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Opening a Bank Account

Last Updated: Jul 17, 2013

banco popular bank
 - Costa Rica

Overview

With a handful of state-owned banks and more than 20 private banks, there are plenty of options for opening an account in Costa Rica. All banks offer services to foreigners, whether residents, students or workers; tourists may open accounts at select institutions. Most offer accounts in colones or dollars, and some private banks have accounts in Euros.

The first decision you’ll want to make is whether to choose a private or a state bank. State-owned banks guarantee all deposits and have numerous branch and ATM locations. Banco de Costa Rica (BCR) offers the most ATM locations – 400 scattered all around the country. While there are a number of advantages to state banks, there is one very important downside to keep in mind: long lines.

The most common type of account – and the easiest to open – is a savings account. Like in the United States, Costa Rican savings accounts earn a small amount of interest, and they have a very low minimum balance (usually $10 or less), and are easily accessed with an ATM debit card. Since personal checks are not commonly used in Costa Rica, a savings account is adequate for almost any type of transaction. Ask your bank to provide you with an international debit card for use abroad.

Banking Tips

Patience is the first requirement when doing business with state banks in Costa Rica. If possible, avoid bank and ATM visits on Fridays closest to the 15th and 31st of the month, which are typical paydays in Costa Rica. Lines will be especially long at this time. 

If you do not have the time or patience to wait, most private banks have shorter lines. Additionally, the staff at private banks is more likely to be bilingual.

Both public and private banks in Costa Rica divide customers up by their transaction. For general business, like exchanging currency or making a withdrawal, you'll be in the standing line. For customer service needs, opening an account, requesting a new debit or credit card, and similar transactions, you'll be directed to a separate section. If you're in the seated section, be sure to take a numbered ticket called a ficha as soon as you enter. Lines move slowly and are by number only, so you want to secure your spot.

If you're pregnant, accompanied by a young child, elderly or disabled, you qualify for the preferential line, called the fila preferencial. This teller window is usually located to one side of the other tellers, and will have a shorter line. 

Account Requirements

Every bank has slightly different requirements, so it's important to check first with your chosen institution. Most banks require at least the following:

  • Identification: In July 2012, Costa Rican banks will require all legal residents to present their DIMEX ID card (the type of foreign resident cedula currently issued by Immigration) to conduct banking transactions. The regulation only applies to foreigners living in Costa Rica as residents, temporary workers, refugees and students. Tourists can use their passports as their identification.
  • Minimum Deposit: The minimum deposit will depend on the type of account. Most savings accounts have at least a 5,000 CRC or $25 minimum deposit. Minimum deposits for checking accounts are usually $500-$1,000.
  • Utility Bill: You must prove your place of residence with a public utility bill – electric, water, Internet or telephone – that states your physical address. If the bill is in someone else's name, for example a landlord, you may be asked to provide documentation, such as a rental agreement, that proves your relationship.
  • Proof of Income: Salaried workers should provide their orden patronal. Independent workers must present a Certification of Income (Certificacion de Ingresos) prepared by a CPA; this letter must include your full name, occupation, and monthly or yearly income.
  • U.S. Tax Forms: A new policy, known as Conozca a Su Cliente (Know Your Client), requires that U.S. citizens fill out tax forms and other documentation with foreign banks to inform the IRS of offshore bank accounts. You'll complete and sign several forms, and may be required to provide additional documentation regarding your business abroad. This is required to open a checking or savings account with any public or private bank, and will be renewed every year.

Contact Info

  • BAC San Jose: 2295-9797
  • Banco de Costa Rica (BCR): 2284-6600
  • Banco Nacional: 2212-2000
  • Banco Popular: 2211-7000
  • Banco Promerica: 2519-8090
  • Citibank: 2239-9019
  • HSBC: 2287-1111
  • Scotiabank: 8001-SCOTIA (800-172-6842)

Spanish Banking Terms

account cuenta
ATM cajero automatico
balance  saldo
bank branch sucursal
local bank-to-bank transfer transferencia bancaria or transferencia SINPE
bill recibo
cash efectivo
to cash cambiar/cobrar
change cambio
checking account cuenta corriente
credit card tarjeta de credito
debit debito
debit card trajeta de debito
debt deuda
deposit deposito
deposit slip hoja de deposito
income ingresos
interest rate tasas de interes
invest invertir
loan prestamo
money dinero
mortgage hipoteca
online banking banco en linea
payment pago, abono
receipt recibo
savings ahorros
securities valores
tax impuesto
withdraw sacar dinero, retirar
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