We love Costa Rica and so will you, but… there are a few petty annoyances that DIY and FIT travelers need to know to save serious money. You’ve landed here because you want to know.
Generally, the rental cars are great and service is usually top notch. Its those pesky, common business practices regarding mandatory/optional auto insurance coverage that is cause for extra scrutiny.
THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY
GOOD: OK,The Costa Rica government requires mandatory insurance Third Party Liability (TPL) insurance on rental cars. This is provided by Instituto Nacional De Seguros (INS), national insurance company, purchased by your rental agency and resold to you (with markup of course). TPL protects “others” from your accidental damages, not you, not your rental car.
BAD: TPL costs a lot of money. Some rental agencies and Internet search engines prefer (usually, almost always) to offer less than full disclosure about what’s really included, more important, what’s not; that’s why rates look like such a deal. It’s borders on bait and switch. They generally quote the base price for the car rental itself. Period. Question them about the total, out-the-door price and conversations can go sideways very quickly. “We will discuss that when you receive your car.” It’s your job to question the agency to get full details before you arrive.
UGLY: Common practice is to spring surprises when you’re at the rental agency desk or your delivery location, maybe your hotel; exhausted and more likely to cave after a long day of travel. A common practice is to get you to buy optional coverages or uhm “mandatory packages”. The only mandatory package we are aware of is the government mandated TPL which alone will add $12-23 a day depending on car type and agency markup. If you look vulnerable, you may even be told that if you don’t buy a “package”, they can’t rent to you. Of course you wanted a car, that’s why your spouse and your anxious kids are threatening to send you home if you don’t get a car right now (FACT: car rental agents are immune to children’s noise and sobbing adults). Anything else that is implied by the rep is usually bonus pay material, made up on the spot or unlikely, a policy you should have been made aware of when making the reservation. You’re stuck, doors are locked in a few minutes! You don’t want to forfeit your deposit do you?
WE ADVOCATE FOR FULL DISCLOSURE. We never recommend that you go uninsured or under-insured. Even though your credit card may provide coverage (primary is best), it might be more trouble than it’s worth to actually use it in Costa Rica or other foreign countries; your choice. You will have to produce a document stating the extent of your coverage. This letter is provided by the credit card company and generally states coverages and exclusions. The agencies often look to see if Costa Rica is specifically included or not excluded. If they don’t see Costa Rica, they can deny you and sometimes do. You must call the credit card company. If you found full coverage cheap enough, would you buy it and forgo the hassles, YES!
One call to your credit card company and they will email you the letter, print and keep with travel documents. This tip alone is worth $25-35 per day, yes, per day!
When you use our preferred wholesale partner, Economy Car Rentals, your booking will be made with one of the major Costa Rican rental agencies: no funny business allowed at the rental desk! It’s as close to full disclosure as you can get. If, after you book, you decide you don’t like the car or plan, change it, cancel it for a full refund up to 48 hours prior to rental. You have plenty of time to review the ratings score and to call for full information on your insurance options.
Vida Travel receives a tiny small affiliate percentage when bookings are completed. However this in no way influences our experiences, opinions, and tips we provide to you in order to save money. We are after all a for-profit company. To book your car at an “agency rate” with any of the majors may net us 15-20% commission but you would be costing you close to double. Most independent and DIY travelers prefer to hunt and chase over the full rack rate.