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I was denied entry to Costa Rica because of my battered passport.

I was denied entry to Costa Rica because of my battered passport.

Yesterday I was denied entry to Costa Rica and had to buy a ticket to Guatemala, in order to continue my trip in Central America.

I am just starting a 2 month trip through Central America and Mexico. Got a good deal with British Airways: Flying out to San Jose, Costa Rica and back to Europe from Mexico City. My flight across the Atlantic was long, but quite pleasant.

At the immigration in San Jose, I was greeted by a friendly young man who welcomed me to Costa Rica. He took my passport and flipped a little through the pages. Then he started inspecting it more closely. My passport is quite battered as I travel +300 days a year and have done so for more than a decade. It’s not broken though and has worked fine for me when visiting 75 countries around the world. I have crossed borders more than 500 times without ever having problems.

But here in Costa Rica, things seem to work a little different. At least they did for me last night. He claimed that because some of the +50 stamps in my passport were hard to read.  that is because the ink had come off when the passport got wet in a tropical downpour in Brazil. But passport could not be accepted in Costa Rica. Also, it just has a battered look from being in my back pocket too many times.

I cross borders roughly 50 times a year. Have been on more than 500 flights in the past decade without ever having had my bag searched. This might also have led me to be a little careless with my passport and I am sure there are plenty of boycott types out there who will tell me that I am not correctly prepared. But so let it be.

My battered passport.

My battered passport.

The Costa Rican authorities actually wanted to deport me from the country and send me on the same plane back to London. By acting very calm and speaking nicely to everyone, I talked them in to letting me buy a ticket to Guatemala on a plane leaving the same evening. That cost me 98$, but saved me being send back to Europe on the same plane I came on.

What to do if you end up in such a situation?

I work as a tour leader and travel a lot with tour groups, as well as on my own. The important thing in these situations is that you stay calm. Never and I mean NEVER shout or scream at airport workers. Airport officials will stop helping you completely if you do that. They have to do that because they need to help a lot fo people and not just you. I can assure you that they help the well behaved people first. Just ask any airport worker.

And when it come to Immigration officials, then they have all the power in the world to put you in handcuff, lock you up, send you on a plane back home at your own expense. Even if you have not done anything wrong. No matter how big idiots these people might be at times, then you should always pretend that you respect them. Speak nicely to them and assure them that you have respect for the job they are doing. I’m pretty sure that this was what saved me from being send back to London with British Airways. also I would like to state that they were not trying to extract any bribes from me. They treated me extremely correct in a way that made me think that the young man at immigration had maybe been an exchange student in Germany 🙂

I could not have been denied entry to Costa Rica by a friendlier bunch.

Looking back at it, I can only say that the people who denied me entry to Costa Rica were very nice to me. The first young man who got the whole thing started, looked like a guy who just started working at immigration and just wanted to make sure that he did his job correct. I think he was just overdoing it a bit, but I’m not angry at him. The people I dealt with afterwards from police and immigration were all very sweet beautiful young women who seem to feel genuinely sorry for me. They assured me many times that I was very welcome to return as soon as I had a passport that looked a little better. So if any of the airport staff from San Jose Airport should ever see this, then I am not angry with you. I actually felt treated very nice as a “criminal” 🙂

It was quite funny how they assured me that going to Guatemala should be no problem. Even wth my battered passport. “Just don’t tell them that we kicked you out and you will have no problem in Guatemala”,. That was their final good bye wish to me. And I had no problems at all in Guatemala. Just like I have not had any problems in the +50 countries I have visited with this passport over the past 3 years.

And I am quite happy to be sitting here in Guatemala now. Even if this was not the plan. I take it as a lesson in life and have decided to forget about the 98$ the ticket to Guatemala cost me. I’m a happy boy in Guatemala right now, ready to take on Central America and Mexico the coming 2 months 🙂

But remember that if you are going to Costa Rica, then try to have a nice looking passport. Otherwise you might be denied entry to Costa Rica like I did.

Happy in Guatemala.

Happy in Guatemala.

And Costa Rica: I will be back. Next time with another passport 🙂

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6 Comments

  1. Quite a start to your trip! I completely agree about not losing your temper on occasions such as this – it never does any good and 99% of the time it will make the situation worse. At least you are somewhere nice, drinking a cold beer or two – when you could been back in London, drinking beer with us lol

    • When I was standing there, thinking that I might have to return to London, I thought that I could at least have another VT meeting with you guys when back in London 🙂

  2. Is that your new bicycle Claus x

  3. Well, I guess I’m not going to Costa Rica then 😀

  4. That’s surprising, I admit. I’d never think it could be a reason to deny somebody entrance. Yet,Guatemala is great, so…. )

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