If you’ve never visited Costa Rica before, this post will tell you exactly what to expect when going through customs and immigration in San Jose Airport and Liberia International Airport.
*This post is updated to reflect the Costa Rica COVID entry requirements.*
What to Know About Going Through Customs and Immigration in San Jose Airport and Liberia International Airport
Costa Rica has 2 international airports: San Jose International Airport in Alajuela (near San Jose) and Guanacaste Airport (formerly named Liberia International Airport) in Liberia, Guanacaste. It doesn’t matter which one you’re flying into, the process for immigration and customs in San Jose International Airport and Guanacaste Airport are exactly the same.
This post will tell you what it’s like to go through immigration and customs at both airports so you know what to expect.
Also remember that immigration is for people, customs is for luggage.
Flying Into Costa Rica: On the Plane
I have not been given this customs form in the last few years, but just in case you are handed this form, this is how to fill it out.
For the custom form, you only need one form per family with the same last name living in the same house hold. Forms are in both Spanish and English. This is what they look like:
It is very simple to fill out and self explanatory. I will go through everything they ask you below.
Costa Rica Customs Form
This is the type of personal information you need to fill out
- Family name (your last name)
- Given name (your first name)
- Mother’s Maiden name (Costa Rica uses both mother and father’s last names which is why they ask for it but you don’t necessarily need to fill this out)
- Country of residence
- Country of origin
This is the flight and passenger information
- Passport (check passport unless you’re flying on something else than an ordinary passport)
- Passport number
- Flight number
Then it will ask you for your foreseen address. Write down the name of the first hotel and the name of the beach or town you are going to. You can see in the form I wrote “Playa Tamarindo” but it will be better to have the name of your hotel and your destination. If you’re staying in an Airbnb, write the address or name of your Airbnb and the town.
Next, they will ask how many family members are traveling with you, that one is easy to answer. Then it will ask how many pieces of luggage you have. This is how many pieces of check in luggage you have.
Then, they will ask questions such as if you’ve been around livestock/food process plants or agricultural regions. Second if you are bringing live animals. Third, if you’re bringing any chemical agents. Fourth, if you’re bringing more than $10,000 USD (you need to declare this if you are).
The last section asks if you have had tax exemption the past 6 months and if you’re bringing merchandise other than your luggage (merchandise to sell).
The immigration form also asks the same passenger information: full name, passport number, destination, birthday, occupation, sex, residing country and flight number.
***Costa Rica has stopped asking for this form on most flights so you probably won’t get one. But if you do, then here are the details for it.***
Going Through Immigration in San Jose Airport and Liberia Airport in Costa Rica
Once you get off the plane, follow the markers to immigration which you will go through first.
Just a side note, there is a bathroom in the immigration area with 4 stalls. The bathroom in the baggage claim only has 1. There are also toilets in the airport once you exit baggage claim.
Families go through immigration together. Spouses go together and if you’re traveling with friends, normally they will ask each adult to go separately.
When your turn is called, go up to the desk to go through immigration.
What the Officer Will Ask You
First, hand your passport to the immigration officer. They will then scan it and look at your picture.
Then they will ask you these questions:
- Your local address: Town and hotel name. You can give him the first hotel and town you are staying at in Costa Rica.
- Your occupation.
- How many days you are staying in Costa Rica. You will need to know the date you’re leaving so you need to present your home return flight information.
In addition to asking how many days you are in Costa Rica, the officer may or may not ask you to show proof of onward travel (a ticket out of Costa Rica). They will want to see that you are leaving Costa Rica within 90 days (or how many number of days you’re given on your tourist visa if you’re not in Group 1). Immigration is getting more strict so have this ready to show just in case. This can be your airplane ticket (best proof), you can print it out or show it to them on your phone.
You can answer in English. All officers speak basic English and are very used to tourists.
After they’ve asked you all the questions and got the information they need, the officer will stamp your passport and write in how many days your tourist visa is valid for (how many days you can legally stay in Costa Rica). They’ll hand your passport back to you and you’re clear with immigration.
Tip: I like to check my immigration stamp when I’m waiting for my luggage. One time, my immigration officer forgot to write in how many days my visa was valid for because she was on the phone and I had to go back to immigration in order for her to fill it in. Luckily I checked it while I was in baggage claim.
Now you need to clear customs.
Baggage Claim and Customs
After you finish immigration, you will go to baggage claim which are through the double doors. There aren’t that many carousels so you’ll easily be able to find yours. Pick up all your luggage (they have free carts if you need them) and take them to the luggage scanners which is the customs.
Now you will go through customs. Go to any line and put ALL your luggage, backpacks, bags, purses and carry ons to be scanned. Everything you are carrying needs to be put in the scanner except for duty free bags (if you just purchased anything in the Costa Rican duty free store after immigration).
Go around the other side and hand the officer your customs form (if you have one), pick up your luggage and then you’re free! If you happen to get stopped by the custom officer, pick up your luggage and bring it over to the side where they can examine it.
You’ll exit through a pair of swinging doors (the ones that say, no going back beyond this point) and be out in the airport. At San Jose International Airport, you will exit to the outside terminal and you will see all the drivers, taxis, tour companies and guides waiting to your right. You may need to walk down the sidewalk a bit to find your person. At Guanacaste Airport, you will exit into the actual airport and everyone is waiting outside straight ahead.
How Long Does it Take to Go Through Customs and Immigration in San Jose Airport and Liberia Airport?
How long it takes for you to go through customs and immigration in San Jose Airport and Liberia Airport depends on when you are flying into Costa Rica and the time you land.
San Jose Airport takes much longer than Guanacaste, especially if you are landing during the day on Friday-Monday. Pack your patience because it may take at least an hour or so to get through the lines if you are landing during the high tourism season months like December through April and July through August. Several flights land at the same time so there are hundreds of people who have to go through immigration at the same time. One time it took our friend 3 hours to get through immigration and customs at SJO Airport – she landed at noon on a Saturday in March.
For Liberia Airport, it’s always been faster because there aren’t as many flights. However, it can still take 30 minutes to an hour if you are landing during the high tourism months on the weekend around noon. At noon, there are several flights landing at the same time.
To see what it’s like to go through customs and immigration in San Jose and Guanacaste Airport, you can watch the following Youtube videos. These were all made pre-COVID but everything else is the same. These videos are for our Costa Rica car rental discount so you’ll see where to meet the Adobe Car rental agent.
Money Exchange, Duty Free, Car Rentals, Etc.
You can find money exchanges and duty free at both airports after immigration. Below is the money exchange and duty free at Guanacaste Airport. Still open at 730 PM.
The money exchange, SIM card stand and duty free are in baggage claim at San Jose International Airport. SIM card stand by baggage claim 5 at SJO Airport.
You will also see car rental companies at baggage claim at both airports. Learn about car rentals at Liberia Airport.
And that’s it! See, isn’t that easy? Nothing to worry about! That is all you need to know about going through customs and immigration in San Jose Airport and Liberia Airport for a stress free arrival.