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Transport and Safety in Costa Rica

Living in Costa Rica, Central America’s green paradise with its amazing scenery, is a prospect that attracts many retiring expats — and a sudden reality for many assignees. Are you one of them? The InterNations Guide to Costa Rica gives tips on healthcare, traffic, safety, and more!
Unfortunately, many means of public transportation have ceased to operate in Costa Rica

Driving as the Only Option

Despite the considerable advancement Costa Rica has seen in nearly every other aspect, its infrastructure is still the nation’s problem child. The condition of many roads gives particular reason for concern, as giant potholes are not exactly a rare sight. If the street is actually paved, that is: Much of Costa Rica’s traffic takes place on unpaved roads that might be a challenge for quite a few expats.

The narrow roads, often lacking lines and traffic signs, are not only frequented by often reckless drivers, but also by pedestrians, cyclists, and animals. Staying alert at all times and sticking to a safe driving manner (it is rarely a good idea to imitate the local driving style) are crucial. If you are not absolutely familiar with the route you will be taking, please abstain from driving at night, as there is always the lingering danger of unexpected obstacles.

While you have the right to use a vehicle with your home or international driver’s license for up to three months, expats staying in Costa Rica for a longer time should apply for a local license. The process is as cheap as it is uncomplicated, so you might want to get it out of the way quickly if you are dependent on your car.

The Pains of Unreliable Trains

Unfortunately, there is not much of an alternative to driving. The Costa Rican rail services were shut down quite some time ago, in 1995. The national railroad authority (Incofer) provides very few selected suburban connections to and from San José. Due to the somewhat shaky history and nature of these connections — having been taken in and out of service again and again in the last few years — there is no definite say whether existing connections are going to be operational when you get there. And even if they are, the relatively low frequency they run in might render them not all that useful to you. Expats should not put too much trust or hope in the railroad connections of Costa Rica.

Staying (Relatively) Safe in Costa Rica

Crime is not as big a problem as in some other Central American countries, but expats should still be aware of the possibility of robberies. Both in bright daylight and at night, small groups of criminals often scam their unsuspecting victims out of their possessions, or, if they decide it is not worth the trouble, simply brandish weapons. It is very important that you do not resist in either case, as this might turn things from bad to worse.

You should never carry large amounts of cash or jewelry with you, and not be flashy with electronic gadgets by carrying them in plain sight. Many might think of a car as an extension of their home, considering it just as safe. You might want to rethink that when living in Costa Rica. Car windows are no match for someone set on getting your valuables, so please keep them out of sight, even in your vehicle.


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