November 2018 Update – We have a special exclusive Costa Rica car rental discount just for you!
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 and advice on the car rental process, different companies and how to save money on car rentals.
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 who has worked in the tourism industry for over 10 years. We will help you decide if renting a car is the right choice for your Costa Rica vacation.
Renting a Car in Costa Rica Advice
Click below to skip to the section.
- Should you rent a car?
- Our personal experiences
- Cost of car rental
- How to save money
- Renting process
- Car rental companies
- Third party websites
- Airport pick up and drop off
- What kind of car should you rent?
- Is 4×4 necessary?
- Important things to know
- Special car rental discount
Why Should You Rent a Car in Costa Rica
Renting a car in Costa Rica is the best ways to take in all the sights and sounds of the country. The advantages of renting a car in Costa Rica are obvious- go where you want, when you want. Otherwise, it can be frustrating to work around schedules if you’re short on time, with a big group or have seniors or little kids.
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 to go wherever and wants the comfort of a car, then renting a car is the right choice for your Costa Rica trip.
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.
Driving in Costa Rica can be scary. Locals drive aggressively, they don’t signal and love to tailgate. Additionally, there aren’t really traffic lights, stop signs or sidewalks. I’m always very careful when it comes to recommending visitors to drive in Costa Rica. If the thought of driving in a foreign country stresses you out, then you shouldn’t.
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 or stamp and a driver’s license from your home country. You don’t need an international driver’s license in Costa Rica.
The minimum age to rent a car in Costa Rica varies on the company. 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.
One of Our Personal Experiences 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, we rented a car, we wanted the flexibility and freedom to go wherever we wanted. We didn’t even consider booking shuttles or taking the bus.
Here was our itinerary: Liberia – Arenal – Monteverde – Puntarenas – Santa Teresa – Playas del Coco. Because our group really wanted to explore, be flexible and comfortable, we rented a car.
How we chose what car to rent:
The car had to fit our group of 6 and our carry ons. It also had to be 4×4 (for Monteverde and Santa Teresa). We ended up renting a Ford Everest full size 4×4 7 passenger SUV.
It was wonderful having a car to leave whenever we wanted, find hidden beaches and visit off the beaten path places. We wouldn’t have had the same trip with them otherwise! Since we saved a ton of time, we were able to do and see a lot more.
It was also super helpful in rainy season where we could just jump in the car if it started raining instead of trying to find a taxi.
We’ve also rented a car when two friends came to visit us with Adobe Rent a Car. We spent a few days in Jaco and then drove to Coco to explore the Gulf of Papagayo. I took them to our favorite hidden beaches which we wouldn’t have been able to without a car.
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.
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 one to two months before because they go fast! (Also the same advice for July and August as they are super busy times of the year).
The cheapest time to rent a car in Costa Rica are during low seasons months such as June, September – November and end of November to mid December. A Hyundai Tucson 4wd automatic for a week in October is around $260 with mandatory insurance. The same car during Christmas and New Years is around $600 a week. During February, it is around $550 a week.
How to save money on car rentals
If you can, travel during low season since it’s the cheapest prices. Additionally, automatic cars cost more to rent in Costa Rica so rent a manual if you can to save money. The difference can be from $10-40 a week.
Then check your itinerary to see if you really need a 4×4 or 4wd. Renting a sedan or compact versus an SUV can save a ton of money.
And if the company you rent with lets you use your credit card insurance instead of an insurance they offer, you can save $4-8 a day.
Also don’t forget to get our car rental discount to save up to 20% on rentals and extra benefits like 2 free drivers, free delivery and pick up, free cell phone, cooler and much more!
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 are completely transparent about prices and insurance. This is also why we made a partnership with them to give up to 20% 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. Some so small they only have a few cars!
The thing with the big international companies is that they aren’t exactly transparent about taxes, fees, the deposit and insurance. If you do decide to book with other companies, ask and be 100% clear about all fees and insurances. (I’ll talk more about insurance in a moment.)
Third party sites like Expedia
If you book on third party sites like Expedia, Carrentals.com or Orbitz, find out which company they work with, contact them and ask about insurance. Because the third party websites only show you the car rental price, not the insurances and fees, it’ll look awesomely cheap at first glance ($10 a day, $5 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 turn out way more expensive. This is one of the most common questions we are asked about car rentals and complaints we get. So make sure to check directly with the company to get the final quote for your reservation because it is definitely not that super cheap price you see initially.
With Adobe, what you see on your reservation is exactly what you pay. No more, no less.
Breaking down Costa Rica car rental insurance
Next, insurance. Costa Rica car rental insurance is confusing because every company sells insurances differently. 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: Mandatory insurance from Adobe that costs $13-25 a day depending on the type of car. Liability insurance covers you up to $20,000 in 3rd party damages with 20% deductible and 3rd parties (not in vehicle) up to $100,000 with 0 deductible.
Car Protection: Covers the rented vehicle damage in an incident. Also covers financial losses from theft.
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.
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. Some companies offer up to 5 different types of insurance, making it very confusing!
Now, let’s talk about the deposit. Deposits for car rentals in Costa Rica can be fairly high and they base it off of the type of insurance you get. They can be anywhere from $300-5000!
For example, if you rent a car and 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 and purchase mandatory, your deposit can be $5000!
This is another reason why we prefer Adobe. Their deposit is also straightforward as well. For Mytanfeet readers, the deposit is $1000 for all reservations. If you purchase Extended Protection insurance, the deposit is $500.
Additionally, Adobe does take debit cards but 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. Cash is not accepted.
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 but some charge for this. Alamo Costa Rica charges $38 for this. This is called the “airport tax” but in truth, the tax doesn’t go to the government. These companies rent a kiosk in the airport so they use this “airport tax” to cover the costs of the kiosk.
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. You can watch videos of the pick up process for Adobe at San Jose Airport and Adobe at Liberia Airport here.
If you pick up and drop off in different offices, there may be an extra fee. It is $10-210 depending on the locations.
Gas and mileage
Some companies have an option to choose for prepaid gas. Adobe doesn’t. Clients can fill it 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.
There may also be restrictions on mileage (Costa Rica uses kilometers but it is the same). Hertz Costa Rica has a limit of 200 kilometers a day for rentals under 3 days. 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, cell phone, cooler and surf racks. Prices vary so take that into consideration. Alamo charges $12 a day for GPS and Hertz charges $14 a day.
With Adobe, our deal gives readers 33% off GPS (originally $9 a day), free baby and booster seats, free local cell phone (1 hour credit for calls and texts), 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 GPS, 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 SUV’s: Mitsubishi Montero Sport, Toyota Prado, Ford Explorer or Hyundai Santa Fe.
- Mid size/Compact SUV’s: Suzuki Jimny, Toyota Rav4, Nissan Rogue, Kia Sportage, Daihatsu Bego (now is Toyota Rush), Mitsubishi ASX, Ssang Yang Korando and Hyundai Tucson/Creta.
- Sedan or compacts: Hyundai Accent Blue, Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Yaris, Hyundai Elantra and Hyundai i10.
- Minivan: Hyundai H1 9/12 pax.
Want more information? We took videos and pictures of cars to rent in Costa Rica here.
Is a 4×4 necessary in Costa Rica?
A 4×4 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: 4×4 highly recommended. Monteverde roads are unpaved. Route 606 is currently undergoing construction so you will need to use Route 145. Route 145 has concrete in many sections but is steep, windy and narrow.
- Puerto Viejo: 4×4 not necessary. The road to and around Puerto Viejo 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. It’s not recommended to drive there in rainy season since you have to cross some high rivers.
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.
- You cannot take rental vehicles from Costa Rica across the border. If you’re visiting Panama or Nicaragua, you must return the vehicle before you go.
- Always check if you rented an automatic or manual transmission.
- 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 get into an accident, report it to the car rental company ASAP. You will run into trouble with the rental company when it comes to damages, insurance, etc. if you do not.
- Damage from driving through rivers or any body of water is not covered by any type of insurance.
- Take part in the inspection. Take pictures and tell them if you see any scratches, dents, or nicks so that you won’t get in trouble for those when you return the car.
Phew! With all that being said, I still recommend renting a car in Costa Rica. Not saying you won’t have a great time if you don’t, but renting a car gives you the freedom you wouldn’t have with buses or shuttles.
We’ve found hidden beaches, beautiful scenic spots and local gems when we drive around the country. Renting a car created one of the most memorable trips for my family and friends. Definitely one that we would have never been able to experience otherwise!
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, saving up to 20% on the car rental.
“Why Adobe?” you may ask. When it comes to reputable Costa Rica car rental companies, Adobe Rent a Car is a 100% Costa Rican company and leader in the car rental business. They have the largest fleet with cars that are no less than 2 years old.
We also offer these extra benefits: 2 free drivers, 0% deductible on Liability Protection insurance, road assistance on all reservations, a free cell phone with 1 hour of credit, free baby and booster seats, free surf racks and 33% off GPS, WiFi deal, free car delivery and pick up and a $500 deposit on rental that includes the extended protection.
Book a car, have a trip of a lifetime and save money while doing it!
Costa Rica Car Rental Discount Video
You can read about our experience with Adobe Rent a Car and why we recommend them.
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