Updated: Mar 11
The idea of renting a car in a foreign country can seem scary but it doesn’t have to be! Below are some of the more common questions I’ve received about my recent experience of renting a car in Costa Rica. Please keep in mind that it is always the responsibility of the traveler to do their own research and check current requirements before traveling.
Do I need to rent a car?
This will depend on what you are doing.
Are you going to a resort on the west coast to veg out and relax? Then probably not.
Are you flying into San Jose and planning to explore? Then absolutely yes.
Costa Rica does have plenty of public transportation options if you are ballin on a budget or have the time to waste waiting for the bus to arrive / make all of the stops from point A to B. However, the more I travel, the more I value my time and find it worth the cost and ease of a rental car.
Is 4-wheel drive required?
This will depend on where you are staying.
The drive from San Jose to La Fortuna was easy peezy. All of the roads were paved and we had no issues. However, for two of our nights, we were scheduled to stay in a house on the mountain side and a 4x4 was most definitely required. So, take a look at your plans and see what makes the most sense for you, but I would say generally 4-wheel drive is not a necessity.
One thing you will want to pay attention to is renting an automatic car v. a manual car. It is more common (and usually cheaper) for rental companies to have more manuals to offer. Thus, if an automatic is a must, make sure that is stated in the booking and you book it early.
Do I need an International Drivers Permit?
Currently, Costa Rica does not require an International Drivers Permit for most travelers as long as they have a driver's license in the country they reside in and the information is written in the Roman Alphabet. You will want to confirm all details with your car rental company though as some require that the driver have the license for at least 2 years.
Is insurance required for my rental car?
Per Costa Rican Law, third-party insurance is mandatory and cannot be replaced by international insurance.
You may be eligible to get slightly cheaper coverage if your credit card provides you with Collision Damage Waiver coverage. If this is the case, you will need to reach out to your credit card company and have them email you a letter stating the coverage and the name and credit card information of the primary driver so that you may provide it to the car rental company upon arrival.
Note - most rental car companies do not include the cost of the insurance in their quotes. So, even though you booked a car at a specific price, generally that booked price does not include the added taxes, insurance, or other add ons that will be charged upon pick up.
Should I purchase the GPS system?
This is completely up to you and what you feel comfortable with. If you want to save money and use my preferred method of navigation, then you’ll want to download offline maps through google maps before leaving the U.S. The offline version will work just the same as if you were using data with the one exception being it will not show real time traffic. Whether you select to purchase the GPS system or download offline maps either option is a thousand times better than a traditional map as there are numerous unmarked roads that would be very hard to determine on a paper map.
To learn more about downloading offline google maps, check out this video: How to Download Offline Maps in Google Maps (2023)
If you'd rather not stress about the details and are interested in a vacation fully customized to your travel style, check out Travels by Niki's Services page to get started with your personalized travel quote.
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