3 Ways You'll Lose Your Money in Costa Rica
Planning on visiting one of the most internationally popular, well-spoken-of country in Central America? You won't have your dream vacation without paying for it. Here are a few ways the country will take money out of your pocket when you aren't expecting it.
1. Your rental car will cost you way more than you think.
So be sure to plan this part at the higher end of your budget. If you've already looked at the cost of reserving a rental car in Costa Rica online, you've probably seen some good-looking rates. I've seen them go as low as $2 per day with some companies. The crappy thing is, your final quote probably doesn't include a proper insurance quote, which can make a considerable difference, depending on the car you get and the number of days you plan to rent.
First, your own car insurance won't work. The Costa Rican government has strict laws on car insurance, so it will be mandatory for you to purchase at least the lowest insurance offered through your rental car company. You probably won't find out the final amount until you get there, but you should probably factor in between $5 - $20 per day. My quote before getting to Costa Rica was under $100 for 14 days. I was stoked. When I got my quote there, I was charged over $800. Big difference.
Second, depending on where you're going, renting the cheapest 2-wheel drive car may not be the best decision. There are certain roads you can get stuck on without 4-wheel drive, so make sure you do your research. Specifically, I had Drake Bay on my list, which added a considerable amount of driving to the itinerary once I realized the quickest route there was covered with holes and deep water during certain parts of the year. Needless to say, a 4-wheel drive will be the best move, but will cost you a lot more to rent.
Third, several roads in certain parts are not well-kept, and drivers are not always at their safest. Plan on having some kind of scuff or ding on your car by the time you have to return it. Even if you stay in the city, no one will stop someone from leaning on your car or even breaking in when you aren't there to protect it. You'll want insurance, and it's probably why it costs so much in the first place.
2. Certain traffic citations can cost you over $600 apiece.
Apparently, Costa Rica has the highest traffic fines in the Americas, something the travel guide probably didn't disclose to you. Violations like speeding and running red lights are in the same bracket (the highest), and will cost you much more than they would ate home. I personally got a ticket for illegal passing by crossing the double yellow lines way out in the countryside, and got fined as if I had been drunk, armed and ran over an expensive goat.
It's probably not the best country to drive poorly in, especially with some un-kept of the roads and crazy drivers. All of that intensifies when you drive at night. You'll want to be always on the defense whenever you're on the road. That being said, several roads have extremely slow speed limits (30 km/h in some spots in the city), and there are speed cameras to catch you when you think no one's looking (especially in San Jose). Don't speed. Don't break any traffic law. Even if everyone around you is driving horrendously, the cop will pull you over just because it happens to be your lucky day.
If you do end up getting a ticket. you'll have a chance to pay it when you turn in your rental car. They have a reporting system tied to your vehicle's ID, so your rental car company will see it and tack it onto your final bill. You can also pay it before hand at a national bank, in which case it will show up as paid when you turn in your rental. If you try to leave without paying, locals say you'll be stopped at the airport, the fine will be double and you'll have to pay it in cash before leaving the country.
3. You have to pay to leave the country, anyway.
If you think you haven't paid enough for your overpriced Costa Rican vacation, you haven't seen the end of it 'til you're ready to bail. As of now (September 23, 2014), there is a $29 fee per person to leave Costa Rica, paid at the airport (ref. Liberia Airport). If you're planning your honeymoon, like I was, that means you'll need to factor $54 more into your budget, just to get back home.
If you think it's annoying and greedy, you aren't the only one. But quite frankly, there's nothing you can do. You'll just have to suck it up and pay.
Wikipedia has a list of countries that also charge a lame departure tax. While Fiji takes the cake at around $110, Costa Rica surely isn't the cheapest among the greedy lot.
So bring money, and lots of it!
Folks, to be fair, it's one of the most beautiful places to visit in the Americas, and arguably one of the safest in Latin America. But best believe, you will pay every last dollar for your dream vacation in this enchanting little country, so be sure to save up and count on splurging once you get there.