The Central American country of Costa Rica between the Pacific and Caribbean coastlines boasts beaches, rainforests, and volcanoes. It’s an excellent place for drinking in the natural beauty of the world.
Can you bring your drone with you on your Costa Rican travels, or is drone use illegal here?
Drones are permitted in Costa Rica, but you need an operational certificate from the Costa Rica Directorate General of Civil Aviation as well as a certificate through the Technical Council of Civil Aviation. You’re also required to abide by Costa Rica’s drone laws.
This guide will unpack all the drone rules so you can fly your drone in Costa Rica with the law on your side.
Getting in legal trouble when visiting another country is never a good way to spend a vacation or business trip, after all!
What is the leading aviation authority in Costa Rica?
We talk a lot about the Federal Aviation Authority here on this blog, but once you leave the United States, the FAA no longer regulates the skies.
Instead, in Costa Rica, it’s the Costa Rica Directorate General of Civil Aviation or Direccion General de Aviacion Civil (DGAC) for short.
The DGAC’s website is available here, but unless you know Spanish, you’ll need an online translator to read the site.
You can also contact the DGAC by:
Is flying a drone in Costa Rica legal?
Different parts of the world hold drones to various standards, and you wonder where that leaves your aspirations of flying a UAV in Costa Rica.
The activity is deemed legal for both recreational and commercial pilots.
Drone rules and laws to know before flying in Costa Rica
For the rest of this article, we’ll go over the DGAC’s many rules for flying a drone in Costa Rica. Some of these laws may be familiar to you as someone who flies in the US under FAA guidance, but not all.
Commercial pilots must have the proper certifications
In Costa Rica, commercial drone pilots need both a DGAC operational certificate and a certificate through the Technical Council of Civil Aviation.
Not every pilot is necessarily eligible for certification. You must hold at least a high school diploma, be 18 years or older, and have 10 or more hours of drone flying experience.
Even if you meet the above criteria, you’re still required to take practical and theoretical courses. Only if you pass those courses will you receive the certification.
This certification acts as your drone license when flying in Costa Rica. You should always carry the certificate on your person and be ready to produce it if you’re asked to.
Register your drone
Another requirement for drone pilots is drone registration. You’ll have to visit either the DCGA’s website or the website of Costa Rica’s government to apply for registration.
Registration is free in Costa Rica, which is great. That said, you will probably be required to show your proof of drone purchase at the time of registration.
You can only fly during the day unless you have DGCA approval
If you happen to see other drone pilots out and about during your travels through Costa Rica, this will predominantly happen during the day.
That’s not a coincidence either, as drone flight is usually only allowed during daylight hours in Costa Rica.
Flights by night are sometimes permitted but must first be approved by the DGCA. If the flight is approved, you’d have a series of special rules to follow to ensure everyone’s safety while you fly.
Stay away from no-fly zones
Costa Rica as a whole is accessible to drone pilots but specific areas are off-limits. On any map or website, these designated no-fly areas should be clearly marked as such to prevent confusion during your itinerary planning.
What kinds of places does Costa Rica classify as no-fly zones?
Here’s a list:
- The Ministerio de Seguridad Publica
- The Presidential House
- La Reforma Prison
- The El Murcielago Police Training Center
- The Zurqui Tunnel
- The La Palma Passage
- Arenal Volcano
Obtain permission before flying over crowds, communities, or cities
Generally, pilots are prohibited from flying their drones in or around large crowds as well as in Costa Rica’s communities and cities.
These rules are for the rights and privacy of Costa Rica’s citizens.
There are exceptions, such as if you have prior permission to do any of the above kinds of drone flights. Without permission though, you could face legal consequences.
Fly within 30 meters of buildings
Drone flights in uncontrolled airspace throughout Costa Rica are widely permitted. Once you get too close to buildings though, you should take heed.
The allowable distance between your drone and any building is 30 meters, which is approximately 98.43 feet. You’re never allowed to fly directly over a building either.
This rule protects the beloved architecture throughout Costa Rica that millions of people flock to.
Fly within eight kilometers of airfields and airports
To prevent drones from interrupting the operations of aircraft such as planes, you’re restricted from flying near airfields and airports at a certain distance.
The max allowable distance is eight kilometers or 4.97 miles.
The DGAC does issue permits to drone pilots who may need to get closer to an airfield but only under specific circumstances. Without that permit, flying too close to an airfield or airport is illegal.
Drones that weigh more than 25 kilograms cannot fly
Like in many parts of the world, Costa Rica enforces weight limitations on drones. Your drone can’t weigh more than 25 kilograms or 55.12 pounds if you hope to take it airborne.
We assume that’s the weight of the overall drone, but if you’re carrying enough payload on your drone to push it close to the weight limit, you might want to think about lightening your load before flying.
Don’t fly closer than 30 meters to structures
For all other structures throughout Costa Rica besides buildings and airports, you’re to keep 30 meters or 98 feet away when operating your drone.
Fly your drone within your visual line of sight
Your drone always has to stay within your natural visual line of sight when commandeering your drone.
Your visual line of sight can be augmented with contacts or glasses but not binoculars.
Only fly your drone in clear weather
To preserve your drone and ensure its safe operation, Costa Rica drone law requires you to only operate your UAV when the weather is clear.
In windy, foggy, rainy, or snowy conditions, your drone should not be in the sky. You shouldn’t want to fly in inclement weather either, as you could end up with a broken drone that way.
Costa Rica is a beautiful tropical region where you can capture drone footage that will make all your friends back home green with envy.
Before you pack up your bags and fly out, make sure you have the proper certifications and registration. Your FAA drone license won’t do you any good here since it’s the DGCA that regulates drone use in Costa Rica and not the FAA.
The drone rules you’re to abide by aren’t particularly complex, and many of these same laws are enforced back on your home turf as well.
Always be respectful of others, stay away from airlines, and limit your proximity to buildings and you should have a fun trip in Costa Rica!