Costa Rica Car Rental Insurance | Tico Travel

Is Car Rental Insurance Mandatory in Costa Rica? Read Before Renting

Only Car Rental liability insurance in Costa Rica is mandatory and is regulated by the Instituto Nacional de Seguros.  Car Rental agencies in Costa Rica offer optional supplemental insurance that cover deductibles and contingencies. 

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 to even start to make sense of it.

In order to clarify the car rental insurance options in Costa Rica, I have broken it down into sections so that you can better understand your options. Ready? Lets get started

What are the 3 Parts of Costa Rica Car Rental Insurance?

Insurance that 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 Insurance called  “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 Insurance with A 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.

Cheap Car Rentals Costa Rica | Tico Travel

Additional Car Rental Costs

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.

Important Questions to Ask When Comparing Car Rental Rates

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.

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 instead of Buying 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.

Car Rental Process Upon Arrival in 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!

Comments 1

  1. Thanks for the tips.

    Renting cars is about the most frustrating thing in Costa Rica. It feels like a scam, but with some additional info I think the challenges can be avoided. Here’s what I found.

    TPL [aka Supplemental Liability Insurance (SLI)] – There is no way around this. It’s mandatory, regardless of what coverage your credit cards provide or other personal insurance you have. Most online rental agencies leave this number out of their prices, whether that’s Expedia or directly from the big rental car company site (Budget, Alamo, etc.). They’ll use some generalized version of ‘additional local charges may apply’.

    I used Booking dot com (branded Rentalcars dot com) and rented from Avis because they included TPL in the final price. I had to dig into the details to determine that. If your contract includes TPL, bring a hard copy of the invoice that indicates such. The only way to find out what the TPL charge would be if they are not included, would be to contact the local office of whatever company you’ve rented from and get the rates.

    CDW (Collision Damage Waiver) – No rental car companies include the CDW in the fees you see online. Your credit cards may have coverage to take care of the CDW the local agents say is mandatory, but you need to bring a hard copy letter from your credit card company stating that you have coverage. You may get away with providing the credit card company’s generic policy statement that says rental car insurance is included, but a letter is better. The letter should have the name of the credit card company on it. Local agents will tell you that one of the major credit card companies name’s has to be there because this is the only additional insurance they accept.

    Please note, personal 3rd party liability insurance, which should give you the ability to decline all rental car coverage was not applicable. Even if your coverage is from a company like Chubb (the biggest insurance company in the world), they will not accept it. It needs to be from a credit card company. See above.

    I watched a couple get dinged for $300 in unexpected charges at the time of rental. What an awful way to star a vacation.

    Side note. Rent a 4×4. The roads here get rough sometimes, so if you’re going further than Tamarindo, like Nosara or Santa Teresa you might prefer something larger. You could get by with the cheapest 4x4s they offer (Begos, Terios), but going slightly larger to something like a Nissan X-Trail will make you more comfortable.

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