Rules for the Liberia Costa Rica Airport
ENTERING COSTA RICA
When you arrive at Liberia airport, you will immediately enter the customs line. Usually, the wait is only a few minutes, as it moves very quickly. If you are a resident, there is the short line, and they really do treat you differently. Saturdays and Sundays are the least convenient time to come, as this is when the most airlines arrive, all about the same time. Remember, the all-inclusive hotels usually promote a Saturday to Saturday, or Sunday to Sunday deal. So, you have hundreds of people all coming at the same time. The wait can be up to 30 minutes. Try to plan your trip with a Monday to Friday arrival and departure to make it more convenient.
The immigration officer will want to know where you are staying and the phone number, so have it handy and put it on the paperwork. They will also want to make sure you have a return ticket if you are not a resident.
After you clear customs, you will see a DUTY-FREE shop. The prices are amazing, so stock up there for your vacation. They can be up to half the price of the same liquor at the tourist grocery stores.
You will then pick up your luggage and exit the airport. There are free carts here for you to use. You will have to run your luggage one more time through an X-Ray machine before entering the terminal. The free carts, though, cannot go out into the parking lot. There are young men, happily waiting there, to assist you with carrying your luggage. I always frown on how many tourists ignore these guys and drag their bags themselves. Come on people. You are on vacation. Give the guy a couple bucks and make his day. He needs the money more than you, and save your back the agony.
You will see all the car rental agencies, private drivers and taxis when you enter the terminal. It is VERY SAFE. Everyone is overly polite. This is a great time to put your winter coat in your bag, take off your shoes, put on some flip flops and soak up the humidity. Welcome to PURA VIDA.
EXITING COSTA RICA
I get asked all the time “Do we really have to be there two hours ahead of the scheduled departure?”
Here is why. Liberia Costa Rica airport is a very small vacation destination airport. It is beautiful, air conditioned, with restaurants, shopping and bars and is very efficient. But it is still small, and there are not a lot of employees. During peak travel times, there might be multiple airlines leaving at the same time. The cute girls that work the check in counter, issuing the boarding passes and checking your luggage, are also the same girls who welcome you to the airline gate. They close the check-in counter and then go to the jetway to receive your same boarding pass. So, if you get there one hour ahead of time, you might find the check-in counter closed with no way to get to your plane.
Also, during peak vacation travel times, airlines over sell the flights. By requiring you to be there 2 hours ahead of time, they have a perfect excuse NOT to have to issue airline credits for future travel, to get the over booked flight, down to the proper body count. They do not have to pay to put you up in a hotel, nor do they have to give you a guaranteed seat on another flight. They can just politely tell you that you were not there 2 hours ahead as REQUIRED, and that you can come back another day and fly standby. Trust me, I have seen it happen many times. It is a great excuse to stay a few more days away from work, but could become a big issue if the next week of flights is completely overbooked as well. You might be forced to buy a condo from your local RE/MAX agent. Good for us.
Here are some more great tips.
If you rented a car, go to the airport FIRST. Check in, get rid of your bags, get your boarding passes, drop off the family and THEN return your car. You will have almost two hours with nothing to do. So, instead of waiting at the bar, paying top dollar for Imperial beer, you can use this time to fill up the car with gas, and return it to the Car Return Lane at the rental car agency. You will chuckle watching all the other tourists, freaking out, that they don’t have enough time to get to the airport and check in. You will have no stress, if there are 6 or 7 cars all being returned at the same time, as you already have your boarding pass and are in no rush to get back to the airport. And you won’t have your huge heavy luggage to have to drag from the car, to the bus, to the airport. Just remember to keep your passport with you, not with your spouse, so you have no issues going through the metal detector line at the airport when you do finally get there.
The food and drink are expensive at the airport. It is Costa Rica’s last chance to get every single nickel out of the tourist unfortunately. Unless you are flying first class, the food on the airline is garbage, and also drastically overpriced. Prior to going to the airport, stop at the SUBWAY sandwich shop in town and get your favorites for the whole family to go. Just don’t put any condiments or sauce on the sandwich, or it will be very soggy by the time you are ready to eat it. Just take a couple of the mustard and mayo packets from the counter at the food service line inside the airport and throw them in the plastic bag before you board. Remember, you cannot bring liquid through the bomb detector, but you can bring food. The airline still serves free drinks on the plane anyway, so you will be all set. Wait until you see the size of the other passenger’s eyes, when you whip out a CLUB or a BMT while they are forced to starve to death with a little bag of salted peanuts. It makes my coach flight a tad more enjoyable when I don’t get upgraded to the front.
There is Duty Free at the Liberia Costa Rica airport, so stock up on some of our fantastic rum on your way out. The Café Rica Coffee Liqueur is also a MUST for those mornings when you need a little jump. Remember to leave some room in your checked luggage if you have a connection. You can take the liquor on the plane at LIR, but cannot get on your second connection with the liquid. It must go into your checked luggage after you clear customs in Houston, Miami, Atlanta or whichever airport you go through on you way home. Otherwise you will be forced to throw it in the trash when you go through the next metal detector in North America. What a bummer.
There is parking at the LIR airport and it is FREE. I have left my car there for up to 7 days with no issues. So, if you are just leaving for the weekend, it is very safe and super convenient to just come back through customs and jump in your own car when you return.