Safety And Security
The threat from crime
Crime is increasing in Costa Rica and U.S. citizens are frequent victims, particularly of petty theft. American tourists and residents can, however, take steps to protect themselves.
Criminals often operate in small groups, but may also operate alone. While most crimes are non-violent, some criminals have shown a greater tendency in recent years to use violence. The following are some examples of recent crimes against U.S. citizens:
- A tire of a rental car went flat, and people who stopped to “help change the tire” stole U.S. passports, bags, cash, and camera.
- A hotel room was broken into during the day, and items the tourist had hidden were stolen.
- Several Americans were traveling on a tour bus. The bus was parked at the parking area of a white water rafting company, and while the tourists were rafting, the bus was broken into. U.S. passports were stolen along with cameras, cash, credit cards, and clothing.
- An American's backpack was stolen from a chair at a restaurant while he was in the restroom.
- Items were stolen from the locked trunk of a rental car.
- A purse with a passport and credit cards was stolen out of a backpack on a bus.
- While making a transaction, an American set his passport on the counter at a bank and was distracted by another "bank client" who started talking to him; when he turned around, his passport was gone.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to exercise the same level of caution here that they would in major cities or tourist areas throughout the world.
- When you don't need it, keep your passport in a safe place, like a hotel safe, and carry only a copy (the photo page and the page containing the Costa Rica entry stamp).
- Carry on paper the name and phone number of your hotel, as well as the phone number of the U.S. Embassy (2519-2000).
- Avoid areas with high concentrations of bars and nightclubs, especially at night.
- Seek entertainment in groups of people you know.
- Do not consume food or drinks you have left unattended or accept food or drinks from "friendly" people.
- Do not leave a bar or other facility with a stranger.
- Avoid walking around at night (especially in the San Jose city center).
- Stay alert: crowded tourist attractions and resort areas popular with foreign tourists are also common venues for criminal activities.
- Steer clear of deserted properties or undeveloped land.
- Walk or exercise with a companion.
- Lock all doors, and keep all windows closed.
- Keep valuables on the car floor and/or out of sight of a person who could see them and grab them.
- Leave sufficient space between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you to allow you to drive away quickly if necessary.
- Be alert to suspicious persons loitering on the side of the road.
- Use only licensed taxis (they have yellow triangle medallions with numbers painted on the side).
- Do not stop on isolated stretches of road. (One method of initiating kidnappings and carjackings is to bump the victim's car from behind; the unsuspecting victim stops, believing he or she is involved in a minor accident, and is taken hostage or robbed.)
- Use extreme caution if you have a flat tire. Drivers with flat tires are advised to drive, if possible, to the nearest service station or other public area, and change the tire themselves, watching their valuables at all times. Most car rental companies will cover the damage to the tire.
- Be wary of strangers offering to help with car problems.
- Park in secured lots whenever possible, and do not leave valuables in the vehicle.
- Travel with a cell phone.
- Change money in banks or other financial institutions (money changers on the street have been known to pass counterfeit U.S. dollars and local currency).
- Retain all credit card receipts and check accounts regularly to help prevent unauthorized use of credit cards.
- Avoid using debit cards for point-of-sale purchases, as a skimmed number can be used to clean out an account.
- Keep the phone numbers for your banks on a sheet of paper in case your credit cards or bank cards are stolen or lost.
- Reduce risk by keeping valuables out of sight, not wearing jewelry, and traveling in groups.
- Avoid carrying large amounts of cash, jewelry, or expensive photographic equipment.
- Minimize travel after dark.
- Avoid responding in kind to verbal harassment.
- Do not store valuables in a car's trunk or glove compartment.
- Do not engage in a physical confrontation with criminals.
- Don't try to outrun an armed criminal; no car or person can outrun a bullet.
- Immediately report any suspicious activity to police. If you are with or become a victim of sexual assault please contact the Embassy immediately.
If you become a victim of crime:
Report the crime to the OIJ police* and to the Consular section of the U.S. Embassy at 2519-2000 (from the U.S.: 011-506-2519-2000), or by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the U.S. Embassy. This allows the Embassy to make the necessary notifications that may help catch criminals, including terrorists, who try to buy or use the passport.
*In Costa Rica, there are several kinds of police. Those in uniform are La Fuerza Pública. Their role is crime prevention. OIJ, plain clothes police, are in charge of investigations. We recommend that you file a police report with the OIJ police, as they are the only agency that can take reports and investigate crimes.