Correction (Nov. 8). The original post read “Costa Rica law (like most countries) does allow the turning away of its own citizens”. The corrected text: “…does NOT allow…”.
There is no risk of yellow fever in Costa Rica.
People traveling to Costa Rica from countries considered “high risk” must get the vaccine at least 10 days prior to entering Costa Rica, whether in airports, seaports or land borders.
The areas labeled as “high risk” for yellow fever are:
South America: Bolivia, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador.
The Caribbean: French Guyana.
Costa Rica residents (with residency cedula) or Citizens are not be required to have the Yellow Fever vaccine. Costa Rica law (like most countries) does NOT allow the turning away of its own citizens.
If you are coming from one of the risk countries and do not have a current Yellow Fever vaccine certificate, two things will happen:
- Bad: you will be denied boarding on flights to Costa Rica from your airport of origin
- Worse: you might make it all the way to Costa Rica and then be turned away (have to leave)
Note that the restriction applies for travel in the high risk countries for longer than 12 hours. If you do not have the Yellow Fever vaccine, you may be sent back on the same flight you just came in (thus the requirement for the exit from Costa Rica).
You may feel like you are being detained, but your are not. You are able to choose your destination out of Costa Rica (if at the airport, not so much at the land border with Nicaragua or Panama, for example).
The airline will be responsible (since they screwed up in the first place) for your time in Costa Rica while waiting to leave on the next flight. Take the opportunity to negotiate your comfort while you wait to leave the country, even the departure tax (if your wait is longer than 12 hours).
How can this happen?
Scenario one: While visiting Costa Rica you decide on a side trip to say Peru or Colombia. To return to Costa Rica you will need the Yellow Fever vaccine.
Scenario two: You decide to visit say Bolivia or Brazil first before traveling to Costa Rica, you will need the Yellow Fever vaccine.
Travel agencies: Unfortunately many travel agencies do not know or do not tell their customers the requirements until you are at the airport on your way to Costa Rica. And then it’s too late – remember the 10 days prior?
Airlines: Although airlines will spot this at the counter, it may not at the time of purchasing your ticket to Costa Rica. Sometimes, the airline staff may be too busy or too new or too lazy at the High Risk country airport to check your Yellow Fever vaccine status.
- People who have been in countries considered at risk, but who have remained at least six days in a non-risk country before entering Costa Rican territory and who haven’t developed yellow fever.
- People with contraindications for the vaccination against yellow fever who carry a valid medical opinion supported by the health authority in the country from where they are from.
- Children under 9 months old, people with severe allergy to eggs, immunosuppression and thymic disease present or in their medical history.
- There must be a medical assessment of the pros and cons of vaccination on people with the following conditions: over 60 years of age, pregnancy, lactation, family history of adverse events associated with vaccination against yellow fever, hypersensitivity to gelatin and asymptomatic HIV infection, with laboratory verification of adequate immune system function.
The Bottom Line
You are not required to have a Yellow Fever vaccine to enter Costa Rica from the United States, Canada or Europe, for example.
The government of Costa Rica requires proof of the Yellow Fever vaccination only if you are arriving from a risk country and your stay in that country was more than 12 hours.
BTW. If you are in Costa Rica and traveling to a high risk country with the intention of returning to the country, and if your travel is more than 10 days, consider getting the vaccine when you arrive at your destination. The Yellow Fever vaccine is a lot more expensive in Costa Rica, more than double the cost in Colombia for example.