How to Protect Against Theft in Costa Rica

While I can’t promise you’ll never be robbed, there are ways to minimize your risk of falling victim to theft in Costa Rica.

Jake and I had a preeetty sad dinner last night. We had planned a run to the “super” after work but it began pouring rain so we decided against it. Immediately regretted that decision when we saw how little food we had in the house. Jake managed to whip us up a passable pasta dinner, but we were out the door ASAP this morning to restock our provisions.

As we were rushing back (salivating at the thought of breakfast) we ran into our neighbor who gave us the grim news that two motorized bicycles were stolen last night from his backyard. Which FYI, is enclosed with a 9-foot brick wall. The vintage motorcycles he kept there were also not light, so he suspects it must have been at least a 2-3 man job lifting them over the wall.

10 Tips for Protecting Against Theft in Costa Rica

His reaction to the loss was surprisingly positive. Instead of the tedious and endless task of trying not to get robbed in Costa Rica, his new solution is just trying to live a simpler life. Did he need those motorized bikes when he rents a car every time he comes down here? Probably not. Were they cool to have? Oh, most definitely. But they were also a bummer to lose.

In yesterday’s post on Playa Avellanas I mentioned that I believed the key to tico living is the easy-going “pura vida” attitude, but with a healthy dose of caution. i.e. Help your neighbors, but also lock your doors at night. Here are other top tips we’ve come up with for staying cautious in Costa Rica.

How to protect against theft in Costa RIca

I was going to make a cheesy joke about cat burglars but I think you got it.

How to Protect Your Things Against Theft in Costa Rica

With Your Car

In less-developed/jungle areas like Nosara, leave your car unlocked. In a jungled area like Nosara where buildings are not close to each other, it’s easy for thieves to break in and slip away without being caught. One of the things Jake and his family has learned to do in Nosara is to take all their stuff with them from the car, but leave it unlocked. Why?

Thieves around Costa Rica are typically looking for cash and valuables they can hawk. By leaving the car open, you allow them to check without having to break in. If you do lock your car, make sure not to leave anything visible as they will probably just break your window and take it.

The above doesn’t apply in cities, more-developed towns, or anywhere there will usually be other people around. It’s way less likely that someone will physically break into your car because somebody around will hear it.

In that case, you should:

  • Take everything with you if you can, and hide from view what you can’t. (This is pretty generic advice for going anywhere with a car!)
  • Test all the doors and the trunk after you’ve locked it to make sure it really is. (You should just make this a habit, especially with rental cars!)
  • Don’t forget to hide or take things you might not think are valuable, such as a USB cable or car charger. One man’s junk is another man’s reason to steal!
Protecting against theft in Costa Rica

Pro Tip: Give a couple bucks ($2-5 USD) to the guys manning the parking lot at Playa Avellanas and they’ll keep an eye on your car for you.

On the Beach

Never leave your things unattended. Unless you’re on your own private beach, this is never a good option anywhere you go.

Hide your Sandals. It’s not unheard of for one of the local surfers leaving the water to spot a pair of sandals laying on the beach unprotected, look around to see if the owners are nearby, then slip into them and just walk away.

If you can’t bring your shoes with you (e.g. when you surf) you can try to find a place to hide them on the beach. However, this is not a foolproof method. While Jake and I have yet to have our shoes stolen, we’re always paranoid about seeing people around when we hide them. More than the cost of the sandals, it would suck walking through glass and gravel to get home.

Consider renting from a business that will allow you to store things with them. When Jake and I first visited Tamarindo for 3 weeks, we discovered that most stores in the area rented surfboards for about $10/day. Since we weren’t picky about what we rode, we went with Banana Surf Club since it was close to the beach. More importantly, they provided lockers so we could keep our wallets and shoes safe while we went in the water!

In Your Home

Keep things away from the windows. Jake was staying with his family in Nosara when they were robbed overnight. Although the house was gated and manned by a security guard (apparently not a very good one) they woke up to his dad’s wallet gone from the bedside table that he had been sleeping next to.

Although it looked like a break-in, upon closer inspection they found a small hole carved into the window screen. The laptops in the living room were untouched, but there were things strewn around the ground outside the bedroom window. It appeared that the thief used some kind of mechanical claw to reach through the hole and pick up items that were within reach. Lesson learned: keep valuables far away from windows!

Theft in Costa Rica

Source: Amazon.com

Check all doors and windows before going to bed. You would think this is obvious! But more than once, Jake and I have rushed in with our groceries and quickly shut the door to keep mosquitos out–but then left our key in the lock. One time, we didn’t even discover it until the next morning!

Now we both check the back and front doors separately to make sure we’re good. We also keep windows closed so we can’t forget to close them. Although we live in a gated community, we don’t have a security guard. Many people also come and go around here, and we’re not even sure all of them all of them are our neighbors.

Don’t underestimate your risk for theft in Costa Rica.

Hide your valuables from view. If you take away one lesson about protecting yourself from theft in Costa Rica, make it this one: don’t make things easy for thieves. Keep bicycles and shoes inside the house, not out in plain sight where it can be easily swiped. If you’re on the first floor, keep the shades drawn. (Bonus: it’ll help keep the inside of your house cooler too!)

If you learn one lesson about protecting against theft in Costa Rica, make it this one: don’t make things easy for thieves.

Don’t keep your laptops and electronics out when answering the door, and hide them before you leave the house. If you’re renting an apartment, the property manager may occasionally send people to the house for one reason or another (e.g. your fridge is dripping and they finally sent someone to look into it, etc.) and they’ll usually have a key to get in even if you aren’t home!

In A Hostel

Put your things away. Living out of a backpack in a dorm isn’t easy. Trust me when I say I know how annoying it is to unpack everything just to find what I need! But if you leave your things in a mess around the room, it’s easier for something to disappear without you noticing. Put all your valuables in a locker or take it with you, and don’t leave anything out you can’t risk losing.

Label your food in the refrigerator. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible, or effective. Most communal hostel fridges have an honor code, which works most of the time. Just don’t be surprised if you come out in the middle of the night for juice, and find some drunk girl drinking it. Keep your food in a bag, so people can’t see what’s in it without opening it. Also try to hide it towards the back of the fridge where it’s less visible.

On Your Person

Be discreet. I cannot stress this enough. Put away your Rolex’s, your expensive jewelry, laptops, and other overt signs of wealth. You might as well be wearing a bull’s eye for thieves. Do not overestimate how much trouble you’ll avoid just by not drawing too much attention to yourself!

Edit: Someone asked in the comment section if carrying around expensive DSLR cameras would draw negative attention. If you don’t leave it around, then probably not. I understand it’s not fun to be worried about thieves while you’re on vacation, and I don’t mean to scare anybody.

The ticos aren’t predatory on tourists, so you shouldn’t feel unsafe visiting Costa Rica. But you can’t expect people to walk away from free money lying around unattended. This is true of anywhere that you visit. Don’t be the “low-hanging fruit.” Keep an eye on your things, lock up your valuables, don’t leave things in your car you can’t risk losing, and you should be fine.

Have you ever been a victim of theft in Costa Rica or know someone who has? Share your story in the comment section and help other tourists avoid the same fate!

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15 thoughts on “How to Protect Against Theft in Costa Rica

    • Steph says:

      Thanks so much for reading! I felt the same way when I first moved to Costa Rica, but things are definitely different here compared to in America!

  1. Koen says:

    Great tips, and very accurate. I live in Costa Rica now since three months and these tips are a must read for everyone coming here. Adding a waterproof backpack to the gear, so you can take your ipad and phone (and flip-flops, yes) with you on the water isn’t a bad investment.
    But for the readers of the comments and blog: don’t get too scared, Costa Rica is very much worth a visit.

    • Steph says:

      I never even thought of a waterproof backpack! Have you had experience using one, or have a brand you would recommend? Completely agree about that last part. I’m always struggle with trying to warn people to be more careful with their things wihtout freaking them out too much about Costa Rica!

    • Steph says:

      Right? It’s totally counterintuitive but with a rental car, you really don’t want to give anybody a reason to destroy it! Thanks so much for reading!

  2. Jenn says:

    Great tips. Safety first. When you’re on vacation it can be difficult sometimes to think about being safe when you’re having so much fun.

    • Steph says:

      So true! I see it all the time in Costa Rica and it makes me sad because these people will go home thinking they had a terrible time on vacation because their stuff got stolen, when it could have been so easily preventable!

  3. Jasmine Eclipse says:

    This is a great blog. While it feels like these things should be common sense, they’re so easily forgotten on vacation. I remember nearly having my bag stolen while I was walking through Italy, I was too busy being a tourist, that I forgot that I should be keeping an eye on my personal belongings as well!

    Jasmine / http://www.jasminekeclipse.com/blog

    • Steph says:

      Thank you so so much for saying that! Running a blog has been SUPER stressful because there’s nobody to tell me whether I’m doing a good job or a TERRIBLE one.

      I’m so sorry to hear about your bag getting stolen! Did you lose anything of importance in it? It’s such a bummer when stuff like happens on a vacation, but it definitely teaches us a lesson we’ll never forget!

  4. thetravelpockets says:

    Wow, this really concerns me! I had no idea Costa Rica was so big on theft. If I were to travel to Costa Rica, should I be worried that someone will be after me while I carry my expensive cameras with me? I usually bring laptops and such and leave them in the hotel, but if I were to leave them in a car, I’m guessing that’s advised against? Keeping your car open makes me nervous, haha! Although I wouldn’t want my window broken either… tough decisions! Thanks for the insight.

    • Steph says:

      The thing about Costa Rica is that it’s all petty crime, nothing too serious. It’s totally fine to carry around cameras, even nice ones, but just don’t leave them around! The Costa Ricans aren’t predatory on tourists, so you’ll be safe as long as your things aren’t “low-hanging fruit” (lying around unattended or super easy for people to take) I definitely do NOT advise leaving anything in your car ever, whether or not you decide to lock it! Not even the trunk, because whoever breaks into your car will definitely check that. Leaving it unlocked with NOTHING in it (but taking your keys) just allows whoever wants to rob you to do what he wanted to do anyway (check your car) but see for themselves that there is nothing to take, and just move on to the next vehicle!

    • Steph says:

      Haha I know what you mean, it sounds crazy but it’s all about understanding the criminal! You have your car key so they can’t steal it (it’s a lot harder to “hotwire” a car than the movies make it look). Most of these are petty criminals just looking for an easy way to make a few bucks without a high chance of being caught, either from cash you have lying around or by selling your things. The biggest problem is if they try to break INTO your car because even if your car rental insurance covers the damage, you might be out of a car to get home in (breaking the window is the most common method) and you’ll have little or no recourse from the police either!

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