Taking Your Drone To Costa Rica? What To Know Before You Go

It can be difficult planning a vacation, especially to a new country that you’ve never visited before.  Lots of moving parts and details to keep track of.  What to pack, logistics, passport control and even optimizing your frequent flyer program participation.

Want to really throw a curve-ball into your vacation plans? Pack a drone without checking on the local rules.

Our most popular article in 2017 has been our primer on the rules you need to know if you’re taking your drone to Mexico.

Costa Rica is becoming more and more popular with tourists and travelers alike, for it’s peaceful society (their constitution abolished the Costa Rican army in 1948) beautiful beaches and rainforest, and the welcoming friendly Costa Rican people, known as Ticos.  So we decided to craft a second article on Costa Rica’s very tight drone rules.

Like Canada, Costa Rica is actually taking it’s drone rules to the extreme with requirements for training, testing, licensing and more.  They’ve even gone so far as to make a high school diploma and a medical certificate a requirement for private drone operation.

All of these conditions are outlined in the 32 page Directiva Operacional (‘Operational Directive) document created in February 2017, and put into force in August that same year.

  • All operators must have a license with equivalent of 48 hours of technical/theoretical instruction and 10 hours of practical training by a school/facility authorized by the DGAC.
  • Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) rules apply at a maximum distance of 500 meters
  • Maximum altitude is 120 meters (400 feet)
  • No drone operation withing 8 km of an airport
  • No drone operation within 30 meters of any building, structure or inhabited dwelling
  • No drone operation over assembled groups of people

In addition the above general rules, specific no fly zones exist in Costa Rica around:

  • Arenal Volcano
  • La Palma passage
  • Zurqui Tunnel
  • el Murcielago Police Training Center
  • La Reforma Prison
  • The Presidental House
  • El Ministerio de seguridad publica

Your drone must also have a label on it that clearly identifies the operator/owner of the drone and your contact information.

In case you missed it above, you cannot operate a drone in Costa Rica without a license from a facility sanctioned by the civil aviation department.  While lots of tourists are taking drones to Costa Rica without consequence, you do so at your own risk.

In drafting their drone rules, Costa Rican authorities borrowed from some of the rules in place in neighboring Guatemala where a permit is required just to bring a drone into the country.

We haven’t seen any front page travel articles on drone induced vacation disasters in Costa Rica, but the risk is always there if you choose to ignore the licensing and proceed to violate the flight rules.  There is lots of evidence in the forums of recreational pilots flying their drones while on vacation without any incident at all.

If you intend to be that person, keep it low key or you could be coming home with an empty wallet or worse, and empty drone case.


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