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Navigating the San José Airport

Airport terminal in San José, Costa Rica

Airport terminal in San José, Costa Rica

Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) is the routing of choice for travelers who plan to visit the central valley of San José, central Pacific coast and Caribbean coast. The only other International airport in Costa Rica with regular commercial service to the United States is Daniel Oduber International Airport (LIR) in Liberia, Guanacaste. A three to four hour drive from San José, the Liberia airport is not convenient to the central valley, and is better for those who plan to visit the northern Pacific coast on the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica.

Upon arrival, International visitors have an opportunity to make purchases in the terminal duty free and souvenir shops. Prices can be a bit steep here, so its a good idea to leave the souvenir picking and coffee purchases for San José. Absolutely, avoid the private companies that offer currency exchange inside the airport. With the exception of the Banco de San José, outside customs in the departure terminal all the currency exchanges are taking advantage of the lack of regulation in this kind of business to substantially overcharge tourists.

Immigration Desk in San José Airport

Immigration Desk in San José Airport

The first step to get into Costa Rica is to clear passport control at the immigration desk. United States citizens usually receive an automatic 90 day tourist visa. Frequent visitors to Costa Rica are usually questioned as to how long they plan to stay, and may receive less than the usual 30 days. The policy is designed to reduce the number of "perpetual tourists" that more or less live, and sometimes work illegally in Costa Rica. Most visitors will not have to worry about this issue, especially if they never stay more than a couple weeks at a time.

Once through immigration, the arriving passenger goes to the customs and baggage claim area. If there is any checked baggage, then it may be necessary to wait for a bit. Once all the baggage has been collected, then the last step is to clear customs.

Banco de San José in Airport

Banco de San José in Airport

Officials will sometimes ask arriving passengers to put their bags through an x-ray machine, and are especially alert for small expensive items in their original packaging. This is because import, nominally "sales taxes" in Costa Rica are especially high. If you are bringing any gifts for your girlfriend or her family, then it's a good idea to take everything out of its original packaging material.

Once through customs you are no longer in the secure area of the airport and will be confronted by plenty of taxi drivers who are able to bring you to San José. Rates are competitive, but range from $20 to $30. All of the drivers will accept dollars, but it may be necessary to have exact change. There are several ATMs inside and outside the airport, and the Banco de San José upstairs in the departure area where you come to leave Costa Rica offers the fair "bank rate" for currency exchange.

Comments

  1. jackietrehorn says:

    There are two ATMs in baggage claim next to each other and to the right of the brightly-lit and overly-staffed exchange booths. I’ve used the one the right (I think it is Scotia Bank) with success and with a reasonable rate. Two things before leaving the US: tell your bank of your travel plans so they don’t think your card is stolen and cut it off, and make sure you have a four digit PIN.

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