Area Codes: There are no area codes in Costa Rica. All phone numbers are eight-digit numbers.
Business Hours: Banks are usually open Monday through Friday from 9am to 4pm, although many have begun to offer extended hours. Post offices are generally open Monday through Friday from 8am to 5:30pm, and Saturday from 7:30am to noon. (In small towns, post offices often close on Sat.) Stores are generally open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 6pm (many close for 1 hr. at lunch) but stores in modern malls generally stay open until 8 or 9pm and don't close for lunch. Most bars are open until 1 or 2am, although some go later.
Doctors: Your hotel front desk will be your best source of information on what to do and where to go for treatment. Most have the number of a trusted doctor on hand. In addition, your local consulate in Costa Rica can provide a list of area doctors who speak English.
Drinking Laws: Alcoholic beverages are sold every day of the week throughout the year, with the exception of the 2 days before Easter and the 2 days before and after a presidential election. The legal drinking age is 18, although it's only sporadically enforced. Liquor -- everything from beer to hard spirits -- is sold in specific liquor stores, as well as at most supermarkets and even convenience stores.
Electricity: The standard in Costa Rica is the same as in the United States and Canada: 110 volts AC (60 cycles). However, three-pronged outlets can be scarce, so it's helpful to bring along an adapter. Wherever you go, bring a connection kit of the right power, plus phone adapters, a spare phone cord, and a spare Ethernet network cable—or find out whether your hotel supplies them to guests.
Embassies & Consulates: The following are located in San José: United States Embassy, Calle 98 and Avenida Central, Pavas (https://cr.usembassy.gov; tel. 2519-2000, or 8863-4895 after hours in case of emergency); Canadian Embassy, Oficentro Ejecutivo La Sabana, Edificio 5 (http://costarica.gc.ca; tel. 2242-4400); and British Embassy, Edificio Colón, 11th Floor, Paseo Colón between calles 38 and 40 (www.gov.uk/government/world/costa-rica; tel. 2258-2025). There are no Australian, Irish, or New Zealand embassies in San José.
Emergencies: In case of any emergency, dial tel. 911 (which should have an English-speaking operator); for an ambulance, call tel. 1028; and to report a fire, call tel. 1118. If 911 doesn't work, contact the police at tel. 2222-1365 or 2221-5337, and hopefully they can find someone who speaks English.
Language: Spanish is the official language of Costa Rica. However, in most tourist areas, you'll be surprised by how well Costa Ricans speak English. Additionally, English is widely spoken along the Caribbean coast.
Legal Aid: If you need legal help, your best bet is to first contact your local embassy or consulate. Alternatively, you can pick up a copy of the Tico Times, which usually carries advertisements from local English-speaking lawyers.
Mail: At press time, it cost C600 to mail a letter to the United States, and C650 to Europe. You can get stamps at post offices and at some gift shops in large hotels. Given the Costa Rican postal service's track record, I recommend paying an extra C850 to have anything of any value certified. Better yet, use an international courier service or wait until you get home to post it. Contact DHL, on Paseo Colón between calles 30 and 32 (www.dhl.com; tel. 2209-6000); EMS Courier, with desks at most post offices nationwide (www.correos.go.cr; tel. 2223-9766); FedEx is based in Heredia but will arrange pickup anywhere in the metropolitan area (www.fedex.com; tel. 2239-0576); and United Parcel Service, in Pavas (www.ups.com; tel. 2290-2828).
If you're sending mail to Costa Rica, it generally takes between 10 and 14 days to reach San José, although it can take as much as a month to get to the more remote corners of the country. Plan ahead. Also note that many hotels and ecolodges have mailing addresses in the United States. Always use these addresses when writing from North America or Europe. Never send cash, checks, or valuables through the Costa Rican mail system.
Newspapers & Magazines: Costa Rica has a half-dozen or so Spanish-language dailies and one English-language weekly, the Tico Times. In addition, you can get Time magazine and several U.S. newspapers at some hotel gift shops and a few of the bookstores in San José. If you read Spanish, La Nación is the paper you'll want. Its "Viva" and "Tiempo Libre" sections list what's going on in the world of music, theater, dance, and more.
Packing: Everyone should be sure to pack the essentials: sunscreen, insect repellent, camera, bathing suit, a wide-brimmed hat, all prescription medications, and so forth. You'll want good hiking shoes and/or beach footwear, depending upon your itinerary. It's also a good idea to bring a waterproof headlamp or flashlight and refillable water bottle. Lightweight long-sleeved shirts and long pants are good protection from both the sun and insects. Surfers use "rash guards," quick-drying lycra or polyester shirts, which provide great protection from the sun while swimming.
If you're just heading to Guanacaste between December and March, you won't need anything for the rain. Otherwise, bring an umbrella or rain gear. Most high-end hotels provide umbrellas. If you plan to do any wildlife viewing, bringing your own binoculars is a good idea, as is a field guide.
Police: In most cases, dial tel. 911 for the police, and you should be able to get someone who speaks English on the line. Other numbers for the Judicial Police are tel. 2222-1365 and 2221-5337. The numbers for the Traffic Police (Policía de Tránsito) are tel. 800/8726-7486 toll-free nationwide, or 2222-9245.
Smoking: Though many Costa Ricans smoke, smoking is prohibited in all public spaces, including restaurants, bars, offices, and such outdoor areas as public parks and bus stops.
Most higher-end hotels have at least some nonsmoking rooms. However, many midrange hotels and most budget options are pretty laissez-faire when it comes to smoking. Whenever possible, the presence of nonsmoking rooms is noted in hotel listing description information.
Taxes: The national 13% value added tax (often written IVA in Costa Rica) is added to all goods and services. This includes hotel and restaurant bills. Restaurants also add a 10% service charge, for a total of 23% more on your bill. Some hotels add a 10% “resort fee.”
The airport departure tax is $29 and must be paid prior to check-in. This is almost always incorporated into most airline ticket prices at time of purchase. If not, you will be able to pay it at check-in.
Although you can pay the airport exit tax with a credit card, it is charged as a cash advance. Most credit card companies hit this kind of transaction with a fee and begin charging interest on it immediately. It is best to pay the airport tax in cash, either dollars or colones.
Time: Costa Rica is on Central Standard Time (same as Chicago and St. Louis), 6 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time. Costa Rica does not use daylight saving time, so the time difference is an additional hour April through October.
For help with time translations, and more, download Frommer's convenient Travel Tools app for your mobile device. Go to and click on the Travel Tools icon.
Tipping: Tipping is not necessary in restaurants, where a 10% service charge is always added to your bill (along with a 13% tax). If service was particularly good, you can leave a little at your own discretion, but it's not mandatory. Porters and bellhops get around C500 to C1,000 per bag. You don't need to tip a taxi driver unless the service has been superior; a tip is not usually expected.
Toilets: To find a bathroom, ask for the baño or the servicio. They are marked DAMAS (women) and HOMBRES or CABALLEROS (men). Public restrooms are hard to come by. You will almost never find a public restroom in a city park or downtown area. Public restrooms are usually at most national park entrances, and much less frequently inside the national park. In towns and cities, it gets much trickier, and sometimes you have to count on a hotel or restaurant. The same goes for most beaches. Bus and gas stations often have restrooms, but many of these are pretty grim. In some restrooms around the country, especially more remote and natural areas, it’s common practice not to flush any foreign matter, aside from your business, down the toilet. This includes toilet paper, sanitary napkins, cigarette butts, and so forth. You will usually find a little sign advising you of this practice in the restroom.
Water: Although the water in San José is generally safe to drink, water quality varies outside the city. Because many travelers have tender digestive tracts, you might want to play it safe: Stick to bottled drinks and avoid ice.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.