Many people who have asked me about renting a car in Costa Rica also ask me about the rental insurance because they are confused about it works in conjunction with Car Rental prices.
When checking rates online, sometimes the prices that have been quoted for the Car Rental can be so confusing that you would need a PhD in Mathematics so even start to make sense of it.
How Costa Rica Car Rental Insurance Works:
Auto insurance in Costa Rica is mostly run by the INS (Instituto Nacional de Seguros). Liability insurance from the INS is mandated by law, but provides only minimal coverage. Rental agencies offer supplemental programs that cover deductibles and contingencies other than a simple traffic accident. The cost of insurance can approach or exceed the cost of renting.
There are three types:
Required by Law
”TPL, SLI, SLC or API” Liability Insurance from the INS is required regardless of your policies at home or the claims of your titanium credit card. The cost ranges depending on the vehicle. This insurance does not cover your rental car at all, only damages to other people, their cars, or property.
Unless you purchase supplements, or have documented coverage from your credit card you are still responsible for all damages to the rental vehicle.
Optional ”CDW or SLDW”
Collision Damage Waivers are a supplement underwritten by the rental company to reduce your liability for your rental car to the deductable amount only in the case of an accident. The cost varies depending on the company and vehicle. You are still responsible for all losses or damages in the case of negligence, vandalism, road damage, or theft.
This insurance may be replaced by your home auto insurance policy or credit card coverage.
Check before you rent, and get it in writing. Some credit card companies have exclusions specifically against Latin American rentals and some rental companies do not allow you to waive this insurance regardless of other coverage.
Optional: Zero Deductible
These extra policies are intended to reduce your liability when combined with SLI and CDW.
For example, if the trunk is damaged by thieves while they steal your luggage you will be held responsible for the damage unless you have purchased a third level of insurance.
The cost varies depending on the fine print and vehicle.
These insurances may be replaced by your home auto insurance policy or credit card coverage. Check before you leave home, and get it in writing. Some credit card companies have exclusions specifically against Latin American rentals.
Cars returned with less than a full tank of gas will be refueled at your expense. The price of gas from the rental companies can be up to twice the cost at a service station.
Government License Plate Fee, rarely included in quoted rates but always ask about having them included with your quote.
Airport Concourse Fee: ”There is a 12% airport concourse tax added to the cost of any car picked up at Juan Santamaria or Liberia.
The car companies all know this and will make arrangements to help you avoid it. If you arrive late and plan to stay in the area (do not drive at night), take a taxi to your hotel and have the car delivered the next morning (often free of charge and saves you a day of rental).
If you arrive early and want to get on the road, the car companies have off airport pickup locations a few minutes away.
Always try to park your car in a secure parking area or sometimes you may see people asking to watch your car for a couple hundred colones, if this occurs, I would recommend that you do it.
Compare “Apples with Apples” when Renting a Car:
Does the Price Clearly explain the Insurance Options Available to You Before you Arrive?
They all should clearly explain the options available and show you a list of available options so you will clearly understand your choices before you get to Costa Rica.
This is sometimes glossed over and many people assume its like renting a car in the United States but its vastly different so make sure to ask.
What About Picking the Car Up at the Airport?
Check to see if Costa Rica Car Rental price quoted by the car rental company includes the 12% fee charged by the airport management for pickup (fee is on both rental price and insurance). If not, ask about it!
Does the Car Rental company guarantee a car type or does it say: “intermediate 4×4” or similar?
This usually means a sub class of 4×4 that we refuse to use do to the quality of these vehicles. You should know all these things in order to avoid any “surprises” at the outset of your trip.
Most vehicles have a standard transmission. Automatic transmissions can be requested for certain vehicles for free or sometimes a small additional fee if available. Infant car seats can also be requested for an additional charge.
Can I use a Credit Card for Car Rental Insurance?
In Costa Rica there is one insurance company, the government, (technically there are others) and they require all foreigners renting a car in Costa Rica to buy insurance. This is to avoid a tourist having an accident and later their credit card company denying coverage after the tourist has left Costa Rica.
Therefore there is mandatory insurance that all rentors must take when they arrive in Costa Rica. There is no credit card company, that I am aware of, that will cover this mandatory insurance.
Therefore, when comparing Costa Rica car rental prices make sure they clearly explain to you the insurance, car model, year of the car and any other fees you will need to pay when you arrive.
This will avoid any surprise car rental charges upon your arrival. Also most credit card companies explicitly EXCLUDE Costa Rica car rental for coverage and more specifically for 4×4 vehicles as well as for driving on unpaved roads.(In Costa Rica there are many).
Check with your credit card company about their car rental coverage policy for Costa Rica or look into travel insurance as occasionally this is less expensive.
What Happens When I Get to Costa Rica?
When you arrive in Costa Rica the Car agency will meet you on your scheduled day, time & location. (Hotel pick up drop off in San Jose area is free). Other areas available but there are fees for certain ones. Make sure to ask the car rental company to see what, if any, the price is.
If you choose to pick up your airport at the airport, then you will need to let them know the exact arrival information (airline, time and flight number). Then car company in Costa Rica will meet you there at arrival and take you to their office.
Once you meet with the car rental representative, they will ask for major credit card and valid drivers license both of which need to be in YOUR name! You MUST be 21 to rent!
You MUST have available credit for the deposit. They will then go over all the paperwork and insurance information with you. You will do the site inspection of the car and you will sign off on it.
On the last day of the rental you will bring back the car to the specified location on your car travel voucher provided to you.
There are NO Refunds for unused service. so if you need to return the car early you can do so but you will not be refunded those days.
”Unless you purchase all of the above insurance or your credit card covers it, you are responsible for damage done by potholes, vandals, thieves, falling trees, high tide, army ants, spilled food, and any other imaginable occurrence other than a traffic accident involving another party.
Final parting words of advice: Never leave anything of value in the car!