Advice for South African's traveling to Costa Rica

 Vaccination Book and SA Passport

Vaccination Book and SA Passport

We have done quite a bit of traveling in South East Asia, but traveling in South and Central America can be a little different.  Here is some advice for South African's travelling to Costa Rica.

Searching for Flights

 Leave Cape Town

Leave Cape Town

I usually use to find out the cheapest route . At the time of our trip, it was cheapest to fly the following: 

  • Emirates Airline : Cape Town - Dubai - Orlando Florida, USA
  • Delta Airline : Orlando Florida, USA - San Jose, Costa Rica.

USA VISA Required even for a Connection Flight

What we only realised 3 days before our trip was that as South Africans, we need to apply for a US VISA even if are just doing connection flight in the USA. This is really important to remember if you are traveling somewhere and changing flights in the USA! The application can take about 3 weeks. You need to set up an appointment at a US Embassy and then wait for the VISA to be approved.

We didn’t have enough time to apply for the VISA, so we needed to change our flights to go through South America instead. Megan and I spend almost the whole weekend trying to sort out the problem and thankfully, with help from our friend Nicci Hayden from Travel Counsellors , we sorted it out! This was the cheapest route we could find and only valid route for us at that stage. 

  • Emirates Airline : Cape Town - Dubai - Brazil - Argentina.
  • Avianca Airline : Argentina - Peru - San Jose.

This route cost almost twice as much as the USA option. We didn't have a choice because Megan needed to get to Costa Rica in time for work. 

Yellow Fever vaccinations

If you fly to Costa Rica via many of the South American countries, you need to have a yellow fever vaccination to enter Costa Rica. Scroll down to point #6 on this list HEREThere are some exceptions and you can find them HERE.

We got our yellow fever vaccinations done at MKEM in Tygervalley for about R750 each.

Proof of Exit from Costa Rica

 Flying from Argentina to Peru

Flying from Argentina to Peru

When we have travelled to countries in South East Asia, they were very lenient on proof of exit of the country. We could really just write down any flight number on the entry form and they never asked for proof. From what we have found in South and Central America,  it’s much more strict. 

Because Megan can only apply for her Work Visa while in Costa Rica,  we had to come on a tourist visa and needed proof of exit. We had return flight booked out of Panama when we booked our flights. We assumed that would be enough -  the plan would be to exit Costa Rica by land to Panama, and then fly home from Panama. However, when we wanted to check in on our flight out of Argentina, they said we needed to have proof of leaving Costa Rica - even if it was by land. We had to deal with this problem at 3am, with an hour before our flight left. The airline was very helpful and let me use their computer in the office in the back to book $150usd bus ticket out of Costa Rica to Panama. It was a still pretty stressful and would much rather have avoided that whole situation.

Getting around the Proof of Exit issue.

 Long flight - bring books!

Long flight - bring books!

It may be hard to have proof of exit booked you don't know exactly when you want to leave Costa Rica. Maybe you just want to explore for a few weeks and then make a decision later to which country you want to travel to next. You may also not want to have to book an expensive bus ticket or flight just to have the proof. Yes, you can just cancel the flight, but you are still going to be charged a fee to do that. 

When we booked our bus ticket out of Costa Rica, the 'proof’ that we got as an email confirmation from the bus company - which is really easy to change dates and names.

So what we do now if we enter on a tourist visa is just edit the dates on the bus booking. Here is an example you can download and use for yourself.  (Microsoft Word : Pages) Just fill in all the missing info and change the date to when you exit. Your exit date must be within the tourist visa’s 90 days.

Or, the other way of doing it is to create your own exit flight ticket here - 

You need to enter as much valid info as possible so go through the process of searching a valid flight out of Costa Rica to get the price, date, flight number etc and fill in that form. 

This is all done at your own risk of course. First prize would be to just have a booking out of the country, but in some situations that is really hard to do.


  • South African’s get Visa on Arrival in Costa Rica - you just need a passport still valid for 6 months.
  • The main airport is Juan Santamaria Airport (SJO) in the Capital San Jose, or you can also fly into Daniel Oduber Airport (LIR) in Liberia, Costa Rica.
  • You get a 90 day tourist visa. 
  • No fee to enter, but you pay tourist tax on exit of Costa Rica. (About $8)
  • Vaccinations may be required depending on the country you have come from.
  • You need proof of exit of Costa Rica before to check in on your flight.

All the above info was valid at the time I wrote the blog (February 2016) There are also other ways of doing it but this is really based on our experience.

Let me know if you need anymore advice about traveling to Costa Rica from South Africa and if you have any tips to add comment below!