A frequently posted question in the Expatriates in Costa Rica Facebook Group is, can I travel one way to Costa Rica from the United States? The official answer is no, and this rule also applies to return, round-trip tickets that are booked from Costa Rica. In the later case, there is generally no problem for a U.S. Citizen when they travel to the U.S. on the outward portion of that itinerary. However, expect to be stopped and asked questions at the check-in counter in the United States when you attempt to return to Costa Rica.
In the past, the airlines often overlooked this rule. For example, I used to book interlocking round trip tickets on separate airlines, when I was traveling between the United States and Costa Rica. This was in 2004, and the tactic helped me to get cheaper airfare on what were actually two round trips from the United States. However, I should have been flagged on the third leg of my interlocking itinerary because I was returning to Costa Rica with no onward flight. Also most airline frequent flier programs sanction passengers who travel on outward portions of separate round trip tickets at the same time, even if they are on different airlines.
Recently, I traveled from the United States to Costa Rica with a one-way ticket. United would not allow me to check in for the flight online and alarms went off when I attempted to use the electronic check in machine at the airport. An agent approached me and asked for the date of my return ticket.
She was a bit confused when I explained that I had no immediate plans to return from Costa Rica, and might remain there for the rest of my life.
The first agent had problems grasping the entire dual citizenship thing, so I had to talk to the lead agent. She was very helpful in manually checking me in for the flight, after I presented proof of Costa Rican citizenship.
The next question is why one way tickets? The answer is that I fly with miles on the popular lifemiles.com frequent flier program. It’s actually the program for the Colombian-based Avianca airlines. This is the same airline that merged with the former Central American conglomerate, Taca Airlines. Twice a year they offer program members the opportunity to buy miles at half price.
So, with lifemiles.com I paid $225 + $90 in taxes for each one way flight from the United States. I also had the flexibility of booking with no fixed return dates. Last year my flights between Costa Rica and Medellin, Colombia cost me $150 each way plus some taxes. Again, since I am a Costa Rican citizen I was allowed to go one way to Costa Rica. No one asked in Colombia, but I already had the return booked, just in case.
I did, however get stopped in Colombia for the Yellow Fever vaccine. Costa Rica requires foreigners traveling from Colombia to have one before they can board the flight to Costa Rica. The rule on this one is pretty strict, and I know other expats who have been sent from the airport to the doctor’s office. However, again there is an exception to this rule for Costa Rican citizens. So, after presenting proof of Costa Rican citizenship I was allowed to board the flight and will never have to get a yellow fever vaccine in order to return to my adopted country.
As a general rule only legal residents and citizens can travel with one way tickets to Costa Rica. Even those with residency in process may have a problem. Ultimately, the decision is up to the gate agent in the United States. Be sure to carry your cedula along with your passport on the date of the flight.