Getting to Toucan Valley During a Pandemic

Submitted by user on Sat, 10/10/2020 - 00:29
SJO Airpot with social distancing because of COVID-19

After having “owned” a villa in Toucan Valley since 2012, my husband Raymond Miller and I decided to make the permanent move here last summer. We envisioned a nice, leisurely, yearlong process of getting residency, shipping household goods and two pets, and making the move. We were here in early December to submit the residency application.

Then of course, the pandemic struck. Now what? In July, I got word that my residency was approved. At this writing, Raymond’s still is not. So now my clock is ticking. I have 90 days to get here to complete paperwork and register for CAJA.

By law I can legally enter Costa Rica. I am now a temporary resident (pensianado) and my last visit was in December of 2019, well before the March 24 cutoff date. Getting here is a problem. Many flights cancelled. Rules changing daily, it seems.

We also had the complication of our pets. Our dog is a pit bull and because of her short snout and breed cannot fly on a passenger plane as cargo. She has to go via DHL. The cat is old and has some health problems. We engaged Pet Lounge CR to serve as our pet broker. My big nightmare was that the pets’ flight would go as scheduled (cargo flights have been less effected that passenger flights) and our flight would be cancelled. Then the pets are here, we are in the US. Now what?

Raymond and I decided that the only sensible solution was for us to divide up. I would come first. I would also take the cat with me in the cabin. Once I was here, settled in and out of quarantine, he could send the dog and I would be here to receive her. Besides, only my residency was approved at this point.

I booked a United repatriation flight out of Houston, for August 6. The only sensible way for me to make this 8 AM flight was to drive from our home in Mississippi to Houston the day before. It takes about 8 hours.

The flight was entirely full. No traditional tourists. Ticos, residents, and some people who fit into one of the exceptions that allow you to enter anyway.

The documents I knew I needed and I had were

  • valid passport,
  • health pass code,
  • residency decision letter,
  • health certificate for the cat.

It turned out this was all I needed. Other stuff I was carrying just in case were

  • Two negative Covid tests in the 10 days before traveling. One within 48 hours. (residents don’t need this, tourists do)
  • A copy of the law stating that I had the right to enter with the appropriate section highlighted
  • An email from the Costa Rican Consul General in Houston who had reviewed my documents giving his opinion that I could enter.

A copy of my Toucan Valley share certificates showing my specific address. This was helpful.

A word about the health pass. If you are flying in, your airline should send you a link to the health pass form on the Ministry of Health’s website. Fill this out. It is possible to fill it out on paper in the plane. Arrival is more difficult this way. You do get an approval that says all of the information you provided is in order. Not quite a pre-admission, but close.

I declared myself a traveler with disabilities. My knees are not the best. I was carrying a very heavy backpack and a 17lb. cat in a carrier. A wheelchair was waiting for me in the jet way. My porter was very helpful. I ended up giving him the largest tip I had ever given anyone in Costa Rica.

As you enter the airport, the first people you see are health screeners. You will recognize them by the red crosses on their uniforms. If you are wearing a face shield you will have to remove it. It interferes with taking temperature.

Next, I went to the passport control line for people with special needs. Nearly everyone in this line was in a wheelchair.

It took about an hour to get through the line. There are a number of “pre screeners” working the line to ensure you have all of your documents and that you are in the right place. They will want to see your passport and your Health Pass Code. They will scan the code and check that the name that comes up for this code matches your passport.

When I got to speak to a passport control officer, he wanted to see my passport and health pass code. He interviewed me in English and asked me several of the same questions that were in the health pass form. It helps to know that you live in Puntarenas Province, Osa Canton and Ciudad Cortes District. If you can spout off your address, fine. If not, have it clearly printed out. I used my share certificate for that.

After the health interview, I showed my residency approval. I signed an agreement to quarantine and was on my way. Going through the duty free shop, I started to cry. I was actually in Costa Rica.

One more hurdle. The cat. After picking up my checked bag, we headed to customs. The customs official did not check my animal at all. Only the paperwork. Took 2 or 3 minutes for that. We were done!

All of the officials in the airport were kind, courteous and seemed to know their job. Everyone seemed to want everyone to get in and for the process to go smoothly. It is crowded and can be slow. But I was impressed by how well Costa Rica is handling this.

Many, many thanks to Mark and Lisa Carmody who drove all the way up to Alajuela to collect me at the airport and deliver me to Toucan Valley. This favor is hard to repay.

As I write this, I have been here 4 days. Ten more days of quarantine to go. I am exceedingly glad to be here for all kinds of reasons. It’s a bit lonely. I can’t go out or have anyone over. Marmalade, the cat, is good company. We are trying to work out his interactions with the other neighborhood cats. I miss Raymond and Jenna (the dog). I am somewhat anxious that Raymond’s residency is not yet approved, more than a month after mine.

People here are taking good care of me. I have groceries and whatever help I need. I have only seen the parts of Toucan Valley I can see from my own house. It is green season and everything is lush and beautiful. This is such a magical spot.

--Sandie Guthans