Helpful Hints for Medical/Dental Travel to San Jose Costa Rica

I promised I’d post some helpful hints if you’re traveling to San Jose, Costa Rica for dentistry or otherwise.  If you’ve got your own hints, I’d love to hear them, I’m sure I’ve barely scratched the surface with the following ideas!

Cell Phone Service: Before you leave the states, have your GSM phone with SIM card unlocked.  I use T-Mobile as my carrier, just give them a call for the code.  When you land at the airport (I flew into San Jose SJO), stop at the Kolbi mobile phone desk and purchase a Costa Rica Sim Card.  It was only $8, and I believe it gave me 30 minutes talk and who knows what in data, I just know between having a wi-fi phone and that card, I was in total touch with home in every way and was able to use the cool app’s I’m going to mention next! You’ll know the desk at the airport by Kolbi’s cute logo 

Google Translate

Cool Phone Apps: If you have an android phone, load Google Translate. It’s a neat program where you can either speak or type the word in your language and it will translate it into Spanish for you.  Unfortunately, I didn’t find this app until my last couple of days, sure would have come in handy had I known sooner. Awesome app and it’s a freebie! Google Goggles is another free app that might come in handy. You take a picture of something and it supposedly comes up with the name of what you’re looking at. I have to say the few monuments I tried it on, it was unable to recognize what they were.  Hey, it’s free and I didn’t get everywhere this trip, so I haven’t given up on it quite yet! We’ll see what it does in Seattle, my next trip. One more free Android app, one that I used a lot, was a currency converter.  You type in the amount in Colones and it’ll tell you what it is in dollars (or vice versa), easy as that! The one I used was from pocket tools, but I’m sure any currency app would be fine.  Whatever you do, try to download these app’s before you leave, I found the internet really sluggish most places!

Lubnan, San Jose Costa Rica

Food: If you stay at Hotel Cacts or are visiting the Cavallini dental clinic, here are some of the local restaurants that I really liked and all are with about a 10 minute walk:  Machu Picchu, has to be my favorite, it’s Peruvian and they have the best Ceviche!  OMG, it’s fantastic. They also have about 10 Sea Bass items on the menu.  The restaurant is not the cheapest, but it’s not over the top in price either and if you like fish, it’s well worth going at least once.  Maria Bonita, is a little Mexican place only a block or so away, great authentic Mexican food, a cute outdoor courtyard with tables for seating, they deliver to the hotel as well, if you’re not up for going out. Try their soups!  Lubnan, a really nice Lebanese restaurant, on Paseo Colón is also good. For great Costa Rica style food, visit one of the local Soda’s (a soda is a small restaurant, like a diner in the US). My favorite was La Estrada, it was around the corner from the Cavallini clinic, barely a block away.

Shopping: For groceries, wine and beer, within walking distance, on the Paseo Colón, right next door to the Skotia bank is a decent size supermarket, Pali. Brings me to money, don’t worry about having colones, most places will take US Dollars at a fair exchange rate (500 colones to $1).There are also several Pharmacia’s in the area.  The dentist may want you on antiobiotics and/or pain killers. If you can bring them from home, do it!  You can’t use your insurance in Costa Rica and what I would normally have gotten for less than $10, ended up costing me over $40 in Costa Rica.

Groceries at Pali

Custom Made Leather Boots

Up the street from Hotel Cacts and the Cavallini clinic are several western leather shops where I’m told you can get custom-made leather boots for around $100.  I didn’t find that one out until I had way less than a week or I would have checked into it!  Also around the corner, is a hair salon called Isabel, where a cut, blow dry and hot iron will set you back around $30, certainly cheaper than what I’ve found in the US and they do a great job.  Some women I met got tattooed eye liner and eyebrows in the same place, something I wasn’t about to try, but they seemed happy with it. Isabel did a great job on men’s hair as well! 

Money: I used cash for everything, carried a bunch of it over from the US in one of those security waist pouches.  Most dentists will give you a discount for cash payment, so it’s worth it. I never felt unsafe, I just played it smart and carried what I needed in my wallet and the rest I kept hidden, on my body or in a hiding place in my hotel room. Of course, if you prefer, you can also use your credit cards or hit the local ATM’s, like the US, they have them at most banks. Ask your bank what the fees would be. Be sure to keep your receipts for medication, hotel, travel, exit fees and medical care, as they may be tax deductible for you.

Gadgets and Gizmo’s:  Grab a couple Targus mini inline surge protectors, these are perfect for using your electronics in your hotel room, waiting rooms etc and take up no space in your luggage.  Don’t forget to bring a power strip too, here’s a nice small one by Monster. If you are going to be in waiting rooms, bring your laptop/Kindle/book, it’s hard to find English reading material! Bring your own blow dryer, many hotels do not supply them.

Miscellaneous Good to Know Stuff: I know that Hotel Cacts supplied bar soap, that’s about it, (no shampoo or conditioner). Likewise if you like to use a washcloth, both hotels I’ve stayed at in Costa Rica (Christina Aparthotel and Hotel Cacts did not supply them).  You can buy supplies easy enough, but the cost is about the same as in the US and you might not want to run around looking after you’ve spent a full day traveling!

Road Rut Hazards everywhere in San Jose

Be careful walking, the sidewalks are uneven and there are huge drainage ditches along the curbs to allow for the rains to run off during rainy season. If you’re not watching, you could get hurt. Likewise with the traffic, let the cars go, they won’t give you a break…fortunately, there are streetlights!

Before you leave Costa Rica, you will need to pay an exit fee of $28 US.  Save yourself the aggravation of one more line at the airport and do this at a bank or any ICE building.  The lines can be quite long at the airport, between tickets and security, so why put yourself through having to stand in one more! You’ll need your passport when you go to pay your fee (and cash of course). They will give you a form and you’ll need have the back filled out the back before you get your boarding passes at the airline counter. Again, speed up the process and do it before you get to the airport.  Regarding passports, I left mine in the hotel safe most of the time I was in Costa Rica. Instead, I carried around a photo copy of my passport, the picture ID page and the page with my entrance stamp.  You wouldn’t want to risk losing it, now would you? Most hotels are happy to make a photo copy for you.

When you leave the country, you cannot bring beverages on the plane, even if they are unopened.  As you board, you will go through another checkpoint, where they will look in your bags and they will confiscate any beverages.

Want more info on Dentistry in Costa Rica?  Here are two areas you can check out, read what others are saying and ask questions,

I’m sure I could add more but due to a flight delay, I didn’t get in until close to 3 am and the brain is toast!  So much for my doing this writing in the airports! Feel free to add your hints to this, I’d love to hear them!

Chao!  “K”