Money – What currency is accepted in Costa Rica?

Tips

The official currency in Costa Rica is the Colón. It is commonly referred to in its plural form, colones and identified by the currency symbol ₡.

Dollars are widely accepted across the country and are often the preferred method of payment at many tourist establishments. This is due to the periodic inflation of the dollar’s value. As a rule of thumb, it’s always best to carry a small amount of both currencies.

European Euro and Canadian Dollars are not accepted as payment in Costa Rica. However, virtually all banks will exchange them for the local currency.

It’s best to exchange your money to Costa Rica colones at a local bank. Money exchange houses, hotels, and restaurants are likely to give you a devalued exchange rate while banks are required by law to give the daily rate established by the Central Bank of Costa Rica – the same goes for exchanging the Costa Rica currency to USD.

This dollar to colones conversion is the same nationwide, so your money should receive the same value in Liberia as it does in San José or Puerto Viejo.

It’s unnecessary to have your home bank give you colones before you arrive in Costa Rica. It’s a good idea, however, to travel with U.S. dollars if possible. And make sure that the bills are in good condition. All Costa Rican banks and businesses do not accept damaged or torn paper money.  

History of the Colón – What does Christopher Columbus have to do with it?

Costa Rica’s currency earned its name from the Spanish explorer Cristobal Colón (Christopher Columbus in English) who was the first European to discover the region in 1502. The arrival of the Costa Rica colón in 1896 replaced the Spanish Colonial currency of pesos and céntimos.

By 1914 the International Bank was the official institution issuing colones, which in turn became the National Bank of Costa Rica (Banco Nacional). In the 1950s the Central Bank of Costa Rica was founded and has since been the only authorised entity to issue currency.

Today, there is a wide range of coins and bills to pay with. The most common being coins and the 1,000 colones, 5,000 colones, 10,000 colones, and 20,000 colones notes, in addition to 50,000 colones denominations.

What is the best currency to use in Costa Rica? Can I pay with a Credit Card or Debit Card?

Deciding what currency to use in Costa Rica is relative. Some businesses will ask a high colón price in order to get a better dollar value and vice versa. Most reputable businesses will honor the official exchange rate. However, having both types will generally ensure you can choose how to pay the best price.

For these reasons, it’s a good idea to come prepared. Traveling with colones, dollars, and a major credit card or debit card is a great idea. This way you can choose which payment method best suits each particular circumstance.

Costa Rican Currency Bills and Coins
Costa Rican Currency Bills and Coins

For example, some restaurants, tours, and hotels set their prices in U.S. Dollars, and some ask for colones. In these cases, it’s best to pay with the currency they quote on their price list.

When it comes to a credit cards vs. debit cards vs. cash decision, the answer is again relative. Many credit card companies offer international incentives such as no additional fees for overseas transactions. This is a great option when you’re paying for more costly items like hotel rooms, rental cars, and in-country flights.

Costa Rican Currency Bills and Coins
Costa Rican Currency Bills and Coins 

Renting a Car – Cash or Credit?

If you’re planning on renting a car you will need a major credit card.

Adobe Rent a Car requires that clients pay a $1,000 damage deposit when renting a vehicle. This deposit is an extra guarantee that protects both the client and Adobe in case damages or fines are incurred.

When no fees are incurred, the full damage deposit will be refunded to the client’s account within 72 hours to one week. Any fee deductions that are incurred may take longer to process.  

Many major credit card companies (Visa, Mastercard, or Amex) often offer collision damage coverage (CDW) for car rentals. This saves the renter considerable money. Adobe Rent a Car will accept the credit card company’s CDW as long as the client has a letter from the card provider stating that the coverage is current and valid in Costa Rica.

ATM Machines and ATM Fees

Just about every town, no matter how small, will have at least one ATM machine. Unfortunately, this doesn’t guarantee that it will be working – or that it will accept your home bank’s debit card. It’s best to carry a major credit card or debit card from a well-known bank. Expect a service charge when you use an ATM in Costa Rica as well. Anywhere from $1 to $5 dollars is normal.

If you prefer withdrawing cash from your card as you travel, try to cover the following bases so that you’re not stranded penniless if it doesn’t work.

  • Use a major credit card or debit card with international coverage.
  • Notify your bank ahead of time that you’ll be traveling so your card isn’t blocked as stolen.
  • Don’t forget your Pin number. And keep a record of the number in an accessible place in case you forget.
  • Don’t wait until you’re cashless. Always have enough backup colones or dollars to cover your expenses until you can get to a bank.
  • Travel with enough money to get by; but not too much that you may become a target for theft.

ATM BAC Credomatic Machines in Costa Rica

The Costa Rica Currency Exchange Rate

The current 2019 national exchange rate for dollars to colones vacillates around 600 per $1 USD. If you’re exchanging money anywhere outside of an official bank, you’re more likely to get an exchange of 500 colones per $1 USD. There are many currency conversion and currency converter apps online for those interested in following the exact daily rate.

Major grocery stores and other reputable business such as Adobe Rent a Car guarantee the official daily rate – so you can rest assured that you’re getting your dollars worth.

Tipping – Restaurants, Guards, and Tour Guides

Tipping is not obligatory in Costa Rica. The only exception is a 10% service charge that is included in the bill at virtually all restaurants. Most tourist-frequented establishments are also accustomed to receiving additional tips from their international clients; however, it’s not 100% necessary.

Informal guards who watch your car on the street are usually working for tips alone. A few hundred colones (500  – 1,000) is usually a good tip for a couple of hours. Tour guides, on the other hand, earn a regular salary but it’s usually low. So, if you enjoyed your tour and the quality of service provided by your guide then leaving a tip is appropriate.  

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