A Short Guide To Retreat Logistics: Visa, Tax, Transportation, Health & Safety Tips For The World’s 5 Most-Googled Retreat Destinations

February 25, 2021
Jen Corley
12 min read

Planning a retreat in a foreign location is both exciting and a possible logistical nightmare if you don’t have the right information on hand.

That’s why we decided to put together a guide on retreat logistics for five of the most-googled retreat destinations – Bali, Costa Rica, Thailand, Mexico, and Greece!

This is not a travel guide, rather it’s a resource to help retreat leaders with some of the practical aspects of organizing travel to another country.

With expert input from several members of our Retreat Leader Hub, who are themselves based in each of these countries, we have compiled up to date advice on:

  • Entry and visa requirements
  • Local/government taxes and payments
  • Getting around
  • Health, insurance, and personal safety
  • Plus, some general information
COVID-19 Retreat Checklist

Keep in mind as you read that COVID-19 is impacting local conditions, sometimes on a daily basis.

For this reason, we haven’t touched on some of the more general points around basic safety and hygiene measures that have become standard in many places, such as mask-wearing and social distancing.

We have, however, done our best to highlight any major points that may affect travel at the moment.

If you are unsure of anything, we recommend looking at the country in question’s official immigration or tourism website for more information.

1. Bali: Land Of Color

Our Bali expert is Alexandria Tomayko, founder of group venue listing platform Little Black Book.

Bali is known for its amazing food, people, and culture. Tropical rainforests, blue oceans, and sprawling rice fields draw conscious travelers to the island every year.

Kuta Selatan Bali

Entry and Visa Requirements

As a retreat leader, you will need either a KITAS (work permit for up to two years) or a Business Visa (temporary visa for up to six months) to operate a retreat. Which one you need will depend on how often you plan to host retreats and whether or not you wish to stay in Bali. It’s recommended that retreat leaders go through a recognized visa agent for advice and to get the right documentation. Bali Immigration officials do stringently check for the correct paperwork.

Your participants can go the route of the Visa On Arrival (VOA), currently an e-visa, which can be extended up to 60 days by a visa agent. Pre-COVID-19, a 30-day Reg Free Visa was also available to certain passport holders.

As of February 2021, it’s necessary for visitors to self-quarantine for five days in Jakarta at their own expense upon arrival in Indonesia. They also need a negative PCR test not older than 72 hours upon arrival. At the end of the quarantine period, it’s necessary to take another test and produce a negative result before being allowed to travel within the country.

Check in with official sources to see what the regulations are at your time of travel.

Find information on e-visas, entry permits, and up to date travel information through Indonesia’s immigration website (you can also contact them through their Instagram page; they are responsive there). A recommended visa agency is Bali Visas.

Local/Government Taxes and Payments

Retreat leaders should note that there is an import tax of 40% on goods valued over USD50. If you plan on shipping swag, retreat gifts, or yoga mats to Bali in advance of your retreat, you may become liable for import duties.

Instead, consider looking for local providers to supply you, or speak to your venue contact for ideas.

Getting Around

Getting Around Bali

Visitors to Bali arrive at the one main hub, Ngurah Rai International Airport, located 13 km south of Denpasar.

The best way to get around Bali is either by bike or car, both of which you can rent. Alternatively, Gojek and Grab are the primary ride-hailing services available in the country.The island does not have an extensive or reliable public transport system.

Currently, PCR or rapid tests are required to transit between regions, that is, onto the island. Tests are readily available.

Make sure your mobile is unlocked, and grab a sim card at the airport. Data is easily available to purchase.

During times when you have a reliable Internet connection, store offline Google Maps for the areas you’ll be in. Also, make sure you have Whatsapp installed for contacting your accommodation provider, or for emergencies.

Health, Insurance, and Personal Safety

Bali is fairly safe, although it’s always advisable to exercise certain precautions when traveling abroad in an unfamiliar place. Don’t wear expensive jewelry or watches, and don’t use your phone while walking around. Be conscious of how much cash or which legal documents you carry on your person, and so on.

It’s always recommended that you have insurance while traveling. Safety Wing or World Nomads are good options to look into.

For medical emergencies, call a nearby 24-hour clinic. They can deal with most pressing medical issues.

Do pack your prescription medication, as well as activated charcoal, although you can buy that in Bali. Most visitors to the island are affected by Bali belly; the activated charcoal will do wonders for alleviating the discomfort.

The main hospital on the island is Siloam Hospital. Pharmacies are known as Apotek.

General Information

  • Currency: Indonesian Rupiah (IDR), also known as Rp
  • Country dialing code: +62
  • Time zone: Central Indonesia Time (UTC +08:00)

2. Costa Rica: Nature In All Her Glory

Sean McDonald, owner and operator of Vida Asana Eco-Retreat and Learning Center is our expert on this one.

Known for its incredible outdoor space and bustling biodiversity, Costa Rica has consistently enchanted travelers.

Keel Billed Toucan Costa Rica

Entry and Visa Requirements

Costa Rica is visa-free for most Western countries. You can host a retreat and stay for up to 90 days with a valid passport and return ticket on hand.

If you are entering from a South American country, you might have to produce a Yellow Fever vaccination certificate.

And, as a result of the current Covid-19 pandemic, Costa Rica does require proof of health insurance that implicitly includes $20,000 worth of Covid-19 medical care and $2,000 for quarantine insurance.

Useful up to date travel information is available through the Costa Rica Official Tourism website.

Local/Government Taxes and Payments

Any accommodation taxes and fees due to the government are the responsibility of your retreat center. If they aren’t handling this and are not transparent about it, RUN to another venue.

Getting Around

The two international airports are San Jose and Liberia, and your host accommodation will let you know which is the right one to fly into.

San Jose has a lot more flights and is more convenient to get to from many international destinations, so this could factor into your decision on where to host a retreat.

Also, a lot of retreat centers are four or five hours from the airport by land or require a second flight on a small plane. If you’re hosting a shorter retreat, this is a big consideration, as it will add 10 hours of roundtrip travel time.

Getting Around Costa Rica

The main commercial land transport companies are Interbus and Gray Line, but most retreat centers will have a network of reliable local drivers they work with. Local knowledge is key here, and drivers who are invested in maintaining a good relationship with a retreat center will be more reliable and accountable to you and your students.

Health, Insurance, and Personal Safety

Costa Rica has an internationally acclaimed healthcare system. All residents and citizens have access to a national system of healthcare clinics and hospitals administered through the equivalent of Social Security.

Costa Rica has a 911 telephone system for emergencies as well. You can access emergency services with your travel insurance or by paying out of pocket (VERY affordable).

That said, most retreat centers will have a relationship with a local private healthcare clinic, many of which will accept your foreign insurance, and the prices will be fair and affordable regardless.

Like many low-income and middle-income nations, Costa Rica does see its share of opportunistic crime. It’s primarily in the form of theft of unattended items. However, most retreat centers are built in safe areas. In general, pay attention to items like smartphones, the same as you would on any vacation.

General Information

  • Currency: Costa Rican Colón (CRC)
  • Country dialing code: +506
  • Time zone: Central Standard Time (UTC -06:00)

3. Thailand: Teeming With Culture

We were fortunate enough to connect with Christophe Cappon, founder of retreat planning company Thailand Yoga Holidays, to get insights on Thailand.

Thailand is known for its incredible food, culture, massage, and friendly people. Combine that with its mix of breathtaking scenery, and it’s no wonder the country and its islands have been enticing travelers for years.

Wian Kum Kam Thailand

Entry and Visa Requirements

The simplest way to enter Thailand is as a tourist. There was a time when entering was a breeze. You didn’t even need a visa, just an entry stamp on arrival. However, once Covid-19 hit, all that changed.

While the rules and regulations are in a constant state of flux, Thailand is currently offering a Special Tourist Visa for those willing to jump through the bureaucratic hoops, not to mention undergo a 14-night hotel quarantine upon arrival. That will cost at least USD2,000, if not your sanity!

As it stands, there are no quarantine exemptions for those with vaccines. But, for current visa requirements and other up-to-date information, visit the Thai Embassy’s website.

Local/Government Taxes and Payments

When leading a retreat in Thailand, all hospitality taxes will be included as part of your accommodation and tour bills. At least that simplifies one thing!

Getting Around

Bangkok International Airport is the best way of accessing any other regions in Thailand. However, for those wanting to skip the big city, with a little luck, you might be able to fly directly into Chiang Mai (if you’re visiting the north) or Phuket (if you’re heading south).

Once on the ground, you’ll likely be traveling by taxi/minivan to your hotel. Keep in mind that while traffic may flow differently than back home, the road infrastructure in Thailand is, all in all, pretty good by Southeast Asian standards.

Getting Around Thailand

For many coastal destinations, depending on where you’re heading, expect to sail by anything from a full-fledged ferry to a fisherman’s longtail boat. It’s all part of the adventure.

The best way of getting around within a city is by the Thai equivalent of Uber. Simply download the Grab app (mentioned previously), and you’re on your way!

Health, Insurance, and Personal Safety

Not only does Thailand have a low tourist crime rate, but it also boasts some fantastic hospitals.

When it comes to a 911 equivalent, contacting the Thai Tourist police by dialing 1155 is your best bet. Regardless of your emergency, you’ll have an English-speaking officer on the line and ready to assist you. Alternatively, call up an ambulance directly by dialing 191.

Thailand is a place where people feel safe, which is one reason it’s such a popular destination.

General Information

  • Currency: Thai Baht (THB)
  • Country dialing code: +66
  • Time zone: Indochina Time (UTC +07:00)

4. Mexico: Sensory Delights All Around

Stephanie Rousso, founder of Blue Turtle Sustainable – an organization which hosts retreats in support of local conservation initiatives – shares her valuable insider knowledge of Mexico.

Mexico has so much to offer travelers. The pristine beaches, Mayan temples, food & drink, and festivals are just the starting point.

Puerto Penasco Mexico

Entry and Visa Requirements

Mexico is open to travelers, with many countries able to enter with just a current passport and FMM tourist card for short-term tourism and business (180 days).

For online submission and issuance of FMM cards, visit the Mexico Tourist Card website.

Local/Government Taxes and Payments

Most tourism taxes and levies are included either in the flight or accommodation prices.

However, you will be liable to pay DNI (approximately USD30 per person) if you exit the country via a land border. This only applies to stays longer than seven days.

Also, check that your retreat center includes the 16% sales tax in its quote or invoice.

Getting Around

Depending on where your retreat is located, you should have solid air travel options. There is an extensive network of international and domestic airlines and routes in Mexico.

Baja California has two international airports, San José del Cabo (SJD) and La Paz (LAP). Visitors to Tulum will fly into Cancun International. Puerto Escondido and Puerto Vallarta are other tourist arrival hubs.

Clean, responsible taxi services that accept credit card payments are available at the airports for shorter trips, while buses are readily available longer for airport transfers, private and group sightseeing tours, and long-distance routes internally.

Most retreat centers will have regular drivers that they know and trust. In Baja, check out EcoBajaTours.

Getting Around Mexico

Health, Insurance, and Personal Safety

Mexico has its own 911 system for emergencies.

Most retreat destinations are in safe areas that experience very little crime. It’s mostly focused on stealing purses or breaking and entering into cars and residential sites, not hotels. Rental cars can also be targets.

In Baja, for example, this type of crime is primarily witnessed in Cabo San Lucas where the tourist drug market exists. Usually, retreat groups stay out of Cabo for this and other reasons. All retreat sites in the region are remote and secure. Most expats and tourists say they feel safer here in these small, coastal towns than in their hometowns in the U.S.

General Information

  • Currency: Mexican Peso (MXN)
  • Country dialing code: +52
  • Four time zones: Pacific Standard Time, Mountain Standard Time, Central Standard Time, and Eastern Standard Time (respectively UTC-08:00, UTC-07:00, UTC-06:00, UTC-05:00)

5. Greece: Cradle Of Western Civilization

Our Greece expert is Christina Papavlasopoulos, co-Founder of Myths + Muses, a boutique destination management company focused on Southern Europe.

Greece continues to be a highly sought-after retreat destination for its warmth and hospitality, rich history, health and wellness practices, diverse destinations, beautiful beaches, and Mediterranean cuisine.

Santorini Greece

Entry and Visa Requirements

Travelers from the EU, US, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Japan, and a large list of other countries require no visa nor additional vaccinations to enter Greece.

Travelers can enter Greece, and most of Europe, for up to 90-days within a six-month period. The commonly recommended vaccines include Hepatitis A + B, rabies, and other routine ones such as MMR, TDAP, etc.

To be on the safe side, travelers should consult their primary care physicians and local consulate before traveling.

As it pertains to COVID-19, the Greek Tourism Minister, Harry Theoharis, announced on February 16, 2021, that when Europe opens its borders, it will not require a vaccine certificate but only a negative test. This announcement was made to dispel rumors that hotels or vendors will refuse hospitality to non-vaccinated travelers.

Additional resources for helpful information regarding health regulations include the CDC’s Greece traveler overview and Passport Health’s Greece page.

Local/Government Taxes and Payments

When booking a retreat in Greece, your venue and other vendors should include the 24% VAT (Value Added Tax), which is standard. Always confirm that VAT is included in the rate you receive.

Additionally, Greek hotels have an additional daily tourism tax that is typically collected from the guest at the end of the stay. This is a per room, per night tax of roughly three to five euros, depending on the level and location of the accommodation.

For an all-inclusive retreat, ask for a tally of all taxes and fees, including the room tax, ahead of your stay. Taxes are included in meals, but typically gratuity is not. 10% is the standard tipping rate.

Getting Around

It’s important to factor in travel logistics when choosing your venue and destination in Greece. Athens (ATH) is the main airport for international flights. Athens also acts as the central flight hub in Greece, from which you can access many islands and other mainland cities directly.

During peak season (the summer months), some airlines provide direct flights from European cities to the Greek islands. If you’re thinking of island-hopping, it’s best to select one group of islands, like the Cycladic, and take a ferry between them as there are no direct flights between islands.

Depending on the comfort and experience level of your travelers, it can be a good idea to meet in Athens and travel as a group to your final destination.

The main port of Athens is Piraeus, with other nearby ports of Rafina and Lavrio. It’s best to arrange travel with a local expert (like Myths + Muses) to understand your fastest travel options and purchase group tickets at a better rate.

Getting Around Greece

Ferries and flights are typically reliable, though sometimes affected due to labor strikes or inclement weather. Winds are high in the spring months, especially March and April, so be wary of booking high-speed ferries during this time. Because they’re smaller, they’re more prone to cancellation due to strong waves.

Regarding ground transportation, it’s advised to always use a pre-arranged transfer company or an official taxi. Be sure taxis have a working meter before you begin. Taxis may also implement a small charge for excess luggage.

Health, Insurance, and Personal Safety

The water is safe to drink throughout Athens but should not be consumed for drinking on the islands. It is fine for showering and brushing your teeth.

Err on the side of caution and drink filtered water, as introducing water from any new environment could cause an upset stomach.

As a whole, Greeks have great respect and appreciation for tourism which drives their GDP. They are warm and welcoming, and crime is not very prevalent. Nevertheless, reasonable precautions are recommended in crowded places and in downtown Athens, as with all major global cities.

Pickpocketing is the most common crime, so always use purses with secure zippers, avoid easy-to-access backpacks, and never hang bags on the back of your chairs at a restaurant. Keep digital copies of your passports and important documents, should your belongings be lost or taken.

Reach police by dialing 100; usually they will be able to help or direct you elsewhere if needed. For medical emergencies and fire, call 112 and 199, respectively.

General Information

  • Currency: Euro (EUR)
  • Country dialing code: +30
  • Time zone: Eastern European Standard Time (UTC+02:00)

Final Thoughts

While it’s generally easy enough to get the travel guides online, the more practical logistical information related to retreats isn’t quite as accessible. We hope this will be helpful to retreat leaders who are researching a list of potential destinations as well as those who have already decided to visit one of the destinations highlighted here.

Many thanks to our contributors for their time and expertise. If you’re considering traveling to any of these destinations, we highly recommend working with them!