Whether your trekking to waterfalls or surfing the waves of Santa Teresa, make sure you have the right Costa Rica travel insurance
Costa Rica is a natural wonder. National parks cover about a quarter of its land, and it’s particularly known for its exceptional biodiversity – it is home to as much as 5% of the world’s plant and animal species. Visitors are drawn to a wide range of activities including trekking, bird watching, visiting rural areas, bungee jumping, surfing and rafting. The cities and towns also bost a number of art galleries, museums, theatres and other cultural attractions.
Like most travel destinations, Costa Rica is not without risks. This guide will explain how to find the right travel insurance to cover you, whatever you plan on doing on your vacation.
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Find a travel insurance policy to protect yourself from some of the potential hazards travellers may encounter in Costa Rica.
- Crime: Petty theft and more serious crimes are fairly prevalent, particularly at night or upon solo travellers. Take sensible precautions with your belongings to minimise the risk of pickpocketing and bag-snatching and avoid travelling alone where possible, even if you’re driving. “Express kidnappings” have been reported, where people are abducted and forced to withdraw money from an ATM to secure their release. Downtown areas, public transport and public parks are all potential hotspots for crime.
- Avoid travelling alone, especially at night.
- Only use official taxis, which are red cars with a yellow triangle, and avoid all others. Travellers are recommended to ride in the back seat rather than the front.
- Deliberately staged traffic accidents and decoys have been used to rob travellers’ cars.
- Avoid taking valuables with you where possible, and consider extra travel insurance cover for expensive items like cameras, electronics and jewellery.
- Driving hazards: Poorly maintained roads and vehicles, inadequate signage, landslides, potholes and inconsistent local driving practices can pose numerous risks. You should also be aware of the high incidence of opportunistic theft from vehicles whenever you consider leaving valuables in the car, and the risk of carjacking. Travellers are advised to drive with the doors closed, windows locked and valuables out of sight.
- If you are involved in an accident, you are required to stay with your vehicle and not move it until traffic police have inspected the scene.
- You are strongly advised to get travel insurance with liability cover in Costa Rica. Accidents are common, and in the event of an accident Costa Rican authorities may prevent you from departing the country until all injury claims have been settled.
- Consider rental car excess insurance cover to minimise the risk of needing to pay an exorbitant excess.
- Dangerous waters: Strong coastal currents on the Caribbean and Pacific coasts of Costa Rica mean swimming can be potentially dangerous. Lifeguards are not common on public beaches, and the absence of warning signs should not be taken as an indication of safety.
- Local authorities can advise you of swimming and water conditions at the time.
- Crocodile attacks have been reported on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.
- The safety standards of diving, snorkelling, boating and watersports guides and tour operators may not be adequate by Australian standards. Always use caution, as well as the appropriate safety equipment. If the right safety equipment isn’t available you should choose a different operator.
- Seismic activity: Costa Rica’s Turrialba Volcano was particularly active in 2016, and this and other volcanic events can cause airport closures and flight delays. Costa Rica is also subject to earthquakes and tsunamis.
- Know your accommodation evacuation plans in the event of an emergency.
- Remain alert for local media warnings, and in the event of an earthquake follow the instructions of local authorities.
- Travel insurance for missed flights may be advisable prior to travelling in the event of cancelled flights.
- Weather events: The rainy season in Costa Rica is generally from May to November, but can extend even further, while peak hurricane season occupies the months of June to November. Monitor local media for warnings and follow the instructions of local authorities in the event of an emergency.
- The direction and strength of hurricanes can change with little warning, so you should get frequent updates if needed.
- If there has been a hurricane or extreme weather at your destination, check with your tour operator whether your plans have been affected.
- Consider travel insurance for tour cancellation to help recover the inconvenience and costs of having to cancel pre-booked tours and activities.
- Nature trips. Whether you’re hiking to a protected sea turtle nesting site or taking a tour bus to a monkey tourist park, Costa Rica has a lot of different types of nature experiences. Useful cover for this may include:
- Medical cover: Animals can bite, and can carry diseases. Get immunised before travelling and ensure your policy covers medical losses.
- Transport cover: Travel insurance for cancellation and delays can help if you have pre-booked at nature destinations.
- River and whitewater boating: River trips in Costa Rica can be languid, scenic tours or adrenaline-pumping whitewater expeditions depending on your tastes. Whichever you prefer, consider:
- Hiking and mountain climbing: If you plan on challenging some of the peaks and cliffs of Costa Rica, it’s advisable to find the right travel insurance policy.
- Trekking cover: You can find travel insurance for trekking if you want cover on tricky hikes.
- Medical evacuation: Travel insurance policies with cover for medical evacuation and repatriation can be a lifesaver in isolated places.
- Beaches: Enjoy tropical sun and sand in Costa Rica, but consider your:
- Theft cover: Tourists love the beaches, but so do criminals. Consider how your travel insurance covers you in the event of robbery and steps you may need to take.
- City tours: The urban areas of Costa Rica have enough nightlife, museums, art galleries and historical sites to keep a tourist occupied for a long time. Consider:
- Cancellation cover: Protect the money you’ve already spent on pre-paid tours and event tickets with cancellation travel insurance.
Costa Rica’s healthcare system is well developed and its residents enjoy a higher standard of public medical treatment than most other countries in the region. Only Costa Rican citizens and permanent residents get universal healthcare there, and as a visitor you will need to rely on travel health cover.
- It is generally advisable to find a travel insurance policy that pays up-front for medical expenses. Whether a doctor or hospital in Costa Rica will treat you without up-front payment or an arrangement with your insurer is largely up to them.
- Pharmacies play a more important role in healthcare in Costa Rica than they do in Australia. For emergencies you want to go right to hospital, but for lesser ailments you should go to a pharmacy first. Consider them as your GP in Costa Rica. They can accurately treat and diagnose many conditions and have the expertise to identify serious conditions and refer those patients to a hospital.
- Prescriptions are not necessary for many medications, but you should still find out how your travel insurance will cover prescription medication.
Depending on the nature of your emergency, you have a different point of contact.
- If you are the victim of crime or face another emergency call the tourist police on 911.
- For general assistance contact the Australian consulate in San Jose on +506 2201 0000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- For full consular assistance, including passports, get in touch with the Australian embassy in Mexico at +52 55 1101 2200 or email email@example.com.
- For claims-related enquiries contact your travel insurance provider as soon as you are reasonably able. Their 24/7 claims contact information should be clearly available on your policy documents.
Australians can visit Costa Rica without a visa, but they must:
- Have a valid passport
- Stay for no more than 90 days
- Show proof of sufficient funds for the duration of their stay
- Hold documentation and tickets for travel to their next destination, or back home
Exemptions may be made for individuals who hold a passport identifying Costa Rica as their place of birth.
The best time to visit Costa Rica is between December and April. This is when the weather is nicest and sunniest, more attractions are open and hurricane season has ended. The downside is that you’ll also experience larger crowds and may have higher overall prices.
If this doesn’t appeal, consider May to November for the lowest prices, or the months of June and July to see the forests at their most lush and verdant.
Exclusions are conditions where your travel insurance policy may not pay out. Some common exclusions to watch out for are:
- Reckless or irresponsible behaviour: This is hard to define, but if you think an insurer could successfully argue that your behaviour was unreasonable, irresponsible or put yourself or someone else in danger, then the insurer may reserve the right to not pay out.
- Inebriation: If you are under the influence of alcohol, or anything else, at the time of a claimable incident then the insurer can argue that you were not in control and were not taking appropriate precautions, and may be able to deny your claim.
- Pre-existing conditions: When in doubt, assume pre-existing conditions are not covered by travel health insurance. This is because they are often found as a blanket exclusion, so cover for them means getting an exception made, usually by paying a bit extra.
- Failure to take suitable precautions: If stolen property wasn't properly secured then your insurer may refuse to pay a claim. Similarly, a failure to take all appropriate precautions, including following road signs and acting sensibly, can justify a refusal to pay out.