So you are all ready for your vacation in Costa Rica. Now all you have to do is figure out how you are going to pay for everything. This guide to money in Costa Rica will walk you through the currency used, how to get the best exchange rate, if you should pay with credit card, and more!
Money in Costa Rica – Currency Used
The main currency in Costa Rica is colones. US dollars are also widely accepted throughout the country, but you usually get a better rate if you pay in colones. If you pay in dollars expect to get colones back as change.
If you plan on carrying dollars, stick to nothing larger than $20 bills and try to make sure they are in decent condition. People tend to be suspicious of larger bills, especially if they are ripped.
If you are taking the public buses, shopping at farmers markets, buying things from street vendors etc., they usually only accept colones.
The bills in Costa Rica come in 1,000 2,000 5,000 10,000 20,000 and 50,000 colones. Usually if you get money out of the ATM you will get 5,000 10,000 and 20,000 bills. In fact, I’ve never had a 50,000 colones bill before.
The bills are all different colors and have animals on them. I think they are really pretty. Another cool thing is the 1,000 colones bill is coated with a plastic-like film. If you are going to the beach and want to bring a bit of money for a snack, the 1,000 colones bill is your best option because it won’t get ruined by the water.
The colones coins come in 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, and 500.
If you need to calculate the dollar to colones rate quickly you can double the amount of the colones and get rid of the thousand. For example, 10,000 colones is about $20. This amount is not exact though. It is always changing, but it’s a rough estimate.
Money in Costa Rica – Changing to Colones
– You may be able to get colones at your local bank before traveling to Costa Rica, but not all banks have them. If you would like to get colones from your bank it is best to call a week or so before you would like to pick up the colones. The bank may have to order them for you.
– Check which bank networks your bank is on and if any of the banks in Costa Rica are on the same network. For example, Bank of America is on the same network as Scotiabank. There are several Scotiabank locations in Costa Rica. You will not be charged BOA’s usual $5 international withdrawal fee if you take money out of a Scotiabank ATM.
– You have the option of exchanging money at the airport in the baggage claim area, but it is not the best exchange rate. If you need money right away, I’d suggest getting about $50 exchanged and exchange the rest somewhere else.
– You can go into the bank here to exchange US dollars to colones. All you need is your passport and they will give you the best rate. Just be warned, the bank tellers don’t always speak grea English and sometimes you can wait in line for an hour at the bank. That is not a joke, you seriously can wait an hour or more.
– There are ATM’s located everywhere throughout the country. Just check with your bank before traveling to see what they will charge you for using an international ATM.
– It is good to have two bank accounts you can access, just in case. Some of the machines here have the chip technology, but not all. It would be horrible for you to plan on using you bank card for your whole trip and then not being able to get money out of the ATM.
– If you are looking for a good bank account that allows you to travel anywhere and not pay ATM fees, I highly suggest Charles Schwab High Yield Checking Account. I switched two years ago and don’t know why I didn’t switch to them earlier. They reimburse all ATM fees to your account and there are no monthly fees.
Money in Costa Rica – Using your Credit Card
– Credit cards are accepted almost everywhere in Costa Rica (all grocery stores, mini markets etc.)
– Some small restaurants do not accept credit cards, so it is best to ask before choosing to eat at a particular place
– Some stores will have a limit before you are allowed to use credit cards. Another words, usually you need to spend at least $5 to use your card.
– Thomas had a friend who visited and returned home to find that she had extra charges on her credit card. This is not likely to happen at reputable tourist places, but just a warning.
(You can read about other scams in Costa Rica here)
– Check with your credit card company before traveling to make sure there are no foreign transaction fees.
– My dad recently used his credit card to pay for gas here and instead of typing in “22,000 colones” into the machine the attendant typed in “220,000 colones”. Luckily he was honest (and completely embarrassed) and fixed the problem immediately. Just make sure you check all your receipts before signing the bill.
Money in Costa Rica – Other Tips
– Don’t forget to let your bank or credit card company know that you will be traveling in Costa Rica so they won’t think your card has been stolen and block you from withdrawing money
– Download the free app XE Currency so you can ensure you are receiving a fair exchange rate.
– At some places, you get a discount if you use cash.
– Don’t use traveler’s checks. They are too much of a hassle.
– We have never been robbed, but keep a bit of money in various places (socks, different pockets, bra etc) so if we do get robbed we can give them just part of our money.
Money in Costa Rica – Our Suggestion
I suggest getting a bit of money out from an ATM every few days. I don’t like to carry too much money on me. Even if your bank will charge you a $5 transaction fee to use an ATM, that is better than getting robbed and having hundreds of dollars stolen.
I don’t like depending on my credit card because I’m too paranoid. At hotels or large grocery stores I use my card, but for smaller purchases, I always stick to using colones. Plus I hate having to always ask at restaurants if they accept cards. It’s just easier to have cash and not worry about it.
Let us know if you have any specific questions regarding money in Costa Rica in the comment section below. We are happy to help you out!
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