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Money tips when visiting costa rica

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When traveling to a foreign country, for some people the difference in money can be really intimidating. I am going to offer some tips and typical processes in this blog that I hope will put your mind at ease….. Or a little more at ease!

What to have in your pocket while traveling in Costa Rica: When visiting Costa Rica it is good to have both the local currency Colones and US Dollars in your pocket. When a merchant is asking for USD, pay in USD and if they are asking for Colones, pay in Colones. The reason is that if the merchant has to do the conversion to the other denomination, they will usually give a low exchange rate compared to the banks daily rate, so the product or service will actually cost more for you and they will be getting a couple of extra bucks. On a small purchase it doesn’t make much difference but say on $500USD you may pay an extra $30 – $40USD.

ALWAYS COUNT YOUR CHANGE BEFORE YOU LEAVE THE STORE OR DRIVE AWAY. Merchants will always take the time to count what you give them and check to make sure it is not counterfeit so they get their money but they don’t alway give the correct change back. So take the time to count your change!!

Where to get currency:

You can get Colones OR USD via an ATM machine and there are plenty in Costa Rica. You might want to check what your home bank charges you for international withdrawals. When using an ATM if it doesn’t give you the amount you want on the first try, don’t take your card out and leave, Try a lower amount say 10000 colones (~$19.50USD) less than your original amount and see if it gives it to you. If not try another 10000 colones lower. Sometimes there is a “magic” number the machine is looking for and when you hit the right amount, it will dispense your money. One IMPORTANT thing to remember is to take your card out of the machine as soon as it spits it out. If you wait a certain number of seconds to take it out, say if you decide to count the money first or check out how different it is to your home country’s money, the machine will eat your card and then you will have to go back into the bank to get it back which starts another process! Avoid this by removing your card as soon as you have your money and the card is ejected.

You can also exchange your USD in the bank for Colones. This method can take ten minutes to two hours depending on the lineups. You can also cash in Traveler’s cheques in the bank but sometimes it may take longer and you may have to jump thru some hoops to get your money.

When you go into the bank to exchange money (or for anything), BRING your passport. You will need it.

The process inside most banks are that you enter the bank and a security guard will wave a wand around you checking for anything you shouldn’t have at a bank and check your bags. Then typically you will walk to an electronic box that will spit out a paper with a number on it, Then you sit in the many chairs until your number is called, then proceed to the counter. When you enter the bank it is a good idea to remove your sunglasses and if you are wearing a baseball cap, turn it around (I guess so the cameras can get a good view of your face).

DO NOT exchange money at the airport. They give the worst rates I have ever heard of.

Costa Rica Colones and how to do quick conversions to USD on the fly:

The Costa Rica Colones comes in the following denominations:

  • 10 000c = from $19-$20USD (depending on the current exchange rate)
  • 5000c = from $9-$10USD (depending on the current exchange rate)
  • 2000c = from $3.60 -$4USD (depending on the current exchange rate)
  • 1000c = from $1.80-$2USD (depending on the current exchange rate)

The remainder are coins and you will get a lot of them….

  • 500c = .90 – 1USD
  • 100c = .18 – .20 US cents
  • 50c = .09 – .10 US cents
  • 25c = .05 US cents
  • 10c = .01 US cents
  • 5c = not even worth a penny.

Here is an easy way to convert the Colones to US Dollars:

  • 10 000c : drop the 3 zeros at the end, double the 10 and minus a little. So 10 000c becomes 10 x 2 = $20 minus a little bit, so 10000c is worth between $19 and $20
  • 5000c drop the 3 zeros at the end so it will be 5 x 2 = $10 minus a little bit, so it is worth between $19-$20USD
  • 2000c is like $4 minus a bit
  • 1000c is like $2 minus a bit
  • 500 is like $1 minus a bit

It’s not that difficult to do the exchange in your head, once you know an “easy” method!

Using Credit Cards like Visa, Mastercard, American Express and others in Costa Rica:

Many smaller merchants do not accept credit cards, only cash. If you plan to use your credit cards in Costa Rica:

make sure the merchant accepts them

make sure the total is correct, Many will charge a service fee of up to 13% to use the card. I only use cash now because I got charged an extra 13% on a backpack when I first moved here.

As with anywhere else in the world, be careful where you use your credit cards, Fraud is a worldwide problem.

Make sure to contact your credit card company and your bank prior to the trip to avoid the inconvenience of declined purchases or withdrawals.

I will add more if I can think of anything else.