Last updated on April 30, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, founder of MEL365, following extensive travelling in Costa Rica

Decoding the Cost: How Much to Rent a Car in Costa Rica

The average cost of renting a car in Costa Rica may vary widely between $30 and $150. It depends on many factors like the type of vehicle, the time you need it, the season, and ultimately the level of insurance you want.

In this guide, I delve into the core and peripheral costs related to car rental in Costa Rica. I also organized a comprehensive table charting average car rental prices by month and shine a light on those additional expenses such as insurance and potential scams.

But let’s dig into it

You can drive to some of the most amazing beaches in Costa Rica otherwise impossible by bus
You can drive to some of the most amazing beaches in Costa Rica otherwise impossible by bus

How Much to Rent a Car in Costa Rica – 7 Key Points

  • Average Cost of Car Rental: Rental costs vary, ranging from $30 to $150 per day, depending on several factors.
  • Vehicle Type and Rental Duration: The type of vehicle and rental duration significantly impact the cost.
  • Seasonal Price Fluctuations: Rental costs fluctuate based on the season, with higher prices during the high season.
  • Insurance Considerations: Various insurance options exist, each with different price points, impacting the total cost.
  • Additional Costs: Extras such as GPS, baby seats, or additional drivers add to the overall rental cost.
  • Airport Surcharge and Other Fees: Fees like Airport surcharge, LPF, young driver fee, and ERA can increase costs.
  • Avoiding Scams: Beware of low advertised prices that don’t include mandatory and required insurance.
Most rental agencies will pick you up from outside the airport - Right side as you exit the terminal
Most rental agencies will pick you up from outside the San Jose International Airport – Right side as you exit the terminal

Average Cost of Car Rental in Costa Rica

Please refer to the table below for the average rental car costs in Costa Rica. Please note that these prices may vary significantly depending on factors such as the season, weekday or weekend, proximity to booking, general availability, and more.

The prices below usually include the mandatory insurance and CDW too. I will talk more later about insurance and scams. Sometimes rentals advertise killer deals at less than $10/day, but you will find out later how the daily price will increase easily 5-10 folds at the desk.

Car TypeLow Season
Daily Cost
(7 days rent)
Early December
Daily Cost
(7 days rent)
Around
Christmas & NYE
(Daily Cost)
Jan-Feb
Daily Cost
(7 days rent)
Jan-Feb
Daily Cost
(7 days rent)
Small (Economy)$25$30$140$60$60
Medium (Compact)$28$37$170$65$65
Large (Standard)$40$40$190$70$70
SUV – 4×4$50$50$210$85$85
Expected can rental cost in Costa Rica when booked 12 months in advance

I would discourage renting a car in Costa Rica for just a day or two. It can be really expensive. For such a short rent I would opt for an ATV/quad which are better priced but they are not cheap, especially in high season when the demand is huge.

Prices of cars vary widely on a multitude of factors.

Vehicle type plays a significant role in determining the rental price. Renting a 4×4 car in Costa Rica, which I highly suggest if visiting in the rainy season or you are planning some off-roads to reach a few hidden beaches, comes at a steeper cost compared to a compact, budget-friendly vehicle.

The duration of your rental period also impacts the cost. Although the total price might increase with the rental period, the daily rate tends to decrease with long-term rentals. Therefore, renting a car for your entire stay might be more economical than renting for individual days.

The timing of your visit can affect rental costs. The high season (dry season from December to April) usually witnesses inflated prices, while the low season (rainy season from May to November) brings more affordable rates.

Car rental insurance in Costa Rica is an essential consideration in your budget. Several options exist, from mandatory coverage to comprehensive insurance packages, each at different price points. It’s crucial to understand what each package entails and choose accordingly. I talk more about that later.

Extras such as GPS, baby seats, or additional drivers on the rental agreement add to the overall cost. Be mindful of these additional expenses while planning your budget to avoid surprises.

If you fly to Costa Rica, you will very likely land either at the popular San Jose International Airport or the Liberia International Airport. There is not much of a difference in rental costs between the two airports, however, keep in mind that the vehicle choice in Liberia is much smaller which means you should book well in advance.

Rental costs are typically higher when you rent in the biggest tourist destinations like Tamarindo, for example.

Son and father at Jaco Beach - so friendly
Son and father at Jaco Beach – so friendly

Additional Costs to Consider – Insurance and scams

I am pretty sure you already heard about inflated prices on rental cars in Costa Rica.

Shortly, you book a car, doesn’t matter the website or the provider, nation or international, and you get offered an amazing quote. You book it and when you pick up the car at the rental desk, the price gets inflated multiple times with add-ons.

Although this price is in low season, still less tha $10/day is impossible. Read the rental conditions, they usually do not include any insurance that you will have to pay at the counter
Although this price is in low season, still less than $10/day is impossible. Read the rental conditions, they usually do not include any insurance that you will have to pay at the counter

I personally believe this is one of the biggest car rental scams in Costa Rica. The good news is that you can avoid it, and you can understand the real cost of the rental before flying in.

But first, let me tell you what they do. Basically, they advertise extremely low prices of cars without mandatory and optional (but required) insurance (I know, it doesn’t make sense). Moreover, they forget to add compulsory (hidden) fees.

I wrote more extensively about car rental insurance in Costa Rica. In short, it’s mandatory to have liability insurance (known as Responsabilidad Civil) before driving in Costa Rica. CDW (Collision Damage Waiver) is optional, however, required by most rentals nowadays (making it mandatory).

If you pick up the car from the Airport office, they may add an Airport surcharge fee. You can rent a car in Costa Rica even at a younger age, however, you may have a young driver fee. On my last trip, they added also a License Plate Fee (LPF) and I could keep going.

The biggest slice of these surcharges comes from the insurance and the Airport surcharge, meanwhile, the others are smaller fees. My goal is always to have the big surcharges included in the quote when I book a car, so I can compare providers based on the same offering.

It’s not easy off course. I nowadays book my cars always with DiscoverCars a comparative platform that I love because they do not have small letters (all clearly visible in the easy-to-read rental conditions), they have a ranking of the providers (similar to Airbnb but for cars) and they offer full insurance for just $7/day (to add to the mandatory and the CDW).

One important thing to note, the consumer laws from your country of residence may dictate the website to always include mandatory insurance and the CDW (common in Europe and Australia), meanwhile in other countries like the USA you may receive quotes without any insurance. Below are two typical examples.

Booking a car with Residence set as USA
Booking a car with Residence set as USA
Booking a car with Residence set as Australia (it would be the same for UK)Resident in Australia
Booking a car with a Residence set as Australia (it would be the same for Europe/UK). Prices look much higher but they do include insurance

Quotes for less than $10/day are in my opinion an alarm bell. Check the Protection View in the Rental Conditions because they probably do not include anything.

Protection view including CDW, TP and TPL. The CDW deductible can be as high as $3000
Protection view including CDW, TP and TPL. The CDW deductible can be as high as $3000

To give you an idea, these are the costs that they could add to you if you rent a car without any insurance once you show up at the rental desk.

Insurance/FeeDescriptionCost Range per Day
Liability InsuranceCovers damage you cause to third parties and their property.$12 – $25
Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) or Loss Damage Waiver (LDW)Waives financial responsibility for damage to or theft of the rental car.$10 – $20
Extended Protection, Super Protection, Deductible Protection, Limited Loss WaiverHigher coverage to get rid of the deductibles for third-party liability and CDW/LDW. I usually take the $7/day from DiscoverCars$7 – $30+
Extra DriverFee for an additional driver (optional)$10 – $13
GPSRental of a GPS device (optional)$12 – $15
WiFiRental of a portable WiFi device (optional)$10 – $15
Car Seats for KidsRental of car seats for children 12 and under (optional)$5 – $10
License Plate Fee (LPF)Some companies charge a License Plate Fee (optional/mandatory)
Last time I got charged 6%
6%
Young Driver FeeAdditional fee for drivers under a certain age.Varies
Emergency Roadside Assistance (ERA)Roadside assistance, typically covered when you do full insurance$2
Airport Surcharge FeeSome companies charge an airport fee even if the rental company is outside the airport up to 13% of the total price
Environmental FeeSome companies charge an environmental fee.Less than $1

Let’s see, for example, the Mini SUV advertised for $67 for 8 days (the example I pasted above) what could actually cost at the rental desk:

Insurance/FeeCost (average) for 8 days
Car rental$67
Liability Insurance$15 x 8 days = $120
CDW$20 x 8 days = $160
ERA$2 x 8 days = $16
Sub TOTAL$363
+6% LPF$363 x 6% = $22
+12 Airport Surcharge$262 x 12% = $44
Grand TOTAL$429
I picked the average daily prices in this table. It could actually be much more expensive if the rental is a real scammer

Honestly, I may have missed a fee or two in the total amount above but you get the picture. You show up at the desk thinking to spend $67 and you end up with a bill of $429 and you have already in hand your pre-planned trip in Costa Rica (with all hotels possibly pre-booked).

What can you do? You can refuse but you will waste lots of time re-planning everything, canceling hotels, organizing a different provider, or just catching a bus. It doesn’t sound like an option. They know and they count on that.

There is another good point that one reader highlighted. “You would have to pay anyway at the booking time, so not much difference”.

Well, the biggest difference is that the rental companies charge much more at the rental desk because they know you don’t have many options. Secondly, It’s hard to compare providers if they do not include the same features.

My take on this situation. Book a car only if they include the 3 biggest charges (Liability Insurance, CDW, and Airport levy). The other fees are much smaller and sometimes not included, other times they may add only 1 or 2 like in my case below.

ERA (Emergency Roadside Assistance) and LPF (License Plate Fee) costs in my last Costa Rica rental car insurance contract
ERA (Emergency Roadside Assistance) and LPF (License Plate Fee) costs in my last Costa Rica rental car insurance contract.

ERA is usually included in the full insurance if you book the vehicle with DiscoverCars. I discovered that later on.

I would not suggest taking the car’s GPS. It’s expensive, rarely updated, and mostly offline, which means you don’t have any information on traffic, closed roads, or police checks. Use instead the Waze App, that is similar to Google Maps but has more social involvement. This means it is updated on a regular basis with people traveling in the country.

The Wifi is not also worth it in my opinion, you can easily buy a sim at the airport for $10-15. I also suggest taking the child seat from home, if you can. The quality at the rentals is not the best, especially for a booster seat, plus you can save some money.

Roads in Costa Rica are quite often unsealed but still very doable
Roads in Costa Rica are quite often unsealed but still very doable

Conclusion

In conclusion, understanding the costs associated with renting a car in Costa Rica involves considering various factors including the type of vehicle, duration of rental, timing of your visit, insurance options, and potential extras.

Although it may seem initially pricey, the convenience, flexibility, and unique experience of exploring Costa Rica at your own pace make it totally worth in my opinion.

Be mindful of your budget, plan well, and you’ll enjoy an unforgettable adventure amidst Costa Rica’s incredible landscapes.

Frequently Aske Questions

What is the average cost of renting a car in Costa Rica?

The cost can vary widely based on factors such as type of vehicle, duration of rental, season, and insurance coverage. A typical range might be between $30-$150 per day.

Is it cheaper to rent a car long-term in Costa Rica?

Yes, many car rental companies offer discounts for longer-term rentals, reducing the cost per day.

Are there any hidden costs when renting a car in Costa Rica?

A few rentals hide most of the insurance costs and charges. A good rule of thumb is that a deal too good to be true is probably a scam

Do rental prices change depending on the season in Costa Rica?

Yes, prices are typically higher during the dry season (December to April) due to increased demand.

What type of car is the most cost-effective to rent in Costa Rica?

Compact cars are usually the most affordable, but a 4×4 may be necessary for certain terrains.

Does it cost extra to add an additional driver to the rental agreement?

Yes, additional driver fees are common with most rental companies.

Do I need an international credit card to rent a car in Costa Rica?

Although there are ways to rent a car in Costa Rica without Credit Cards, usually it is requested for the security deposit

Is it cheaper to book a rental car in advance or upon arrival in Costa Rica?

Booking in advance is usually cheaper and ensures you secure the type of vehicle you want, especially during peak travel times.

Stefano Ferro - MEL365.com Founder and Editor

About the Author

Stefano is a seasoned travel expert and the visionary founder of MEL365.com, a leading travel website with traffic across 6 continents. With a rich background in the travel industry, Stefano spent four pivotal years at Amadeus Travel Distribution System, gaining invaluable insights into travel technologies and distribution.

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