180 Day Tourist Visa #43

Good news for travelers to Costa Rica! Effective September 8, 2023, entry visas for tourists visiting Costa Rica from Group One Countries (see list below) will, at the discretion of the customs officers, be granted a 180-day visa stamp. It is a privilege. Not a right. But this can effectively double the amount of time you can visit Costa Rica on a Tourist Visa.

Here is the crucial paragraph of the government’s official statement, translated into English:

The Regulations for the Granting of Visas were reformed on June 15, 2023, regarding entry to Costa Rica (articles 7, paragraph 1) v 8), as well as the Immigration Regulations {number 156), increasing the maximum stay for non-residents in the tourism subcategory (Tourist Visa) from 90 to 180 days, for people from countries in the first group countries according to the General Guidelines for Entry and Permanence Visas for Non-Residents.

Group One Countries: 

United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Angora, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Chile, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Hungary, Ireland, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, Northern Ireland, Norway, New Zealand, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Republic of South Korea, San Marino, Serbia, South Africa, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland.


1.    You must have a valid passport with at least one day of validity remaining. It is always best to renew passports before the six months’ expiry.

2.    You must also be able to show that you have a return ticket (air, water, or ground transportation) to prove that you will leave the country within the visa period. That aligns with the previous policy. Now, however, you can book an exit trip for up to 180 days after you first arrive in Costa Rica. 

Note that some travelers will take a trip by land to Nicaragua or Panama to “reset” their visa stay. Many travelers say that they have not always been asked to show that they had a return plane ticket from Costa Rica as part of their original visa requirements. If you are caught offguard, though, there are ticket booths nearby where you can buy a bus ticket to placate the customs officer. But it is best to be fully compliant and have your visa dates reflect the legal requirements beforehand. Avoiding potential trouble is best. 

If you’ve flown out of Costa Rica to another country to reset your visa, the airlines are bound by law to insist on this documentation. A $100,000 fine can be levied against the airline for non-compliance. These outward-bound ticket rules apply to many countries today. This is not unique to Costa Rica but, we’re advised, enforcement is being enhanced.

Now, it’s more likely that when you approach the service counter to purchase an airline boarding pass you will be asked to show either a residency card, citizenship card, or an outward-bound ticket. Otherwise, you won’t be able to get on the plane. If you are asked by a customs officer and you cannot produce the original return ticket, if the customs officer is in a bad mood, you might only be granted the number of days between your entrance date and the date of your outward-bound ticket. That is, you might possibly enjoy a much shorter visit in Costa Rica than you were planning. You should use common sense. Also be aware that a returned flight booked beyond the original 180 days of your Tourist Visa is a tip-off to the officer that you intended to overstay your visa. That’s not good and can lead to complications with the Customs department.

3.    If you overstayed your previous visa, when you return to Costa Rica, the number of days you might be granted on your re-entry into Costa Rica might be 180 days minus the number of days you overstayed your trip previously. This is at the discretion of the customs officer. But it is a good indication that Costa Rica is trying to cooperate with travelers. At the same time, it’s best not to abuse this cooperative spirit. That could, effectively, spoil it for everyone.

4.    If you have been living here in Costa Rica as a “perpetual tourist” and the border police see multiple entry stamps on your passport going back two or more years, they might not like it and think that you are trying to game the system. That might result in a shorter visa stamp and a warning to obtain legal residency. You should take this advice very seriously.

5.    You might have read or heard that this new 180-day visa extends to the validity of foreign drivers’ licenses. That is not officially correct–yet.

A source with connections inside the Costa Rica government notes that while they have heard and read from credible sources that the foreign drivers’ license validity issue is officially being discussed, it is not yet the law.

The ICT (Tourism Ministry) is the government entity responsible for recommending this 180-day visa extension and bringing it to the Office of the President to create more tourism opportunities in competition with Panama and Mexico. The ICT is acutely aware that this improved visa initiative needs to be extended to the validity of foreign drivers’ licenses. The agency is aware that 80 to 90% of all tourists who visit Costa Rica for six months drive while here, or have family members who drive.

Obviously, being able to use a foreign driver’s license is highly desirable for tourists. Let’s remain optimistic that we will hear good news within the next 90 days. In the meantime, you can help by talking it up respectfully on social media. The government monitors those dialogs very closely.

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