Safety in Costa Rica

You are probably safer anywhere in Costa Rica than in a similar-sized place in the United States, but you still need to be cautious. The U.S. State Department says that crime here is increasing, and tourists are frequent victims. It advises ?the same level of caution that one would exercise in major cities or tourist areas throughout the world.? The police have limited capabilities and are not up to U.S. standards, especially outside of San Jose. Some city blocks hire a security guard, who sits in a little booth and occasionally patrols the street. Gated communities are very popular in part because they offer better security.

Once you get a feel for the country and its people, you will be able to recognize potentially dangerous situations and ease out of them gracefully. Until then, be wary. Petty theft is on the rise, especially in San Jose. Keep your bags close at all times, and don?t be flashy with money, jewelry or cameras. Make photocopies of important documents (passports, visas, and plane tickets) and keep the originals at home or in a hotel safe.

Burglary is also common; that?s why you will see bars on so many windows and what appears to be ferocious dogs in people?s yards. Cars are broken into on a regular basis (don?t leave anything of value in your car, including your radio if it is removable) and if possible, park your car in a garage or a guarded lot.

There are and have been many scams run in Costa Rica. The saying ?if it sounds to good to be true it probably is? needs to be remembered here. Scams range from simple pickpockets to more sophisticated schemes that ask for investments of tens of thousands of dollars.

One example would be the Villabos Brothers. In late 2002 hundreds of expats and Ticos lost an estimated US $200 million when the brothers (Ofinter S.A.) closed up their offices overnight and fled the country, taking investors? money with them. Clients had been lured by promises of 3.5 to 4 percent interest a month (that is, 42 to 48 percent a year), and the Brothers had delivered on those promises for years, supporting many expats in high style. But when they left, investors were left in a terrible mess many loosing thousands upon thousands of dollars.

There have been other such schemes and some are still in operation, again beware of investments that seem too good to be true. The maxim ?If you wouldn?t do it at home, don?t do it here,? isn?t nearly strong enough, since there is less effective government oversight of financial dealings here than there is in North America or Europe.

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