Friday, March 14, 2008

March 10, 2008 – Renting a Car in Costa Rica?

We’ve gotten by pretty well so far in Costa Rica without driving a bit. For most places we need or want to go, we can walk, take a bus or taxi, and sometimes hop a ride with a friend.

But when we compared all the alternatives for a trip to Orosí, we decided to rent a car for a day and drive ourselves. We ended up driving ourselves a little crazy :).

We knew about some of the major “gotchas” - the car rental agency charges your credit card just over $1000 as a security deposit, along with the rental fee. Basic insurance is mandatory, and not always part of the quote. Optional insurance (as everywhere) is a *lot* and not part of the quote.

Here’s what we didn’t know. We had asked for a car for 10:00, and so were told the driver would come to us then. We didn’t exactly know what this meant, but it turned out that a van pulled up (almost half an hour early! Fortunately, we were ready to go.) and, after several more stops, took us to the car rental agency. We went in, and filled out a *ton* of paperwork. We each needed passports (copies were ok; for some reason, cédulas were insufficient), driver’s licences, and a credit card. At the end of all the paperwork, we were presented with three credit card slips – these had the imprint of our card, but were otherwise blank, and we were told to sign them (!!!). Something about not signing blank checks clicked, and we said no can do… Well, the upshot was that we ended up not renting the car. Fortunately, they did ask if we needed a ride back, so we were only stuck there a bit longer. However, it was an hour and half after we had been picked up, and the people who were in the van with us *still* didn’t have their car! We did find out that at least one other rental agency does not require you to sign blank credit slips, but most have a minimum rental period of 3 days. So our plan for renting a car for the day was canceled. Beside that, by the time you actually *get* your car, and account for *returning* it, how much of the day do you actually have left?

Recommendations –

  • Think about taking a taxi to and from the agency (you pay, but your time is your own)
  • Have a low-balance account just for car rentals and small miscellaneous items.
  • Don’t try to rent a car for less than 3 days.
  • When you book a car, ask if they require you to sign blank credit slips – if so, call the next place.
  • Check your credit card balance often to make sure the deposit has been refunded. If it hasn´t within 3 or 4 days, go to your bank (especially if you use a Costa Rican bank, like Banco National) and open a dispute – they will (hopefully) take it from there.

Note: If you have an account with a Costa Rican bank, you are responsible for all fraud committed with your credit/debit card. The law here is *not* like it is in the USA and Canada.

UPDATE April 11, 2008 - the $1045 security deposit (a hold on that amount in our account) finally cleared! Over a *month* without access to that much money is outrageous!


Arp said...

Which company doesn't ask for the blank slip action? I don't recall when we rented with Vamos & Mapache whether the slips were blank or not, but I went with my gut and we were not screwed.

Anonymous said...

Hi Julie!
I just read about your surgery and want to wish you all the best. Also wanted to let you that once upon a time, we rented a car for about 3 days from Salud(?). When we returned the car, it was inspected and the final amount charged to our credit card as agreed. Shortly thereafter, I noticed an additional $100 US charge on my credit card. I had it reversed once but it was put back on again. Even though I sent several emails and made several phone calls (from Canada), the extra charge was never explained. So, perhaps you should consider yourself lucky that you were unable to rent a car to your satisfaction.

JulieAndRickInCostaRica said...

Hi Arp -
We've been kicking ourselves, because we didn't notice the company name. (shocking!)
What happened is this - the driver for the rental car company was driving us back to the hotel (he remembered us from the morning, so he knew something was wrong). He asked, we told him. He introduced us to a friend who worked for another car rental company (here is where we stupidly did *not* get the company name). The friend said that his company would not insist on the blank vouchers. I think the key is "not insist" - they probably still would routinely ask for them, but would not turn down a car rental prospect if we didn't want to sign them blank. Since a 3-day rental was required, we didn't follow up. Also, at the time we didn't realize how wide-spread the practice was...
I will say that the uniform included a bright orange shirt - if that helps...

JulieAndRickInCostaRica said...

Hi Marika -
Thanks for the well-wishes, and thanks too for the info on your experience!
I suppose it pays to be suspicious - on the other hand, it is very wearing. "Feeling suspicious" is not on my list of pet peeves...