Health, Insurance, and Travel Advice for Visitors to Costa Rica
Costa Rica has become a favorite international destination hosting expatriates, travelers, and retirees. In fact, Costa Rica is listed as one of the top 10 favorite international retirement destinations according to International Living. Whether it’s the country’s stability, friendly and welcoming Ticos (Spanish reference to Costa Rican locals), or breathtaking scenery, Costa Rica is a country unlike any other.
Before your arrival in Costa Rica, you will want to look into your expatriate health insurance options depending on your needs. A few considerations include:
- Does your current insurance plan cover you in Costa Rica?
- Will you be enrolling in the country’s insurance plan or a private plan?
- If you’ll be enrolling in an international plan, does it include emergency medical evacuation and repatriation?
International Health Insurance Plans in Costa Rica
Costa Rica has its social health care system called Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS), commonly referred to as the “Caja.” This universal health care system will cover Costa Rican citizens, permanent residents, and visitors for a small monthly fee based on a percentage of your income. The cost through the Association of Residents of Costa Rica, ARCR, is very reasonable. If you opt for the “Caja,” then you’d be able to obtain treatment in designated public facilities in Costa Rica.
Another option is the government-backed INS (Instituto de Seguro Nacional), which is a health insurance plan that will cover you if you stay within the network of private doctors and hospitals in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica Travel Medical Insurance Plans
- Short-term travel medical coverage.
- Coverage for individuals and dependents.
- Freedom to seek treatment with hospital or doctor of your choice.
- You choose between the basic essentials and more extensive coverage.
- Meets Schengen visa insurance requirements.
- 24/7 worldwide travel and emergency medical assistance.
With these local options, an important question to ask yourself is – do you want the flexibility to choose your doctor or hospital? Also, is it important to be able to elect treatment outside of Costa Rica? This is especially important as both the CCSS and INS provide coverage only in Costa Rica. While Costa Rica has one of the best health care systems in Latin America, it is important to look at the benefits of each option and decide on the type of coverage most suitable for you.
Other options have recently opened up to international travelers/retirees following the ratification of CAFTA- Central American Free Trade Agreement- also known as the Tratamiento Libre de Comercio (TLC) in Costa Rica. With the adoption of this agreement, Costa Rica opened its borders to foreign insurance companies – whereas before the options were limited only to CCSS or INS. This agreement allowed international insurance companies to provide coverage to travelers, permanent residence, and Costa Rican citizens.
When looking at the plethora of international health insurance options, you will want to make sure that your plan includes coverage for emergency medical evacuation and repatriation. This will provide you with the piece of mind that in case of an emergency, you can receive treatment in a facility equipped to handle your condition – even if this entails being transported to another country or if medically necessary, returning to your country of citizenship.
If you are looking for a Costa Rican expatriate health insurance, the Cigna Global is a comprehensive annually renewable plan. This plan provides up to $3,000,000 worth of coverage annually and includes coverage for doctor office visits, prescription drugs, maternity, surgery, hospitalizations, diagnostic testing, lab work, emergency medical evacuation, repatriation, etc. This plan will cover you all over the world – including Costa Rica – and you can choose to include or exclude the US in coverage.
Healthcare in Costa Rica
According to the Dept of State:
Medical care in San Jose is generally adequate, but is limited in areas outside of San Jose. There are limited beds in the emergency room at the largest hospital in the Liberia zone, an area frequented by U.S. tourists. In other more remote areas, basic medical equipment may not be available. Ambulances may not have emergency equipment and can sometimes offer nothing more than transport.
Most prescription and over-the-counter medications are available throughout Costa Rica; however, some U.S. citizens travel regularly to the United States to fill prescriptions that are unavailable in Costa Rica.
Vaccines for Travelers to Costa Rica
- Hepatitis A – Recommended for most travelers, including those with “standard” itineraries and accommodations
- Hepatitis B – Consider for most travelers; recommended for those who might be exposed to blood or other body fluids, have sexual contact with the local population, or be exposed through medical treatment (e.g., for an accident).
- Rabies – Recommended for the following groups:
- Travelers involved in outdoor and other activities in remote areas that might bring them into direct contact with bats and other mammals (such as adventure travelers and cavers).
- Those with occupational risks (such as wildlife professionals and researchers).
- Typhoid – Recommended for most travelers, especially those who are staying with friends or relatives; visiting smaller cities, villages, or rural areas where exposure might occur through food or water; or prone to “adventurous eating.”
- Yellow Fever – Required if traveling from a country with risk of YFV transmission and ≥9 months of age, including transit >12 hours in an airport located in a country with risk of YFV transmission.
Hospitals in Costa Rica
There are approximately 30 CAJA hospitals and 250 clinics in Costa Rica. In general, although the building is old and many in need of repair, the quality of the professionals working in these facilities is above average for the region. Below are some of the more popular hospitals in Costa Rica. For a comprehensive list, visit: Costa Rican Hospitals on Wikipedia
Emergency Medical Assistance in Costa Rica
The main emergency number in Costa Rica is 911. This number covers the following emergency institutions, Ambulance, Fire Fighters and Police as well as other emergency services.