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Using a credit card in Costa Rica
Beware of hidden fees of up to 8% when paying with plastic in this popular tourist destination.
Due to the large number of tourists visiting Costa Rica, credit and debit card payments are very common and generally safe. While Visa and Mastercard are the most widely accepted credit cards, American Express is also popular. If you prefer to use cash, you can pay with US dollars or the local currency known as colónes. However, avoid using your credit card to withdraw US dollars from an ATM and never allow a merchant to charge your card in US dollars – both of these practices will have you facing unnecessary fees.
Compare credit cards for use in Costa Rica
Which credit card issuers are accepted in Costa Rica?
American Express cards are more popular in Costa Rica than in other countries, but Visa and Mastercard are still the most widely accepted. If you decide to withdrawal cash from an ATM using your Amex card, look for Banco BAC San Jose ATMs – although this will cost you big, so use your debit card unless it’s an emergency.
Potential credit card fees in Costa Rica
- Foreign transaction fees. Most credit cards come with foreign transaction fees of 2.5%. Every time you use your card in Costa Rica, you’ll need to pay this fee. Fortunately, there are a few credit cards that offer no foreign transaction fees in Canada.
- Currency conversion fees. If you’re offered the choice of paying in Canadian dollars or Costa Rican colónes with your credit card, always choose the local currency. Paying in Canadian dollars with your card will subject you to a dynamic currency conversion (DCC) that can lead to poor exchange rates and currency conversion fees. When outside of Canada, always choose to pay in the local currency and let your bank do the currency conversion.
- Cash advance fees. Using your credit card to withdraw money from an ATM will cost you big – you’ll face a cash advance fee and the cash advance interest rate. There is usually no grace period with a cash advance transaction, which means you’ll be charged the cash advance interest rate from the day you withdraw the funds. Instead, use your debit card to withdraw funds from an ATM and skip the high cash advance APR.
- ATM fees. Even using your debit card to withdraw funds from an ATM will likely have you facing a fee. To avoid this fee, you can use a debit card issued by a bank that belongs to an international ATM alliance. As an example, Scotiabank is a member of the Global ATM Alliance, which means you can withdraw funds from an ATM free of charge – but you’ll need to use ATMs that belong to the alliance.
- Hidden fees. Watch out for hidden charges at hostels and hotels when paying with your credit card. Some merchants may add up to an 8% fee to your bill.
How can I avoid these fees?
Before travelling, apply for a credit card that charges no foreign transaction fees. You can also apply for a debit card that belongs to an international ATM alliance, which will help you avoid the ATM fee. In addition, always ask about any hidden fees or additional charges, decline paying in Canadian dollars and avoid using your credit card at all costs to withdraw cash from an ATM.
ATMs in Costa Rica
In bigger cities around Costa Rica, you can pay with your card almost anywhere. In the countryside? Not so much. If you need cash, you could make a cash withdrawal from an ATM using your debit card. You could also exchange Canadian dollars for either US dollars or the local currency of Costa Rican colónes. It’s best to use colónes to pay since purchases paid for in USD will be rounded up.
Do taxis in Costa Rica accept credit cards?
No, taxis in Costa Rica don’t accept credit cards. If you want to pay with a credit card, you’ll need to use a rideshare service like Uber. Keep in mind that while Uber is cheaper in Costa Rica, it’s also a grey area — not entirely legal, but not illegal either. It’s also not offered in many places around Costa Rica.
Is it safe to use my credit card in Costa Rica?
While it’s safe to use your card in Costa Rica, you should exercise the same level of caution as you would in Canada.
- Keep your PIN secure. Don’t write down your PIN anywhere. When using a keypad to enter your PIN, use your other hand to shield the screen from onlookers and hidden cameras.
- Use an ATM inside a bank. In case the ATM has any issues, you’ll be able to get assistance. Also, ATMs that are within a bank are much less likely to be tampered with.
- Choose ATMs carefully. Try and stick to ATMs found in public places and banks. Avoid ATMs in isolated areas – you may become the victim of a robbery, or a skimmer may be more likely to be installed on the machine.
- Take two credit cards. If your primary credit card is lost or stolen, you’ll have a backup.
- Keep your card physically safe. Costa Rica isn’t known to have a big card cloning issue — but just in case, always keep an eye on your card.
How to prepare before travelling to Costa Rica
- Get a credit card without foreign transaction fees. Some credit cards come with no foreign transaction fees, which can save you 2.5% on every transaction made overseas.
- Opt for a Mastercard or Visa. They’re more universally accepted, though American Express is also popular in Costa Rica.
- Get a backup card. This is particularly useful if something happens to your primary card. With a backup card, you won’t be stuck without money. It’s also a good idea to have your bank or credit card providers phone number on hand in case of an emergency.
- Get some cash. Costa Rica merchants accept both the local currency of colónes as well as US dollars. If you want the local currency, you can use an ATM to make a cash withdrawal.
- Inform your bank that you’re travelling to Costa Rica. That way, you’ll avoid the bank blocking your card due to unsuspecting card activity from Costa Rica.
Ask yourself these questions in order to avoid common credit card related problems in Costa Rica.
- Which cards will I use? Visa and Mastercard are the most widely accepted brand of credit cards worldwide, but you will find many businesses in Costa Rica that accept American Express. You should also take at least two credit cards with you on your travels in case one gets lost or stolen.
- Does my bank know? If your bank is not aware of your upcoming trip, you may have to deal with a temporarily suspended card. Always notify your bank or credit card provider of your overseas travels to avoid your card being blocked.
- What fees will I face? Read your credit card terms and conditions or call and ask your credit card provider if you’ll face any foreign transaction fees. You will need to apply for a no foreign transaction fee credit card to avoid these fees. Remember, you can easily avoid currency conversion fees by paying in the local currency instead of Canadian dollars.
- How will I get cash? Your options include using your Canadian debit card at a local ATM, exchanging money or carrying travellers’ cheques. Avoid using a credit card to withdraw money from an ATM unless its an emergency.
Using a credit card in …
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