Do I Need a Return Ticket to be Allowed to Enter Costa Rica?

Costa Rica Immigration

This is a very common question and reading what the requirements on what you need can be time consuming, exhausting and at times, confusing.

To add to it, depending on who you talk to, you will probably get a different answer from each one.

Therefore I went ahead a talked to a variety of people from backpackers and families to people who are living in Costa Rica for at least part of the year as well as the current Costa Rica immigration/visa laws and the bottom line is:

Probably Not!

But just to make sure you know your options and what you will need should you be asked for evidence that you’ll be leaving the country then read on and see what I found out!

The Law

If you are going to go by the letter of the law then you will need to have( required to have) a return ticket home or a ticket showing when you will be leaving the country. For most people this is not an issues because they are going to Costa Rica on vacation or maybe even a study abroad program and will therefore have a return ticket.

For the others, that percentage of travelers who have may have other plans such as backpackers whos first stop is Costa Rica and will be eventually heading their way North by land to Nicaragua or South to Panama and are planning on staying day for six months or more.

On the other hand maybe you are planning on moving to Costa Rica and only need a one way ticket.

The Airline

If you are going to have an issue with a one way ticket, this is the places where it is the most likely to happen instead of at the customs or immigration line in Costa Rica.

Why is that you ask? Because the airlines are the intial line of defense at were and are responsible for checking to make sure that all their passengers have a return ticket. If not, then if you were to get turned away at the immigration in Costa Rica, they will be the ones responsible for bringing you back

What Happens in Real Life

Ok, the reality of the situation is pretty uncommon for either one of them to ask you to show your return ticket.. In all the years I ran the travel agency, I can only count a handful of times where someone was asked for their return ticket.

So, say you don’t want to take the chance or don’t feel like stressing out because you think that. knowing your luck you are going to be one of the minority that gets asked for the return ticket, what should you do?

Costa Rica Immigration

How to Prove Onward Travel

There are few things you can do to show that you have a way out of the country and don’t be overly paranoid, you will not have to suddenly buy an exorbitantly priced ticket on a last minute ticket.

Of course their is a caveat to this and you may just be super unlucky and get the new officer who just started their job and is looking to make a name for his or herself or you run into someone who is just having a bad day and wants to take it out on someone and so they COULD require that you show proof of way out of the country but in reality you would just pay a fine

If you do just happen upon that person here is my suggestion on how to explain yourself from easiest to, lets just say, more complex.

 Explain the Situation

This the easiest, quickest and least expensive way of getting over the onward ticket hurdle. If you just explain to them what your plans are and why you only have a one way ticket, a lot of the times this will suffice especially if you don’t have any previous immigration stamps or its your first time to Costa Rica.

If you are a backpacker just let them that you’ll eventually be catching a bus to either Panama Nicaragua or whatever your plans are. Since these tickets are pretty inexpensive, its not a stretch for them to believe that you have the means to buy one of these tickets.

Proof of Means

This is another option for you and basically what you are doing is just giving them evidence that you have the financial ability to buy a ticket so that you can leave the country and in the end, that is what they are most concerned about.

The main purpose of this whole thing is just to make sure you don’t run out of money while you are in Costa Rica. If you want, can save a bank statement PDF on a phone you might be bringing with you or a printed copy in with your documents..

Bus Ticket Out of Costa Rica

Buy a Bus Ticket

Remember you don’t have to have an airline ticket to prove you are leaving. A bus ticket is just a good and is not only a sur way to prove you are going to leave but its also often the cheapest.

You can but tickets that go from San Jose, to either Boquest or Panama City to the South or to Granada or Managua to the North.

You could try using a company like ticketbuscr since the sites in English and easy to navigate or you could also look around to other companies that offer this type of service.

Pro Tips

  • Even though, logically you would think that a one way ticket is cheaper then a round trip , sometimes its actually less expensive to by a round trip ticket. Check online to see which is cheaper
  • If you have a reservation at another hotel or Airbnb in a neighboring country, within the time tourist visa time limit of 90 days, then if you can show that to the immigration official, this often times will be proof enough that you will not be staying
  • Since the airlines are usually your biggest potential hurdle, You can could call the Airline your travelling on before your day of departure and let them what your plans are especially if you are flying a airline from Central America
  • Keep a PRINTED copy whatever you plan to use to show you are getting out of the country so in case you get asked you have something you can show them quickly which makes their job easier and the chance of letting you pass higher
  • You always use your phone to show documents, just make sure you can connect for service when you arrive. You can check out this article from BudgetAirfare.com out for more info on using a cell phone overseas

Final Thoughts

In the end, going through customs and immigration in Costa Rica is a breeze and most people never have an issue.

If you are friendly, when you are at the customs counter and don’t yell or raise your voice if they asked for any additional information that they are required to do, they will probably just let you move on.

Remember they have a job to do as well so keep that in mind as you go through the process.

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