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Welcome to Costa Rica

April 19th, 2007

Here is an sad but interesting tale. It is a story of a mother and daughter refused entry to Costa Rica.

One of the companies I own deals with tourists coming to visit Costa Rica. This often involves having one of my people meet them at the airport. This is normally no big deal. We give them detailed instructions and nearly always, we are able to hook up without issue.

So it was odd that we sent a rep to the Liberia airport to meet a woman traveling with her 14 year old daughter. Often our customers are also being met by a tour company, so in this case, our rep met them and they both waited for the arrival of our mutual clients. After waiting an hour, it was clear they were not coming, so the tour agent and our rep left the airport.

Later that day, I received a phone call from a very, very unhappy customer calling me from Houston.

It seems that when she and her daughter arrived, the immigration official did not like the condition of the photo on the mother’s passport. She then spoke to a person who she thought was a representative of Continental Airlines who gave her the bad news that she could not enter Costa Rica and must immediately re-board the Continental flight and return to the city of her departure, in this case, Houston.

She asked to contact the US Embassy, but that request was refused. She also call her Senator, but was told she could not wait in Costa Rica and must leave the country forthwith.

She detailed this adventure to me in an email that I have included for all to read. See below.

Now this really amazes me! Here is a 50 something year old woman traveling with a minor child on their first visit to Costa Rica. Why did this have to happen? More important, how? As she points out in her email, her passport was examined at least four times during her flights from Boston to Houston and from Houston to Costa Rica. Presumably, the employees of Continental Airlines not to mention the Homeland Security people have been trained to recognize potential or real passport issues and deal with them while the traveler is still in their home country. Alas, not.

They were hustled back on the Continental flight and summarily expelled from Costa Rica.

Now I fully understand that all countries have rules about passports, and Costa Rica certainly is within their rights to refuse entry to any and all at their discretion.

Saying that, Costa Rica depends on tourism and to treat this woman and her daughter in this manner, was to me at best poorly thought out and at the worst, just another case of making people feel unwelcome in this country. That is just not good business.

This story does have a somewhat happy ending though. Continental gave them two round trip tickets to Costa Rica (but did not have the common courtesy of paying for the four nights they had to stay in a hotel in Houston in order to get a new passport for the mother). This despite the fact that Continental clearly screwed up by not dealing with this while the woman was still in Boston or Houston! This occured last Friday, so the federal offices were closed over the weekend and on Monday, Washington DC was locked up with bad weather and the feds in Houston could not communicate with Washington to get this resolved.

In any case, they arrived on Tuesday and are happily enjoying their stay in Guanacaste. They were also apparently able to add the lost days back on their schedule so they will be able to enjoy their full eight days in paradise.

Here is her email to me:

My 14 year old daughter and I flew out of Boston on Friday the 13th. ( Maybe traveling on Friday the 13th was our first mistake.)

After going through at least 4 passport check points on our journey to Costa Rica, upon arrival at the Liberia airport my passport was taken from me at immigration. At that time I was not told what was wrong and told to wait 5 minutes.

A woman that appeared to work for the airline returned and told me that my daughter and I were being sent back to the states on the flight we just disembarked from.

My passport picture looked as if an area of my eye had peeled. The passport issue date was flaking. The immigration official removed it. (This is the first time I ever traveled out of the country with a copy of the front page of my passport. This shows the askew issue date.) Expiration date was perfectly clear along with the stamps from other trips. I have taken.

I asked to speak with the American consulate and was told that was 4 hours away in San Jose and I was not leaving the airport, I was returning immediately. I was not allowed to speak with the person making the decision after several requests.

I placed a call to a US Senator but, was not allowed to wait for the return phone call. The airlines representative acted as if he worked for immigration and said we were leaving the country immediatly.

Upon arrival back in the US, several customs and immigration officials expressed great surprise that my passport was denied after they looked at it.

Hope to be able to obtain a new passport tomorrow and return to Costa Rica on Monday.


11 Responses to “Welcome to Costa Rica”

  1. Terry on April 25, 2007 3:09 pm

    Thank you for acurately relating our travel story.
    I want your readers to know that a friend of a guest at the hotel we were staying in experienced a similiar immigration story. I do not understand why the Costa Rican officials could not run the passport number allowing me to stay in the country but, requiring I get it taken care of at the embassy during my stay.
    On another note, the US officials that saw my passport upon return to the US expressed surpise that it had not been accepted.

  2. Dylan on April 26, 2007 8:22 am

    Thanks soooo much for sharing my mom and my story with people who plan to travel to Costa Rica. I think it is important for people to know what can happen. I am soo happy that we were lucky enough to get a new passport and return to the wonderful country of Costa Rica. My mom and I had such a good time once we got back. Thanks soooo much for all of your help.


  3. Bill on May 17, 2007 7:44 am


    I had a near story to tell to like this, in Houston the agent at Continental told me I was unable to board the flight out of Hoiuston. Because my passport has been in the ocean and washed a few times. The plastic laminate that holds the picture in was seperating and you could touch the picture. I said, I have to leave my hotel is in C.R. When arriving in C.R. no problems at all. I have since gone to the Embassy and obtained a new passport. Looks like i’m a new traveler now.

  4. Marianne on June 25, 2007 12:52 pm

    Help! The same thing just happened to me yesterday! 6/24/2007. I flew with American and was treated EXACTLY the same way only I was not even allowed to leave the gate area without and escort from American. (I was crying but not mean or rude or threatening in any way)I was NOT permited to even call the embassy or see my fiancee who was waiting there to pick me up. I was forced to get back on the plane and then stranded in Miami when the connecting flight had already left. American is refusing to issue me a ticket or refund! I have called and written and am in the midst of drafting a letter to anyone who will listen but how do I go about getting my ticket ? PLEASE PLEASE help by offering me advice or telling me how to go about this. By the way, my passport which was also looked at numerous times during my flights was fine. I just returned from Italy and through all customs it was fine. I also had backup documentation.

  5. Marianne on June 28, 2007 1:18 pm

    To anyone who reads this: I have just had my ticket re-issued through American Airlines. This is something they did out of the goodness of their hearts as I have learned that all procedures they followed were by the law (this according to the Department of Transportation). Aside from saying I can’t thank American enough I have to warn everyone about the immigration practices of Costa Rica. Upon my return to the States American once again said my passport was fine (they are only required to check for identification purposes only). However US customs felt my passport was fine also. I will be following my issues up with the Costa Rican govenment but, after living there for a year, know this will probably get me nowhere. I will return to see my fiancee but after this trip we will meet elsewhere and he has put in for a transfer so he can leave Costa Rica. Dealing with the government agencies in CR was always difficult, and this was the final blow for both of us. I echo the statements above that for a country that relies on tourism it’s subsequent treatment of guests is poorly thought out. I thank American Airlines for going the extra mile for me so we are not out 7oo dollars and so that my fiance and I can see each other (I am getting a new passport tomorrow even though mine doesn’t expire for over a year). Also, be forewarned everybody: I have been told by the DOT that when a traveler is neither admited into a country but on the ground in that country we are considered ‘in limbo’ ie: no rights to even call an embassy! I’m sick over that and have already contacted my Senator and Congressman to find out more about this as it’s a scary thing. I wish all fellow travelers lots of luck.

  6. Terry on June 29, 2007 6:40 pm