From Costa Rica Travel Guide: Vacation and Travel tips
Renting Cars in Costa Rica
If you’re thinking of renting a car while staying in Costa Rica, you really need to check out (on this site): ‘Driving in Costa Rica’ and ‘Driving in San Jose’ BEFORE renting a car. To make a good decision you need to know all the facts first.
Rent your car in advance and try to book with a company you’ve heard of, if possible. Don’t worry; all the major US chains are represented. If that’s not possible, arrange for a rental through a reputable travel agent.
The auto insurance in Costa Rica is a government monopoly of the INS (Instituto Nacional de Seguros). Liability insurance from the INS is mandated by law, but provides only minimal coverage. Rental car agencies offer supplemental programs that cover deductibles and contingencies other than a simple traffic accident.
The cost of insurance can often approach or even be more than the cost of renting the car in the first place. There are three types of rental car insurance:
1) Required by Law—Mandatory TPL, SLI, SLC or API
Liability Insurance from the INS is required no matter what your American Express card says. The cost ranges from $US 7-20 per day, obviously depending on the vehicle you rent. This insurance does NOT cover your rental car at all, only damages to other people, their cars, or property- just like liability insurance in the States. Unless you purchase supplements, or have documented coverage from your credit card company you are still accountable for all damages to your rental car.
2) Optional—CDW or LDW
Collision Damage Waivers (CDW) are a supplement underwritten by the car rental company to reduce your liability for your rental car to the deductible amount ($US 1,000-3,000 depending on the rental car company and vehicle rented) and ONLY in the occasion of an actual accident. The cost ranges from $US 12-20 per day depending on the company and vehicle. You will still be accountable for all losses or damages in regards to negligence, vandalism, road damage, or theft etc.
This insurance may be replaced by your home auto insurance policy or credit card coverage. It’s a good idea to check before you rent, and make sure you get it in writing. Some companies will not cover this when renting a car in Latin American countries, so make sure you find out specifically what your company will cover. Some rental companies do not allow you to waive this insurance regardless of other coverage.
3) Optional—Zero Liability
Whatever name is used: Full Coverage, Vandalism Supplement, Damage Supplement, and Theft Insurance, these additional policies are aimed at reducing your liability to zero when used in combination with SLI and CDW. For example, if the car door is damaged by burglars while they steal your luggage you WILL be held accountable for damages unless you have purchased one of the above supplemental packages. The cost ranges from $US 5-20 per day- but don’t forget to read the fine print and it will also depend on the vehicle rented.
But WAIT- there can be more confusion! Some rental car agencies can be very frustrating as they will sometimes group together the cost of one or more types of insurance into the rental cost, others combine the government insurance in their CDW or LDW coverage, and others seem to purposely confuse the three types in order for their rates to seem better than they really are.
When renting a car in Costa Rica be sure to inspect the car closely for damages. Before you sign any papers make sure that the rental car agent has made notes on all damages. Some of the more questionable rental car agencies will conveniently “forget” about prior damages to the car so when you return it they will point out the damages and charge you for them.
If you get a flat tire either leaving the rental agency or after making a pit stop, DO NOT stop, go to a safe location and take the appropriate actions. Be very wary of any good Samaritan that miraculously appears offering help.
Damages- Unless you purchase ALL of the insurance or your credit card covers it, you are accountable for damage done by potholes, vandals, burglars, falling branches, high tide, spilled coffee and any other imaginable occurrence other than a traffic accident involving another party.
Additional drivers- This can add anywhere from $3.00 to $10.00 extra dollars per day.
Tax- Costa Rica does NOT tax rental cars. Car rental agencies that advertise prices with "All taxes included" are being deceptive.
Gas- Fill up the tank before you return your car or it could be double the price.
Parking your car- Do NOT leave anything in your car unless you have it parked where you can keep an eye on it. Also, the parking garages in San Jose are excellent options if you do have stuff in your car and don’t want to worry about it. The people that help park your car in the city (shopping malls, store and restaurant parking lots, along the city streets etc., will also keep an eye on it, but again, don’t leave anything of value when doing this and they are expecting a tip. Also; never, ever, never, leave your car full of your belongings parked at the beach or outside your motel at the beach or San Jose for that matter. Take your stuff into your motel room. This includes the trunk. Actually we would recommend a rental car that doesn’t have trunk as thieves are known to pry them open, so it’s best to have a vehicle they can see into. Trust me on this. Be warned that thieves can easily recognize a rental car. So, if you leave anything of value inside the car or trunk for any amount of time, you may not see it again.
Accident- If you are in an accident, do not move your car until the police arrive and the (INS) National Insurance Insitute at 800/800-8000. Without these people involved liability issue could arise. Give NO statements, but take witnesses’ names.
Licenses – Operating a motor vehicle without a license is a serious violation of Costa Rican law and invalidates any insurance carried on the vehicle. A valid driver’s license from another country can be used for three months.
Parking – Be careful not to park illegally. A yellow curb means no stopping. Even if you are in the car, police may prevent you from leaving and call a tow truck. You can ride in the car to the yard, where you will be required to pay the towing charges.
Oh, and unless you plan to drive the car only on the city streets of San Jose, you will probably want to rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle.