Many people ask about safety in Costa Rica. So, is it safe? The answer is yes, very safe. Costa Rica is safer than most countries in the Americas, including major areas of Canada and the United States. So, should I be concerned for my safety?
That said, however, there is crime in Costa Rica, as is in most parts of the world. Petty theft is the most common crime that affects tourists.
Let me give you the most important item to be aware of that will make your time in Costa Rica an enjoyable one and protect you from petty crime.
First and foremost, for safety reasons always familiarize yourself with the surrounding area. This means even where you live. If it looks shady, and I don’t me from trees, then most likely it is! Costa Rica is not a gun-toting country, and mass shootings are all but unheard of here. That doesn’t mean Costa Rica is the end-all utopia—common sense and basic precautions are still needed. Yes, I’m sorry, even on vacation. I have an expression I always used when visiting a new location or even a favorite spot I returned to, “Don’t leave your brain on the plane”.
According to the Tico Times newspaper, in 2018, tourists filed 1,785 criminal complaints. “That marks a 27% increase from 2014, though there has also been a 19% increase in the number of tourists in that time,” the newspaper notes. Thefts and robberies account for more than 95% of reported crimes, according to law enforcement reports.
To help improve safety in Costa Rica, the country’s tourism board (ICT) and the Public Security Ministry (MSP) are joining forces to increase police presence in most of the tourist areas. Their agreement provides funding, training and equipment for more than 300 Tourist Police.
This is all very reassuring, but let’s get back to your best protection, common sense and alertness. Any vacation destination can turn into a nightmare if you zone out and don’t take simple, reasonable precautions. Here are a few other examples to just be aware of:
With few exceptions, most crimes take place at night. So don’t be out alone after dark. Be aware of rowdy bars or in isolated locations. If driving, try to arrive at your destination before nightfall. People and animals roam the roads in Costa Rica, and at night they can be almost impossible to see.
DO NOT!! And I REPEAT DO NOT!! leave your possessions unattended—even in a locked car—at any time. Not when you go to take a picture of an animal you have spotted. Not when you are in a restaurant. Not when you are at the beach. Never. It’s the #1 rule for safety in Costa Rica because Smash and Grab is the most common crime that affects tourists.
One of the more elaborate but still pretty simple set ups is to bump the victim’s car from behind. The unsuspecting victim stops, believing he or she is involved in a minor accident, and the car is robbed by one assailant while the other is distracting you.
Another tip to ensure your safety in Costa Rica is to be wary of strangers offering to help with car problems. Use extreme caution if you have a flat tire. Drivers with flat tires are advised to drive, if possible, to the nearest service station or other public area, and change the tire themselves, watching their valuables at all times. This is another form that the bad guys like to use. However, do not be surprised if a good-hearted Tico offers to help you, because Ticos are very helpful people.
Do not carry around a lot of cash, expensive equipment or jewelry. Leave your passport in the safe at the hotel and carry a photocopy of the picture page and the page stamped when you entered Costa Rica. Keep a list on paper as well as a digital list of the contact information for your bank and credit cards as well as plane tickets and other travel documents in a safe place. Because you could accidentally lose your wallet or purse. Remember “don’t leave your brain on the plane!”
When you leave your hotel or the beautiful villa you rented for your vacation, lock everything up. Don’t leave things like your computer, iPad, iPod and other valuable items just sitting on the table or bed.
Only exchange money at banks. There are two reasons: 1- you will get the best exchange rate and 2- you are not flashing cash around. Reserve tours online through reputable tour agencies and don’t make a deal with the “guy on the corner or on the beach”. Be alert to what is going on around you when using ATMs. If you are going to use plastic to pay for things, it is better to use your credit card than a debit card. These are some basic things that you would do back home, so it’s good to practice the same safety in Costa Rica.
Please don’t let this scare you. Those of us who live here year round can attest to the fact that absolutely nothing has happened to us without a single criminal incident in our lives. In over eleven years, almost 12 now living in Costa Rica and especially Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste, I have never has one thing stolen from me. I sleep safely and soundly because I have taken precautions. You will, too!
See you soon and remember “Safe today, here tomorrow”, no matter where you are in the world.