There is no doubt about it, crime has increased over the last ten years in Costa Rica. In 2001 there were about six homicides per 100,000 people. Today the figure has climbed to around 11 percent. Don’t get alarmed! Costa Rica still has the lowest homicide rate in Central America and Mexico. Let’s look at the statistics of the countries in the region.
Honduras went form 35 per 100,000 to 82 in the same period of time. El Salvador is 66 per 100,000, Jamaica, 52, Belize and Guatemala with 41, Panama with 21, Mexico even with all of its violence including beheadings is 18 and Nicaragua with 13. So as you can see Costa Rica is still the country with the least number of homicides. On top of that the overwhelming majority of the murders involve locals and not foreigners.
Honduras and El Salvador have two of the highest homicide rates in the world. It is surprising that, Mexico, the one-time doesn’t have a higher rate with all of the drug violence in the northern part of the country.
Although the U.S. has a national homicide rate of about 6 per 100,000 don’t let the statistics fool you. If you look at cities with a population over 250,000 the rate is much higher. Detroit has a rate of 34.5, Oakland 22.0, Baltimore 34.8 Washington 21.9 and Philadelphia is right around 20.
So putting all of this into perspective, Costa Rica is not a dangerous country in which to live. NO country in the world is crime free. Believe me I have lived here for over 30 years and have never been a victim of crime. A few of my lady friends here have beat me out of a few bucks but that is about it. So, Baby Boomer retirees should not let crime be an excuse for not moving here. They should just learn to exercise caution in certain situations and violent crime shouldn’t be an issue.
Here are some of the Common crimes In Costa Rica
What is it? This is when armed assailants, usually more than one, assault you while you’re driving and steal your car. In Spanish, it’s known as a bajonazo. It is usually done by men in a car or two men on a motorcycle.
Where does it happen? These attacks happen most often in the Central Valley. While it would be nice to say there are particular areas that are safe and others that are dangerous, that’s not really the case. Car jackings can take place anywhere from middle-class neighborhoods like San Pedro to rich areas like Escazú. Lonely roads to and from well-to-do areas like Belén and Cariari are also likely spots.
How can you avoid it? Whether or not you get car jacked appears mostly to be a function of the kind of car you drive. Large, expensive SUVs (Toyota Prados and RAV-4s especially) seem to be popular targets, as do small, cheap cars like Hyundai Elantras that can be easily cut up and sold for parts. Other than that, if you’re driving in the Central Valley and end up in heavy traffic around dusk, stay alert. Check your mirrors, watch for cars – usually Hyundais – with no license plates or motorcycles with two riders. Also, you can have a car-tracking system installed in your car so that it can be tracked down later by police or private security.
What should you do if you’re a victim? First of all, do not fight back against someone with a gun. He will kill you, and your car is not worth more than your life, is it? Stay calm, get out of the car, and give them your keys and whatever else they ask for. Later, it’s important to file a report with OIJ to get the insurance payment processed.
What is it? Mugging in Costa Rica can take many forms, everything from a crack head snatching a cell phone off your ear to an organized group of four or five heavily armed individuals with a getaway car. Usually it happens to people on foot, but it has been known to happen to people in cars sitting in traffic jams.
How common is it? In the Central Valley, almost everyone knows someone who has been mugged, or have themselves been mugged. Getting mugged multiple times is not an uncommon experience.
Where does it happen? Again, it happens mostly in the Central Valley. As with car jackings, even safe-looking neighborhoods can be risky, as muggers often target those neighborhoods specifically because they are home to wealthier people with laptops and expensive cell phones.
How can you avoid it? Dusk is a popular time for muggings, as many people are walking home from work. If you have to walk the streets in the Central Valley around that time, stay to heavily-traveled areas. Watch for parked cars that look suspicious. Be aware of your surroundings. If you’re in a car, roll up your windows when you’re at stoplights or stuck in traffic. Generally it’s a good idea not to carry anything that can’t be easily replaced (passport, laptop, U.S. driver’s license, lots of cash, etc.). Mugging can be avoided, but you have to be smart about it, look like you know where you’re going, and don’t display targeted items like cell phones, digital cameras, or the aforementioned laptop.
What should you do if you’re a victim? If the mugger has a gun, give him your stuff. Your life is worth more than the contents of your wallet, and mugging in Costa Rica is usually not wantonly violent. If the mugger is in a car and tries to get you to get into the car, think twice. Your odds of survival go down dramatically once you become a kidnapping victim. After the assault, you can call the police from a nearby shop, but don’t bother unless you can give details about the assailant or his vehicle. You can also file a report with the OIJ, but it’s usually not worth your time unless you lost something major, like a passport or insured equipment, and you need a paper trail to get reimbursed.
What is it? A run-of-the-mill break-in that happens when you’re away. Sometimes it’s a smash-and-grab, with the thieves running off with whatever they can get their hands on and pawn later. Other times, it’s organized. The burglars bring a moving truck and clean out the house – clothes, appliances, furniture, bathroom fixtures, everything.
How common is it? Fairly, which is why most of the homes in Costa Rica have bars on the windows.
Where does it happen? This is a tricky question with burglaries. It can literally happen anywhere – from the most rural farm to downtown San Jose. Usually, however, the serious kind happens only when there is a group specifically targeting an area. Escazu has seen a high rate of break-ins in recent years for that reason, as have other communities west of San José. Certain remote beach areas popular with foreigners have also seen a sharp up-tick in burglaries as the break-in booty has become more valuable and the police presence has remained minimal.
How can you avoid it? If you live in a condominium with 24-hour security, you have virtually nothing to worry about. Guards control access to the property, and your home will be difficult for smash-and-grabbers to reach. If you own a house, probably your neighbors all pitch in to hire guards that patrol the streets and deter would-be burglars, or if your house is remote, you could hire your own guards for $400 to $600 a month per 12-hour shift. House alarms can also be installed, both the loud variety and the kind that calls a private security company. Also, make sure you have good locks on the doors, and that the domestic employees you hire come with very good references. Finally, get to know your neighbors. Otherwise, they won’t say a word when that big moving truck arrives and starts loading up all your possessions.
What should you do if you’re a victim? File a report with the OIJ.
Armed home invasion
What is it? A burglary, but rather more frightening. This is when masked men enter your house even when people are home. They are armed, they tie up whoever is around, and they take as much as they can.
How common is it? Not very, but it’s notable for the targets: Middle-class and wealthy families living in nice neighborhoods and sometimes even gated communities.
Where does it happen? Like burglary, this depends entirely on whether an organized group is targeting an area or not, and that can change from month to month. Typically this kind of crime happens in the Central Valley, in places like Escazú or Heredia where wealthy people live in relatively quiet or secluded neighborhoods. But there have been more recent reports of it happening in beach areas like Tamarindo, Jacó, Malpais, and Playa Grande.
How can you avoid it? Hiring a guard or living in a gated community is your best protection, although these are not 100% secure solutions either. Also, stay alert. Many times the assailants enter a house when someone is arriving home and opens an automatic garage door. Be aware of your surroundings and watch for suspicious vehicles parked nearby.
Car burglary and theft
What is it? The bad guys break a window or pick the car door lock to steal any bags they find, plus perhaps the radio or maybe the car itself.
How common is it? Common.
Where does it happen? This kind of crime takes place mainly in the Central Valley and in areas that see a heavy tourist presence (beaches, national parks, etc.).
How can you avoid it? The rule of thumb is, don’t leave things in the car, and especially don’t leave things in the car where they’re visible. If you have to leave things in your car, put valuables in the trunk or under the seat. Always lock your car. Use a car alarm. When possible, park the car in an area that’s being watched. Often this means pay parking lots. Other times it means a public area roamed by a scruffy-looking guy in an orange vest who will ask you for a few coins (c200-c500 colones is a good amount) later for his services. Otherwise, if you have something valuable in the car, try to park in places where you can keep an eye on it.
What should you do if you’re a victim? There’s not much you can do. You can call the Fuerza Pública, but they will likely tell you to file a report with the OIJ.
What is it? Mostly the provenance of crackheads who need their next fix. They steal everything that’s not nailed down, and even some stuff that is, like copper wiring. Also, unattended purses or luggage, wallets picked out of pockets, and anything that can be slipped out of a backpack worn by an unsuspecting tourist.
How common is it? Very common.
Where does it happen? Petty theft happens everywhere in Costa Rica, but in different varieties and to different degrees. In downtown San Jose, it’s pick-pocketing and purse stealing. In small towns and rural areas, it’s the theft of copper wiring, drying laundry, power tools, and literally anything else that might have value. The prevalence of this kind of theft depends entirely on local circumstances.
How can you avoid it? Don’t leave things lying around. They will disappear. Also, you can choose to live in an area where petty theft isn’t such a problem, though that has been known to change in a matter of a few months.
What should you do if you’re a victim? Once again, unless the bad guys stole something large and valuable, filing a report with the OIJ probably won’t be worth your time.