Epic landscapes, diverse wildlife and the creative capital city of San José draw many visitors from all over the world to Costa Rica – don't risk a last-minute disappointment by not having your paperwork in order.

Whilst all visitors need a valid passport and proof of onward travel to enter the country, not everyone needs a visa. Stays of up to 90 days are possible for passport holders of many different nationalities; others need to apply at their nearest consulate in advance. Here's everything you need to know about getting a visa for Costa Rica.

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Not every traveler needs a tourist visa to enter Costa Rica

Passport-carrying nationals from many countries, including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Panama, South Africa, UAE, USA and most of the EU, are allowed to visit for up to 90 days without a visa.

There are additional requirements for some other nationalities, such as having passports with at least three months' validity left on them.

Nationalities required to obtain a visa to enter Costa Rica include a number of African and Middle Eastern countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Tanzania and Sierra Leone, as well as a handful of South American countries, including Colombia, Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic. However, if you have a valid visa or can prove residency in other countries, such as the UK, USA, Canada, and the EU, you may not need to apply for a visa to go to Costa Rica. 

The Costa Rica Embassy keeps an up-to-date online list of visa requirements by nationality – check before you travel to ensure you have the most up-to-date information.

Three people on horseback wearing wet weather gear as their horses stand in a river in a jungle
Check with official sources to see what entry requirements fit your passport © DavorLovincic / Getty Images

Extending your tourist visa is tricky

Extending your stay beyond the authorized 30 or 90 days allotted to tourists is time-consuming; it’s often easier to leave the country for 72 hours via land and then re-enter. Extensions can be handled by migración offices. Requirements for extensions often change, so allow several working days to get them sorted.

Apply for student and work visas in advance

If you wish to stay in Costa Rica longer than 90 days, you must establish residency or apply for a provisional or student visa in advance. Students, volunteers, academics, and research specialists are among those who can apply for a provisional visa, and it's best to let the institution or employer who is sponsoring you handle the details.

It is difficult for foreigners to find work in Costa Rica. The only foreigners legally employed in Costa Rica are those who work for their own businesses, possess skills not found in the country, or work for companies that have special agreements with the government. Getting a bona fide job necessitates obtaining a work permit, which can be a time-consuming and difficult process.

The most likely source of paid employment is as an English teacher at one of the language institutes, or working in the hospitality industry in a hotel or resort. Naturalists or river guides may also be able to find work with private lodges or adventure-travel operators.

A young man surfing in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is popular with ex-pats © Jen Edney / Getty Images

There are additional checks if you want to move to Costa Rica full-time

Costa Rica is a popular destination for digital nomads and expats, but to truly settle down with a residence permit, you have to jump through some hoops. To meet the visa requirements, you must submit to a background check, prove you have a certain level of regular, secured income, and submit a copy of your birth certificate in Spanish, amongst other checks.

This article was first published July 2021 and updated August 2023

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