Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
Although Jim Ryan’s experience with immigration is regrettable, it’s important to set the record straight. According to Costa Rica’s Instituto Costarricense de Turismo (ICT), travelers and non-residents planning to stay in Costa Rica for more than 90 days can enter the country with an onward bus ticket purchased in advance.
To get to the correct page on the Web site, go to VisitCostaRica.com. Click on “About Costa Rica – Tourist Service – Entry Requirements.” If you click on “Planning Your Trip – Entry Requirements,” it will take you to another page. The latest information about onward ticket requirements states:
“All travelers must have either a return ticket or a ticket showing they will be exiting the country, commonly referred to as an ‘outbound, exit or onward ticket.’ An onward ticket is required of non-residents who are:
* traveling on a one-way ticket.
* entering the country with a return ticket dated more than 90 days after arrival.
* flying into Costa Rica and flying out of another country.
“By law, an onward ticket can be any one of the following on approved, commercial transport:
* a pre-purchased bus ticket out of the country, (bold italics mine)
* a pre-purchased flight out of the country,
* proof of passage on a cruise ship.”
At A Safe Passage, we go one step further. In addition to forwarding tickets to our clients, we include a cover letter that cites the law, chapter and verse. We make sure our clients have the latest information and are prepared to deal with inexperienced ticket agents or the occasional rogue immigration officer.
As an official Tica Bus online ticket agency, we do occasionally get a call from an immigration officer to verify that a ticket is valid. However, in the 13 years we have been in business, we have never had a client denied entry to the country with an onward bus ticket.
If you are going it alone, be prepared to cite the law. You can go to the ICT, Costa Rica’s official Web site, and find the information for one-way tickets under FAQ’s number three, or go to the page suggested above and print it out.
I suggest that people write to the ICT asking them to clear up the incident that occurred with Ryan. The contact person we used to make changes on the site is Laura Chacón Herrera, Departamento de Servicio al Turista. firstname.lastname@example.org. Ask if a bus ticket is legitimate proof of onward travel. If enough people cite Ryan’s experience, she may investigate the incident and make sure it doesn’t happen again. After all, tourism is Costa Rica’s number one industry, and travelers have options. When an immigration officer makes a mistake that results in tourists being sent home or paying for an additional ticket they don’t need, it’s clearly not good for tourism.
That said, this is Costa Rica, and we’re dealing with the bureaucracy. We can only hope that the ICT equates the number of disgruntled tourists with a loss of dollars and that they send a memo to immigration to assure that this does not happen again.