No matter who you are, if you’re visiting Costa Rica or any other foreign country, it’s important to take some additional precautions in order to stay safe.
This is especially true for children and young adults who may be more vulnerable to illnesses when traveling abroad. If your student or child is participating in a student travel program or cultural immersion program to Costa Rica, one of the best ways to keep them healthy is by making sure they’re current on their immunizations.
Whether you’re a teacher leading a trip, a parent of a student or a student yourself, here’s everything you need to know about Costa Rica vaccinations and immunizations.
Do you need any vaccinations to go to Costa Rica?
As of September 2019, Costa Rica does not require the majority of visitors to present vaccine documentation in order to enter the country. If you are arriving in Costa Rica from certain places in South America or Africa, though, you may need to have proof that you’ve received the yellow fever vaccine.
That said, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintains recommendations for U.S. citizens traveling abroad. Make sure you read them as you plan your student trip to Costa Rica or elsewhere.
No matter where you’re going, travelers should be current on the measles vaccine (measles-mumps-rubella, or MMR) and other routine immunizations, including the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine (DTP), varicella vaccine (chickenpox), polio vaccine, and the yearly flu shot. Again, this isn’t specific to Costa Rica but is recommended by the CDC for all travelers to any country.
For Costa Rica specifically, most travelers should ensure they’re up-to-date on the Hepatitis A and typhoid vaccines, according to the CDC.
Finally, travelers should talk to their healthcare provider about other vaccines that may make sense at an individual level.
For example, while the risk of malaria is low in Costa Rica, some travelers (such as pregnant women) should take extra precautions due to complications that can arise from the disease. Similarly, rabies is not a major risk for most visitors to Costa Rica, but the CDC does recommend the vaccine for those participating in caving or other adventure travel.
Costa Rica vaccine laws
While Costa Rica does not require most international visitors to show proof of vaccinations, Costa Rican citizens are obligated to adhere to a standard immunization regimen.
Costa Rica’s General Health Law sanctions parents or guardians who do not vaccinate their children, and in some cases, the Child Welfare Office (PANI) will intervene.
This is good news for student trips to Costa Rica and for international visitors in general. Thanks to Costa Rica’s vaccine laws, the country has an excellent vaccination rate. Ninety-six percent of Costa Rican children ages 12-23 months are vaccinated against measles, according to The World Bank. That’s a higher percentage than in the United States.
The result is that Costa Rica has strong herd immunity. When unvaccinated European and U.S. tourists reintroduced measles to Costa Rica in early 2019, it was quickly quarantined and didn’t spread any further thanks to the country’s high immunization rate.
The Zika Virus, malaria and dengue in Costa Rica
Like in many parts of the United States, mosquitoes are prevalent in Costa Rica, and visitors should take precautions to avoid bug bites in order to prevent mosquito-borne illnesses such as the Zika virus.
Mosquitoes are vectors for diseases in the U.S. and across the world. The CDC recommends preventing bites by using insect repellant, covering exposed skin with a long-sleeved shirt and pants when possible, and sleeping under mosquito nets.
Travelers to Costa Rica should be aware of the following:
- Zika virus often does not cause any symptoms, but it can cause birth defects. The CDC recommends that pregnant women and couples trying to become pregnant work with their healthcare providers to consider the risks of travel to areas with risk of Zika, including Costa Rica.
- “Dengue can cause fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, rash, pain in the eyes, joints, and muscles, and minor bleeding. If you are bitten by an infected mosquito, symptoms can take up to two weeks to develop and usually last less than a week.” Source: CDC
- The risk of malaria is low, according to the CDC, but any patient presenting with a fever after traveling in a malaria-risk country should be evaluated by his or her healthcare provider.
Zika and Dengue are both transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which can be identified by white markings on its legs.
Cases in Costa Rica usually rise during the rainy season, which lasts from May to December in most parts of the country.
Climate change has introduced mosquitoes to more of the world during recent years, but Costa Rica has decades of experience with these insects. Bug spray and mosquito nets are available in virtually every store, the Health Ministry fumigates in high-risk areas, and all health centers are well-equipped to treat patients.
Summary: Costa Rica Vaccinations & Immunizations
While international travel inherently carries some risk, Costa Rica is a safe destination for student trips.
That’s due not only to its culture of peace but also to its strong, universal healthcare system that focuses on preventative care — like vaccinating its population.
This blog post has shared the most up-to-date information from the CDC and Costa Rica’s Health Ministry as of September 2019, but recommendations do change and every patient is different. Talk to your healthcare provider as you plan international travel to get personal health advice.
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Preparing for your trip and being a smart traveler will help everyone make the most of a student trip to Costa Rica.
Molly has 10+ years of experience as a classroom teacher and service-learning coordinator planning student trips to Costa Rica, and has lived and worked in Costa Rica for over 15 years. In 2006, she fulfilled a dream of hers and co-founded Costa Rica Explorations, an authentic cultural-immersion, service-based educational student travel program, that continues to be one of the most respected and trusted High School and Middle School student programs offered within Costa Rica.