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 break down Costa Rican car rental insurance insurance, best car rental agencies, costs and much more so you can have a smooth and stress free Costa Rica car rental process for your upcoming trip.
PS. If you’re ready to book your car, check out our exclusive Costa Rica car rental discount and extra benefits just for you!
All prices below are USD unless otherwise noted.
Mytanfeet Renting a Car in Costa Rica Guide
As a foreigner from the US, I have rented a car in Costa Rica many times so I know the process well from a tourist point of view. Yeison, who is Costa Rican, 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.
Why Should You Rent a Car in Costa Rica
Easy Social Distancing, More Flexibility, Explore at Your Own Pace, Go Off the Beaten Path
Road trips are now the most popular way to travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Plus, what better way to practicing social distancing than renting a car and exploring Costa Rica on your own? Avoid sharing transportation, go off the beaten path and have the road trip adventure of a lifetime!
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 figuring out how to get around.
Make sure to read our driving in Costa Rica post for local tips to stay safe on the road.
Furthermore, many people are visiting Costa Rica for longer. To really get the most out of your long term stay, rent a car. You can rent one for the entire period or rent one for when you want to do trips.
That being said, you should rent a car in Costa Rica if you want to explore the country at your own pace, you don’t want to depend on public transportation or shuttles and you basically want to experience Costa Rica like a local.
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 around $220 USD total one way and La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio is ~$300 USD total one way.
Likewise, domestic flights cost anywhere from $80-200 USD per person one way.
Then you need to take taxis or book tours with transportation to get around with these options and you will be limited in where you can go. *Do note that due to high demand and low availability, car rental prices have increased since before COVID. Prices fluctuate constantly*
Convinced? Check out our car rental discount to compare prices and get quotes.
Requirements for Renting a Car in Costa Rica
What is required to drive in Costa Rica as a foreigner: Your original passport, a valid tourist visa stamp and a valid original driver’s license from your home country. For Americans wondering “can you drive in Costa Rica with a US driver’s license?” The answer is yes. An international driver’s license is not required in Costa Rica for Americans, Canadians and most countries in general.
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. Our partner 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 are willing to 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 senior 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 right hand side of the road, the same side of the road as USA and Canada.
Cost of a Costa Rica Car Rental
How much your Costa Rica car rental costs depend on the type of car you rent, the insurances you purchase and the time of year you are visiting. Although you would think car rentals would be cheap due to the pandemic, they are not. The demand for car rentals has skyrocketed and there is limited availability so do not expect cheap car rental prices.
In “normal” times, a mid size SUV rental in Costa Rica for one week in October was around $300 USD. The same car during Christmas and New Years was around $600 a week. During February, it was 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.
Most Expensive Time to Rent a Car in Costa Rica
The most expensive time of year to rent a car in Costa Rica is mid December to end of April (high season). Christmas, New Years and Easter week have the most expensive prices (peak season).
If you are visiting during those times of the year, make sure to book your car rental at least three to four months out. Car rentals go very fast during these times of year and get more expensive closer to the date.
Cheapest Time to Rent a Car in Costa Rica
The cheapest time to rent a car in Costa Rica are during low seasons months such as May and September – November. These are our low tourism months and you can book up to a couple weeks beforehand.
Cost of Gas
The cost of gas has risen immensely in March 2022.
The current cost of gas in Costa Rica is around 1024 CRC per liter which is approximately ~$5.60 USD per gallon (regular). Super is a bit more expensive at 1062 CRC per liter.
Diesel is actually cheaper than gas in Costa Rica. Diesel in Costa Rica costs around 1012 CRC per liter which is approximately $5.60 USD per gallon.
On average for a 1 week trip, tourists drive around 500 kilometers (310 miles). In a SUV, they may spend around $100 of gas.
There are a few additional costs to renting a car in Costa Rica.
First, from San Jose, there are several highway toll booths that charge from 100 – 900 colones (20 cents to about $1.50 USD) when you leave the city.
Second, if your rental car is extremely dirty, you may need to take it to the car wash ($10-20) before you return it. Usually extremely dirty means wine/coffee/food stains, vomit, embedded animal hair, caked mud, piles of garbage/sand, etc. So if you return the car extremely dirty, agencies will charge you a fee of around $100 USD since they have to get it professionally cleaned.
Third, you cannot smoke inside rented vehicles in Costa Rica. 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.
Lastly, there are some extras like GPS, Wifi, etc. which I will talk about in a bit for additional costs.
How to save money on car rentals
- First, travel during low season since it’s the cheapest time. These are months like May, June, September and October.
- Secondly, rent a manual if you can drive a manual transmission confidently. Automatic cars cost a tiny bit more to rent in Costa Rica and the difference can be from $40-75 USD a week. Just make sure you’re a proficient manual driver as Costa Rica has a lot of narrow roads, steep hills, mountain routes and unpaved streets.
- Third, check your itinerary to see if you really need a 4×4 or 4wd. Renting a sedan instead of a SUV can save a ton of money.
- Next, use your credit card car rental insurance to save money on 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.
- Get our car rental discount to save on rentals and get extra benefits like 2 free drivers, free delivery and pick up, free pre-paid 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 monthly or long term rentals.
The Process of Renting a Car in Costa Rica
Deciding which company to rent with
The first step is to decide which company to rent with. Mytanfeet has partnered with 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 car rental discounts 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 and Vamos. Read our post to find out more about the best car rental in Costa Rica.
That being said, the first step when it comes to deciding the company is to comparison shop.
Then you need to make sure to note specific details about each company because it’s not just about finding the cheapest price possible. You want to check the model and year of the car, number of offices, quality of customer service, amount of the deposit, insurances, etc.
Number of offices
One of the important factors 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 International Airport and the other at Liberia International Airport.
This is something important to think about 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 a ~3.5 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 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 fully 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 booking sites and how to avoid hidden fees/taxes/insurances when renting a car in Costa Rica
So for example, if you book a car on third party sites like Expedia, Kayak, 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, deposits, taxes 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, taxes and fees you didn’t know anything about and it’ll be way more expensive. This is why many people feel like they got scammed when renting a car in Costa Rica.
To avoid this situation, check directly with the Costa Rican agency to get the final quote for your reservation because 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. Furthermore, 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 online: Liability, Car Protection (CDW) and Extended Protection.
Liability: This is the mandatory car rental insurance in Costa Rica. Mandatory insurance from Adobe costs $13-25 USD a day. 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. Effective October 1, 2021, VISA does not offer this credit card car rental insurance benefit to its Gold and Platinum card members.
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 (one of the Mytanfeet benefits is 24/7 road assistance in every reservation) and tow trucks. The insurance also covers 100% of 3rd party damages up to $5 million USD.
You can read more detailed information about Adobe Rent a Car insurance in this post.
If you check other companies, you’ll see they offer different names and types of insurance.
Now, let’s talk about the deposit. The Costa Rican car rental deposits have a huge range as they are based on of the type of insurances selected.
For example, if you purchase only mandatory insurance, your deposit may be $3000. If you get every insurance available, your deposit may be $300. If you waive one insurance and only get mandatory insurance, your deposit can be $8,000… or more.
So you will need to make sure the credit card you’re using has a big enough limit for the deposit and payment. Some companies will allow clients to use one credit card for the deposit, and another for the payment in case your card doesn’t have a high enough limit for the deposit and car rental. Another important thing to know is that the deposit and payment of the rental cannot be paid in cash in Costa Rica or with two different types of cards. For example, the two cards must both be VISA/AMEX/Mastercard, etc. They cannot accept one VISA and one Mastercard.
This is another reason why we prefer Adobe. Their deposit is straightforward as well. For Mytanfeet readers, it is $750 USD 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 debit card deposit can take up to 45 days to return to your bank account (24-72 hours for credit cards). Furthermore, our deposit benefit does NOT apply to those using a debit card. Your deposit will be $1000 USD if you use a debit card, no exceptions. Clients need to sign a form saying they understand these conditions when using a debit card.
Airport pick up and return
Can you pick up your car rental at the airport in Costa Rica?
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 a 2 to 10 minute drive 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 or for special occasions only.
Adobe Rent a Car offers a complimentary meet and greet shuttle for their clients. The Adobe agent will meet the clients outside the airport terminal exit, bring them to the shuttle 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 International Airport, clients who have a flight at an odd hour can see if they can arrange to leave the car in the parking lot with the keys in the glove box for an extra fee. 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 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 (remember that Costa Rica uses kilometers but it is the same). Adobe has unlimited mileage for all rentals under 30 days.
Common car rental extras are GPS, Wi-fi hot spot, baby/booster seats, SIM card, cooler and surf racks. Prices vary so take that into consideration.
With Adobe, our deal gives readers 2 free additional drivers, 33% off GPS, free baby and booster seats, free SIM card with 1000 CRC preloaded credit, free cooler (if available), free dog seat cover 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.
The Wi-fi hot spot is super useful. You can connect up to 6 devices on it and it has unlimited data. That way 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 5 seater: Toyota Rav4, Nissan Rogue, Kia Sportage, Toyota Rush, Mitsubishi ASX, Ford Explorer, Ssang Yang Korando, Hyundai Tucson, Hyundai Venue and Geely Gx3.
Sedan or compacts: Hyundai Accent Blue, Hyundai Ionic, Toyota Yaris, Hyundai i10, Hyundai Gran i10.
Minivan: Hyundai H1 9/12 seater vans.
Jeeps are not common to rent in Costa Rica. There are 4×4 cars and trucks, but not specifically the brand Jeep.
Want more information? We took videos and pictures of cars to rent in Costa Rica here.
Automatic vs Manual
Make sure the car you rent is an automatic if you can’t drive manual. Some companies will label the car as “AT” for automatic transmission and “MT” for manual transmission.
If you rent a manual transmission, 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, especially in the rural and remote places.
If you think you won’t feel comfortable driving manual in a foreign country, don’t. It will be worth paying a little bit more for an automatic to not have that stress.
Furthermore, if you’re from England, Ireland, Japan, Australia, Malaysia, 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 with the opposite hand that you’re used to at the same time.
Car and Engine Size
Another thing to think about is the engine size. Although the US likes big engines, it’s not like that in many countries including Costa Rica.
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. SUVs are typically 1.6-2 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 is not common in Costa Rica and will be difficult to find. If you find one, it will be much more expensive since cars in Costa Rica have small engines. Cars with big engines are considered premium so be prepared to pay more if you want to rent an automatic, V6 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 if your accommodation is up in the mountains or hills.
If you notice a company offering very cheap rates, check the year of the car. Some companies that have cheap car rental prices in Costa Rica use old cars (5 years or more). You will need to take that into consideration because of the rough roads here so the older the car, the more problems they may have.
Adobe changes cars every 2 years or when they hit 100,000 kilometers (around 62,000 miles). However, some car rental agencies with very cheap rates rent cars that may be 3, 5, 7, even 10 years old with 300,000 kilometers or more (around 185,000 miles). The condition of a 5 year old rental car in Costa Rica isn’t the same as a 1 year old rental car at all!
Is a 4×4 necessary in Costa Rica?
Some places may require a 4wd but in general, a car with high clearance is more important for many places in Costa Rica.
Guanacaste to Arenal: 4×4 not necessary. See the Guanacaste to Arenal route here.
Monteverde: High clearance car highly recommended due to the Monteverde roads. 4wd/4×4 recommended in rainy season if staying outside of the town center.
Puerto Viejo: 4×4 not necessary. The road to and around Puerto Viejo is paved.
Osa Peninsula: 4wd 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 has bad roads and rivers (it is not recommended to drive to Drake Bay).
Other 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 baby, you will need to bring your own infant seat.
- Rental vehicles cannot be driven across the Costa Rican border. You cannot drive your rental car into Nicaragua or Panama.
- If you have car rental points, they might not work in Costa Rica – it depends on the agency and their regulations.
- Make sure you keep the contract and car documents (registration). If you lose them, you may pay a fine.
- If you get into an incident, report it to the necessary authorities and 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 seat belts in Costa Rica, front and back seats.
- Flat tires are not covered under insurances – you need to change it yourself and then go to the rental office to change out the spare.
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.
Regardless of how you get around Costa Rica, you will have an incredible time. But if you rent a car and explore off the beaten path and get out of the tourist zones, you will have an even more amazing time discovering the country’s beautiful places.
The Mytanfeet Costa Rica Car Rental Discount
We’re very pleased to partner 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: 2 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, one hour car return leniency and a special deposit deal.
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!