Renting a car in Costa Rica

Oy vey!  What a nightmare renting a car in Costa Rica has turned out to be.

From the guidebooks and message boards I’ve been perusing the last couple of weeks, I discovered that Costa Rica ranks pretty high for car accidents.  Supposedly for this reason their government has imposed mandatory basic liability insurance (SLI) which carries a hefty fee of about $15 per day.  When you’re looking at a 50+ day rental, that adds up!

Oddly enough, I cannot find anything official about this.  The best explanation I’ve read is that each rental car must carry insurance directly between the rental agency and INS, and the rental agency passes that cost on to the renter in whatever way they want.  That explains why the prices vary I guess.  Sounds quite corrupt to me.

So being the budget minded traveler that I am, I am trying to find a way around this.  Since this cost is determined by the agency itself I feel like i’m fighting a losing battle.  Regardless, I shall carry on.

I have the American Express Premium Car Rental Protection Plan but that clearly states that liability is not covered.  They cover CDW (Collision Damage Waiver) and LDW (Loss Damage Waiver) and advise you to decline these optional coverages.  Additionally it only covers up to 42 days.  So we will need to rent a car in two shifts in order to be covered.  Unfortunately, contract periods less than 30 days seem to double!  Creeps.  I requested Costa Rica specific documentation from AMX to take with me just in case I need it.

I have auto insurance through a major company here in the states but apparently I am not covered out of the country :(.  That was a surprise and a major bummer.  Good thing is my umbrella policy will cover me.  Not sure how that will work but we’ll see.

I also have AAA and USAA.  I wonder if they have some kind of non-owner auto insurance that I can buy.

Finally I’m never a big fan of travel insurance, but I think in this instance it might be a good idea.  The best quote I found so far is $375 with rental coverage but it still doesn’t seem to have liability.

Avis Costa Rica says:  Prior to your trip you must contact your bank and request written proof of your credit card protection plan, where its validity in Costa Rica is clearly stated. Such letter must be presented at the Avis counter at the time of the rental and we reserve the right of accept or not such protection.

Amx is sending me what documentation they have, but again, liability isn’t covered so that won’t do much for me.

Quotes for 4×4 SUV Daihatsu Bego 31 days, high season

Vamos:  $1585.45 ($51 per day) not including insurance but they will let you waive CDW and SLI if you can show proof of insurance.  Additional drivers are free and they will give you a cell phone (but if you want to *use* it you’ll pay $5 a day).  When I tried to click on that car class to reserve I got an error that they were sold out.  Next best price was $1800 but they do have a banner that says call for long term pricing.  They also say they have a price match guarantee.  When I called them they said the mandatory insurance cannot be waived, only collision.  (Also got a quote for 51 days: $2977 including insurance)

4x4RentaCar  $1740 ($58 per day) … high season, including basic insurance.  No mention of taxes or “SLI.”

The Price includes CDW and TPL (Third Party Liability) basic coverage, based on 24hrs rental shifts, No hidden fees policy applies. Please continue your reservation filling up the following fields and submit.

Budget Costa Rica:  $996 including taxes and fees (14% from LIR airport – ouch!).  I called and they said the mandatory insurance for this car class is $14.99 a day ($14.99 x 30 = $450).  Total:  $1,526.33 for 31 days, or $49.24 per day.

DRO (Deductible Reduction Coverage – This is the cover for collision and theft. It is optional) can be declined, but you always have to take the basic insurance SLI. The Supplemental Liability is a mandatory coverage to basic liability. This only covers if the driver is declared guilty by a court or if the drivers accepts fault. This coverage covers property and persons. Covers up to a maximum amount of C 50.000.000 (roughly $100K US) per person or up to C 125.000.000 (roughly $235k US) per event for medical expenses or death of persons involved either inside or outside the vehicle, non – relatives of the driver (until third degree of blood relation or affinity). In case of property ex: vehicles or houses, coverage is up to C 10.000.000 ($20k US)  This cover can not be declined, and the renter will be responsible for the total value of the damages caused to the rented car. It protects other properties, vehicles or persons.

Requirements for the rent:

  • Minimum 25 year of age.
  • Valid passport and driver license.
  • Major credit card for $1000~$3000 for guarantee deposit plus the amount of the total of the rent.
  • At the International Airport Juan Santamaría there is a 13% tax fee and at the International Airport Daniel Oduber there is a 14% tax fee.
  • Drop off will be charged when pick up and return offices are different.
  • Drop off rates are related to availability, season and distance between interest points.

I made my reservation through instead of Budget Costa Rica since I can get 3% cash back via Ebates and I’m not too thrilled with the sneaky business tactics of Costa Rican Rental Car Companies.  I wanted to book for 42 days but got the error:  You may not reserve a car for more than 31 days through our website. (Through Kayak those limitations don’t apply.)

equipment & services 0.00
protections 0.00
concession recovery 122.39
fees 89.70
taxes 0.00
$ 996.59 TOTAL (USD)
This doesn’t include the $14.99 per day mandatory insurance that I’m sure will end up being taxed at 14% too, so I’m expecting the total to actually be $1,526.33, or $49.25 per day.  Not sure if the $2.50 per day convenience fee mentioned in the fine print is included or not.  But at least for now we have a car for the first 31 days and no car for the last 23.  Guess we’ll play that last little bit by ear!

Here’s the fine print:

Credit Card Policies: Budget in this country accepts Budget Charge Cards, American Express, Diners Club, Discover Card, Mastercard, Visa.  Note: Credit cards without raised numbers are not accepted in Costa Rica. A mandatory charge card deposit, plus estimated rental charges will apply to all rentals and to all vehicles.  The guarantee deposit amount ranges between 1,000.00 USD not to exceed 1,500.00 USD depending on car group rented.

NOTE: If the customer declines SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance) the credit card hold for any category will be double the guarantee deposit (2,000.00 USD – 3,000.00 USD) and the customer will be 100% responsible of the car, passengers and third parties.

Age Requirements: At this location, the minimum age is 18 for all car groups.  An underage fee will apply for renters 18-20 of 20.00 USD per day.  Young drivers should contact counter directly for full details.

Debit Card Policies: Debit cards are not accepted.

Driver’s License Requirements: Valid driver’s license from country of residence and passport are required.  Rental must begin within 30 days of renter’s arrival to the country.  International driving license is required only for countries with non-Roman alphabet.  International driving license is a translation only.

Additional Driver Policy: Additional drivers must meet the same requirements as the primary driver.

Location Exceptions

PLEASE NOTE: Car groups H, I and N are Quick Pass ready. No pre-enrollment or sing up is required. When driving a Budget vehicle, the renter has the option of using the 27 Highway and Quick Pass lanes without stopping. If the renter decides to use the express lane, the renter will be charged the standard non-discounted fee for the roads as published by the toll authority plus the convenience fee of 2.50 USD per rental day for each and every day of the rental or 70.00 USD maximum per month for use of this service.

The additional driver must meet the same restrictions as the primary driver. Additional driver fee: USD 5/day. Will apply to spouse.

Cash rentals are not accepted. A credit card hold of the total estimated rental charges, plus a deposit ranging between 1,000.00 USD, not to exceed 3,000.00 USD will apply to all rentals and to all vehicles. If SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance) is purchased the deposit ranges between 1000.00 USD not to exceed 1500.00 USD depending on car group rented. If the customer declines SLI, the credit card hold for any category will be double the guarantee deposit (amount ranges between 2000.00 USD not to exceed 3000.00 UD) and the customer will be 100% responsible of the car, passengers and third parties.

Purchase of LDW is optional and relieves the customers financial responsibilty to the vehicle. Cost for all car groups is 28.95 USD per day. If LDW is declined, the renter is responsible for up to the full value of the vehicle. Supplemental Liability Insurance (SLI) is optional for all car groups at 14.99 USD per day. If SLI is declined a credit card hold will apply, see CID information above. Personal Accident Insurance (PAI) is not offered. Reduction Coverage (DRO): is available at the counter only

Travel Into Other Countries

Cars can be returned to other Budget locations within this country based on car availability. Fees vary according to distance between locations and depending on car group rented. One way fees may also apply to any special equipment rented. Vehicles are not available for one-way rentals outside this country.

The Bottom Line

We ended up going with Budget and a 4×4 Diatsu.  We were charged $19.99 per day for the mandatory insurance, so we ended up spending $1833 for our fist 30 days, and $1329 for our last 12.  More than we paid for our lodging!  So if you’re going to Costa Rica and need a car, be prepared to pay!


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