Costa Rica does not have anywhere near the crime in the United States and the crime that is here tends to be less violent. As a visitor, you will always present as a target. Why? Because you are rich! Now you are going to say, “I am not rich!”, but you must look at this from a different viewpoint. To some earning a few thousaand dollars per year, you are rich. Let’s say you make $20,000 in the US. Most would say that is not a lot of income, especially if you have a family… but it is 4-5 times (or more) what an average Tico earns!
I visitor recently had her sunglasses snatched from her head at a traffic light in downtown San José. She was unhurt, but asked why her glasses as they had little value to a crook. What she failed to understand is that many things are less expensive here… like drugs… and those glasses could be sold for maybe $2.00 and THAT is the price of a hit of crack cocaine in Costa Rica.
Get the idea?
In San José, there are far fewer rapes and murders, however, petty theft is quite popular and on the streets, the snatch and grab type of crimes are common; especially in the downtown area. Due to increased police presence in 2011-2012, the downtown are is much safer, but still, you should always be aware of your surroundings as in any large city.
Pickpockets are around and it is always advisable to keep pocketbooks tucked safely under an arm. Do not carry a lot of money, and keep the money you have in a location where you don’t need to pull out a wad to pay for something.
Generally, if you do not wear flashy jewelry, if you stay on the main streets, and if you stay aware, you’ll be fine. Also, it is best not to be taking your evening stroll late at night in San Jose, and under no circumstances, enter any of the many public parks after dark. Most are truly dangerous at night, as they are in almost any big city.
Car theft and soccer are the national pastimes. Lock it or lose it. Keys should never be left in the car (duh). Use private parking if available. Drive in downtown San José ONLY if it is necessary (and it almost never is). Use a taxi. Use your car or rental for trips outside of San José, but use common sense as while San José and the central valley have the most thefts, they do not enjoy a monopoly, and car theft can occur anywhere.
NEVER leave valuables in your car where they can be seen. Lock your car always, even for 30 second trips to buy something. Do not dangle your arm out the window with your $20,000 Rolex flashing in the sun. You may look cool, but the only people you will impress are those you individuals you do not want to impress.
Theft of items.
In general, NEVER leave stuff out anywhere. Keys, watches, laptops, cell phones, or any item you are not comfortable losing. This includes stuff in your hotel room. Petty theft is huge in Costa Rica, but it is a crime of opportunity and YOU provide the opportunity. If dining at an open air restaurant, don’t leave purses or valuables out on the table.
Don’t over react to what I am writing. Walking around the downtown area is fun. Lots of excellent people watching… just be cautious and alert.
As I re-read this, I think I just described every major city in the WORLD but without the gangs and the guns.
How is crime outside of San Jose like the country or the neighborhoods?
Depends on the neighborhood, but in general, crime is less common and you can do just about anything you would do in the US day or night. Just ask your neighbors before you walk around at night. Neighborhoods vary a lot. Most are pretty safe, but use common sense. Crime outside of San José is increasing a bit because of the increased enforcement in San José.
What about breaking and entering?
The Bad People here generally do not break into homes that are occupied (read that as someone is IN THE HOME), but they will absolutely grab anything you leave outside or enter a home if they know it is vacant. This is especially true in the Central Valley. Those bars you see on windows are certainly part of the Spanish/Latin culture, but they have morphed into a security feature evolving from the thieves. Having someone in the home at all times is a good idea. There are countless stories of people (not just North Americans) taking a vacation and returning to find their homes empty. An empty home is an almost irresistible target.
As domestic help is so very inexpensive here… even full-time live-in help… many folks have housekeepers for this very reason. Any sign of occupancy is a strong deterrent to housebreaking, and though hard to believe, domestic help is not a whole lot more expensive than a high end security system. Also, an alarm system can’t do the laundry, clean a house or cook a meal!
This IS changing and I would recommend that you read the Blog for more recent events.
Do I have to worry about someone stealing my PASSPORT?
Yes! You have to be cautious about people stealing everything, but passports, especially the old US passports are really popular. A recent report states that a US Passport has a street value of $10,000 though in reality it may be less. Whatever it is, the number off passports stolen in 2010 is up significantly. Seems the newer passports are less attractive, but I have found no reliable statistics as to theft of the “hard” passports.
Well then should I even carry my passport with me?
Legally, if you are not a legal resident, you must carry your passport with you, but there is a simple solution. If you plan to stay more than a week or so, contact an attorney (Abogado y Notario) and let him photocopy the front page of your passport AND the page that contains your most recent entry visa stamp to Costa Rica. He will then certify the copy (add stamps, timbres, and a seal) and give it back to you. Many will copy-reduce it in size so it will fit easily in a purse or wallet. I have never once had a problem showing it to the police or any other official. Certification takes about 10 minutes and costs me about $7,500 colones (currently $15). If you are traveling for just a few weeks, just make a copy of the same info above and forget the stamps… nobody will bother you. Leave the passport safely in a hotel safe or other secure location.
I read where some US college girls got killed there. What about that? Are there a lot of murders?
Well news like that does sell newspapers doesn’t it?
This is a country of almost 5 million people so of course we have murders and all the other violent crimes. That story got a lot of press, and as is the norm for US reporting, but only told part of the story. The young ladies in question were in a high traffic drug area near the Caribbean coast at 3 AM in the morning, but THAT fact seemed to never make it to the US papers. On the other hand, not a whole lot of readers would feel sympathy and outrage at three poor innocent girls in a known drug buying area at three in the morning, right?? How safe would they have been in ANY US city at 3 AM in a drug dealing area?
Murders and rapes do happen here as they do in any other country, but the number of crimes per 1,000 people is far less and with the use of a bit of common sense, you will find Costa Rica to be a safe and wonderful place to live or to visit.