San José, Costa Rica, since 1956


Earlier this year, I returned from a month long trip that took me from San José to Toronto, to Baltimore, then back to San José. As I checked in at Baltimore-Washington Airport on the last leg of my trip, I was asked if I was a resident of Costa Rica. Not yet, I replied.(I am awaiting final resolution of my pensionada status.) American Airlines personnel told me I would have to show a return airline ticket back to anywhere in North America, or else they couldn’t let me board the plane. I had a bus ticket from San José to Nicaragua and produced it, but the check-in staff said a bus ticket wouldn’t do. I had to prove I was leaving the country by air. I then produced papers showing my residency application is in process, but they would not accept them as proof that Costa Rica would admit me, so I was forced to buy a full-fare one-way ticket from San José to Miami.The staff explained to me that I wasn’t allowed to travel to Central America without proving I was coming back on an airplane. This struck me as odd since I am a Canadian citizen, and I am not aware that U.S. authorities have any say in where I go or what I do once I leave their territory. What if I wanted to return overland? What if I decided to continue down to South America or go around the world?In Baltimore, airline staff assured me that the one-way ticket I had bought (for about Canadian $850) was easily and completely refundable, at no cost to me. When I called American Airlines here, I learned I had to go in person to the nearest ticket office. When I arrived, I waited 40 minutes to be helped, then another 15 minutes while a young woman filled out forms longhand, photocopied my passport and bus ticket, and finally handed back my “refund application” which, she told me, could take up to 15 days to process. In the meantime, the $850 was due on my Visa account and I would have to absorb the interest charges on that amount until the credit came through. Considering the time and interest, it didn’t seem to me to be the promised “at no cost to me” at all. Has anybody else had this experience?Does anybody know the rules for entering Costa Rica when you are not yet a resident or when you are a tourist without defined plans about your return date?–Dorothy MacKinnonSan JoséCosta Rica’s return-ticket requirement is the source of some confusion, as we discovered when we looked into the matter.All nonresident foreigners coming to Costa Rica must possess a ticket out of the country at the moment of arrival and must show it at passport control if asked, Immigration official Irene Cordero told The Tico Times.Airline personnel at check-in in another country must verify that passengers boarding their planes have sufficient documentation to travel abroad, regardless of citizenship. Carriers risk heavy fines from the destination country if they transport undocumented or under-documented travelers, in addition to the expense of putting them on a plane back home. Hence the question you received in Baltimore about your ticket out of Costa Rica and the refusal to let you board unless you purchased such a ticket.Cordero said your bus ticket to Nicaragua should have been sufficient evidence of your planned departure, but American Airlines presented a different version of the requirements. Martha Pantin, Manager of Corporate Communications for the airline in Miami, produced a copy of the response she received from Marco Badilla, former director of Costa Rican Immigration, about the matter. Badilla cited Articles 23 and 24 of Costa Rica’s Law 7033 of Immigration stating that “presentation of an airline ticket out the country” is a requirement for nonresident foreigners to enter. Pantin said this requirement appears on the screen of the American Airlines agent in a foreign airport who checks in a passenger for a flight to Costa Rica.The Tico Times contacted Delta, another U.S. airline that flies here, for comparison. Georgia Devandas, who handles corporate communications for Delta in Costa Rica, concurred.“This person would not be allowed to board the plane,” Devandas said of someone wanting to travel to Costa Rica on a one-way plane ticket, but possessing a bus ticket to Nicaragua. “That doesn’t guarantee that the passenger will return to their country of origin as the law indicates.”At the moment an airline ticket is purchased, the airline does not know details about the passenger such as nationality, possession of a visa or residency status (or lack thereof). The agent at check-in must verify that information, Devandas explained. Some evidence of flying back to North America, whether from here or elsewhere in the region, is necessary; a plane ticket from Nicaragua to North America would be acceptable in conjunction with the bus ticket in this case.Of course, in this age of electronic tickets, the printed itinerary from the airline serves as your travel document. When you check in as a tourist in another country for a round-trip flight to Costa Rica, the counter agent will see in your computer reservation record that you have a flight back home. While here, if you plan to travel to a neighboring country – they also have the same requirements, as do most countries – that printed flight itinerary will serve as evidence of your intent to return home. But a one-way ticket to Costa Rica raises the flag that you encountered and the possibility that you will be required to purchase expensive one-way air transportation back to North America on the spot before being allowed to board your flight.

Comments are closed.