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One Way Airline Tickets to Costa Rica

December 10th, 2009

customerserviceI was preparing another of those “My Readers Write” posts that I do every so often, and this topic came up… again. Maybe it is time to give it its own space as apparently it is not clear to some people.

The question is always something like this: “I have heard I cannot fly to Costs Rica using a one-way ticket.”

My answer is, as always, “No, you can NOT unless you are a citizen of Costa Rica or have in your possession a valid and current residency ID card (cedula) proving that you live here. If you try, you will almost assuredly not be permitted to board the plane. If you do make it on board, you may well get caught at THIS end by immigration. Airlines are required to verify that any person attempting to fly and using a one way ticket is, in fact, a legal resident of Costa Rica. Most airlines (read that as all) try to follow the procedure religiously as they are faced not only with large potential fines, but also for paying for the return flight for the passenger when he is refused entry in Costa Rica.

Now please, before you start composing your comment telling me that you, your friend, your friend’s girlfriend and her auntie, etc flew here on a one-way ticket with no issue, please remember my “job” on this blog and in the RCR Web Site is to deal with facts, not luck or urban legend.

Read on if you wish!

First? What is the big deal?  Why require a round trip ticket for non residents?

Simple!  Like most countries, including the USA, (and actually many grandparents entertaining their grandkids), Costa Rica wants you to come and visit… and then go home.

In my various companies and in the various work I do, I come in constant contact with folks wanting to move here, moving here, returning here, etc. as well as numerous tourists.  I see this refusal thing at least once per month!  Further, I see a lot of folks refused entry who do not have at least six months remaining on their passports before it expires.

The most recent example was last week when two friends (ages 75+), flying US Air, were refused passage at the Phoenix airport. They were required to buy return tickets (at the last minute attractive price of $1,100.00) in order to continue their flight. They were told they could easily get a refund in Costa Rica losing only $50.00 cancellation fee for each ticket.  As a side, that did not go well.  US Air apparently is only open in downtown San Jose one day per week, and cancellations cannot be made at the San Jose airport.  Oh well.  They actually knew this, but forgot in the rush of moving and packing and all the last minute crappola involved in relocating to Costa Rica.

Anyway, while you might get lucky and NOT get stopped, the inconvenience, possibility of missing your flight/connections, maybe not having big $$$ for that last minute return flight, not to mention trying to get your money back… well it is just not worth the risk.

Before you fly here:

1. Make SURE you have a least six months remaining before your passport expires. they may let it pass with only ninety days, but I do not recommend taking the chance.


2. If trying to use a one way ticket, remember that you must prove that you are a legal resident or citizen of Costa Rica. That does NOT mean that you have applied for or are in process of obtaining residency.  It means you have that ID card in your grubby little hand!

OK~ Now you have been warned.  Any questions?

28 Responses to “One Way Airline Tickets to Costa Rica”

  1. Brandon Pearce on December 11, 2009 12:15 pm

    What about buddy passes? My step-mom works for Jet Blue so I can fly free on stand-by. We can also get buddy passes for my wife and kids at $50/one-way. But since we’re on stand-by, we don’t really have “tickets”, but we list for a flight, and if there are empty seats at boarding time, they let us on. We’ve flown around the US like this, but not yet to Costa Rica. But this is how we plan to get there this January. As long as we show that we have some extra buddy passes for a return trip when we’re ready, will that be good enough to appease the officials? I suppose we could list for a return flight as well, and then just change the dates later. What do you think?

  2. Andreu on December 13, 2009 2:44 pm

    JetBlue does not check and does not care. We have flown one way many times and we do not yet have our residencia yet.

  3. Carol on December 14, 2009 6:08 pm

    Can this only be done with a round-trip airline ticket, or with any ticket out of the country? That is, can I buy a ticket from CR to… Panama… ahead of time, and then book a one-way flight from the US to CR, bus ticket in hand?

  4. Costaricafinca on December 28, 2009 9:15 am

    The author of this article is right! And we are some of the folks who have had to purchase return tickets.
    Brandon, you stand the chance of having to purchase return tickets for your whole family which could result in a whole pile of cash.

  5. Bruce on January 7, 2010 6:15 pm

    The Airlines will accept a bus ticket out of Costa Rica leaving within 90 days (for U.S.Citizens)

    I have never in about 100 flights into Costa Rica been ask by Costa Rican Immigration for a proof of a return ticket.

    The Airlines do take the return ticket seriously

  6. Tips Costa Rica on January 16, 2010 6:42 pm

    Great blog, this is very true. I know people who live here without residency and they complain about having to get a return ticket. I always get one. If you take the bus into the country from Panama or Nicaragua you don’t have to have a return though.

  7. Jason on January 17, 2010 8:07 pm

    Hi Tim,
    After having to buy a return airline ticket one time we discovered that a open ended bus ticket (our was to Managua) was perfect. We got it through TicaBus and was enough to satisfy the airlines that we had the means to get out of the country. No where is it a requirement to fly out and this cheap bus ticket allowed us to travel back to Costa Rica many times without a residency card.

    Not all airlines are stringent with this rule, so you may get through without it, but for about $10 bucks it was our own ‘travel insurance’.

  8. marille on January 21, 2010 3:51 pm

    I’ve been coming back and forth for 3 years. While I always buy a round trip ticket, the fact that I work in Costa Rica means i buy it SJO – USA USA – SJO meaning I arrive hear without a ticket showing that I will be leaving again. I admit I get nervous at the immigration line, but I have only been asked once in Costa Rica to provide a return ticket, and once by Us Airlines in Charlotte to show them the return ticket before leaving. I usually doctor an old flight receipt to make myself feel better, but would avoid showing it unless desperate. I dont recommend my method and agree with the author, but i’m not organized enough to prepare my flights 6 months in advance, so alas, im in the process of applying for residency!

  9. Amy on January 29, 2010 10:46 am

    I’m concerned about the 6 months left on a passport. 2 of my 3 kids will not quite have 6 months left. I would hate to pay for a new passport, because who knows when their next international trip will be. As it is, their last one was almost 5 years ago.

    I don’t really understand why it won’t work with 4 months left on it. What’s the point of an expiration date if it doesn’t mean anything?

  10. Tim on February 5, 2010 7:53 am

    This is your call, but for me, I would not take the chance. I know it is expensive, but the alternative is a LOT more.

  11. Marisa on February 9, 2010 8:59 am

    I am so glad I stumbled upon this information. My husband and I were about to purchase a 1 way ticket to San Jose since we were not sure where we wanted to go after our time in Costa Rica. Now we will make sure to purchase a return ticket.

  12. Sheryl Axelrod on February 17, 2010 8:52 am

    My husband and I plan on coming CR next year but are not sure when we want to return to the US. We have a vacation home here, owned in the name of a corporation. Any suggestions? Can you just purchase an open-ended ticket?

  13. Tim on February 23, 2010 11:02 am

    Probably not… and as far as I know, airlines don’t even sell them any more, though I could be wrong.

    Costa Rica does not want you here more than 90 days unless you are a legal resident.

  14. Stephen on March 21, 2010 12:17 am

    Hi. What if I were to fly to C.R by Delta Airlines on a one way ticket, but also buy a fully refundable return ticket by Continental? Would that be enough to be granted entry? I have used Continentals refundable tickets with no problems before, but I’m not sure if flying with a different airline will cause problems.

  15. Diane Farquhar on March 25, 2010 9:44 am

    You can imagine my surprise,shock AND relief when I read yur blog about one-way tickets to Costa Rica; my husband, daughter and I arrived December 2 2009 via a 1 way ticket on TACA from LAX, as we were moving here permanently, having visited here many times over the past 3 years; never once were we questioned–nor did I even know-about our tickets; the only question we got was at SJO Immigration, were the man asked what date we were returning to US; I showed him our residency application paperwork from Embassey in L.A. and he waved us on; with all the other hassles we experiened, moving 34 years of married life plus 2 pets, finding out at the airport about the 1 way ticket rule, that would have done me in! amd funny, all the research I did about relocating to Costa Rica, NEVER did I see anything re the 1 way ticket rule..not till I read your blog, a week after we arrived! all I can say is “whew”–we lucked out!!!!

  16. Stephen on March 27, 2010 11:03 pm

    I’ve travelled through the SJO airport 8 times. I was once asked to provide proof of a return ticket at Gatwick Airport, 2005, United Airlines. Of course I didn’t have one and I was forced to buy a refundable ticket ($1500!!!). I had to sleep a night at the airport. I got a mouth full from the cabin crew and the Costa Rican Embassy… (that woman is crazy!!!) I got the money back 3 months later after phoning United about 15 times! the other 7 times I haven’t had any problems. I’ve decided that the best thing is to but a refundable ticket from Continetal. I got the money back in 3 days and actually earned 10000 colones due to a flux in the FOREX!

  17. laura on April 20, 2010 9:46 pm

    I’m looking for a bus from quepos to panama–does it exist? Please say yes!

  18. beth hope on April 22, 2010 2:47 pm

    So I have traveled to CR two times not, first via Frontier who made me buy a return ticket before I even left LAX the other carrier was Copa Air, I called ahead and they told me that I could purchase a one way as long as I showed proof that I was exiting CR (be it via bus air or …) I bought Tica Bus tickets before leaving CR and upon returning was never pressed to show proof of departure!

    In my case it was dependent on the Airline I flew, and it also really depends on the time of day and mood of Immigration officer at the airport.

  19. Alexandra on May 7, 2010 12:41 pm

    It’s a gamble: every and each time. You might get the nice young lad or the stupid old lady and either way it goes.

    I did the in and out for 7 years and while it worked plenty of times I also had to buy tickets at the airport: once from Iberia from Miami, once at the Spirit counter (my name might have been flagged by then and the “doctored” e-ticket was no good), once off a Spirit flight in SJO (that time THEY WOULD NOT accept my open end bus tickets to Managua)from Taca.

    Yes, they were all refundable, but you have to have enough money on the debit/credit card for this – note it doesn’t have to be a return flight to the US, it could as well be the cheapest flight out to wherever , but each time it is added stress. Plus there are transactional fees so it still cost something.
    If you can avoid it, do so.

  20. Joe on May 12, 2010 2:53 pm

    Does this apply to people who are married as well? And to get legal residency, don’t you have to be IN the country at least 6 months? My fiance and I are not married yet. We are in the process of building the house and by next March we will be leaving to CR. I am a US Citizen, he is a CR citizen, we have 1 daughter US citizen and another on the way. Please let me know!

  21. Ingmar Zahorsky on August 15, 2010 5:47 pm

    Last week I flew from San Francisco to San Jose Via Charlotte on a USA Airways one way flight. I wasn’t asked at check in nor at the transfer in Charlotte about my return flight. The immigration officer in San Jose didn’t ask me anything and just stamped my passport. I had prepared myself a fake Taca E-ticket in case US airways would check me. I think that will work anytime because the airline nor the immigration officer have access to ticket reservations from other airlines.

  22. John on August 20, 2010 9:27 am

    To enter Costa Rica a tourist needs proof of a return or onward/outbound ticket dated within 90 days after entering the country. That is the law, and airlines are enforcing it.
    I speak from experience; I was detained in May by US Air because they found that I was traveling to Costa Rica on a one way ticket. It was in their system.
    Knowing the law I had purchased a bus ticket to Nicaragua before I left and showed them a copy. They not only looked at it but entered the ticket and reservation number into their computer and after a few minutes of checking they let me board.
    My suggestion is this; if you are in Costa Rica and plan on retuning to the country on a one way ticket, purchase a bus ticket out of the country before you leave. If you are coming to Costa Rica without a return have a friend purchase you a ticket and send it to you or buy one online. Don’t try to fake it. If you get caught it can be a very costly and uncomfortable experience.

  23. Anna on August 27, 2010 1:15 pm

    I am flying into Costa Rica next week, I have a one way ticket in, and then on the same ticket a flight from Chile to Australia but 120 days later, so not within the 90 day limit. Does anyone have any advice firstly on whether my ticket will do, despite the 120 days? Alternately does anyone know the best way to purchase a bus ticket to Panama online?

  24. Dave on April 19, 2011 7:12 am

    My wife is a Tica but I am not and my two kids are not technically either. However, she has both a US passport and a Costa Rican passport. We want her to go to Costa Rica with the two kids on a one way ticket for 4 months while I attend some military training. What are the issues?

  25. Daniel Loeber on April 27, 2015 8:32 am

    You are gonna scare a LOT of people into buying a round trip airline ticket when all that is required is an onward ticket, This can be a bus ticket to Nicaragua or Panama . I have used this bus ticket many times over the last 5 yrs and have NEVER been asked about it. Those traveling on a one-way ticket need proof of an outbound flight or onward bus ticket in order to board their flight and enter the country.

    Maybe you can do a follow up story about how you have to exit CR for at least 72 hrs to renew your visa. I have stayed as little as 2 hrs and never was even asked to stay out anything more than 4 hours by Nicaraguan Migracion

  26. Tim on May 6, 2015 9:28 am

    You have a good point… the problem with blogs is they do get out of date and that post is from 2009. I will edit it as soon as I get a minute.

    Also, you may NOT renew a VISA by leaving CR for 72 hours. An urban legend and not supported by law. I know you will tell me you have done it, but every day people get refused re-entry, are given 15 days on their visa, required to show airline tickets, etc. CR is cracking down on perpetual tourism, so do it at your own risk. I advise against it.

  27. Pat on October 23, 2018 7:16 am

    I will be flying standby to Costa Rica. I will therefore not have a return ticket as I will be flying back to the USA on a standby basis also. What kinds of problem might I encounter?

  28. Tim on October 24, 2018 8:22 am

    You may not be permitted to enter the country. You won’t know until you get here.