Transport and Driving in Costa Rica

Getting around Costa Rica isn’t easy and new arrivals will need to make certain adjustments. Most notably, streets aren’t necessarily named or well signposted. In most cases, the locals will give directions using well-known buildings, stores or landmarks as references instead of street names. For this reason, it is advisable that expats always have a map on hand until they have found their bearings.

The public transportation infrastructure in Costa Rica is poorly developed. Much of the country’s train network was disbanded in 1995, but there are a handful of commuter train lines still in operation. Buses are the main mode of public transport and while journeys are long, the network is extensive. Taxis are relatively inexpensive and are often the least stressful way to get around in Costa Rican cities. Driving in Costa Rica is also something that will take expats a while to get used to.


Public transport in Costa Rica

Unfortunately, expats moving to Costa Rica won't have many options when it comes to getting around. Despite major improvements to the railway system, buses still provide the most accessible way to travel around the country.

Buses

Buses are a cheap mode of transportation and Costa Rica’s bus network is extensive. However, on most long-distance routes buses travel through San José, which significantly lengthens travel time. There are usually at least two services per day connecting San José to other prominent destinations.

It is not possible to reserve seats on Costa Rican buses, so during peak season, one needs to get to the bus terminal early to secure a seat.

Trains

Costa Rica's railway system is still largely underdeveloped. There are a handful of commuter lines running between San José city centre and outlying suburbs of the greater metropolitan area, such as Heredia and Alajuela.


Taxis in Costa Rica

Taxis offer a good transportation option and are available in most large Costa Rican cities. They are inexpensive but expats should be sure to always ask the driver to put the meter on when getting into the vehicle. Alternatively, agree on a fixed price before starting a journey.

Official taxis in Costa Rica are red vehicles with a yellow triangle on the side. Inside the yellow triangle, there should be a number which correlates with the vehicle's number plate. It is wise to check these numbers because ‘pirate’ taxis are prevalent in many Costa Rican cities. These taxis are unlicensed and have been associated with criminal activities in the past.


Driving in Costa Rica

Expats in Costa Rica can drive on an international driving licence for the first three months, after which they’ll need to convert it to a local licence. The process can be complicated, so it’s best to get it done as soon as possible.

Driving one’s own vehicle is by far the best way to get around Costa Rica and allows expats the independence to travel according to their own schedules. However, those who decide to drive should do so with caution.

Road infrastructure in many parts of Costa Rica has been poorly developed. Roads are often unpaved and potholes are common. Streets tend to be incredibly narrow and signage is not always clear. Local driving behaviour can be erratic, so it is important to be alert at all times and drive defensively.


Domestic flights in Costa Rica

By far the fastest way to travel in Costa Rica is by flight. However, domestic airlines tend to only service major tourist hubs, so the network is somewhat limited. Expats travelling to these destinations will find that domestic flights are fairly cheap, especially when booking in advance.

The main domestic carriers in Costa Rica are Sansa and NatureAir. Luggage allowances on these airlines tend to be very low so expats should check this before travelling. 

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