How to Travel With a Dog to Costa Rica

Alex Mercx
Apr 30 · 12 min read

Costa Rica is a beautiful, exciting destination. Whether you’re planning a short visit, a long trip or even a potential move, there are plenty of things to consider as you organize your trip. If you have a dog, you may want to bring them along for the trip. While that is certainly possible, it is important to know how to travel with a dog to Costa Rica. This guide can prepare you for your journey and ensure that you and your dog are safe, happy and comfortable the entire trip.

Costa Rica’s Pet Entry Requirements

Before you start planning your trip to Costa Rica, it is important that you learn as much as possible about the entry requirements for your pet. Not all of this can be done at the last minute, so the further in advance you can prepare, the better. A great way to start is by having your pet microchipped. This is not required by Costa Rican law, but it is recommended so that you reduce the risk of losing your dog during your trip. You can have your dog microchipped at your local vet in advance of your trip.

In some countries, there is a list of restrictions when it comes to certain types of dog breeds of even the ages of dogs. In Costa Rica, there are no such limitations. All dog breeds are welcomed, and no breeds are banned. Even puppies under three months of age are allowed into the country.

Before your dog can enter the country of Costa Rica, they will need to have a full health certificate filled out by a veterinarian. This health certificate is specific, and it is titled the Veterinary Certificate For Costa Rica. This is widely available to print or download online, although your vet may also have a copy ready to fill out in their office. While it is always good to prepare in advance for an international trip with your pet, this health certificate needs to be filled in within 14 days of the trip. A good rule of thumb is to book your vet appointment 7–9 days prior to departure to allow for any missed appointments or delays that can occur.

When you get to the veterinarian’s office, your dog will go through a basic pet physical while the vet fills out the health certificate. If you’re traveling from the United States to Costa Rica, you’ll also need to fill out a USDA Health Certificate at the same time. Most of the information between the two papers will overlap, but having both versions is still critical.

Part of the health certificate will involve vaccinations. While you’re at the vet with your dog, you can have any last-minute vaccinations that might be necessary. However, it is better to plan an earlier appointment to ensure that your dog is vaccinated against hepatitis, leptospirosis, distemper and parvovirus. At the same time, your dog must be recently vaccinated against rabies. When you enter Costa Rica, you will need to have proof of your pet’s rabies vaccinations from more than 30 days prior.

Finally, all pets will need to be treated against parasites before they can enter Costa Rica. Your vet can administer tick and tapeworm treatment at that final appointment because your paperwork needs to show treatment has happened within 15 days of entering Costa Rica. Treating your dog a month in advance might seem helpful, but you’ll still have to do one final tick and tapeworm treatment within two weeks of your arrival.

Most visitors traveling with their dog to Costa Rica will bring their dog right into the plane, but it is also possible to place your dog in cargo. If your dog enters the country through air cargo, you will need an additional health import permit. Fortunately, most airlines can provide you with information about how best to organize this. If you’re looking for the easiest and most straightforward approach, however, it will be better to bring your dog onto the plane with you instead.

Planning a Trip With Your Dog to Costa Rica

Once the paperwork and medical documents are taken care of, you can turn your attention back to your dog and start planning the trip. It is critical that your dog is both safe and comfortable on the journey to Costa Rica. That journey doesn’t just include a plane ride: It also includes transport from your home to the airport and from the airport to your final destination.

One of the big questions travelers have is whether it is safe or smart to sedate your dog when traveling to Costa Rica. Although sedation might seem like an easy option, it is not recommended. The American Veterinary Medical Association says that sedating dogs increases their risk of developing medical problems. These are never a good thing, but they can be an even bigger problem if they develop while you’re traveling in a foreign country. To be safe, avoid sedating your dog in transit and explore alternative methods of keeping them calm.

Whether your dog is flying in a carrier under the seat or as checked baggage in cargo, make sure they have a carrier that is the right size for their body. That doesn’t necessarily mean one that is too large, because that can also cause problems. Include something soft inside the carrier as well as something that smells like you. An old T-shirt or a throw blanket are great options, and the familiar scent will help keep dogs calm while traveling. If possible, leave the pet carrier out in the home the days prior to your trip. This ensures that your dog is comfortable with the carrier and will be less scared during the trip.

Although you might worry about your dog getting hungry in transit, don’t offer the dog any food unless you’re with them in the passenger cabin. Even then, stick to tiny morsels at a time to ensure that the dog won’t need to use the bathroom more than absolutely necessary.

Give some thought to how you will get to and from the airport during your trip. If you normally take a taxi or public transport, for example, factor in how well your dog will make that journey. Then, plan for transport upon arrival in Costa Rica. If you’re going to be waiting for a hotel shuttle, for example, contact them in advance to confirm that your dog will be welcome for the ride. You may also want to find out whether your arrival airport or any layover airports offer pet areas where your dog can use the bathroom and move around between flights.

Don’t forget to consider what items you’ll need to bring with you for your dog once you arrive in Costa Rica. Whether you’re staying in a hotel, a vacation rental or any other type of accommodation, be sure to ask in advance about what kinds of supplies they might offer to pet owners. You’ll almost certainly need to bring along key items like a leash and collar, a pet bed and some waste bags. Beyond that, you might need to bring along dog food or at least source some before you arrive. You may also need to bring along pet bowls, harnesses or bedding depending on your dog and the environment where you’ll be staying.

Your dog probably already wears a collar and a tag with information about how to reach you if the dog is lost. While that’s great, it may not be helpful when you’re in Costa Rica. After all, the phone number might not work when you’re in Costa Rica, and the address certainly won’t be applicable. If you’ll be in Costa Rica for more than a few days, consider having replacement tags made with local information. It could contain your international phone number and the address of your hotel, for example. At the same time, note down some local veterinary hospitals close to where you’ll be staying. In major cities like San Jose, you’ll have lots of options. If a cursory internet search doesn’t help, ask when you arrive at your hotel. Staff should be able to give you a recommendation and a phone number so that you have something on hand in case of an emergency.

Pet-Friendly Destinations in Costa Rica

First, the good news: Most of Costa Rica is dog-friendly! Whether you’re hoping to hit the beach, explore the mountains or tour cities, your dog is welcome to come along for the trip. In some global hotspots, dogs aren’t welcome at the most attractive and popular beaches. That’s not the case in Costa Rica! If you’re planning on lots of beach days, your dog can join you.

As far as beach destinations are concerned, there are plenty of amazing options to choose from in Costa Rica. Manuel Antonio is a smaller town, but it is bursting with opportunities for outdoor recreation as well as remarkable beaches like Biesanz Beach and Playitas Beach. This is also a more laid-back destination where pets are not out of the ordinary.

The port city of Puntarenas is another popular destination where dogs are welcome. Puntarenas is a gateway to popular holiday spots, but it is also a great spot for a vacation in and of itself. You can bring your dog on a walk along the South Beach, sticking close to the seawall, or head into the clear waters of the Pacific Ocean for a quick swim.

Mountain destinations are also suitable for canine visitors. Costa Rica might be known for its beaches, but its mountains are just as spectacular. In Monte Verde, for example, you can hike through the lush green rainforest and actually visit cloud forests, experiencing a surreal side of Costa Rica. Best of all, you can do so with your leashed dog by your side. If you’re planning a tour in Monteverde or in any other mountain destination, it is always smart to inform your tour guide ahead of time. If necessary, your dog can wait briefly in a vehicle at certain stops or while you’re getting active on a zip line or a rope bridge. Many of the hikes and walking paths are suitable for leashed dogs.

One of the concerns that travelers have is whether dogs will be welcome in city environments. After all, cities like Cartago and San Jose are vibrant, exciting destinations, and it would be a shame to skip over them on your vacation. Fortunately, cities in Costa Rica typically welcome dogs as long as they are leashed. They are welcome at cafes, outdoor bars and even in some shops. They are typically not welcome in museums or high-end stores, so bear that in mind as you’re putting together your itinerary.

Believe it or not, it is in more remote, rural areas where you might have the hardest time with dogs. Not because your dog is unwelcome, but because there are some free-range dogs in these areas. You might have a harder time controlling your pet if there are a lot of other unleashed animals around. Fortunately, these types of areas are the least popular with tourists, so it is unlikely you’ll encounter these situations for yourself.

Dog-Friendly Accommodation in Costa Rica

Even if you’re an active traveler, you’re going to spend more time in your accommodation than anywhere else in Costa Rica. Therefore, it is important that you take the time to confirm that your hotel, room or vacation rental is also a dog-friendly destination. At the same time, learn about the differences between “dog-friendly” and “dog-tolerant”.

For the most part, international hotels are going to be the ideal place to start your search when you’re looking for dog-friendly accommodation in Costa Rica. That’s because you won’t be the first traveler to arrive with a pet, and there will probably already be an established pet policy in place at the hotel or resort. This is key, because you don’t want to arrive and be met by surprised staff who aren’t sure how to handle your dog.

Then, find out about any pet policies that are in place at your choice of hotel or resort. Often, there is a limit of one or two dogs per booking. Or, there may be a weight limit in place for your dog. It is not unusual for hotels to only allow dogs under 30 or 40 pounds or to have a disclaimer about only allowing smaller dogs. Pay attention to the fine print in order to avoid a disappointment.

Then, get any pet fees in writing with your booking. If a hotel says that they charge a $30 dog fee, what does that mean exactly? Find out if there is a single fee for your entire stay or a nightly fee per pet, because the difference can add up quickly.

Vacation rentals are a popular accommodation choice in Costa Rica, and they can also give you and your pets a little more freedom and space to roam. In these cases, always use a search tool that allows you to filter out rentals that don’t accept pets. Whether you’re searching on Airbnb or a similar site, it is easy to hone in specifically on vacation rentals in Costa Rica that accept pets. Once again, there may be limitations or fees, so find out what those are ahead of time.

Finally, there are lots of search engines specifically devoted to finding dog-friendly accommodation around the world. Some options you may want to explore include BringFido.com and OfficialPetHotels.com.

The Pros and Cons of Traveling to Costa Rica With Your Dog

When your dog is part of your family, it makes perfect sense to bring them along on your trip to Costa Rica. However, any time that you travel overseas with your dog, there are both pros and cons to consider. Knowing what to expect can set you up for success rather than disappointment when you’re enjoying all that Costa Rica has to offer.

Knowing how to travel with a dog to Costa Rica can set you up for all the joys it can bring. To start, you’ll get to make memories with your four-legged best friend. There’s nothing better than splashing in the refreshing waves of the ocean with your dog who is having just as much fun as you are. Traveling with a dog can also encourage you to stay active while you’re on vacation since your pet will need the same walks in Costa Rica as they do back home. Heading out for a morning walk with your dog can even be a great way to make friends and meet locals and travelers alike who are enjoying the same daily routine. Plus, you don’t have to worry about how your dog is faring back home when they are right by your side.

Nonetheless, there are some drawbacks that you’ll have to consider when traveling to Costa Rica with your dog. Of course, there is the potential stress of travel, especially if you’ll need connecting flights to get to your destination in Costa Rica. Then, there is the fact that some activities simply won’t allow for dogs. In all of the National Parks in Costa Rica, for example, wild animals are protected. As a result, domestic pets like dogs just aren’t allowed. This might limit your travel plans, so it is important to keep in mind.

In addition, traveling with a dog all the way to Costa Rica will undoubtedly increase the costs of your trip. You’ll pay more to travel on a plane with your dog and you’ll probably also have to pay for pet fees in taxis or in hotels. If you want to head out for a day trip without your dog, you may also have to pay for a doggy sitter. Fortunately, pet-sitting services are available in Costa Rica, but they can be expensive depending on your needs and your budget.

Making the Most of Your Trip to Costa Rica

To round out your trip planning, start thinking about a few specific things you can do in Costa Rica with your dog. While the logistics might be your primary focus, don’t forget about all the fun that awaits you and your pet in Costa Rica!

At Parque La Fortuna, you can admire stunning views at the base of Arenal Volcano. The park was previously a soccer field, but now it is a beautiful, lush green space where dogs are welcomed. Play catch, make a few new four-legged friends and enjoy the natural beauty of Costa Rica at the Parque La Fortuna. A similar destination is Lankester Botanical Gardens in Cartago, where leashed dogs are welcome to tour the beautiful space with their owners.

Dogs are permitted at just about every public beach in Costa Rica with the exception of beaches within a national park. This means endless opportunities to bring your pet with you for an early-morning jog on the sand or a midday splash when the temperature rises. Dogs can hike to waterfalls by your side or swim in rivers. In fact, many dogs prefer the brackish or fresh water spots in Costa Rica over the saltwater options.

A lot of travelers are surprised to learn that dogs are also welcome in a lot of restaurants. While upscale restaurants are definitely the exception, casual local cafes, especially open-air eateries, are usually happy to have customers of all types — even dogs! You can bring your dog to a branch of the popular EPA hardware store, to pubs and even to many of the nicest resorts in Costa Rica.

If you’re willing to put in the effort, you can absolutely travel with a dog to Costa Rica. Unlike some destinations, Costa Rica is a welcoming country where pets and human visitors alike are treated well. To prepare for your trip, simply make the necessary vet appointments and organize transit and accommodation in advance. Then, you can focus on all the fun of having your four-legged best friend with you as you explore the mountains, beaches and culture of Costa Rica.