In recent years, Uber has become a viable transportation option on the streets of Costa Rica. It began operating in the country in 2015 and continues to grow with locals and tourists despite ambiguous legal concerns.
The rideshare app straddles a grey area that’s become an annoyance for taxi drivers. That said, we never use taxis anyway and don’t recommend them to any traveller. Taxis in Costa Rica are notorious for trying to scam tourists.
Enter: Uber. Taking Uber is a great alternative to taxis and public transport but with some stipulations. It’s really only prevalent in cities like San Jose and isn’t super helpful in other places. Since it’s not found everywhere in the country, answering yes to “is there Uber in Costa Rica?” is loose. Let’s dive into that and more with these tips on everything you need to know about Uber in Costa Rica.
FAQs About Uber in Costa Rica
Since Uber in Costa Rica is still somewhat new and continuously evolving, there are lots to consider. First, let’s answer some key questions:
Is Uber available in Costa Rica?
Yes, you can use Uber in Costa Rica but only in select cities. It’s primarily present in the capital, San José, along with Jaco, Tamarindo, Liberia, and La Fortuna.
Is Lyft available in Costa Rica?
No, Lyft is not currently available in Costa Rica.
Is DiDi available in Costa Rica?
Yes, Chinese-based rideshare company DiDi started to operate in Costa Rica in late 2019. It’s similar to Uber in terms of availability and price but seems to be less popular.
Is Uber legal in Costa Rica?
Technically, Uber is operating illegally in Costa Rica but sits in a sort of grey area to Costa Rican lawmakers. Much like early operations in Canada, USA, or Australia, government officials turn a blind eye to the rideshare service.
Drivers assume a risk by accepting rides but there have been few cases of anyone being charged. The bigger concern is with angry taxi drivers that don’t want Uber in Costa Rica. Legal or not, Uber continues to operate and expand its coverage in Costa Rica.
Red cabs with a yellow triangle are the only legal taxis in Costa Rica (along with airport-specific orange taxis). We don’t recommend taking taxis but if you’re ever in a pinch, hop in one of these.
Why is Uber illegal in Costa Rica?
Uber is a new tech-based taxi service that has no precedents in Costa Rican law. Similar to pirate taxis, legal taxi drivers don’t want Uber drivers stepping on their toes.
Their main argument is that Ubers can undercut taxi pricing. To settle this, Costa Rica added a 13% VAT to Uber rides in October 2020. The hope was to level the playing field and allow both drivers to operate simultaneously. It also blurs the lines on its legality since paying taxes legitimizes the business.
Is Uber the best way to get around Costa Rica?
Using Uber in San Jose, Costa Rica, is a cheap and effective way to get around the city. However, outside of San Jose, Ubers are few and far between. Ubers won’t take you to national parks and even getting to the airport can be a hassle.
For that reason, we highly suggest renting a car in Costa Rica. It gives you more freedom to explore on your own schedule and can actually work out to be cheaper.
How much does Uber cost in Costa Rica?
Generally, Ubers are 10-15% cheaper than taxi fare. For example, say you’re staying at Hotel Costa Verde in Escazu and want to go for dinner. A 3.5 km (2.17 mi) ride to Mirador Tiquicia would cost CRC 1,750, which is about USD $3. The same ride in a taxi would be CRC 4,579 or USD $7.15.
Keep in mind that you’ll need to expect surge pricing, especially at rush hour. Prices are determined by the number of Uber drivers on the road versus the number of Uber requests. San Jose Uber rates can vary a lot.
We suggest using Uber’s fare estimator before your ride. If you don’t already have an Uber account, you can create one here to get a quote. Log onto the Uber website, set your pick-up location, and add your destination to see fares.
Where is Uber Available in Costa Rica?
Though the coverage maps seem promising, they are a little ambitious. In reality, the actual active areas are much more limited.
The majority of Uber drivers are located in the San Jose metropolitan area. Uber works in different parts of the Central Valley, with some popping up in La Fortuna as well. Uber in La Fortuna is very new, so don’t rely on it.
San Jose Airport
Though there are many cars in town, service to San Jose International Airport can be a little tricky. It’s easy enough to request a ride in the app, but you’ll have to arrange a pickup location away from the arrivals area. The bus stop on the other side of the parking garage is a popular spot for Uber drivers. Also, note some people have reported that the airport WiFi blocks access to the Uber app so you’ll need cell data to book.
Meanwhile, taking an Uber in Costa Rica for a departure flight is an easier process. Your Uber driver can drop you off like normal but might request that you sit in the front seat. This is to avoid any confrontation with taxis.
Uber in Jaco, Costa Rica began in early 2019 and is much less active. There are also a few floating around Manuel Antonio but we wouldn’t count on them as primary transportation.
There is a small presence of Uber in Tamarindo, Costa Rica. The company announced its expansion to the Nicoya Peninsula in 2019 but isn’t as quickly growing as San Jose. Again, don’t rely on it without a backup plan to get around.
Uber in Liberia, Costa Rica is present but not super common. You can use an Uber to travel to/from Liberia Airport if they’re around, but don’t expect many drivers.
What You Need to Know About Using Uber in Costa Rica
Here are some tips:
- Uber is a great option in the city of San José – There are lots of cars, it’s reliable and fast. It’s proven to be a decent alternative to public transportation buses, especially during the wee hours.
- Do not rely on Uber anywhere else in the country – Car rentals and shuttles are a far better option outside of San Jose.
- Uber at San Jose Airport can be challenging – It’s been temporarily banned and blocked by airport WiFi. It’s still available, but you’ll need to arrange an alternative pickup location to ride.
- Know where you are getting picked up – At SJO Airport, for example, pick-ups don’t happen at the arrivals terminal. Usually drivers use the bus stop, but pay attention to the app and prepare to walk a bit.
- Make sure you have data on your phone – Along with blocking the app, any airport WiFi will cut out once you leave the terminal. We recommend getting a Solis WiFi hotspot and using it for 1 day upon your arrival at any new destination. Just turn it on, give it a few minutes to boot up, and you’ve got internet. This buys you some time to find a good SIM card to use for the rest of your time in the country. Once you get a SIM, having a local number makes it a lot easier to communicate with your Uber driver.
- Be prepared to wait – Traffic in San Jose is horrible, especially during rush hour.
- Your trip may take longer – With crazy traffic and busy streets, don’t expect zippy New York City-style service.
- Don’t use the schedule ride feature to book in advance – While it seems convenient, there’s no guarantee that a car will be available. This can leave you stranded without a ride in an area with no cell service. It’s always better to request the trip from your pickup location.
- Don’t be surprised if your Uber vehicle is not as modern or as big as you might expect – This is especially important if you’re travelling with luggage. You’ll want to opt for an UberXL if you have multiple people and baggage.
- Never pay your Uber driver in cash – Always use the payment feature in the app. It’s more secure for you and you know your driver will receive the money.
When it comes to using Uber in Costa Rica, we recommend skipping it unless you’re in San Jose. Your best bet is to rent a car or organize transfers with reputable companies to avoid fraudulent taxi charges and other concerns. Plus, like many tourists, we prefer having our own wheels to get around without relying on taxis or public transportation. If you’re spending any time exploring, rental cars in Costa Rica are the way to go.