Do you need a visa for Costa Rica?
Whether or not you need a visa to travel to Costa Rica largely depends on what country you're a national of with four different international country categories having their own visa restrictions and requirements. Travellers from countries in the first and second categories don't require specific tourist visas for travel into Costa Rica prior to arrival, however, they will receive a tourist visa upon arrival and a stamp in their passports. Please double-check these stamps for the correct arrival and departure dates in and out of Costa Rica as any mistakes can hold up your travel plans.
If you're a traveller from a country listed as part of the third and fourth categories, you will need to apply for a restricted Costa Rica visa, and do so at least 90 days before your planned arrival in the country. While the majority of travel visas applied for are granted, it's advised you don't purchase your flights and accommodation before you receive confirmation of your approved visa as there are no guarantees.
If you've applied for a travel visa and have been denied, you will need to wait at least 6 months before trying again.
If you're travelling from the below countries (among others), you're in the first category and you don't need to apply for a visa to travel to Costa Rica:
However, you will need to have a valid passport with at least one day left before the expiration date and have purchased a return flight to your home country (or the next country you're travelling to) within the allotted time period allocated to your tourist visa before arriving in Costa Rica. The amount of time granted for a tourist visa can differ and is up to the discretion of the immigration official but is usually 90 days.
The second category is similar to that of the first in that nationals from countries such as Turkey, Fiji, Barbados, the Philippines, and Samoa (among others) don't require a travel visa but they do need to have at least 3 months validity on their passport from their intended arrival date into Costa Rica, as well as a return ticket proving they're planning on leaving the country before their 90 days is up.
Third and fourth categories
Citizens from countries listed under the third category must obtain a travel visa before arriving in Costa Rica - these countries include Armenia, Egypt, Peru, the People's Republic of China, and Vietnam (among others). If a restricted travel visa is granted, it will often be for a period of up to 30 days but an immigration official can grant the visa for up to 90 days.
Citizens from countries listed under the fourth category aren't likely to be granted a restricted travel visa, however, exceptions are made in extreme cases and are at the discretion of immigration officials.
For the full list of countries that are, and aren't, exempt from visa requirements, please visit the Costa Rica Visa website.
How to apply for a visa to Costa Rica
Requesting a restricted travel visa is relatively easy but there are a few steps you need to make sure you've completed so as to give your visa the best chance of approval. The best way to apply for a visa is by contacting your local Costa Rican consulate or sending a request away to the Commission of Restricted Visas (but you'll still need to have met with an official from the consulate before you start to travel). Restricted travel visas cost USD$52 and are non-refundable.
In most cases, you will also need to bring supporting documentation that has been authenticated by an attorney (specialising in visa requirements) with you to your consulate appointment. Failure to do so may harm your chances of obtaining an approved restricted travel visa.
Please note, just because you apply for a restricted travel visa and have all the relevant documentation to support your application, doesn't automatically mean your visa application will be approved. The same goes for if your application is approved, you're not automatically guaranteed entry into Costa Rica with immigration officials at your entry point able to turn you away if they deem you don't meet the visa requirements.
Visa requirements and supporting documentation
In order to be granted a restricted travel visa, you'll need to provide supporting documentation that includes a photocopy of every page of your passport (that has been notarised by a consulate official), your planned itinerary, other identification documentation such as a drivers licence, bank account statements or salary statements, police record, copy of your birth certificate, documented reason for travel, and a photograph in colour.
In most cases, visas can take up to 90 days to be approved so make sure you leave an adequate amount of time for processing to avoid any disruption to your travel plans.