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As the First Tourists Arrive in Costa Rica, the INS Insurance Debacle Drags On

While IATA criticizes Costa Rica’s mandatory INS insurance plan for foreign tourists, the Caja chief doubles down on the plan. Meanwhile the first tourists arrive unable to purchase the insurance online.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has criticized Costa Rica’s decision to monopolize its mandatory COVID-19 insurance for foreign tourists. In a statement yesterday, IATA warned the move would damage Costa Rica’s efforts to revitalize its critical tourism sector.

Peter Cerda, IATA’s regional vice-president for the Americas, said, “Although we understand the measure seeks to cover the cost of medical treatment in the event of an eventual contagion in Costa Rica, we consider it a deterrent to attract tourism to the country. Any difference in the cost of the trip could seriously and directly affect the recovery of both the tourism sector and air transport.”

The government has faced mounting backlash since mandating that the necessary COVID-19 health insurance could only come from the INS.

The tourism industry calls the INS prices for travelers to Costa Rica excessive and off-putting.

“They are exorbitant prices,” said Sary Valverde from the Costa Rican Association of Travel Agencies.

“What happens, for example, to foreigners with properties in Costa Rica who come for three or six months?”

The Costa Rican Chamber of Hotels president Javier Pacheco said the high cost “sends the wrong message to the world.”

Private insurance companies and politicians have also pushed back against the INS monopoly, calling it anti-competitive and illegal.

President Carlos Alvarado ordered a review into the policy last week, a possible sign of a backdown. Right now, though, INS insurance is still the only game in town.

Despite the backlash, the head of Costa Rica’s CCSS has doubled down on only accepting INS insurance.

Speaking yesterday, Roman Macaya disparaged private insurance and made it clear that only the INS insurance would work for him.

His position seems increasingly out of step with the rest of the administration who are trying to resolve what’s becoming an embarrassment.

The INS said they would try to lower the price of the insurance, which can cost thousands of dollars for some people.

“I’ve asked for a valuation of the product, to offer another option, with less coverage. This may mean a decrease in price,” said INS president Roger Arias on Saturday.

“Our only interest is to help revive tourism, protect foreigners who visit Costa Rica, and avoid the saturation of public health centers.”

The first commercial flight into Costa Rica arrived last night from Madrid with almost 200 foreign visitors.

According to some reports, there were teething problems with the INS insurance.

Posting on the Expatriates in Costa Rica Facebook group, an arriving tourist said, “We had struggled to get our insurance paid for because there was a bug in the website.

“We had QR codes as part of completing the entry form, so our paperwork was kind of in no-mans land. There were about three people at one point crowded around a laptop whilst on the phone trying to get it to work. They tried filling it out a few times and it wouldn’t work.

“My husband suggested they put our insurance through separately and that worked eventually when they did that.”

At today’s daily briefing, tourism minister Gustavo Segura said that they were working to lower the cost of the insurance and to accept international policies for tourists.  He also called for all tourism businesses, large and small to follow the health protocols. 

The next flight arrives tomorrow from Frankfurt, Germany. We’ll see if they fix this insurance debacle by then or not.

James Dyde is the editor of He lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.

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