Entering Costa Rica During COVID-19: What Happens?

Travel expert Shay Tippie just arrived back into Costa Rica. Travel into this country is different during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s her experience of entering Costa Rica under lockdown.

I made it back safe and sound to Costa Rica on Monday, July 6 and I couldn’t be happier! Here’s a summary of my experience of flying to Costa Rica during the COVID-19 pandemic.

First, it’s important to say that not everyone can enter Costa Rica right now. The only reason I could is because I’m a resident and I left the country before March 24. If I didn’t have residency, I couldn’t get back in. Equally, if I’d left Costa Rica after March 24, resident or not, I couldn’t get back in. Since I’m a resident and I left Costa Rica before March 24th, I could return.

It was a little complicated getting here because United is the only airline flying from the USA on a regular basis at this time.

Even so, “regular basis” doesn’t mean too regular, no matter what their schedules say. United cancelled my flight twice, delaying my journey by a week. Prepare for that possibility.

The travel day itself was pretty smooth. No lines at check-in or security. It all felt very pre-911. Honestly, it felt good just to be in an airport again. That excitement and thrill that comes with traveling. I’ve missed that feeling.

There were more people than I had expected flying from LA to Houston, and the repatriation flight from Houston to San Jose was full. That surprised me at first. But after remembering that United cancelled flights all week, it made sense. Seemed like they were holding off to put us all on this one. My fellow passengers were Ticos and residents desperate to return to Costa Rica.

All the airports I passed through have tons of COVID-19 precautions in place.

There’s plexi-glass everywhere separating service agents and customers. You’ll find feet stickers on the ground all over so you know how far apart to stand. And very other seat in San Jose has a big Don’t Sit Here sign on it.

Masks and/or face shields are required in all the airports and on the plane. I wore a face shield.

For the flights, they start boarding by rows and from the back to the front. No more first/business class passengers getting on first for everyone to walk past them. There was no drink or food service, just prepackaged snack bags with a bottle of water, cookie, and pretzels. I think other drinks were upon request. They also handed out alcohol wipes as we boarded.

San Jose arrival and entering Costa Rica.

Before departing I had to fill out an online health form from Costa Rica’s CCSS (available in Spanish and English). When we landed in SJO, we were all directed to a terminal downstairs where we had to wait for our “health inspection.”

We got called up one by one and I waited about an hour for my turn. I was somewhere in the middle of the pack – there was about half the room left waiting for inspection after me.

During the inspection, all they did was confirm my contact details and take my temperature. I’m not sure what I was expecting there. Maybe a COVID-19 test? I guess I expected more, anyway.

After that, I had to go through immigration. The immigration officer took my contact details again and made me sign an orden sanitario. This was a bunch of legal Spanish I didn’t fully understand, but the gist was I had to quarantine for 14 days.

My quarantine requires me to not leave my house at all, for any reason. Not even for a walk or to the grocery store.                

I have to have someone get anything I need in for me. They say there are hefty fines and even possible jail time if you get caught breaking quarantine. At the very least you would expect to lose your residency.

Rumors are that the Health Ministry calls you to check you’re at home, and can even stop by your house without warning. No-one’s contacted me yet, though.

Bottom line about traveling to and entering Costa Rica during this lockdown is this: Expect cancelled flights. Wear a mask/shield. And quarantine for 14 days.

I’m fine with that. It’s all worth it to me to be back home in Costa Rica again!

California native Shay Tippie is a travel consultant with the Namu Travel Group. She lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.