Guide to Renting a Car in Costa Rica, Save Time and Money

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Guide to Renting a Car in Costa Rica, Save Time and Money

Do you want to  rent a car in Costa Rica? This “Guide to Renting a Car in Costa Rica” is a summary of all the previous articles I have written on this subject.  It is  “one stop  information,”  A Must Read”  before you rent a car in Costa Rica, therefore saving you time,  money,  and making your vacation more pleasant and relaxing.

Prices: My readers have said:  Renting a car in Costa Rica is confusing and seems expensive- why is the price so high?    The cost is made up of three parts:  1.cost of the car itself   2. liability insurance which your have to buy in Costa Rica when you rent the car  which is around $20 per day  3. collision insurance.    Your options are:  You can buy it in Costa Rica  (expensive) when you rent the car  …only way to know how much is to ask a quote from the car rental agency you use.  OR a BETTER and  cheaper way is to buy this collision insurance  through your major credit card company  in your home country (before you depart).

ONE ODDITY WHEN YOU RENT A CAR IN COSTA RICA:  You will be asked to sign a credit card voucher for a specific amount which is around $850-$950.    IF YOU DO NOT HAVE COLLISION INSURANCE THROUGH YOUR CREDIT CARD and you have an accident,  the agency will keep this money and use it as a “deductible” when repairing the car.  If you have bought collision Insurance  thru your credit card in your home country, this deductible is waived and  this money will be returned to you when you turn the car in.   I always tell people–make sure this  credit card voucher  is torn up “in your presence”  when you turn the car in.

The size and make of the vehicle determines the price of the Rental Car: Some of the agencies may  run specials on their web site.  It’s worth doing a google search for these specials, usually seen in the low season for tourism–not the high season of December  thru March.

One factor in your decision to choose a rental car company: Does the the company have an agency in the location where you will be staying?

Here are tips for  Renting a Car in Costa Rica:  Request  a vehicle that is no more than 2 years old, preferably a new car.     (If you rent for longer periods of time,  ask for a special  rate)   Buy the collision part of the insurance  thru your major credit card company  in your home country-before you depart for Costa Rica.

Make the reservation for your rental car BEFORE  you depart your home country to save yourself a lot of time.   The Internet  makes that a lot easier now.

Where are the car rental agencies in Costa Rica .

1. International airports which there are two in Costa Rica.  San Jose International Airport which is named Juan Santa Maria International Airport and the second is located in northern Costa Rica.  It is called Liberia International  Airport.  These two locations have the most selections of rental car agencies.   HOWEVER  many car rental agencies have branch agencies in the most popular tourist destinations around the country.  SO  you need to ask the agency you are thinking of using if they have a agency location where you will be staying.

Requirements To rent a vehicle: 1. You must be  21 years of age, hold a valid drivers license from your home country, and a current passport (which you should keep with you while driving the car.)  If you are stopped by the police they will want to see your passport.     2.  specify: automatic transmission or straight shift.    Most all the rental cars come  with air conditioning.   3.  Tell them if you want to rent a phone usually for $10 per day to make local calls WITHIN  Costa Rica, not  international calls.    4.  Be sure the agency provides a  Costa Rica map.

Do  I need to rent a 4×4? If you are traveling outside the areas of San Jose and Alajuela, then yes you need a 4×4.  The roads  in the rural areas are not always good and you can encounter potholes.

In the central valley of San Jose, Alajuela, Escazu,  and Santa Ana areas:  Ask the car rental company if they will  deliver the vehicle to your location and pick it up at your location

Inspect the vehicle well for scratches or bumps, if any write them all down on the form provided by the car rental company.   Check the spare tire for adequate air and make sure it is locked.   Don’t drink alcohol and drive, you could go to jail!   The  liability insurance will not cover driving under influence of alcohol, illegal drugs, or negligent acts such as driving through rivers. Do: wear seat belts. It’s the law and the fine is over $100!    Don’t: Speed because the fine is over $200!  The speed limit on the autopisto is 55 miles per hour. ( approx. 90 kilometers per hour)   It seems the Costa Ricans  don’t drive  within this speed limit,  but believe me the cops are all along  the interAmerican Highway  (Highway 1)  waiting to give you a big ticket!

Road signs are not always good out side the larger cities and distances are longer than they look on a map.  Costa Ricans are very helpful so feel free to stop and ask someone if you feel lost.

I recommend you do not drive in San Jose,  the streets are not well marked, big buses are everywhere.  Putting it simply:  It’s very hard to navigate in this city, so make it easy on yourself and  take a taxi.

Now I have rented the vehicle.  What else should I know?

Roads in Costa Rica  are mountainous and winding.  Unless you get off the beaten path,  most are in pretty good repair but you may encounter  potholes.  Mountainous areas can be foggy, especially at night  so try not to drive at night.    Fill your gas tank in the towns.

Costa Rican drivers are famous for being aggressive and reckless.  And you will think, “Well how do they get away with driving like they do?”  That’s a big puzzle to all the tourist!

Keep the vehicle locked at all times and do not leave valuables visible in the car such as cameras, etc. (may get your window busted)  Especially stopping at restaurants.

Park the vehicle is a secure parking area. (Take valuables out first)   Do not leave it parked on the side of the street.

How much does gasoline cost?  Around $3.50 per gallon  Price varies with price of oil on world market. (in Costa Rica it is sold in liters)

What are the road conditions?  Depends on where you are. The roads in the central valley  and north into Guanacaste and over to the NW beaches are good.  If you go off the beaten path to   remote areas  the roads are not in good repair, and  have potholes.  And you need a 4×4 vehicle.   The rainy season is harder to drive because water fills up the potholes and you cannot see them,  so  drive slowly.

In case of an accident:  DO NOT MOVE THE VEHICLE.   Call 911   and then call your rental car company.  Be sure to have the traffic police write out a report.  And give you a copy.

Beware: If you have a flat tire and people stop to help you.  ( Especially after leaving the car rental agency, the airport,  or a restaurant.)  watch your purse and personal belongings in your car.  The following is a true story.  The tires of the rental car were punctured before I left the international airport, and the guys who did it followed me until the tire went flat, then offered to help change the tire.  While I was not paying close attention one of them stole my purse.  I didn’t realize it until they had left the scene.

Don’t pick up hitchhikers.

Don’t park the car by the side of the road, only in guarded parking lots and don’t leave any valuables inside which are visible, esp cameras, binoculars, etc.

Car theft is not uncommon in Costa Rica.

Frequently asked Questions:   Do I really need a 4×4.  This depends on what part of the country you plan to drive to.  Actually to make the long story short: If you are driving in the central valley of San Jose areas, Alajuela, Escazu, Santa ana, Grecia, Atenas,  then a regular automobile will do.  However, if you plan to drive other places into the countryside, it’s best to rent a 4×4.

I see smaller car agencies on the internet which rent 4×4 for less money than the major agencies. So how can they do this?  In most cases these vehicles are older than two years of age.  You just need to double check that the vehicle appears to be VERY well maintained, that the tires on it are good.  Also do some checking around about the  reputation of the agency.

Can I take my rental car across the border into Nicaragua or into Panama?   No,  however, check with your rental car company.  There are several options, for example having the company pick up the rental car at the border and then getting into another rental car immediately after crossing the border.

Here at costaricalearn we would love to hear from you.  Was this guide useful to you when you rented a car in Costa Rica?   Did the information help you save time and money? Simply click on comment or reply at the end of this article.

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