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The Reality of our Upcoming Tourist Season

Costa Rica
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It's hard to comprehend the changes in the economic outlook for Costa Rica's tourism sector from just one year ago. Costa Rica had seen year after year increases in interest from travelers looking to visit the country from destinations across the world.

In 2019, Costa Rica welcomed a total of 3.14 million tourists. This represented an increase of around 4.1 percent in comparison with the number of international arrivals reported in the previous year.
Statistics published by the Costa Rica Tourism Institute (ICT) show an increase in arrivals to Daniel Oduber International Airport in Liberia, with an increase of 5.1% for 2017-2018 and a further 8.5% for 2018-2019 season.

Despite wishful thinking and prayers for a return of tourists after months of Costa Rica being closed to air travel, the reality is not in line with the optimism. This is especially evident in the province of Guanacaste.

ICT statistics show the vast majority of arrivals at the Liberia Airport to be from the United States and Canada. In 2019 there were a total of 599,433 tourists who arrived here with 440,604 of those US citizens and 111,748 Canadians. Just over 47,000 came from other countries across the globe. European arrivals numbered only 33,510 with the majority of those coming from Great Britain.

Countries around the globe are still struggling to contain the SARs-Cov2 virus and reduce the spread of Covid19 within their own borders. Foreign travel is not on the radar for many residents in these countries. Many citizens are concerned over recent increases in positive test case results, and possible further increases as business and schools begin to reopen.

The ICT as well as many affiliated business organizations in the tourism sector have pleaded their case to reopen the borders, in an effort to save what is left of this important part of the Costa Rican economy.

Beginning in September the government agreed to start a gradual reopening by allowing flights from Europe and Canada as well as several other countries where Covid case numbers had been declining. Residents of several specific US States were allowed as of September 1st and more added on September 15th. California residents will be allowed entry as of October 1st. Others still remain banned from entry.

Of course allowing flights to return to Costa Rica, is not the same as returning to normal. It is low season and flights at this time of year are normally fewer, with charter flights returning in late October or November. It shouldn't come as a surprise to find airlines who have now cancelled or rescheduled flights to Costa Rica, cancelling or delaying their flights until October or November, due to a lack of passengers. Of course there are many factors that contribute to the lack of passengers, mainly the rules and regulations imposed by the Covid 19 pandemic as reomended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

In Costa Rica as of September 9, as in many countries around the world, face coverings are mandatory in all indoor settings except when eating, while alone, or in a private home. All commercial workers who interact with the public are now required to wear face coverings as well.

Face shields can continue to be worn, but only if a face covering is worn underneath. Face coverings are also required at bus stops and aboard all forms of public transportation. Face coverings can be either surgical or homemade, as long as they cover the nose and mouth. The Ministry of Health has stated facial coverings should not include venting devices in order to provide maximum protection against COVID-19.

On weekdays, vehicles with authorized license plate numbers are permitted to drive from 5am to 10pm. On weekends, vehicles with authorized license plate numbers are permitted to drive from 5am to 8pm. The border-area driving restrictions, which have typically been more stringent. Beaches can remain open nationwide from 5am to 2:30pm.

Sounds like an inviting tourist destination.

Also consider that as of September 16th, 2020 the US Embassy in San Jose has a Level 4 DO NOT TRAVEL alert for Costa Rica  This alert states the following:

  • Currently, U.S. citizen tourists who are residents of New York, New Jersey, Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Wyoming, Arizona, New Mexico, Michigan and Rhode Island are allowed to enter Costa Rica.
  • Residents of California will be allowed to enter Costa Rica as of October 1.
  • Tourists from these states — or from an authorized country, such as Canada — can fly from an authorized state through a non-authorized state (e.g. Florida, Texas) en route to Costa Rica.
  • The maximum layover time in the non-authorized state is 18 hours, and the traveler cannot leave the airport.
  • Tourists coming from anywhere but the United States must have remained in an authorized country for at least 14 days before travel.

Canada has Costa Rica listed under a generic travel advisory to Avoid All Travel outside Canada until further notice. Returning to Canada after visiting here will require a 14 day quarantine period or a 14 day period of isolation if displaying symptoms or deemed necessary by a border agent upon their return.

Additional requirements to enter Costa Rica include

  • U.S. citizens from authorized states wishing to enter Costa Rica must complete a digital epidemiological health pass,
  • obtain a negative PCR-RT coronavirus test taken within 72 hours of their departure from the United States,
  • purchase travel insurance that covers accommodation in case of quarantine and medical expenses due to COVID-19.
  • U.S. tourists must also demonstrate, via a valid driver’s license or State ID card, that they live in one of the authorized states.
  • No forms of documentation establishing residency in these select states other than a valid driver’s license or State ID card will be accepted at this time.
  • Accompanying minors are not required to have a driver’s license.

US citizens are facing a contentious national election on November 3rd. Many are struggling to find employment, keep their business operating, if still open or meet payments on loans and mortgages.

Should we realistically expect to see hundreds of thousands of them returning to Costa Rica in late 2020 or early 2021? That doesn't seem realistic, but then again, anything can happen.

For Residents, the Costa Rica Directorate of Migration has announced that Permanent/Temporary Residents of Costa Rica may enter the country via air regardless of where they are coming from but must present the following documentation: 

  1. Passport, 
  2. Valid DIMEX,
  3. evidence Caja payments are up to date for each person, and
  4. a completed Health Pass (Pase de Salud).

Residency holders who are not up to date on Caja payments will still be allowed to enter Costa Rica but will be required to become current with their payments within 22 days. This rule was changed recently after several people were turned back upon arrival for not having made their "Voluntary" Caja payments.

Residency holders who are not up to date on Caja payments must also present proof of insurance to cover COVID-19 related hospital and lodging expenses for 22 days. It should be noted that most insurance policies cover a maximum of 21 days. Air Canada recently announced they would provide no cost Covid Travel Insurance Coverage with all flights, however the maximum coverage is for 21 days. The policy also fails to meet the minimum requirement of $2000 USD for lodging expenses, as the policy covers $2100 CDN.

Costa Rican Permanent/Temporary Residents and Costa Rican citizens must also complete a 14-day quarantine. However, the quarantine is waived if

  1.  arriving from one of a list of authorized countries or U.S. States,
  2.  have proof of stay for the past 14 days in that country or U.S. state, and
  3.  carry a negative COVID-19 test (PCR-RT) taken no more than 72 hours before their flight to Costa Rica.

Those left out of this process are those Investors, Penionados and Rentista categories who do not yet have their DIMEX Card, but may be in the process or in possession of a Tramite indicating they are in the process. These persons may enter as a tourist, and must show the required insurance valid for the length of their stay. Once their alotted time expires they must exit the country. Those people should keep in mind that the border with Nicaragua and Panama remain closed so they are no longer able to renew their stamps in these locations.

Many of these people have purchased a home or condo or rent accommodations for several months every year. These people should be considered in the list for entry to Costa Rica. Instead, immigration offices which were scheduled to open on September 18th, announced on the same day that they would remain closed until October. There is a current backlog of people awaiting approvals of tramites or requiring renewals to stay current, which could be being processed during this time. The immigration authorities are expected to announce some update to policies and improvements on how they process residency applications in the coming weeks.

Until Costa Ricans are able to travel freely within the country, without restrictions on hours or days, and all business is open including government offices, we should not be solely focussed on the return of foreign tourists. Instead let us focus on promoting Costa Rica to Costa Ricans, foreign residents and those wishing to become residents of this great country.

So doing could help small business survive in the short term and encourage local employment, at least until tourists decide it is worth all the hassle, or until the WHO's pandemic is deemed to have ended. Hopefully the latter.