Renting a car in Costa Rica

Driving a rental car in Costa Rica is a great adventure. The car will be your faithful companion during your road trip, so you will want to prepare yourself well. In this article, we will share what kind of car you need, what type of insurance, age and driver's license requirements, what the cost of a rental car is and we give additional useful information and tips.

Renting a car in Costa Rica for an amazing road trip.

Are you searching for specific information about a certain topic? If so, click on the link in the table of contents below to navigate to that specific chapter. To read all information on this page, just scroll through it.

  1. Rent a 4x4 or normal passenger car in Costa Rica
  2. Which insurance will you need when you rent a car in Costa Rica?
  3. Renting a car without a credit card?
  4. What are the requirements to rent and drive a car in Costa Rica?
  5. What is the minimum age to rent a car in Costa Rica?
  6. Is it allowed to take a rental car out of the country?
  7. One-way car rental
  8. Cost of a rental car in Costa Rica
  9. 4wd or 4x4 with roof tent rental in Costa Rica
  10. Camping or not?
  11. The cost of renting a 4x4
  12. Rent a car in Costa Rica San Jose
  13. Rent a car in Costa Rica Liberia
  14. What’s Costa Rica’s road system like?
  15. How to navigate in Costa Rica
  16. How to rent a car in Costa Rica, tips and advice

Rent a 4x4 or normal passenger car in Costa Rica

Many people wonder if it is necessary to rent a 4x4 in Costa Rica. A lot of roads are unpaved, there are many holes in the road surface and sometimes you have to drive through water. With a 4x4 your road trip will be more comfortable, safe and adventurous.

If you stay close to major cities such as San Jose or Liberia, an ordinary car will suffice as the roads are paved. But most people will want to go to places like Monteverde, Drake Bay and Santa Teresa. In that case you will need a 4x4.

Many roads in Costa Rica are unpaved, a 4x4 car is of great use.

Which insurance will you need when you rent a car in Costa Rica?

Good insurance on your rental car in Costa Rica is indispensable for a nice road trip. Damage is easy to sustain. Many roads are unpaved, large holes in the roads are the rule rather than the exception, cars passing each other on narrow roads, you name it.

You will not be the first to park your car on the beach in the shade of a palm tree. Only to return later to discover a dent in the roof, thanks to a fallen coconut.

A standard contract from a rental company in Costa Rica covers almost nothing. Often you are encouraged to purchase additional options that cover risks. It goes without saying that the insurances only apply if you adhere to the rental contract.

Rental companies in Costa Rica have their own terms and conditions and must comply with local legislation. To make things clear, we have created the overview below.

Usually the insurance for rental cars in Costa Rica consists of three stages:

Standard and mandatory by law

  • Standard tenancy agreement: With a standard tenancy agreement you are responsible for the damage incurred, including income lost by the car rental agency due to the damage. Agencies will include legal liability coverage as standard here (see next bullet point). With a base rental contract, however, you are not properly insured;
  • Third Party Liability: This is the legal liability coverage. Damage to third parties is covered up to the maximum amount, above that you are liable yourself. This policy condition has a deductible for damage to third parties, usually $550 - $1100.

Optional coverage

  • Loss Damage Waiver (LDW): The LDW (also called Collision Damage Waiver, CDW) limits the maximum amount for which you are liable in the event of damage to the car. Damage to the vehicle may be caused by collisions, accidents, theft and/or vandalism. The remaining deductible depends on the car but is generally around $770 - $1540. Please note that the LDW often does not cover the lost revenue of the rental company;
  • Personal Accident/Effects (PAE): This option compensates for damage to occupants and personal belongings;
  • Windows and Tires (W&T): With the W&T you are covered for damage to tires and windows caused by accidents and bad road conditions. Theft is often excluded.

Zero liability

  • Supplemental Liability Coverage (SLC): With this option your own risk for damage to third parties is reduced to €0. Please note this as well: Some rental companies increase the amount of SLC for covered damages to third parties, but still hold you liable for a percentage of the damages incurred;
  • €0.00 Deductible: You can reduce the deductible of your rental contract to €0 with this option - under the condition that you stick to the rental agreement. Damage caused while driving under the influence is excluded. Often driving on sand or in water is also excluded.

Full-coverage insurance of a rental car

At Sunny Cars you rent standard with full-coverage insurance. This means that you have zero liability for damage or theft. However, you will still need to make a deposit on your credit card when you pick up the car. If there is any damage, Sunny Cars will refund the deducted deposit to you. Again, you must abide by the applicable rules.

Renting a car without a credit card?

Would you like to rent a car in Costa Rica without a credit card? That limits your choices enormously. Car rental companies will ask for a credit card deposit to ensure that any fines or damages are paid by the renter.

Rent a car with a debit card?

The only way to rent a car in Costa Rica without a credit card is by 'debit card'. Debit cards are also called a prepaid credit card. The disadvantage of renting with a debit card is that the deposit may cost a lot more. Also, it will take much longer before you get your deposit back. In addition, you will have less choice between rental companies and rental cars.

Renting a car in Costa Rica with a credit card is the most convenient option.

What are the requirements to rent and drive a car in Costa Rica?

In general, you need to have a driver's license for at least one year to be able to rent in Costa Rica. A valid driver’s license from your home country is sufficient, so an international driver's license is not necessary.

Note: You will need a valid tourist-stamp in your passport in addition to your driver's license.

What is the minimum age to rent a car in Costa Rica?

Most rental companies in Costa Rica allow you to rent a car from the age of 21. For the young drivers among us there are fortunately exceptions. The following age categories are used:

  • 18 to 21 years old: for this age category, the number of car rental agencies and possible rental cars is very limited. There are higher rental rates and deductibles. Check out our comparison tool to see at which rental companies you can rent as someone younger than 21 years;
  • 21 to 25 years old: you can rent from most rental companies, but the cars you can choose from are limited. You can expand the offerings by paying extra, which lowers the minimum age for the car in question. Because you are seen as a young driver, higher rental rates apply;
  • Age 25 and over: you can rent a car anywhere. Please note that you must have a valid driver's license for more than one year;
  • Senior citizens: depending on the car rental agency, a maximum age may apply. This is usually around 75 years of age. On top of the rate, you may be asked to pay a surcharge of about $6 per day.
Renting a car in Costa Rica is possible for every age group.

Is it allowed to take a rental car out of the country?

Would you like to expand your road trip and visit Panama or Nicaragua? Please check the contract conditions when booking your rental car. They will tell you if you are allowed to drive outside Costa Rica. Crossing borders is not allowed by all of them.

One-way car rental

Is it better for your journey to return the car to a different location than where you picked it up? This is usually not a problem. Even during your road trip you can change this, please contact the rental company.

The additional costs for returning the rental car at another location are usually around $55.

Cost of a rental car in Costa Rica

The cost of renting a car in Costa Rica is hard to find. This is because rental companies try to seem the cheapest, but there are all kinds of hidden costs. To be able to give you a clear estimate of the costs, we have done some research.

In our survey we compare rental cars that are fully insured and have a $0 deductible. The rental period was 14 days. The list below is only an estimate, especially as, in busy periods, the costs will be higher. Take a look at the tool on our website to find out which rental company is the cheapest and other information that matters when renting a car.

What are the costs to rent a car in Costa Rica, from the cheapest rental company with all-inclusive insurance:

  • €30 ($33) per day for a small car, such as a Toyota Yaris;
  • €40 ($45) per day for a medium-sized car, such as a Suzuki Vitara;
  • €50 ($55) per day for a large car, such as a Suzuki Grand Vitara;
  • €65 ($75) per day for a minivan or large SUV, such as a Toyota Fortuner.
With a rented 4x4 in the jungle in Costa Rica.

Airport tax/surcharge

Airport tax is a term that we come across frequently in Costa Rica when renting a car. There are rental companies that typically charge around 13% of the total rental amount under this name.

During the research we did on 'airport tax', we have not been able to find out the origin of this term. In any case, it is not a legally obligated tax and there is no fixed rule about how to levy it.

If you want to try to get out of these charges, you can have the car delivered to your hotel instead of picking it up at the airport. In that case, do not mention your flight number and check the terms and conditions of the agency whether delivery to the hotel is free of charge.

4wd or 4x4 with roof tent rental in Costa Rica

Your road trip is complete when you can sleep in the roof tent of your rented 4x4 in the evening. You are allowed to camp wild in Costa Rica and there are several campsites where you can spend the night. Nothing beats waking up on the beach in the morning by the howler monkeys and then taking a refreshing dip in the ocean.

If such an adventure suits you, you can rent a 4x4 car from Nomad America (website rental). They rent fully equipped all-terrain vehicles with a roof tent. To complete the picture, you have access to a roof shower (warmed up by the sun during the day), camping lights, dinnerware, first aid kit, hammock and a car charger. You can also rent extras such as coolers, surfboards and more.

Even though such a car from Nomad America looks incredibly cool, you can't tear through Costa Rica like a rally driver with it. As a renter you are responsible for water damage and damage caused by driving on bad roads or on the beach.

Also, it is good to know Nomad America uses a double deposit for renters between 21 and 24 years. No cars are rented out to those under 21 years of age.

Camping or not?

Camping with a 4x4 in a rooftop tent sounds great and you immediately get a romantic image of your road trip. Besides, you will not have to spend any money on overnight stays if you are camping wild, right?

In practice, it often turns out differently. Most people do not feel at ease when camping in the wild, especially on the beach. You are vulnerable and the Costa Rican beaches are not completely free of unsavory types (at night).

The alternative is camping at a campsite. There you will have more facilities and it is safer, but you will spend some money on these overnight stays.

Because a 4x4 from Nomad America is more expensive than normal 4x4 rental cars, you can still consider going for the 4x4 without a roof tent. Then you can spend your budget on overnight stays. In Costa Rica there are very cool places in the middle of nature to spend the night!

Looking for such a unique accommodation? See our list of the most fabulous hotels and stays in Costa Rica.

Rent a 4wd to go off road in the Costa Rican jungle.
Rent a 4x4 and drive to the beach in Costa Rica.

The cost of renting a 4x4

The cost of renting a 4x4 is higher than renting a normal car. However, you will soon forget these extra costs when you drive on the unpaved roads through nature with a smile on your face. Especially when you catch up with someone whose fillings are shaking from his teeth because he has chosen a normal car.

This is a cost estimate for renting a 4x4 car with full coverage:

  • Small SUV, €25-€50 ($28-$55) per day. A small SUV, like a Suzuki Jimny, is suitable for two persons. However, with luggage, this can be on the cramped side;
  • Medium SUV, €30-€60 ($33-$67) per day. A medium SUV is perfectly suited to travel with two or three people through Costa Rica;
  • Large SUV, €75-€90 ($85-$100) per day. A large SUV like a Toyota Fortuner if you travel with four persons or more.

We have researched several rental companies in Costa Rica and their prices. See the handy overview on our website.

If you rent a groomed off-road vehicle via Nomad America, these prices apply:

  • €60 ($67)/day for a small 4x4 car, suitable for two persons;
  • €75 ($85)/day for a medium sized 4x4 car, this is the most comfortable option;
  • €100 ($113)/day for a large 4x4 car, with possibly an extra roof tent.

Rent a car in Costa Rica San Jose

For many, San Jose is the starting point of the road trip. There are beautiful places to visit nearby, such as Poas Volcano National Park and the Arenal volcano.

You do not have to rent a car in San Jose on arrival. For example, you might want to visit the city itself before you drive into the wild nature of Costa Rica. It is then faster and often cheaper to pick up the rental car directly at the offices of the rental companies. The addresses can be found on your booking confirmation or on the internet.

Rent a car in Costa Rica Liberia

Liberia is a great location to start your road trip from. The province of Guanacaste where Liberia is located, has a lot of beauty to offer. The coast of the peninsula is full of great surf spots and beautiful beaches. There are nice hippie villages to stay in and because it is a tourist area, you can experience many things.

In Liberia you can pick up the rental car from the airport. The agencies themselves are not in the terminal. Often there is an employee of the agency present who you can speak to. You will be picked up and brought to the office.

You can also go directly to the rental companies yourself. See the map below with the location of the rental car agency:

You can rent a car in Liberia in Costa Rica next to the airport.

What’s Costa Rica’s road system like?

It is unforgettable to drive through Costa Rica! There are several beautiful, paved roads. The rest of the roads are adventurous and unpaved. Important roads near cities are mostly unpaved. A 4x4 instead of a normal car is therefore worth considering.

If you look at the map, you will notice that the distances are quite short. It seems possible to drive from north to south or from east to west within a couple of hours. However, appearances are deceptive because the average speed is exceptionally low. This can be due to the quality of the roads, but also, for example, because you can get stuck behind a truck. Take longer driving times into account, then you are less in a hurry and you can enjoy the beautiful views.

Is it safe driving in Costa Rica?

Pura vida' is the national motto of Costa Rica, freely translated to pure life. It means that everyone is relaxed in life. Enjoy this cultural difference with your home country and go along with it by not rushing. There is great nature to see and by driving calmly you will avoid accidents.

Road conditions in Costa Rica

A summary of what you will come across when you drive over the Costa Rican road network:

  • The main roads are single highway with a speed of around 80 km/h. In practice you won't drive this often, because there are a lot of slow trucks;
  • There are a lot of holes in the road surface. Watch out for shadows on the road through trees, as you won't see the holes until it’s too late;
  • You often drive dozens of kilometers on unpaved roads through dust clouds;
  • Driving in the dark is an adventure and not recommended: road lighting and signage is almost nowhere to be found;
  • On most routes you will have to cross one or more rivers;
  • Iguanas are constantly shooting across the road, sometimes bigger than a cat.
How much does it cost to rent a car in Costa Rica?

It is difficult to find your way around Costa Rica without navigation because there is almost no signage. Even though there are not many roads, it is easy to get lost. Often you must drive on small roads through nature to get to your destination. There are a few options for navigation:

  • Apps, like Maps.me or Google Maps;
  • An old-fashioned paper map or atlas.

Maps.me is a good navigation app for Costa Rica. By downloading the map of the country, you can use the app offline. Pay attention though - It has happened to us several times that Maps.me suggested a 'shorter route', but we ended up on an impassable road through the bush. So have your co-driver check the route in the app regularly and keep an eye on the big picture.

You can also use Google Maps to download maps and use the app offline.

Waze downloads the planned route the moment you have internet. If you unexpectedly need to divert to a different route or destination along the way, this app will not do you much good. You do not have internet everywhere and you cannot change your route without internet. So always have a possibility at hand to view a map offline.

With a rental awd in Costa Rica you can drive through the jungle.

How to rent a car in Costa Rica, tips and advice

You like to make the best choice for a rental car in Costa Rica. Roadtripcar.com continuously researches rental companies and has made the following handy overview. This makes it easier for you to find a good rental car. We select rental car companies in Costa Rica based on experience and score their prices, possibilities and conditions.

At some rental companies we read about bad experiences of customers more often than at other companies. Do not be put off by this at first. People quickly tend to post bad reviews when the problem could easily have been avoided.

Sometimes there are rental companies where there is a particularly large number of negative reviews. We advise not to rent a car from such companies. If you do, we advise you to pay extra attention and follow all the tips.

Avoid rental scams

Our article on the most important tips for stress free car hire including a handy checklist will help you minimize the chance of an unpleasant experience.

Information per rental agency can be found on our rental company page. This way you can choose, at a glance, from which company you want to rent a car in Costa Rica.

Practical tips for renting a car

  • A credit card makes renting a car much easier. Before you travel, check if you need to raise your credit card limit. The amount of the deposit will be blocked on your credit card, so there should be enough room for that. This also applies to debit cards.
  • Read our tips on renting a car so you won't be surprised on the spot.
  • We have picked the most enchanting places to spend the night in Costa Rica. See our list of the most fabulous hotels and stays in Costa Rica.
  • The average speed in Costa Rica is low and you'll go pretty long distances. Bring a cooler from the shop or ask your rental company. You will be happy with it!
  • You cannot rely blindly on a single navigation system. Use different navigation systems, such as Maps.me and Google Maps or a paper map.
  • Good music cannot be missing on a road trip! Bring an AUX cable or a USB stick with your music. You will also need a charger for in the car.
  • A phone holder for in the car is handy to take with you. At most rental companies such a holder is not standard with the car.
  • As you can see on the pictures, you may get a car without a license plate. This is normal for new cars in Costa Rica. Always check if all papers are present when you pick up the car.

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What is roadtripcar.com?

Roadtripcar.com consists of a team of passionate travellers. We believe that a holiday or trip becomes even more valuable when you have a car at your disposal.

However, we also know that a rental car can cause a lot of hassle. We have rented cars all over the world and are happy to share this experience with you. With our tips, renting a car is no longer a stressful moment, but the start of a great adventure on wheels!

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