familiar with the local roads and driving customs, making your journey safer and more relaxing. Many tourism companies provide this service.

Is it Possible Driving in Costa Rica with a Dog?

If you plan to bring your furry friend to Costa Rica, ensure you have all the necessary health documentation. Your pet should be secured while driving for safety. Remember that the hot climate may require extra hydration and comfort stops for your dog.

Wrapping up: Driving in Costa Rica

Embarking on a driving journey through the diverse landscapes of Costa Rica is an unparalleled adventure. Whether navigating the bustling streets of San Jose, exploring the rugged terrain of national parks, or simply taking in the breathtaking coastal routes, understanding the intricacies of driving in Costa Rica can make your journey more comfortable and safe.

We hope this guide has provided valuable insights into what driving in Costa Rica entails. From the rental process to understanding local road rules to make the most of your stay, this article aims to equip you with practical knowledge to navigate the beautiful Costa Rican roads confidently.

If you found this guide helpful, why share it with your friends and family who are planning their own Costa Rican adventure? Remember, knowledge is better when shared! Hit those social media buttons and spread the word about “Driving in Costa Rica: What You Need to Know.”

And if you’re already picturing yourself behind the wheel, exploring Costa Rica’s hidden gems, we encourage you to share your journey with us. Drop a comment about your experience or any additional tips you might have. We’d love to hear from you! Safe travels and happy exploring!