“Crime is increasing in Costa Rica and U.S. citizens are frequent victims. While petty theft is the main problem, armed robberies have been known to occur even in broad daylight. American tourists and residents can also take steps to protect themselves,” says the opening statement.
The U.S. Embassy web page details some of the crimes perpetrated against Americans on Costa Rican soil:
- A tire of a rental car went flat, and people who stopped to “help change the tire” stole U.S. passports, bags, cash, and camera.
- A hotel room was broken into during the day, and robbers stole a wallet, cell phone, and other valuables the hotel guest had hidden in the room.
- Several rental homes and ecolodges were invaded by groups of masked men armed with machetes and guns. U.S. citizens were assaulted and held hostage at gunpoint for several hours while the robberies were carried out.
- Several Americans were traveling on a tour bus. The bus was parked at the parking area of a white water rafting company, and while the tourists were rafting, the bus was broken into. U.S. passports were stolen along with cameras, cash, credit cards, and clothing.
- An American’s backpack was stolen from a chair at a restaurant while he was in the restroom.
- Items were stolen from the locked trunk of a rental car.
- A purse with a passport and credit cards was stolen out of the overhead compartment of a bus.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to exercise a high level of caution and vigilance due to increasing levels of violent crime.
The undated page offers Americans (that can apply to all visitors) advice on reducing their possibility of becoming victims of a crime while in Costa Rica:
- When you don’t need it, keep your passport in a safe place, like a hotel safe, and carry only a copy (the photo page and the page containing the Costa Rica entry stamp).
- Carry on paper the name and phone number of your hotel, as well as the phone number of YOUR embassy.
- Avoid areas with high concentrations of bars and nightclubs, especially at night.
- Seek entertainment in groups of people you know.
- Do not consume food or drinks you have left unattended or accept food or drinks from “friendly” people.
- Do not leave a bar or other facility with a stranger.
- Avoid walking around at night (especially in the San Jose city center).
- Stay alert: crowded tourist attractions and resort areas popular with foreign tourists are also common venues for criminal activities.
- Steer clear of deserted properties or undeveloped land.
- Walk or exercise with a companion.
- Lock all doors, and keep all windows closed.
- Keep valuables on the car floor and/or out of sight of a person who could see them and grab them.
- Leave sufficient space between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you to allow you to drive away quickly if necessary.
- Be alert to suspicious persons loitering on the side of the road.
- Use only licensed taxis (they have yellow triangle medallions with numbers painted on the side).
- Do not stop on isolated stretches of road. (One method of initiating kidnappings and carjackings is to bump the victim’s car from behind; the unsuspecting victim stops, believing he or she is involved in a minor accident, and is taken hostage or robbed.)
- Use extreme caution if you have a flat tire. Drivers with flat tires are advised to drive, if possible, to the nearest service station or other public area, and change the tire themselves, watching their valuables at all times. Most car rental companies will cover the damage to the tire.
- Be wary of strangers offering to help with car problems.
- Park in secured lots whenever possible, and do not leave valuables in the vehicle.
- Travel with a cell phone.
- Change money in banks or other financial institutions (money changers on the street have been known to pass counterfeit U.S. dollars and local currency).
- Retain all credit card receipts and check accounts regularly to help prevent unauthorized use of credit cards.
- Avoid using debit cards for point-of-sale purchases, as a skimmed number can be used to clean out an account.
- Keep the phone numbers for your banks on a sheet of paper in case your credit cards or bank cards are stolen or lost.
- Reduce risk by keeping valuables out of sight, not wearing jewelry, and traveling in groups.
- Avoid carrying large amounts of cash, jewelry, or expensive photographic equipment.
- Minimize travel after dark.
- Avoid responding in kind to verbal harassment.
- Do not store valuables in a car’s trunk or glove compartment.
- Do not engage in a physical confrontation with criminals.
- Don’t try to outrun an armed criminal; no car or person can outrun a bullet.
- Immediately report any suspicious activity to police. If you are with or become a victim of sexual assault please contact the Embassy immediately.
Crimes Against Tourists
Last March 5, a Canadian tourist was killed in Puerto Viejo Limon as he headed to the beach to snap some photograph of the sunrise. The man was stabbed during what appears to have been a mugging gone terribly bad.
Data from the Organismo de Investigacion Judicial (OIJ) indicate that so far in 2017, every 33 hours a tourist has been the victim of an assault. The judicial police body reported 35 complaints in the first 48 days of the year.
If you become a victim of crime:
Report the crime to the Organismo de Investigacion Judicial (OIJ) – judicial police, and if you need victim’s assistance, report to your country’s embassy.
American Citizens can contact the U.S. Embassy in San Jose at 2519-2590 or by email: [email protected]. The U.S. Embassy in San Jose is located in Pavas. If your U.S. passport is stolen, please call the embassy at 2519-2000 Monday-Friday 8am to 4:30pm to report and replace it. This allows the Embassy to make the necessary notifications that may help catch criminals, including terrorists, who try to buy or use the passport.
Canadian Citizens can contact the Canadian embassy in San Jose at (506) 2242-4400 or by email: [email protected]. The Canadian Embassy in San Jose is located Behind the “Contraloría” in the Oficentro Ejecutivo La Sabana, Building 5, Third floor. Hours are Monday to Thursday: 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m and 12:40 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. and Friday 7:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
For YOUR embassy in Costa Rica, visit the following website: https://embassy.goabroad.com/embassies-in/costa-rica
Police In Costa Rica
In Costa Rica, there are several kinds of police. Police officials in uniform are for the most part the Fuerza Pública (national police force). A growing number of uniformed officials are the Policia Municipal (Municipal Police). Other uniformed police include the Policia de Transito (Traffic Officials) and the Policia Turistica (Tourist Police), a division of the Fuerza Publica.
In an emergency, any of the above uniformed police can assist you.
Ther role of crime prevention and in charge of investigations of crimes is the OIJ. They are plain clothes police. It is recommended filing a police report (especially if it involves the loss of a passport) with the OIJ at any OIJ office – the main office in downtown San Jose or regional offices across the country.
The OIJ is only police agency to take reports and investigate crimes. Contact can be by 9-1-1 or a direct call to the OIJ. See their website (in Spanish only) for local numbers.