Costa Rica is a beautiful travel destination for a lot of tourists – with gorgeous weather, sunny beaches, and affordable cost of living. However, the question remains – is Costa Rica safe?
This will help clear up that answer while detailing the crime rates, which crimes to keep a closer eye out for, and which areas you’d do best to avoid.
Is Living in Costa Rica Safe for Expats?
While there’s no place on Earth that’s truly crime-free, when you’re talking about violent crime this beautiful country is far safer than most places – even more than many locations within the United States. Thanks to the strict gun laws, Costa Rica doesn’t experience mass shootings or other such violence.
Costa Rica also distinctly lacks any sort of major political enemies. They don’t even have an army, nor do they pick fights with other nations. Foreign tourists are welcome in Costa Rica, as are expats and digital nomads.
Biggest Safety Concerns for Expats in Costa Rica
By far, Costa Rica is the safest country in Central America. They take their dedication to peace and democracy very seriously. This doesn’t exempt them from having some safety issues, however, but then again, there’s not a country on earth that’s 100% safe. The U.S. State Department currently ranks Costa Rica as a “level 1” country, with level 1 being the safest. Despite this, you’ll need to take some precautions when visiting or moving to Costa Rica.
Common crimes are on the rise in Costa Rica. Violence and terrorism are still very rare, as is armed crime, and petty theft continues to be the biggest threat a traveling expat will face. As long as you stay vigilant, use your common sense, and pay attention to your belongings, you can avoid experiencing Costa Rica crime.
Travelers to Costa Rica, from tourists to expats alike, will face the biggest threat to their safety merely from theft and burglary. Petty crime is the one that usually worries foreigners who visit Costa Rica. The market for jewelry, electronics, and passports is bustling – and no one’s going to say no to some cash or credit cards either.
Avoid carrying large sums of cash on your person, especially when visiting crowded tourist attractions. The country has ATMs all over, so it’s much safer to just visit one more frequently. However, if you are going to carry a lot of cash with you, avoid carrying it all in one place – spread it out across multiple pockets over your person. After all, every traveler is responsible for their personal safety, so it’s your job to be reasonable and take all the necessary precautions to avoid unpleasant situations.
Whatever you do, do not carry your original passport on your person. The black market of Costa Rica is hungry for passports and this will be the most likely thing lifted out of your pocket, right up there with straight cash. Make a photocopy of your passport with your photo, ID numbers, and entry stamp and you’ll be able to avoid becoming a victim of passport theft. You probably won’t be asked to show your passport all that often, but it’s good to have all this on hand anyway.
Water and Food
To get this out of the way fast: Costa Rica tap water is safe to drink. In fact, Costa Rica has the safest drinking water of any Central American country.
In some rural areas, you may run into less than stellar quality water, but all it takes to find out is to ask the locals. They do have bottled water available in most places, which can prove to be a good idea, especially if you’re staying in a place where the water comes out a little brown.
Regarding food safety, the Costa Rican government has a national program that monitors food safety in all restaurants across the country. Foodborne illnesses are not common at all, though you’ll need to be cautious of undercooked meats – especially seafood.
In general, most of the time the food in Costa Rica is safe to eat without worry.
Costa Rica has plenty of options for travel: public buses, cars, planes, boats, ferries, taxis, walking, biking – they even have Uber. And luckily, the roads in Costa Rica are generally safe for all drivers and pedestrians and drivers tend to adhere to the speed limit. The roads might get potholes during the rainy season and heavy rains – but as the roads are well maintained in most areas, it’s generally more of an annoyance than anything actually dangerous.
There are a few things to keep in mind if you want to stay safe on public transport. To avoid problems, be sure to only buy your bus tickets from the counter. If you’ve got large bags or luggage, the driver will place your things under the bus and give you a luggage tag – this will allow you to claim your stuff at your final stop.
If you don’t need or want to store your luggage, the seats have overhead compartments where you have enough room to store small-medium-sized bags or suitcases. Put them up top on the opposite side that you’re sitting on so you can keep an eye on your things. The last thing you want is for someone to slip by and grab your bag without you noticing.
In areas closest to the border, everyone on board will be required to get off the bus for a passport and luggage check. Even if it means you’ll lose your seat, always take your luggage with you if you’re stepping off the bus – even for just a moment. Petty thieves will often ride back and forth on these buses, banking on you to leave your stuff there for a quick snatch and run.
Tips to Stay Safe as an Expat in Costa Rica
Though traveling is generally safe regardless of the method, do pay attention when using public transport and especially take caution when using a taxi service. Only get into the car of a licensed taxi driver. If you’re not sure whether or not you’re dealing with a licensed taxi service, you can use Uber instead in certain areas, like San Jose and Tamarindo. The buses run all day and most of the night, and ignoring a few petty thieves preying on unsuspecting tourists, they’re pretty safe.
If you’re using a car, you’ll just need to keep your items hidden and never put your belongings in the trunk of a car while people can see you. Put them there before you arrive and park – this will lessen the chance of a break-in. Keep a Spanish newspaper on your dash as well, it’ll help you look local – meaning likely nothing interesting on board.
So, is Costa Rica Safe for Expats?
The quick answer is: yes! Costa Rica is very safe, for travelers and expats alike. The country can be considered safe by any international safety standards. They have clean water, well-kept roads, safe public transport, and food safety programs across the whole country. If Central America is where you’re going, be sure to at least give Costa Rica a chance. This beautiful, peaceful country inhabited by friendly people shouldn’t be missed.