Renting a Car in Costa Rica? Which company should you choose?
There are so many rent-a-car companies to choose from in Costa Rica – from the large international firms to the smaller national agencies. Reviews on the internet invariably either damn or sing the praises of each company to the extent of being almost useless. So how do you choose the best place to hire a car for your trip?
Many tourists that rent vehicles in Costa Rica complain that they have been ripped off when they realize the extra cost of insurance they are obliged to pay or that they have been charged a dollar rate that reflected the currency rate and not the quoted rate. Understanding the insurance laws and charges that bind the Costa Rican car rental companies may help you to ask the right questions when you are reserving your vehicle and avoid a nasty shock upon arrival. If a company is not upfront about its additional costs; you may wish to consider whether it is a company that you choose to take your business to.
I have worked within the tourism industry in Costa Rica for the last six years and have lived here since 2000. I am familiar with the feelings that many visitors to the country experience when dealing with rent-a-car companies. These can range from delight to discomfort to outright fury; sometimes due to the inefficiency, or even dishonesty of the rental agency, but also due to the renter’s lack of understanding of the legally binding restrictions within which Costa Rican car rental firms must work. I hope that while this article won’t guarantee you trouble-free vehicle rental; it might make you a more knowledgeable customer.
Insurance needs, additional costs in rental and surcharges are considered in more detail below:
Basic insurance is mandatory. Costa Rican law is very clear on this and your rental car company cannot allow you to leave with their car without having agreed to pay it. Expect to pay somewhere between 9 and 20 per day on top of your car rental rate. An honest, car rental agency will make this very clear in their pricing. If it is not clear whether the anglers and hunters insurance is included in the rental cost; ask for clarification and be aware of other potentially unstated costs.
Check whether your insurance policy covers you to drive in Costa Rica. Some policies include Collision Damage Waivers and will cover Central America. If you are covered, bring proof (in writing) for your vehicle rental company. If not, consider whether you would be safer to pay the extra cost of this additional coverage. This part is not mandatory.
Zero liability is offered by rent-a-car companies. You may wish to consider whether you would feel more at ease knowing that you would not be liable for any costs should something occur while you are renting their vehicle. You are not obliged to buy this supplemental insurance.
Many car rental companies will charge additional fees for a child/baby seat, an additional driver, luggage racks or cooler. You can expect to pay up to 8 daily for each of these extras. Although by shopping around, you can find companies that will offer some or all for a lower price, or even free.
With Costa Rican roads being notoriously poorly signposted and the whole country operating on an address system based on landmarks rather than road names or numbers, a GPS is essential for many car renters. You will usually pay between $8 and $15 a day for this service. It is fairly common practice to allow renters to use one of their cell phones for the duration, but if you wish to use it for your own calls; you’ll obviously be charged.
Some rental car companies incorporate taxes and additional fees into their rental cost; others don’t. Make sure you know what you will be charged for on top of your rental fee. Airport fees can be charged at 13% of your rental cost which is a sizable fee to pay in addition to an agreed rental charge. You may also be charged a license plate charge, environmental fee and/or any other charge that the rental car company has to meet (or pocket).
Prices for the rental will be given in US dollars, but as the local currency is colones, you should understand that exchange rates change daily and what you are charged on your credit card on the day of payment may vary slightly from what you were quoted.