Welcome to our Costa Rica car rental guide! If you’re thinking about renting a car in Costa Rica for your vacation, here is everything you need to know. In this post, we give our best tips to have a smooth and stress free Costa Rica car rental process in 2021. We know safety is now the most important thing when it comes to traveling during COVID so we want to help you with the best car rental in Costa Rica.
First, we will help you decide if renting a car is the right choice for your Costa Rica vacation. Then we’ll break down the costs, pros and cons and all the details you need to know about renting a car in Costa Rica including that pesky insurance you may have already read about.
PS. If you’re ready to book your car, check out our exclusive Costa Rica car rental discount just for you!
Renting a Car in Costa Rica Advice
All prices below are USD unless otherwise noted.
Click below to skip to the section.
Should you rent a car?
Requirements to rent a car in Costa Rica
Our personal experiences
Cost of car rental
How to save money
Cost of gas
Picking a car rental company
Third party websites
Airport pick up and drop off
What kind of car should you rent?
Is 4×4 necessary?
Automatic vs manual
Car engine size
Car age and condition
Important things to know
Special car rental discount
Why Should You Rent a Car in Costa Rica
As a foreigner from the US, I have rented a car in Costa Rica many times and know the process well from a tourist point of view. Yeison, who is Costa Rica, gives his insider local tips as someone who has worked in the tourism industry for over 20 years. Here are our reasons why you should rent a car in Costa Rica.
Easy Social Distancing and Road Trip Fun
Renting a car and roadtrips are said to be the future of travel due to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic and what better way to practicing social distancing than renting your own car and exploring Costa Rica away from crowds? Rental companies in Costa Rica must follow all Ministry of Health sanitary guidelines and protocols to provide a safe experience and environment for clients.
So go where most tourists don’t go to avoid crowds and decrease exposure by renting your own vehicle and road trip around Costa Rica!
There’s nothing I love more than a good road trip. And you can have one hell of a road trip in Costa Rica thanks to the breathtaking landscapes of rolling hills, lush jungles, beautiful beaches and clear blue skies. Roll down the windows to breathe the fresh air and hear toucans and monkeys calling. It’s an indescribable feeling!
Make sure to read our driving in Costa Rica post for local tips to stay safe on the road.
Prices are comparable/cheaper than private shuttles and domestic flights
When you add up the cost of hiring private shuttles, renting a car becomes much more attractive. For example, a private shuttle from San Jose to La Fortuna is $160-200 USD total one way. Then you need to take taxis or book tours with transportation and all of that adds up. For solo travelers or couples, this may not always be the most economical option, especially if you are visiting many places.
Likewise, domestic flights cost anywhere from $80-200 USD per person one way so that is not cheap!
Instead, you could have rented a sedan for around $350 USD** for one week and had the freedom to explore. Renting a car in Costa Rica is not that cheap but it is cheaper than booking private shuttles or local flights for your entire vacation, especially for 1-2 people.
**Depending on time of year, availability, insurances, fees, taxes and extras on your reservation**
Explore at Your Own Pace and Enjoy the Views
The main reason I recommend to rent a car in Costa Rica is to explore. Because of the pandemic lockdown, we’re all yearning for open spaces, fresh air, nature and outdoor adventure. Renting a car gives you just that experience in Costa Rica as there are SO many hidden, off the beaten path places only accessible by car.
Renting a car in Costa Rica is the best way to take in all the sights and sounds. The advantages of renting a car in Costa Rica are obvious. Go where you want, when you want. By renting a car in Costa Rica, you won’t be restricted to anyone’s schedule but your own. To maximize your vacation time, minimize the time spent waiting for your transportation.
If you’re the kind of person who loves having the freedom while traveling, then renting a car is the right choice for your Costa Rica trip.
It’s the Best Option for Long Term Stays
Thanks to many people being sent to work from home due to the pandemic, many people are visiting Costa Rica for longer stays, from 1-3 months, particularly those who have been in lockdown for a long period of time.
You could get away without a car in Costa Rica but you’d miss out on a lot. Like I mentioned earlier, if you want to explore and really get to *see* Costa Rica, then you must rent a car!
Convinced? Check out our car rental discount to compare prices and get quotes.
Reasons not to rent a car
On the flip side, here are some reasons why renting a car in Costa Rica may not be the best choice for you.
- You don’t want the stress of driving or you’re not used to driving in foreign countries.
- You’re only staying in one or two destinations.
- You are on a tight budget.
If the thought of driving in a foreign country majorly stresses you out, then you shouldn’t. And I emphasize this if you will be the one doing most of the driving.
First, Costa Rican infrastructure is not the best. Second, driving is another very big responsibility to think about while on vacation. I know first hand what it’s like to drive in a foreign country for the first time. It can be very nerve-racking!
However, if you’re used to different kinds of driving cultures, then renting a car should be at the top of your list of things to consider for your trip to Costa Rica!
Although renting a car in Costa Rica is the best way to see the country, read our “getting around Costa Rica” post about alternative options.
Requirements for Renting a Car in Costa Rica
In order to drive in Costa Rica as a foreigner, you need your original passport, a valid tourist visa stamp and a valid original driver’s license from your home country. Many Americans ask us “can you drive in Costa Rica with a US license” and the answer is yes. An international driver’s license is not required in Costa Rica.
However, if your driver’s license is not in Roman script, then you will need to get an international driver’s license. Additionally, you cannot use a temporary paper copy or photocopy of your driver’s license in Costa Rica. Costa Rica car rental companies require the original valid driver’s license. Even if you have rented with the same company before, you need to bring your original driver’s license and original passport with you every time.
The minimum age to rent a car in Costa Rica varies on the company and ranges from 21-25 years of age. Adobe Rent a Car has a minimum age of 23. Alamo Costa Rica is 21. Budget Costa Rica and Hertz Costa Rica is 25. Budget charges $10 a day for drivers between 21 and 25, under 21 they can’t rent. Make sure to check as each company is different. With Adobe, they don’t allow drivers younger than 23 even if they pay a fee.
As for maximum age, there isn’t really a maximum age to rent a car in Costa Rica. Adobe doesn’t have a maximum age limit and older drivers don’t need to pay an extra insurance or fee.
What Side of the Road Does Costa Rica Drive On?
Costa Rica drives on the same side of the road as USA and Canada (right hand side).
Our First Experience Renting a Car in Costa Rica
Here you can read about one of our first experiences with renting a car in Costa Rica.
When my brother came to Costa Rica in August, we rented a car because we wanted the flexibility and freedom to go wherever. We didn’t even consider booking shuttles or taking the bus!
How we chose what car to rent
The car had to fit our group of 6 adults and our carry ons. It also had to be 4×4 for Monteverde and Santa Teresa. We ended up renting a full size 4×4 7 passenger SUV.
It was wonderful having a car to leave whenever we wanted. We found hidden beaches and visited off the beaten path places. One of the best memories we had was driving from Santa Teresa to Playas del Coco.
We went through local towns and had quite an adventure. They saw a part of Costa Rica they never would have seen otherwise. It was also helpful in rainy season where we could jump in the car if it started raining.
All in all, having a car for our group of 6 adults was the best option for 2 weeks in Costa Rica.
Cost of a Costa Rica Car Rental
How much your Costa Rica car rental costs will depend on the type of car you rent, the insurances and time of year you are visiting. Although it may seem like car rental costs will be cheaper due to the pandemic, it isn’t anymore in 2021. Despite the decreased number of tourists, the demand for car rentals has skyrocketed so do not expect dirt cheap car rental prices.
The most expensive time of year to rent a car in Costa Rica is end of December to end of April. Additionally, Christmas, New Years and Easter week are peak season times with the highest prices.
If you are visiting during those times of the year, make sure to book your car rental at least two months out. Car rentals go very fast during these times of year and get more expensive closer to the date. This is the same for Easter week which usually coincides with American spring break.
The cheapest time to rent a car in Costa Rica are during low seasons months such as May, June, September – November. A mid size SUV rental in Costa Rica for one week in October can be around $260 USD. The same car during Christmas and New Years can be around $600 a week. During February, it can be around $550 USD a week. However, price does depend on availability, insurances, extras, taxes, fees, etc. and I’m talking about just the car rental rate.
Cost of Gas
Right now, the cost of gas in Costa Rica is around 620 colones per liter which is around $4 USD per gallon. Diesel is cheaper, at around $3.50 USD a gallon.
On average for a 1 week trip, tourists drive around 500 kilometers (310 miles). In a SUV, a full tank of gas costs around $65 USD to fill up.
There are a few additional costs to renting a car in Costa Rica. First, from San Jose, there are several toll booths that charge from 100 – 800 colones (20 cents to about $1.40 USD).
Second, if your rental car gets very dirty, you may need to take it to the car wash. Rental companies will charge if the car is extremely dirty. Car wash is around $10 – $20 USD and agencies will charge you a fee of around $100 USD if they have to get it professionally cleaned.
Third, you cannot smoke inside rented vehicles in Costa Rica and if you do, the company will charge you a fine for this, usually around $100 USD.
Fourth, if you pick up and return from different offices, there will be an extra fee for this. This can be from $20 – $200 USD depending on your locations.
I will talk about “add ons” and extras like GPS, Wi-Fi in a bit for additional costs.
How to save money on car rentals
- First, travel during low season since it’s the cheapest time.
- Secondly, rent a manual if you can drive manual. Automatic cars cost a little bit more to rent in Costa Rica and the difference can be from $10-40 USD a week. Just make sure you’re a proficient manual driver.
- Third, check your itinerary to see if you really need a 4×4 or 4wd. Renting a sedan versus a SUV can save a ton of money, especially for a solo traveler or couple.
- Next, if the company you rent with lets you use your credit card insurance instead of an insurance they offer, you can use that to save more money on an insurance.
- Lastly, check your pick up and return locations. Companies will charge a fee for different locations. If you can, pick up and drop off your car the same office to avoid this fee.
- Also don’t forget to get our car rental discount to save on rentals and get extra benefits like 2 free drivers, free delivery and pick up, free SIM card, cooler and much more!
Are you planning to be in Costa Rica for at least one month or longer? Monthly rentals are possible in Costa Rica and most agencies will offer a monthly rate. If you want to rent for a month or more, you can use the discount link above and we’ll give you a quote for a monthly or long term rentals.
The Process of Renting a Car in Costa Rica
Deciding which company to rent with
When you’ve begun your process of your Costa Rica car rental, the first step is to decide which company to go with. We personally recommend and use Adobe Rent a Car as they are 100% Costa Rican, have the largest fleet and offer all-inclusive pricing.
We love supporting local businesses so we made a partnership with them to give discounts on car rental and extra benefits for our readers!
However, you can find large international companies such as Alamo, Enterprise, Hertz, Sixt, Thrify and Budget in Costa Rica. There are also a handful of other local Costa Rican car rental companies like Poas, Solid and Vamos.
First step when it comes to deciding the company is to comparison shop. Also make sure that the car rental agencies detail their COVID-19 sanitary protocols.
Then you need to make sure to note specific details about each company because it’s not just about which company offers the cheapest price. You want to check about the model and year of the car, number of offices, insurances, etc.
Number of offices
One of those important details when deciding which Costa Rican car rental company to rent with is the number of offices. Some companies may only have two offices: one at San Jose Airport and the other at Liberia Airport.
This is something important to factor in because for example, if you are in Uvita and run into issues with your car, the closest office of your car rental agency may be in San Jose which is pretty far (3.5-4 hour drive). It will take a long time for them to assist you which is time taken out of your vacation.
Adobe has over 10 offices in Costa Rica so if you run into any issues, there is a good chance there is an office nearby and they can assist you quickly.
What to Know About International Companies
You may have read from other tourists that car rentals are a scam in Costa Rica. We completely understand why they feel that way. It is because of the way international companies present the taxes, fees, insurances and deposit in Costa Rica.
The thing with those companies is that they aren’t exactly transparent about taxes, fees, the deposit and insurance. If you do decide to book with other companies, contact them to be 100% clear about all fees and insurances. (I’ll talk more about insurance in a moment.)
Third party sites like Expedia (How to avoid hidden fees/taxes/insurances in Costa Rica)
Additionally, if you book on third party sites like Expedia, Carrentals.com or Orbitz, find out which company they work with and contact them. This is because the third party websites only show you the car rental price, not the insurances and fees so it’ll look awesomely cheap at first glance ($10 USD a day, $5 USD a day).
However, when you go to pick up the car, you’ll be hit with all these insurances and fees you didn’t know anything about and it’ll be way more expensive. This is one of the most common questions we are asked about Costa Rica car rentals and complaints we get.
Make sure to check directly with the company to get the final quote for your reservation. It is definitely not that super cheap price you see! For example, if Expedia works with Alamo, then contact Alamo Costa Rica directly. Don’t check the Alamo international website.
With our partner Adobe, what you see on your reservation is exactly what you pay. No hidden fees, taxes, insurances. All clear and upfront. All inclusive prices from the beginning to end.
Breaking down Costa Rica car rental insurance
Next, insurance. This is the most confusing thing about Costa Rica car rentals because every company sells insurances differently. Additionally, there is a mandatory insurance in Costa Rica. If you’re looking at international companies, first read Yeison’s post comparing Costa Rica car rental companies.
When it comes to our partner, Adobe Rent a Car, they offer 3 types of insurances: Liability, Car Protection (CDW) and Extended Protection.
Liability: This is the mandatory car rental insurance in Costa Rica. Mandatory insurance from Adobe that costs $13-25 USD a day depending on the type of car. Liability insurance covers you up to $20,000 USD in 3rd party damages with 20% deductible and 3rd parties (not in vehicle) up to $100,000 USD with 0 deductible. This mandatory insurance in Costa Rica cannot be declined or removed since there are no companies that cover this exact insurance.
Car Protection: Covers the rented vehicle damage in an incident. Also covers financial losses from theft. You can remove this insurance by using your credit card insurance. For example, my Chase Sapphire credit card offers car rental insurance and I can use it to decline this Car Protection insurance to save money.
Extended Protection: This insurance is 100% optional. It goes on top of Liability and has 0 deductible and covers windows, vandalism, 24/7 road side assistance and two trucks. The insurance also covers 100% of 3rd party damages up to $5 million USD.
One of the Mytanfeet benefits is 24/7 road assistance and the 0 deductible in every reservation. You can read more detailed information about Adobe Rent a Car insurance in this post.
If you check other companies, you’ll see different names and types of insurance.
Now, let’s talk about the deposit. Deposits for car rentals in Costa Rica can be fairly high. The deposit is based on of the type of insurance you get. They can be anywhere from $300-7000!
For example, if you purchase only mandatory insurance, your deposit may be $3000. If you get every single insurance, your deposit may be $500. If you waive one insurance, your deposit can be $5000!
Most importantly, you need to make sure the credit card you’re using has a big enough limit for the deposit. Definitely b ask the company how much your deposit/hold will be. You may be able to use one credit card for the deposit, and another for the payment.
Another important thing to know is that the deposit and payment of the rental cannot be paid in cash in Costa Rica.
This is another reason why we prefer Adobe. Their deposit is also straightforward as well. For Mytanfeet readers, it is $750 USD flat for all reservations. It is $500 USD if you purchase all 3 insurances or purchase Liability and Car Protection Insurance.
Additionally, Adobe does take debit cards. However, the deposit can take up to 3 weeks to return to your bank account. If possible, use a credit card as the return time is 24 – 72 hours.
Airport pick up and return
What about picking up the car? Can you pick up your car rental at the airport?
Yes and no. San Jose and Liberia International Airports are too small for car rental companies to operate inside so all the offices are located around 1 mile from the airport. Rental companies offer transportation to their office to collect the car.
There are some companies that do offer their cars inside the airport but this is very few and not common.
Then Adobe Rent a Car offers a complimentary shuttle for their clients. They pick them up at the airport and take them to their office to complete paperwork and pick up the car. And it works for the return as well: clients return the car to their airport office and Adobe shuttles them for free to the airport.
At the San Jose Airport, clients who have a flight at an odd hour can leave the car in the parking lot with the keys in the glove box. Be sure to arrange this with your agency.
Gas and mileage
Some companies have an option to choose for prepaid gas. Adobe doesn’t. Clients can fill up before returning the car or the clients can return it empty and Adobe will charge accordingly. Read about how to get gas in Costa Rica here.
Most car rental vehicles in Costa Rica are gasoline engines. There are only a few that are diesel so make sure to check so you know which one to fill up with.
There may also be restrictions on mileage (Costa Rica uses kilometers but it is the same). Adobe has unlimited for all rentals under 30 days.
Now you get to decide if you want any extras. Common extras are GPS, Wi-fi hot spot, baby/booster seats, SIM card, cooler and surf racks. Prices vary so take that into consideration. Alamo charges $11.99 USD a day for GPS and Hertz charges $12 USD a day.
With Adobe, our deal gives readers 33% off GPS (originally $9 USD a day), free baby and booster seats, free SIM card with 1000 CRC preloaded credit, free cooler (if available) and free surf racks. We also have a Wi-fi deal that if you rent for more than 10 days, you only pay for the first ten days.
For extras, we usually recommend the Wi-Fi hot spot. You can connect up to 6 devices on it and it has unlimited data. Super useful because you’ll always have Internet on your phone so you can use it for Google Maps, Waze, email, etc.
What Kind of Car Should You Rent in Costa Rica?
The type of car you rent in Costa Rica will depend on your itinerary and the size of your group. Here are some common cars.
- Full size 7 seater SUV’s: Mitsubishi Montero Sport, Toyota Prado, Ford Explorer or Chevrolet Trailblazer.
- Mid size/Compact SUV’s 5 seater: Suzuki Jimny, Toyota Rav4, Nissan Rogue, Kia Sportage, Daihatsu Bego (now is Toyota Rush), Mitsubishi ASX, Ford Explorer Ssang Yang Korando and Hyundai Tucson/Creta.
- Sedan or compacts: Hyundai Accent Blue, Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Yaris, Hyundai i10, Hyundai Gran i10.
- Minivan: Hyundai H1 9/12 seater vans.
Want more information? We took videos and pictures of cars to rent in Costa Rica here.
Automatic vs Manual
Manual cars are the standard in Costa Rica and are a tad cheaper. Make sure the car you rent is an automatic if you can’t drive manual.
Also note that you will need to be a confident and proficient manual driver due to the infrastructure in Costa Rica. We have a lot of steep and curvy hills, potholes and unpaved roads. We do have nice highways but many places have unpaved roads and steep hills, especially rural and remote places so if you think you won’t feel comfortable driving manual in a foreign country, don’t.
Only rent a manual car in Costa Rica if you are a comfortable and have experience driving on those kinds of roads. Otherwise, it will be worth paying a little bit more for an automatic.
If you’re from England, Ireland, Japan, Australia or any of the countries that drive on the left side of the road, we highly recommend an automatic transmission so you do not need to worry about driving on the other side of the road and changing gears at the same time.
Car and Engine Size
Another thing to think about is the engine size. Although the US likes things BIG and think that bigger is better, it’s not like that in many countries in the world!
So you need to know that engine sizes in Costa Rica are smaller than the US. A sedan in Costa Rica normally has a 1.6 L, 4 cylinders engines. SUV’s are typically 2 L, 4 cylinders engines. There are also full size SUVs with diesel engines that are 2.4 L – 3 L.
If you want a bigger engine like a V6 or V8, it will be much more expensive since Costa Rica by default has small engine cars. Cars with big engines are considered premium or luxury so be prepared to pay more if you want to rent an automatic, V6-V8 engine, American car.
Something else you need to note is that even though your entire group of 4 plus luggage fits in the sedan, it may have trouble going up a hill due to weight and small engine size. So you may want to consider a bigger car in those situations.
When looking for which car to rent, make sure to ask the car rental agency about the age of the car. If you notice a company with cheap total rates, check the year of the car. Some companies that have cheap car rentals in Costa Rica use old cars (5 years or more). You will need to take that into consideration because of the rough roads here.
Adobe changes cars every 2 years or when they hit 100,000 kilometers (around 62,000 miles). However, some car rental agencies who offer very cheap rates have cars that may be 3, 5, even 7 years old and with 300,000 kilometers or more (around 185,000 miles).
All those cars have been driven on unpaved, gravel roads or maybe have gotten into multiple accidents. The condition of a 5 year old rental car isn’t the same as a 1 year old rental car in Costa Rica!
Is a 4×4 necessary in Costa Rica?
A 4×4, 4wd or high car is necessary in some places in Costa Rica. Here are some examples.
- Guanacaste to Arenal: 4×4 not necessary. See the Guanacaste to Arenal route here.
- Monteverde: High car highly recommended. Monteverde roads are unpaved.
- Puerto Viejo: 4×4 not necessary. The road to and around Puerto Viejo is paved.
- Uvita: High car highly recommended. Only the main highway, Route 34 is paved.
- Osa Peninsula: 4×4 necessary. The main road to Puerto Jimenez is paved but ends once you get to town. The road to Carate/Matapalo is unpaved and has a ton of holes. Drake Bay is even worse.
Important Things to Know About Costa Rica Car Rentals
- If you get a ticket, pay it when you drop off the car. There is a law that can prohibit you from exiting the country if you don’t.
- Child seats are required for children under 12 years of age. Agencies normally have seats for 1-12 years, but not infant seats. If you have a less than 1 year old, you will need to bring your own infant seat.
- Rental vehicles cannot be driven across the Costa Rican border.
- If you have car rental points, they might not work in Costa Rica.
- Make sure you keep the contract and car documents (registration). Don’t lose the car registration documents, you may pay a fine if you do.
- If you get into an accident, report it to the car rental company ASAP. You will run into trouble with the rental company if you do not.
- Damage from driving through rivers or any body of water is not covered by any type of insurance. Same with driving under the influence.
- Take part in the inspection. Take pictures and tell them if you see any scratches, dents, or nicks.
- It is the law to wear seatbelts in Costa Rica, front and back seats.
Phew! With all that being said, you can see why I recommend renting a car in Costa Rica. Additionally, this Costa Rica car rental guide tells you everything you need to know about it.
Renting a car in Costa Rica created one of the most memorable trips for my family and friends. Definitely one that they would have never been able to experience otherwise!
The Mytanfeet Costa Rica Car Rental Discount
We’re very pleased to share that we partnered up with Adobe Rent a Car to give our readers an exclusive Costa Rica car rental discount and extra freebies!
“Why Adobe?” you may ask. When it comes to reputable Costa Rica car rental companies, Adobe Rent a Car is the leader. They are a 100% Costa Rican company with the largest fleet of cars that are no less than 2 years old and offer all-inclusive pricing.
We also offer these extra benefits: free additional drivers, 0% deductible on Liability Protection insurance (up to $20,000), road assistance on all reservations, a free SIM card for duration of booking, free baby and booster seats, free surf racks and 33% off GPS, free dog seat covers, WiFi deal, free car delivery and pick up and a $500 USD deposit on rentals with all 3 insurances or Liability and Car Protection.
You can read about our experience with Adobe Rent a Car and why we recommend them.
If our renting a car in Costa Rica article was helpful, feel free to pass it along. Our goal is to give the best information and help our readers out as much as possible!