9 things to remember when you rent a car in Costa Rica

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I’ve rented many cars in my life, but I’ve only rented within the US. I’ve never had to worry about insurance since my car insurance and/or my credit cards would cover those issues if ever there was a need to file a claim. Out of the many times I’ve rented, I’ve been in one car accident, no other vehicles were involved. It happened in Waikiki inside a parking structure. I backed in to the parking space. I ended up hitting something that shattered our rear glass window. Long story short, the car was covered not by my primary insurance, but it was covered by the credit card that we used to book the rental at the time, an American Express credit card.

1. Anxiety with booking a car rental in Costa Rica

Now fast forward to Costa Rica. If there was something that was giving me lots of anxiety, it was renting a vehicle in Costa Rica. I heard and read horrible stories about the up charges, the amount of deposit required, and issues during the return of the vehicles. People reported shocking numbers, or coverage they didn’t know about.

For this trip, I reserved quite a few rentals (without giving any credit card information). I had reservations with Solid, Adobe, Fox, Budget, and I’m sure a few others. It was really like playing wheel of fortune. I heard good things about Vamos, and Budget. So how did I decide which ones to go with? I just went with my gut and decided upon arrival at SJO airport to go with Solid Car Rental.

Solid Car Rental – San Jose Costa Rica

I’ve heard of people who, upon arrival, would go from one car rental company to the next (they basically shopped around upon arrival). But I didn’t want to spend so much time doing that. I’ve read enough good things about Solid Car Rental. We worked with the Solid desk just past baggage claim and was advised to wait for the shuttle to take us to their office. The shuttle arrived within 5 minutes. The drive to their office was also brief, just another 5 minutes.

The Solid Car Rental offer

Hector helped us at Solid. He gave us our options. If we went with an SUV for 9 days with full coverage, $0 deductible, and allow for two drivers, we’d pay $727 for 9 days, and Solid would take a $600 deposit from us.

2. Insurance things to consider

There were mandatory insurance coverages that we had to make sure we get (Liability), and there was a charge for Collision Damage (covered by my credit card).  I brought a letter from Chase that covered Collision Damage Waiver. That was the coverage that I could decline.

This was the Collision Damage Waiver with offered by Chase.

Collsion Damage Waiver

If we declined Full Coverage:

  • We’d be required to give a $3,000 deposit to Solid Car Rental.
    • It was not an issue since we planned on using our credit card.
  • We will also be responsible for a deductible should we end up with having issues or damage with the vehicle.

But, if we accepted the Full Coverage:

  • our deposit requirement was down to $600,
  • we’d be fully covered with $0 deductible
  • two drivers were allowed,
  • this was also including roadside assistance.

Honestly, this was my first time driving outside the US, and with the very little research that I’ve done, I was willing to pay the higher rate. Why? My rationale was not have any other worries. it was all the peace of mind that I needed.  I’m sure others will have lesser amount of charges. Going with the full coverage was something my wife and I were comfortable with and we went for it. Should anything happen to our rental, we’d have nothing to worry about since we were fully covered.

3. Remember to do visual inspections

After working with Hector, Nancy went outside to do a visual inspection of the SUV. She marked the areas with scratches, and dents, and took pictures of them for our records. Overall, the car looked to be in tip top shape with a few blemishes here and there. The tread on the tires were all good, and we signed off. It was a mini-SUV, not a 4×4. After visiting all the places we visited in Costa Rica (from San Jose to La Fortuna to Papagayo to Jaco to Manuel Antonio), we didn’t feel the need to have a 4×4.


4. Peace of mind

Ironically, just two days before our last day, I noticed this dent and scratch on the front right side near the headlights. I showed it to Nancy, and she didn’t remember if that was there during the time we picked up the rental. At that point, all we could think of was the fact that we had full coverage with $0 deductible, and if ever that dent would come back to haunt us, Solid’s full coverage should take care of that issue.

5. Why you should take pictures of the vehicle before leaving the car rental lot

Nancy remembered she took pictures of the vehicle on the day we picked up the rental. Voila, it was there prior to us renting the vehicle. So yes, it was not our fault. We thought someone did this to us in one of the parking lots. We knew it didn’t happen to us when one of us drove the car. Thank goodness she took pictures.

6. Know the exact address of the rental lot

Ok this really is a no-brainer, but here’s what happened. We tried to search for the rental address for Solid Car Rental, and our phone’s GPS gave us the run around. It wasn’t on-site at the airport, it was a few minutes away. I couldn’t remember any landmarks of anything.  So make sure you know the address for the car lot so you could plug it in your GPS or phone’s navigation system.

7. No issues with the return

We returned the car on our 9th day. Edgardo from Solid in Alajuela office assisted us. After his visual inspection, we were cleared. He printed the charges for the rental. We were in and out of there within 15 minutes. No issues.

8. Check all paperwork and registration title

I’m a part of a travel group for Costa Rica, and one of the members posted this horrific experience. When they returned their rental, they were asked for the TITLE. Here’s what she wrote:

Rental Car Issue:
Just wanted to give a head’s up to others. We rented a car, as we love to drive around, be on our own schedule, etc. My husband, two teens and I made the trip in November ’20.
We rented from National, as my husband is in their rewards program. Pick up in SJO was no problem at all. We drove to La Fortuna, then on to Guanacaste and returned home from Liberia. When we returned then car to National at the Liberia airport, we had an issue. They asked to see the Title. We were like? What? I don’t know where the title is? What are you talking about? It was supposed to be in the glove compartment. It was not. We had not seen it, never touched it. He said we have been driving around illegally. He asked, “Did they not show you the title in SJO?” We said “No”. This went back and forth and finally they told my husband that we were going to have to pay to replace the title, all paperwork fees AND for the rental fees they would not be able to collect as the car can not be rented out to another customer due to their being no title.
We were running late at this point, I whisked my kids away, as I knew my husband was going to blow a gasket. He has been with National for 25+ years, we have rented all over America, the Caribbean and in Europe from them. We have NEVER been given the title, shown the title, handed the title. He was furious. He told them whatever they charge him, he will be on the phone with his credit card company before we arrive at the airport (across the street) and he will dispute it. He has been fighting it since we got home. They want to charge us more than we paid for the week’s rental for the paper work, title and loss of revenue.
SO, buyer beware! Ask to see the car’s title! If this is even a thing. My husband will fight this til his dying day, seriously. Just a head’s up. We loved renting a car, having the freedom to drive around and would definitely rent again (might upgrade to a car with better suspension, but that is it! Just a head’s up.

9. If you lose your car keys, this could be costly

Another traveler to Costa Rica shared this experience:

Don’t be like us and lose the electronic key to your rental car… at a grocery store… in the middle of a somewhat sketchy part of Costa Rica… with the windows still down.. at 9pm 🤔😬😔  Ask for an extra key when you get your rental car. Called Vamos (the car rental agency), and they are sending replacement keys today but the concern last night was the car. Windows down in sketchy neighborhood.

THANKFULLY we are staying at a place with a GREAT owner and he found someone to watch our car ALL NIGHT. Woke up today and the car is safe. The cost for this key replacement? $670.00
Of all my years of driving and renting a vehicle, I don’t think it’s crossed my mind to ask for spare key from the rental agency. I’m not so sure it’s an option. But based on the experience above, might be worth asking the “what ifs”
  • What if we lose our keys? What’s the replacement cost?
  • Is this replacement covered by the insurance?

These are the things I normally do not ask at the rental counter, but I can only imagine that this situation could very well happen to anyone of us renting anywhere in the world, not just in Costa Rica.

Final Takeaway

Was there anything I would’ve done differently, other than booking early? Looking back, I believe we went with our gut feeling, and were comfortable with our decision. One could easily argue that we paid more, or that we could’ve just used the credit card’s collision damage waiver, but we had many things going on in our minds and we wanted it to be worry-free. That, to me, is what matters most. Having that peace of mind, knowing that we didn’t have to worry about the insurance were both paramount in enjoying our driving experience while in Costa Rica.


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