Is Costa Rica Safe?

http://www.ticolingo.com/blog/21-is-costa-rica-safe
Hey guys, Chris here. I’ve wanted to write about the Safety of Costa Rica for some time and finally have a chance to sit down and put my thoughts together.

I’ve been living here since February (5 months and some change) and get asked fairly often from friends and family about the safety here in Heredia as well as Costa Rica as a whole. “Do you ever feel in danger?” “Is public transit safe at night?” “Is it safe for women there?” “Do you get harassed or taken advantage of?”. Although I have a different answer for each question I’m asked, for the most part I end these conversations with a simple, “Yes, it’s safe! Haha, Don’t worry!”

Is it a dreamland of civil obedience and absolute purity? No, of course not. But what place is? It’s definitely not problem-free here, but when compared to other Latin American countries, Costa Rica stands tall with a huge thumbs up toward progress. With advancements in education (both at High school and University levels), a universal health care system (offering residents universal coverage and non-residents inexpensive dental work, eye treatments, an clinical services), and an extremely progressive stance on ecological protection (25 percent of its total landmass is protected by conservation policies), Costa Rica is definitely as-safe, if not safer than my hometown of Chicago.

Mom Kate 8
To say the least, I have no problem inviting my dear ol’ mom and sister to come down and visit.

Occasionally though, I do hear a story of trouble about a fellow traveler. Most are those of travellers forgetting to bring basic logic with them or somehow misplacing their rational along the way… If you take some basic precaution, you can avoid most (if not all) issues while visiting Costa Rica.

Act responsibly, don’t be naïve, and be aware of you surroundings. Lower any risk by traveling smart, cleverly, and with basic common sense. Below, are a list of tips and pointers I familiarize my students with before they make the trek down here:

1.) Watch for pickpocketing

On a whole, Costa Ricans are extremely friendly people and will often go out of their way to help tourists. If you show them respect, present yourself as confident and unafraid, and are able to work with the language barrier you will be fine. I find that issues happen when a tourist is naïve about his surroundings and is too proud to ask for help.

The obvious tourist is a common target for petty theft because they are usually perceived as being wealthy. When in a crowded area (the airport or bus terminal), practice common sense, know where your things are, and never leave valuables unattended. Follow these basic guidelines and you’ll be fine.

2.) Do not take an unofficial taxi

Licensed and government official taxis are solid red and are marked with a yellow triangle on the door. The only exception to this is Airport taxis which are orange in color (which won’t matter for Tico Lingo students as I’ll be there to pick them up ).

Unlicensed taxis are fairly widespread in Costa Rica. Although the numbers have been cut down over the past few years, illegal taxis continue to drive the streets. They offer lower costs, but really, taxis are already incredibly cheap here to begin with. A standard 15 minute drive will cost you around five dollars (which I know will make jaws drop to my pals back in Chicago).
images/Taxi.jpg

3.) Make a COPY of your passport

Losing your passport or having it stolen can literally initiate a panic attack. It happened to me back in April and after tearing my house apart I began looking for help online. I was preparing for a long day of filling out forms, making calls to the US embassy, and pulling my hair out. Luckily, my beautiful Costa Rican mother found it under the washing machine. PHEW.

The day after, I made a copy of my passport and locked my real one up in a safe. Using the bank, registering for the school, and mailing postcards home all require a Passport and using a copy is absolutely acceptable and ten times safer than using the genuine.

4.) Notify your bank before traveling

My second day in the country, I got a friendly call from Chase bank asking me if I recently bought dinner in a Costa Rican diner. My reply, “Yes, of course it was me”. “Well, Mr. Reidy, we ask that our clients contact us before international travel. We almost put your account on hold!” “Oh my gosh, “I’m so sorry!”

Lesson learned.

Debit / Credit cards are accepted in most establishments around the country. Although you won’t be able to buy pineapples from the street vender, your card will make purchasing easier and will work just as it did in your home country – Just remember to notify your bank. Give them dates as to how long you will be here and be sure to get a number you can call if you find your debit card not working or lost during travel.

5.) Do not drive at night, nor leave possessions unattended in vehicles

I will write another post on renting cars in Costa Rica, but I want to give you a quick snapshot of what’s important to remember.

Heredia has fairly decent roads, but outside the city I’ve found that students renting cars aren’t always used to the rough conditions. Many roads North of the city do not have sidewalks and, at certain times, I’ve seen roads completely taken over by pedestrians. With unfavorable conditions and little-to-no room for two cars going opposite directions, it can get a little crazy out there. Driving at night only intensifies things.

Also, if you do decide to rent a car down here, just be sure to keep it locked at all times. Although many secured lots exist throughout the country, it’s always best practice to keep all doors locked with valuable items covered or hidden out of view.
Costa Rican Roads

Final Thoughts

As a whole, I’ve yet to experience a situation where I’m feeling threatened or in danger. Everyday, I just leave the house with basic common sense and awareness of my surroundings. If I need help, I ask a shopkeeper instead of the man in the ally. If I’m traveling, I bring a copy of my passport and only one bag that I’ll have on me at all times. I try to not look like a naïve tourist and, in reality, I take every chance I can to practice my Spanish with the locals and learn from them about different areas to stay away from. If I had to compare, I’d say I feel more safe in Costa Rica than my hometown of Chicago.

Thanks for reading!

More posts to come soon.

| Program Director


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