We often receive queries about safety in Costa Rica. Since it is a worldwide issue, I would like to dispel some of those rumors and arm you with a little information to make your experiences of traveling and living in Costa Rica a bit more stress-free.
Is it Safe to Live in Costa Rica?
Overall, I would say it is definitely safe to live in Costa Rica.
Just as in any country, some places are “safer” than others and there is always the risk of something happening just about anywhere. If you are looking at retirement in Costa Rica, the places about which International Living writes are the safest havens.
If there is a community of expats, they work vigilantly to keep their hometown clean and free of crime. Chances are very good that you will not see violent crime or guns in any of the idyllic beach towns dotting the coasts or the quiet villages and farms perched in the mountains of the Central Valley.
There is petty crime such as purse snatching off the back of a restaurant chair or beach bags disappearing while you go for dip in the ocean—especially in the high tourist areas. Occurrences like this are easily avoidable. Keep an eye on your belongings and do not invite attention by flashing fancy jewelry, wads of cash, or keeping expensive items in view of your parked car, etc.
Is it Safe to Travel in Costa Rica?
Traveling around Costa Rica is safe—whether in a car, bus, taxi, or even on foot. I do not recommend traveling after dark by car (unless it is a short distance and you are familiar with the route). Many roads are dark and isolated, which can invite the wrong sort looking to seize an opportunity.
Regarding taxis, be sure you are in a licensed taxi (FYI 10% tip is fine and be sure to negotiate price up front if they do not have a meter). In San Jose they also have Uber as an alternative. Buses run all day and most of the night and are safe and cheap. If you are in a car and will be parked for sightseeing, etc., be sure all items are hidden.
Smash and grabs do happen in dense tourist areas or on city streets. We have a Costa Rican flag on our rear-view mirror and a Spanish newspaper on our dash board. This signals to people we are “locals” and most likely have nothing worth stealing on-board.
Is Drug Use Allowed in Costa Rica?
My Costa Rican attorney always tells me, “Nothing good happens on the streets after midnight.” This is a good rule of thumb for the late-night party crowd. Yes, there are illegal drugs in Costa Rica. Just like there are in most any other western city in the world. Sadly, as long as the demand it there, the suppliers will exist.
Is Prostitution Legal in Costa Rica?
Yes, there is prostitution in Costa Rica. Please note that it is a legal activity. Which, in turn, makes it a safer, cleaner profession compared to where it is illegal. The places where you will find drugs and prostitution are where the demand exists. Cities like San Jose, Playas del Coco, Tamarindo, and Jaco come to mind immediately. Does that mean you have to avoid these places? Not at all. I live in Tamarindo. I find it vibrant and international. I just do not spend as much time out after midnight.
What Areas Would You Avoid in Costa Rica?
In the poorer neighborhoods like los Cuadros de Goicochea near San José, El Infiernillo in Alajuela, or la Cieneguita in Limón province, there are some quasi gangs but their activities are mostly centered around territorial disputes within their own neighborhoods and the sale of drugs. You would most likely never consider visiting or living in these places, so don’t worry.
When you research online and see homicide numbers in Costa Rica, these are the typically the places it is happening.
Is Costa Rica safe? In a word, sí.