Going through immigration and customs can be an intimidating and confusing experience for first time international travelers. If you’ve never traveled internationally or visited Costa Rica before, this post to help you know exactly what to expect when going through customs and immigration in San Jose Airport and Liberia International Airport. We have now updated this post in January 2021 to reflect COVID-19 times.
*Please read our Costa Rica coronavirus for latest updates and travel information.*
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 Liberia International Airport in Liberia, Guanacaste. It doesn’t matter which one you’re flying into, the process is exactly the same. And remember, customs and immigration are two completely different things.
Customs and immigration has changed a bit due to COVID so here is what it’s like.
Costa Rica COVID-19 Entry Requirements
Every tourist must complete a health pass and purchase a travel insurance that covers a minimum of $50,000 USD for medical expenses and a minimum of $2,000 USD for extended lodging expenses. Costa Rica doesn’t require a negative COVID-19 test result nor do they require tourists to quarantine.
You will need to fill out the health pass to receive a QR code which is required for going through immigration. I highly recommend to fill out the health pass BEFORE you get to the airport for your flight as it’ll save time and stress!
Please read our Costa Rica COVID-19 travel post with more detailed information regarding Costa Rica COVID entry requirements and more.
On the plane there: customs form
*On my Alaska Airlines flight December 29th, this custom form was not handed out so depending on your airline, they may give you one, they may not.*
If you are given a custom form during your flight to Costa Rica, here 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 but this is not necessary if you don’t.)
- 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. If you’re staying in an Airbnb, write the address or name of your Airbnb.
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 lives 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).
Have you been out of the country for at least 3 days?
Lastly, this is the question that many people were confused about. Mark YES if you have been out of Costa Rica for at least 3 days. Mark NO if you have not been out of Costa Rica for at least 3 days (for example, you flew out of Costa Rica on January 1st and are flying back January 3rd).
Remember, this is the customs form for Costa Rica, not for the country you just flew out of. People kept getting very confused so remember, they are asking if you have been out of Costa Rica for at least 3 days.
If this is your first time to Costa Rica, you need to mark YES. Since you have never been to Costa Rica before, you obviously have been out of the country for at least 3 days. If you visited 1 year ago, you need to mark yes too since it’s been more than 3 days since you’ve been in Costa Rica.
Then just date and sign and that’s it!
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 may not get one to fill out. But if you do, then here are the details for it.***
Going Through Immigration in San Jose Airport and Liberia Airport in Costa Rica
Now that you’ve arrived, you will first go through immigration. The airport now has lots of social distancing markers placed throughout immigration and face masks are required for everyone (children under 2 are exempt) so please follow the rules and be respectful.
When your turn is called, go up to the desk and the officer will have you scan your QR code. Scan your QR code, hand your passport to the officer and answer the officers questions.
Just a side note, there is a bathroom in the immigration area. I like to use the one in immigration since there tends to be less people. Everyone wants to get through immigration ASAP which works for me since I don’t like to rush!
What the Officer Will Ask You
The officer will take your passport, scan it and look at your picture. Costa Rican immigration officials don’t ask too many questions so don’t be nervous. They do speak basic English and they’re super used to tourists. They will ask you these questions:
- Your local address: Town and hotel name
- Your occupation
- How many days you are staying in Costa Rica
Because of COVID, immigration is now giving out tourist visas for the exact number of days you bought insurance for. So for example, I bought 66 days of insurance and they gave me 66 days on my tourist visa. Tourist visas are technically valid for 90 days (for Group 1 countries) so you can still stay up to 90 days, but you will need to purchase insurance for 90 days.
Before COVID, the default number of days was 90 regardless of wen you fly out.
Please check all Costa Rica entry requirements before you fly. It is the traveler’s responsibility to check the requirements to enter Costa Rica. If you don’t fill out the health pass or purchase insurance, the agents can help you when you arrive but we recommend to do ALL of that before your flight.
Baggage Claim and Customs
After you finish immigration, you will go to baggage claim which are through the double doors. Both San Jose and Liberia Airport aren’t very big so you will be able to easily find your carousel since there’s only a few. Pick up all your luggage (they have free carts if you need them) and take them to the customs area.
Now you will go through customs. You will see a couple of scanners so put ALL your luggage, backpacks, bags, purses and carry ons to be scanned.
Go around the other side and hand the officer your customs form, pick up your luggage and then you’re free! It is honestly very rare for the customs to stop anyone and search their luggage but if you happen to get stopped unluckily, 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 Airport, you will exit to the outside where you will see all of the taxis and shuttle people. At Liberia 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 land and what time of year you’re visiting. Since there aren’t as many flights now due to COVID, usually there is only 1 flight at a time, maybe 2.
It took me about 30 minutes to get through immigration at Liberia Airport. I had my QR code ready, already purchased travel insurance and was a solo traveler at that time. My flight was the only one at that time.
Exchanging money at the airport
You can find money exchanges and duty free at both airport after immigration. Below is the money exchange and duty free at Liberia Airport. Still open at 730 PM.
You will also see car rental companies at baggage claim at both airports. Learn about car rentals at Liberia Airport. There is now a SIM card stand at San Jose Airport by baggage claim from a company named Claro.
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.