Banking & Currency
Last Updated: Jun 13, 2015
Costa Rica’s currency is the colon (CRC). The symbol for the colon is a c with two forward slashes (₡) Bills are issued in the following denominations: ₡1,000, ₡2,000, ₡5,000, ₡10,000, ₡20,000 and ₡50,000 colon note. Each colorful bill features a unique design, highlighting local wildlife, an historical figure, and a Costa Rican ecosystem. The notes range in size from smaller to larger depending on denomination; coins are available in ₡5, ₡10, ₡25, ₡50, ₡100 and ₡500 colones.
Buy: ₡498.35 per U.S. dollar
Sell: ₡509.49 per U.S. dollar
You can exchange money just about anywhere in Costa Rica. Many small stores, known as pulperias, will allow you to purchase a pack of gum or a soda with a $5, $10 or $20 bill, giving you colones in return. Most stores, taxi drivers and street corner money-changers will also accept U.S. dollars, as long as they do not have to give you too much change back. You can pay for park entrance fees, hotel rooms, tours and meals at tourist restaurants with dollars as well. Public bus fares, meals in local markets, and small ticket items are best paid with colones.
The Global Exchange office located in San Jose's Juan Santamaria International Airport is open daily from 5 a.m. until midnight. If you can avoid it, do not change money at the Global Exchange counters as their rates are much lower than banks.
All banks will exchange U.S. dollars, and some will exchange British pounds and Euros; make sure your bills are free of any tears or marks, or the banks may refuse them. You can change money in one of the government-owned or private banks found throughout Costa Rica. Bring your passport and patience if changing money at a Banco Nacional, Banco Popular or Banco de Costa Rica. State-run banks are notoriously slow; something as simple as changing a few dollars into colones might require 30 minutes to an hour of standing in line.
Service at private banks such as Scotiabank, BANEX or Banco Mercantil is much better and faster. Here, your money exchange can be accomplished in a matter of minutes. Most private banks have English speaking tellers as well.
Banking hours for most state banks are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Private banks are usually open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.
You'll find ATMs throughout the country, even in the smallest towns. Most machines use the Visa plus network, but you'll also see machines on the Cirrus network, which accepts most foreign ATM and credit cards. Many ATMs also dispense U.S. dollars in addition to colones. Make sure to check with your banking institution for separate foreign currency exchange fees.
You can use credit cards to get cash from a bank. However, your credit card company might charge you a hefty fee (sometimes 10%) for the favor. Visa, Mastercard and American Express are widely accepted at most upscale and mid-range hotels and shops, as well as restaurants in tourist towns, but you can expect a transaction fee on all international credit card purchases. All local car rental agencies accept credit cards.
If you want to move money fast, you can send or receive cash in these places in San Jose:
- Western Union
- Servicios Internacionales Unigiros S.A. (Avenida 1 between Calle 1 and Calle 13)
You will pay a transaction fee depending on the destination and the amount of money that is being transferred. The funds will be available to you as soon as the transaction is complete.
MoneyGram has more than 40 agent locations (22 agents in San Jose) where you can send and/or receive money. Fees apply only if you send money. The funds will be available as soon as the transaction is done. If someone is wiring money to you, the person must know the telex number of the bank where you'll receive the cash.