Exchanging Money in Costa Rica – (Guide to Maximizing Your Exchange)

Exchanging money in Costa Rica doesn’t have to be complicated. Discover where to obtain the best exchange rates, understand how the Costa Rican colón works, and get smart tips to avoid common money exchange pitfalls. Read on for straightforward advice that will save you time and money, setting you up for a carefree Costa Rican adventure.

What to Know About Cost Rican Currency

  • The Costa Rican colón (₡), adorned with national wildlife and figures, has been the country’s official currency since 1896 and is pivotal in understanding local exchange practices.
  • Exchange rates between the colón and other currencies, such as the USD, fluctuate daily, making it essential for travelers to monitor rates closely to maximize their funds while in Costa Rica.
  • While banks offer favorable exchange rates and ATMs and credit cards provide convenience, avoid airport exchanges and street transactions, and be mindful of potential fees and international transaction authorizations.

Costa Rica’s Currency: The Colón

Costa Rican Colon
The Colon is a gorgeous piece of currency if I don’t say so myself!

In Costa Rica, the official currency is known as the colon or costa rica colones. It was introduced in 1896, nearly seven decades after gaining independence from Spain, taking over from the previous Costa Rican peso at a conversion rate of one-to-one. The naming honors Christopher Columbus—or Cristóbal Colón in Spanish—who arrived on Costa Rican shores in 1502. For travelers venturing into this picturesque country, it’s crucial to become acquainted with its unique monetary system.

As for their appearance, both coins and banknotes are visually striking and celebrate national pride with imagery representing Costa Rica’s rich fauna and notable personas. Coins range between denominations of 5 to 500 colones while banknotes span from 1,000 up to an impressive amount of 50,000 colones. They feature vibrant scenes reminiscent of tropical landscapes and local flora, which captures the essence of this biodiverse region.

Understanding how to handle transactions involving the costa rican currency extends beyond recognizing physical money—it’s essential for effective exchange practices too. Being informed can help you navigate exchanges seamlessly when trading your dollars or euros for local cash—allowing you not just a smoother experience but also potentially better rates!

Current Exchange Rates and Fluctuations

The exchange rate between the Costa Rican colón and the US dollar is subject to daily variations. The recent exchange rates have varied, with about 560 CRC equaling 1 USD down to approximately 502.796 CRC per USD. This variation stems from a policy implemented by the Central Bank of Costa Rica in 2015 that allowed for the value of the colón to fluctuate freely against the U.S. dollar, causing noticeable shifts such as when it changed from around 560 CRC for every dollar to close to 498 CRC within a year.

To stay informed about these variable rates, we advise using trusted online resources like Forbes Advisor’s tool which provides current conversion figures for swapping United States dollars into Costa Rican colones or vice versa.

By keeping an eye on real-time exchange rates, you can ensure you get more bang for your buck during currency exchanges. Doing this allows travelers like yourself better control over their budget while experiencing all that beautiful Costa Rica has to offer without financial worry!

Exchanging Money Upon Arrival

Upon your arrival in Costa Rica, eager to discover its beaches, jungles, and vibrant culture, you’ll need to obtain some local currency, the vivid Costa Rican colones. The optimal locations for exchanging money are established financial institutions such as Banco Nacional or other banks within Costa Rica like Banco de Costa Rica. These establishments typically offer better exchange rates.

It is advisable to bypass the airport’s currency exchange services due to less favorable rates. Similarly, avoid street transactions which could lead to fraudulent activities. Note that while certain supermarkets, gas stations, and dining outlets might accept USD for colones conversion purposes. Their applied rates can vary significantly.

Prior to visiting a bank branch for your monetary needs, make sure you have your passport with an appropriate entry stamp or a legitimate residency document at hand – these are essential requirements when engaging in any form of money exchange process in Costa Rica.

Using ATMs and Credit Cards in Costa Rica

ATM and credit card usage in Costa Rica

If you find yourself in need of additional funds or seek a convenient method to settle your bills, ATMs and credit cards are quite useful. Across Costa Rica, you can locate ATMs outside numerous banks, within sprawling shopping centers, at grocery stores, and even inside SJO and LIR airports – many offer the choice of conducting transactions in English.

Several ATM networks such as Banco de Costa Rica’s machines or those affiliated with the PLUS network facilitate cash withdrawals directly in colones. These may not charge a fee and commonly recognize various cards that feature either Visa or MasterCard symbols – this makes them an attractive option for managing finances. Most establishments readily accept credit cards with Visa leading the pack followed by Mastercard. Be mindful that Discover and American Express might face limited acceptance.

Before proceeding with any international card usage, make sure they’re cleared for overseas activities. Remember to take note of associated charges, particularly the standard foreign transaction fees ranging from 1% to 3%, while also steering clear from using credit cards to obtain cash advances due to steep fees coupled with immediate interest accruals.

Handling Cash and Traveler’s Checks

Handling money in smaller denominations is usually more practical when it comes to transactions in Costa Rica. Tourists are advised to carry USD in small denominations, with a preference for $20 bills that are not worn or damaged as these could be declined by local merchants. Smaller denomination dollar bills facilitate easier handling and alleviate concerns over obtaining change.

Paying with cash may secure you some discounts, particularly during off-peak seasons such as September and October – another compelling reason to have those undamaged dollar bills accessible for expenses.

Conversely, traveler’s checks aren’t widely accepted in Costa Rica and they attract a fixed fee plus an additional 1% surcharge upon cashing them. Although carrying cash can lead to savings on minor purchases due to potential discounts offered by vendors, reliance on traveler’s checks introduces challenges related to their limited acceptance and extra fees incurred when using them.

Tipping Etiquette in Costa Rica

In some countries, tipping can be a common expectation, while in others it’s more of a puzzle. In Costa Rica, the act of giving tips isn’t as established as it might be elsewhere like the United States. Although less anticipated throughout most parts of Costa Rica, when engaging with tourism-focused establishments and higher-end services you’ll find that US dollars are widely accepted for tips. Colones tend to be preferred for minor everyday purchases.

When preparing to tip someone, having small bills in US currency is best since large denominations may not always be welcome. Ensuring you have these smaller units on hand will serve your needs well.

The appropriate amount of tip depends on what service has been provided.

  • For those attending to housekeeping duties: between $1 and $2 each day
  • Taxi drivers warrant slightly more than what appears on their meter or an additional dollar or two if the fare seems reasonable.
  • Tour guides usually receive tips ranging from 10% up to 15% of the total tour cost

It’s customary at hotels for bellboys or shuttle van operators handling luggage to get a tip amounting from $1 to $2 per bag they manage. Drivers running shuttles appreciate receiving a gratuity within the ballpark of $10-$20 upon completing either a transfer service or conducting tours.

Exchanging Other Currencies: Euros, Canadian Dollars, and More

If you’re in possession of Euros or Canadian dollars rather than US dollars, there’s no cause for concern. A number of banks like Banco Nacional, Scotiabank, Banco de Costa Rica and BAC Credomatic are available to provide currency exchange services. These banks also facilitate the option to exchange foreign money at both San Jose and Guanacaste International Airports.

When it comes to exchanging other types of foreign currencies within Costa Rica, you may encounter some difficulties due to fewer locations that offer such a service. One reliable place where this can be done is the main office of Banco de Costa Rica situated in downtown San José.

When you need to engage in currency exchange activities with US dollars, Euros or Canadian dollars at any bank throughout the country remember that presenting your original passport is an essential requirement by all Costa Rican banking institutions offering these services.

Smartphone Apps and Tools for Currency Conversion

Currency conversion app for travelers

In the digital age, currency conversion is as easy as a few taps on your smartphone. The xe.com currency converter app is highly recommended for travelers needing to convert Costa Rican colones into various other currencies. With its user-friendly interface and the convenience of checking exchange rates offline, it’s an excellent tool to have in your arsenal.

Other apps like Currency Converter Plus and Elk Currency Converter also come handy. They provide:

  • Real-time exchange rates
  • Custom lists for countries users plan to visit
  • Support for over 150 currencies with real-time conversions
  • Offline functionality for recent rates

These features make them useful tools for travelers.

For travelers in Costa Rica, a reliable currency converter app is a must-have. It aids in making informed financial decisions on the spot without the need for immediate internet access. So, before you embark on your Costa Rican adventure, make sure you have a reliable currency converter app on your phone.

Staying Safe and Secure with Your Money

Travel is often for pleasure and exploration, but keeping a vigilant eye on financial security is equally important. When intending to use an ATM in Costa Rica, consult with your bank beforehand to confirm the exchange rate as well as any potential fees or additional costs you might incur. To minimize the vulnerability associated with carrying substantial sums of money, it’s advisable to take out enough local cash from ATMs only to cover several days’ expenses.

Adhere strictly to safety measures when interacting with ATMs. Always opt for transactions during daylight hours and avoid using machines that are isolated or in dimly lit areas. Also refrain from counting your money openly after withdrawal.

In the unfortunate event that you misplace or have your main ATM card stolen, having a backup card stored separately could be invaluable. Setting aside some emergency currency separate from your main stash can act as an essential fallback while traveling through Costa Rica.


As we wrap up our journey through the world of Costa Rican currency, we’ve covered everything from understanding the colón, current exchange rates, and the best places to exchange money, to using ATMs and credit cards in Costa Rica, handling cash and travelers’ checks, tipping etiquette, and even dealing with other currencies. We hope this comprehensive guide will help you navigate your financial transactions in Costa Rica with ease and confidence. So pack your bags, download your currency converter app, and set off on your Costa Rican adventure with the assurance that you’re financially well-prepared!

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I exchange money before going to Costa Rica?

In Costa Rica, there’s no necessity to exchange your U.S. dollars since they are widely accepted throughout the country. When making purchases, you can even expect to receive your change in the local currency, which is colones. The prevailing exchange rate often fluctuates between 500 and 550 colones for every $1 USD.

Should you choose to convert your money into the local currency, this can be conveniently done at various banks or directly at the airport upon arrival.

Is it better to use dollars or colones in Costa Rica?

In Costa Rica, it is commonly recognized that US dollars are accepted, especially for transactions of lesser value. Bills exceeding $20 may not always be acceptable when using dollars. It’s advisable to use colones in such instances. Even if you pay with USD, expect your change to be given in colones.

Should I take cash to Costa Rica?

For tipping in Costa Rica, carrying US dollars in small denominations is recommended since they are widely accepted. Larger dollar bills might not be readily accepted.

How much is $100 US in Costa Rica?

A sum of $100 US currently amounts to 60,000 in Costa Rican colonies.

To verify the latest exchange rate, consider utilizing a currency converter application.

Where should I exchange my money in Costa Rica?

For optimal exchange rates, it is advisable to convert your currency at established local banks like Banco de Costa Rica or Banco Nacional in Costa Rica.

It’s recommended to steer clear of exchanging money at the airport or hotels due to their typically unfavorable exchange rates.

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Tim Schmidt is a 20+ year Entrepreneur and Digital Marketer. A Fort Lauderdale-based "Digital Nomad," he enjoys traveling as much as possible with family and friends. AllWorld is his escape to document all of his adventures, including being a hardcore "foodie." He has property in Costa Rica and visits several times each year and is happy to offer his expert advice for planning your trip.

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