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.
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
Things have gotten very easy when it comes to immigration and customs in Costa Rica. They no longer give out customs forms, but just in case your airline does give you a form, it’s super easy to fill out.
Costa Rica Customs Form
- 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. If you’re staying in an Airbnb, write the address or name of your Airbnb and the town.
They no longer give out immigration forms. You will answer the questions when you go through immigration and talk to the officers.
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 (foreign passports).
Just a side note, there is a bathroom in the immigration area with 4 stalls and immigration has air conditioning. The bathrooms in the baggage claim are only two individual bathrooms and baggage claim does not have air conditioning. There are also toilets in the airport terminal 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 scan it and look at your picture.
Then they will ask you for the following:
Your passport. Must be valid, original and not expiring during your time in Costa Rica.
Your lodging information. Usually they want to know your first destination and your first hotel you’re staying at. If you’re staying at an Airbnb, tell them the location of it and that it’s an Airbnb.
Your return itinerary out of Costa Rica. You must present proof of exit within 180 days if you are in Group 1 (and if you want a 180 day tourist visa). Immigration is getting more strict so have this ready to show. This is your airplane ticket (best proof) out of Costa Rica. You can print it out or show it to them on your phone. If you do not show a plane ticket out of Costa Rica in 180 days, the officer may give you 90 days or even for how many days until your flight out. Even though the tourist visa for Group 1 countries is valid for up to 180 days, it is at the discretion of the officer for how many days they want to give you.
*Important news as of Sept 2023. Costa Rica has now extended the duration of a tourist visa for countries in Group 1 from 90 to 180 days. Immigration officers have started writing 180 days in stamps to foreigners who have a ticket showing they will leave Costa Rica from 90-180 days. They will ask you for your flight out of Costa Rica and give the number of days accordingly. Honestly, it’s also a bit up to the immigration officers whim, because the Group 1 tourist visa duration is, by default, 180 days, but the officer can still give you 90 days if you are leaving in less than 90 days. Group 1 is countries like USA, Canada, Germany, UK, Australia, Chile. If you are not sure what group your passport is, please check with the Costa Rican embassy in your passport country.*
You can answer in English. All officers speak basic English and are very used to tourists.
After they’ve asked you all the questions, the officer will stamp your passport. In the stamp, they will write how many days your tourist visa is valid for. This is equal to how many days you can legally stay in Costa Rica. They’ll hand your passport back to you and you’re clear with immigration. If for some reason they ask you if you want a stamp, say yes. This is important if you are renting a car as the car rental agencies normally need to see your tourist entry stamp for the date of entry. Foreigners can only legally drive for up to 90 days since date of entry, even if they receive 180 days of a valid tourist visa.
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 pick up your luggage if you have any checked luggage and 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, 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. I have been stopped three times. Once when I brought down two computer towers, another time they confiscated some food (I had leftover dried fruit from the flight).
If you’re moving here or if you live here: I’ve brought down a ton of stuff to Costa Rica including Roombas, dog treats, dog toys, cameras, drones, faucets, shower heads, laptops, and all sorts of stuff. Make sure you pack them without tags and wrap them carefully with clothes.
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 during high season (December through April, June, July and early August). Pack your patience because it may take at least an hour or so to get through the lines, could be even more in February and March. Many flights land at around 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 Guanacaste 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 anytime from 11 AM to 2 PM as many flights arrive between those hours.
Pack your patience if you are landing at either airports during Christmas, New Years, Spring Break, Holy Week or North American summer vacation months.
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 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. Hint: we do not recommend exchanging money at the airport. They give an extremely poor rate. You can use your credit card and USD until you can go to a bank to exchange money which will give the best rates. If you really want to get some local currency right away, just exchange a little amount like $20 USD or so first until you can go to the bank. You can also get local currency at supermarkets if you pay in USD – they will give change back in CRC. Read more about handling money in Costa Rica here.
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.
Read more Costa Rica travel tips below!
Costa Rica Vacation Checklist
- First time to Costa Rica? Read our First Time in Costa Rica guide.
- Not sure how to move around Costa Rica? Read our How to Get Around Costa Rica guide to find the best transportation method for you.
- Click the link to get our detailed Costa Rica Packing List so you know what essential items to bring.
- Do not forget to purchase Travel Insurance for your trip to Costa Rica.
- Stay connected by purchasing a prepaid SIM Card in Costa Rica.
- Save money with Mytanfeet Deals for tours and hotels. Save more money with our Costa Rica Car Rental Discount.