Tips When Operating to San Jose, Costa Rica
This is a post by author Delmark Muir. Delmark is Managing Director for Universal Aviation Costa Rica, which has aircraft ground-handling facilities in San Jose and Liberia. Delmark is an expert on business aircraft operations in Costa Rica and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For business aircraft operators, setting up a flight to San Jose (MROC) is not a difficult proposition, and there’s nothing onerous from the regulatory perspective. But it’s important to work with your 3rd-party provider and the local ground handler in advance to understand all documentation and prior permission required (PPR) lead time considerations.
Here are some things to keep in mind when operating to MROC:
1. No landing permits are required
Private non-revenue and charter (no-scheduled commercial) operations do not require landing permits for Costa Rica. Only scheduled commercial operations and aircraft with seats sold individually require landing permits.
2. Prior permission required (PPR) is necessary for San Jose
A PPR for MROC is required for all arrivals/departures, including tech stops, with minimum 12 hours’ advance notification. The exception is medevac flights, as they do not require a PPR. PPR requests should be submitted by your local ground handler, as a specific request format is used to submit it to the airport authorities. The primary reason for a PPR at this location is aircraft parking considerations. Short-notice PPR requests are often entertained, but will depend on aircraft parking availability. Parking can be especially restrictive during the high season between November – March. Once the PPR is approved, you will receive a confirmation ID, which will be your tail number and date of operation. Confirmation reference does not need to be placed in flight planning remarks. For a delayed arrival, your ground handler will need to advise airport authorities in order for aircraft parking availability to be reconfirmed. Hangar facilities are not available for transient business aviation operations at MROC.
3. CIQ is available 24/7
MROC is a 24-hour airport with full-time customs, immigration, and quarantine (CIQ). CIQ clearance is normally completed in the main terminal, but it’s possible to arrange clearance onboard aircraft for certain VVIP passengers. This, however, is at the discretion of local customs and must be requested in advance.
4. Know CIQ clearance procedures
For standard CIQ clearance via the main terminal, your ground handler will direct passengers and luggage through customs and later will escort crew and their luggage through the terminal. Valid passports are required for all crew and passengers. Some nationalities, including crew, will need to have visas prior to arrival. Visas are not possible to arrange on arrival in Costa Rica. For this reason, it’s recommended to speak to your ground handler or 3rd-party provider regarding visa requirements. While general aviation (GA) crew may not clear using the “crew line” at MROC, there’s a special line available for clearance of GA passengers and crew. Customs clearance usually takes less than 20 minutes, but it may require up to 45 minutes during peak hours of scheduled airline activity, typically 1000 – 1200 and 2000 – 2300 local. For onboard CIQ requests, your ground handler will need to send a formal letter to airport authorities indicating schedule and providing all aircraft information. Assuming onboard clearance is approved, your ground handler will escort crew and passengers (after customs clearance onboard) to a designated point for local ground transport pick up. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to arrange planeside ground transport pick up at MROC.
5. Consider agricultural peculiarities
Luggage will be screened with a quarantine screening device. Authorities are diligent in prohibiting fruits and vegetables into Costa Rica. Any plants and seeds you wish to bring into Costa Rica must be accompanied with specific documentation (check with your ground handler), or it will be confiscated and held at the airport until you go downtown to obtain approval to import the items. Be aware that leftover catering, by regulation, must be disposed of on landing. A local in-flight catering company may be able to store these food items for you, but this will be determined on a case-by-case basis. Be aware that onboard pets must have “pet passports” indicating vaccinations and dates of vaccinations. Additionally, you must provide proof of purchase of the pet.
6. Be aware of import limitations
If you bring into Costa Rica more than what’s permitted, in terms of quantity or value of restricted items, you’ll be taxed at 40% on the cost of such items. It’s always best to confirm restricted items and limitations with your ground handler pre-trip. Import tax may be paid at the airport during normal business hours Monday-Friday. Outside these hours, the items will be held at the airport until you return to pay taxes owed during regular business hours. Be aware that you may only bring up to five liters of liquids into Costa Rica, but exceptions may be approved on a case-by-case basis. Customs is strict on import regulations and is looking to protect local commerce.
7. Consider departure customs clearance
Passengers and crew show passports at a security checkpoint when departing MROC, and there’s no special line available for GA. This means you will be in the same security line with commercial airline passengers. Your ground handler will be on hand to assist and escort crew and passengers to the aircraft.
8. Check with your ground handler re: prohibited items
Personal weapons, including any weapons that a bodyguard may have with them, may not be brought into Costa Rica without specific permission from authorities. Your ground handler will need at least eight business days to process such requests, as there are complex requirements to be met, and required documentation depends upon the specific request. Be aware that if weapons are discovered without appropriate licenses, the individual will be jailed.
9. Be familiar with all operating considerations
There are no noise restrictions in Costa Rica, and Stage 2 aircraft may operate freely to MROC. During very large events, such as presidential elections, there may be GA restrictions in place, including blackout times. Any airport closure will be announced by notices to airmen (NOTAM). Costa Rica experiences two rainy seasons annually: August-November and April-June. During these times, rain and fog may impact airport operations.
10. Be aware of in-flight catering considerations
There’s only one approved in-flight caterer at MROC. By regulation, an in-flight catering company must be approved by Costa Rica Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Crew can choose to source catering from a hotel or restaurant, but will have to do so on their own. Ground handlers may not bring catering through security, due to regulations that restrict them.
11. All aircraft in Costa Rica are subject to ramp checks
While not frequent occurrences, ramp checks do take place from time to time. Talk with your ground handler and understand all documentation requirements in advance. Have crew aircraft documents readily available. Be aware that crew licenses must be from the country in which the aircraft is registered.
12. Helpful links
For more information on customs, agriculture, immigrations, and arrival and departure procedures, please see the following links:
It’s best practice to be aware of all operational nuances in effect at any international destination. In the case of MROC there ar-e in-flight catering and agricultural peculiarities to consider, and you may have the opportunity, when working with your ground handler in advance of arrival, to set up onboard CIQ clearance.
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