Banking & Money
The unit of currency in Costa Rica is called the colón, which is divided into one hundred céntimos. Sometimes the colón is called a peso.
Costa Rica's currency in recent times has experienced bouts of instability. Currently, the has an annual devaluation rate of about 8 percent, and US$1 equals about 350 colónes.
San José banks are usually open from 9 am to 3 PM, but some branches are open as late as 5 PM. Public banks are usually crowded, and private banks can be a faster alternative. Lines will be longer during weekdays and following holidays.
This process can be less than pleasant, depending on various factors. Always remember to bring your personal identification and passport. Exchanging money is best done at the airport money counters. The services are fast and efficient, and you will have currency before you hit the streets. If this is not possible, the Airport Bank in San José offers good rates. Just keep in mind that it is more difficult to change dollars to colónes in rural areas.
Many hotels (urban and rural) are able to change money and traveler's checks for their guests. However, their rates are sometimes less favorable than the bank rate, but only by several cents per dollar. Smaller hotels may not be able to exchange large amounts of money, so it is a good idea to carry smaller bills or $20 traveler's checks for easier exchanging.
Be careful of the moneychangers on the streets who offer great rates. Scams are abundant in the money-changing genre, so proceed at your own risk.
Taking Local Currency Outside Costa Rica
The colón does not often exchange at a favorable rate outside of Costa Rica. In fact, some countries' banks do not exchange Costa Rica's currency at all. U.S. funds can usually be repurchased at Costa Rican airport banks.
Having Money Sent
U.S. money may be sent by wire and received at banks in San José. Money orders may be mailed, though this method is less secure. Since regular money orders or personal checks are nearly impossible to cash, money transfers between backs is the most effective method of receiving cash.
Credit cards are a viable method of payment in Costa Rica. Visa and Master Card are widely accepted. American Express is also accepted, though not as readily. Your credit card should be accepted at most large inns and restaurants, but smaller family-run establishments may not have the capability. The bank rate of exchange on the date of the transaction will be applied. In addition, a 6% surcharge is common for each credit card transactions.
ATMs are most abundant in urban areas, but can be found throughout Costa Rica.