One of the frequently asked questions among pre-pats is personal safety in the country they are considering as their new home. For this reason, it is necessary to know which are the places to avoid or where to be more careful.
We know that crime in some Central American countries is a very serious problem, and immigrants, coming to Costa Rica from this region, are seeking a better economic and social future, but sometimes bring crime with them.
Upon arriving in the country, newcomers learn to appreciate the kind and cordial character of most Costa Ricans, and that makes anyone feel confident. However, we should always remain cautious.
According to numbeo.com, the perception of safety walking alone during daylight is 68.18 (high), and of safety walking alone during the night is 33.00 (low). The crime index is 53.82 (moderate), and the safety index is 46.18 (also moderate). It is good to remember that these figures can contrast with official government numbers.
Is Costa Rica a Safe Country?
If I have to answer from my personal experience, the answer is a convincing “yes”. After 15 months of living here, my general assessment is that it is safe here. But first, I had to learn the tricks and the most dangerous places and how to deal with them.
When I arrived, I visited San José, Santa Ana, Escazú, Ciudad Colón, and other cities that are part of the Greater Metropolitan Area (GMA), in order to create a mental map of how and where to move around safely. One element that I never undervalued, even during my honeymoon period in my host country, is personal safety.
Statistically, Costa Rica is the safest country in Central America. However, crime still exists. There is a police presence in the streets, although it is little. Its highest concentration within the GMA is in the central part of San José, where crime rates are highest.
Crime isn’t the only factor that can cause safety issues. Traffic, wildlife, fraud, the sea, risk sports, tropical diseases, natural disasters, are other factors that must be taken into consideration.
What Are the Most Frequent Crimes in Costa Rica?
Drug-related violent crimes, including homicides, are on the rise in Costa Rica. It is the one that worries the authorities the most, not only because of drug traffic but also because of drug consumption and the crimes committed under the influence.
Homicides related to it have been increasing, however, there are few areas where they are concentrated. Outside of these locations, violent crimes are rare, even against foreigners.
Another crime that has grown is fraud, especially since the beginning of the pandemic.
Although other types of crimes have seen a decrease during 2020, the restrictions of movement and the concentrations of people on the streets due to COVID-19 have been the principal reasons, so these results must be analyzed carefully.
Petty crimes, such as pick-pocketing and bag snatching, are the most common. Foreigners are frequent targets because they are perceived as being wealthy. It is therefore important to avoid showing off valuables or coming across as affluent.
What Are the Areas of Greatest With Safety Concerns?
According to information from the Agencia de Investigaciones Judiciales, the areas with the highest concentration of crimes in the country are:
- San José (all the inner downtown area, La Carpio, La 25 de Julio, La León 13, Los Cuadros, and the Coca Cola bus terminal, near the Zona Roja or red-light district).
- Limón (Cahuita, Puerto Limón, Puerto Viejo, Cieneguita, Limón 2000, Envaco, Los Lirios and Los Cocos). This area is the one with the highest drug trafficking, especially Puerto Limón.
- Alajuela (El Infiernillo, El Erizo and Las Gradas).
- Cartago (San Vicente, San Diego, La Jenny and Carmen Lyra).
- Heredia (Guararí and El Bajo de los Molinos).
- Puntarenas (El Progreso, La Camboya and Chacarita). Jacó is also an area where drugs and prostitution are becoming a problem.
In these communities, shootings occur frequently, as do clashes between criminal groups and confrontations with the police.
Eight Safety Recommendations
When on the streets, carry a photocopy of the identification page of your passport, including the Costa Rican entry stamp with you at all times, and leave the passport at home. The theft of passports from foreigners is common.
- Avoid showing that you have a lot of money or valuables.
- Do not leave valuables in cars.
- Do not leave valuables such as credit cards, cell phones, and other electronics unattended in public places.
- Do not walk alone after dusk or at dawn and avoid the areas mentioned above.
- Stay alert and be aware of your surroundings.
- Be cautious at automated banking machines (ABMs, ATMs).
- Be careful on buses and at bus stations, airports, crowded tourist attractions, restaurants, and resort areas.
These recommendations are rather unremarkable and applicable anywhere in the world. They convey common-sense precautions.
You can find extremely valuable information regarding security in Costa Rica on the website of the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) of the U.S. Department of State, and on the Government of Canada website.
Although the topic is extensive, this is but a small preview of the current situation regarding safety in Costa Rica. At TCI we are here for detailed consultation that you may want to take advantage of. Just ask any of our Alliance team members.
by: Roman Vergara