Important Tips for Renting a Car in Costa Rica

How to rent a car in Costa Rica

The advantage of renting a car in Costa Rica is obvious; you can go where you want at your own pace, without being limited by other schedules such as those of tours or public transport. You will experience Costa Rica like a local.

Although relatively small, more than 50% of the country is covered in thick, lush rainforest, which means destinations can be much further than you think. This guide will tell you exactly how to rent a car in Costa Rica and what to expect when you drive there.

What do you need to rent a car in Costa Rica?

When renting a car in Costa Rica, you must bring the following documents:

  • Your driving licence from your own country
  • Your ID (passport)
  • Credit card in your name
  • Car hire in Costa Rica

The lawful driving age in Costa Rica is 18 years old; however, the minimum age for renting a car varies, depending on the agency. Most of them will ask you to be over 25 years old, although some will accept drivers aged 21 and over for an additional fee.

All drivers must present a valid driver’s license, a passport with a valid tourist visa stamp and a credit card to make the payment and hold the deposit. An international driver’s license is not required in Costa Rica unless your driver’s license is not in Roman script.

There are often random checkpoints by the traffic police, where you will be asked to show your driver’s license and ID. Try to keep these with you while driving the car. Please note that your passport must have an entry stamp in the country no older than three months.

Car hire in Costa Rica

When renting a car in Costa Rica, you should get liability insurance that covers you for damage caused by third parties. This insurance cannot be refused or removed and is usually not yet included in quotes rental companies. Try to keep this in mind when booking your car and expect to pay an extra 10 – 30 USD per day on top of the advertised price.

To get the insurance, most agencies require a credit card that has enough credit to cover the rental costs and the security deposit. The deposit is an ‘authorization only’ transaction that does not power your card unless in matter of damage to the car. The exact amount of the deposit depends on the type of insurance you choose. For example, if you buy only compulsory insurance, your down payment may be much higher than in the event that you purchase full coverage insurance.

Is it easy to drive in Costa Rica?

Before renting a car in Costa Rica, it is good to know some of the traffic rules and customs of the country.

Driving through the beautiful landscapes of Costa Rica is a great experience, and the roads are also constantly being improved. The highways are generally in good condition, and only on any other route, most often on unpaved dirt roads, you can find a number of potholes. This makes it easy to reach nice hotspots like Uvita(link) or Puerto Viejo(link).

The standard speed on the highways is 90 km/h, but sometimes it can be 120 km / h. on secondary roads, the speed limit is 60 km/h and 40 km / h in urban areas, drops to 25 km / h near school zones or hospitals. Please note that the speed limits shown on road signs are in kilometers per hour, not miles.

Roads and signs

In urban areas, narrow roads and one-way streets are very common and can sometimes be recognized by an arrow indicating the direction of travel or by the sign “no hay paso” (do not enter). Outside urban areas, you can experience steep hills, mountain routes, dirt roads, river crossings and bridges.

When you see the sign “ceda el paso” on a single-lane bridge, it means that you need to give in to oncoming traffic. Sometimes there are improvised signs made from a stick in the ground with some kind of flag to indicate a peril, such as broken pavement, large potholes or mountain debris. Always keep an eye on the road and try to be especially slow and careful at river crossings.

Driving safety in Costa Rica

Driving in Costa Rica is a fantastic experience, it is completely safe and not chaotic at all. In the 9 weeks we were there, we had no situations on the road. Many of the roads have improved dramatically in recent years, and aside from a few potholes here and there, most of them are well paved. As long as you drive carefully as you would in any other country, you will be fine.

Since Costa Rica is known for its lush jungles, you should always be careful of what’s on the road. Apart from other drivers, watch out for pedestrians, small carts, and the abundance of wildlife. In addition, there is hardly any light at night – try to avoid driving in the dark if you can.

Top tips for renting a car in Costa Rica

Some important tips when you decide to drive through Costa Rica are:;

Always point out and record the existing damage when picking up the car from the rental company. Also, check carefully for possible safety issues, such as bald tires or poor suspension. You can check this by stepping on the bumper and jumping off it. If the vehicle bounces up and down for a few seconds, ask for a new car. The more you seem to know about what you’re doing, the better.
You can not count on road signs for navigation. As already mentioned, signs can be difficult to see, or they do not exist. A good navigation system and an offline map are usually best. The Waze app is a good option as it is community-based and updated in real time by locals.

Finding a parking space will not be a problem, because almost all restaurants and hotels have a parking lot. The only place you have to pay for parking is in some national parks. Often there is a parking guide to help you park – be sure to tip him for the help!
Getting gas in Costa Rica

You can find gas stations anywhere in Costa Rica and most are open 24/7. You can usually find them in cities near tourist destinations or a few kilometers away. It is important to remember that in the countryside there may be only one gas station. Google Maps and other navigation services usually show you which one is closest to you.

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