U.S. citizens need only a passport to enter Costa Rica for stays of up to 90 days. Make sure it's up to date—you'll be refused entry if the passport is due to expire in less than three months. To be on the safe side, make sure it is valid for at least six months. The only way to extend your stay is to spend 72 hours in Nicaragua or Panama—but don't expect to do that undetected more than a couple of times. Customs forms ask how many visits you've made to Costa Rica in the past year.

Costa Rica has one of the highest rates of U.S. passport theft in the world. Travelers in Costa Rica are not required to carry their original documents with them at all times, although you must have easy access to them. Photocopies of the data page and your entry stamp are sufficient; those, at least, must be with you at all times. Although there have been reports from around the world about security problems with in-room safes, if your hotel doesn't have a safe in reception, locking a passport in a hotel-room safe is better than leaving it in an unlocked hiding place or carrying it with you.

For easy retrieval in the event of a lost or stolen passport, before you leave home scan your passport into a portable storage device (like an iPod) that you're carrying with you or email the scanned image to yourself.

If your passport is lost or stolen, first call the police—having the police report can make replacement easier—and then call your embassy. You'll get a temporary Emergency Travel Document that will need to be replaced once you return home. Fees vary according to how fast you need the passport; in some cases the fee covers your permanent replacement as well. The new document will not have your entry stamps; ask if your embassy takes care of this, or whether it's your responsibility to get the necessary immigration authorization.

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