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Travel money guide: Costa Rica

Beware of hidden fees for using your card.

You might be sunbathing on Costa Rica’s coast, trekking through lush forests or dining in a Caribbean cafè, but you’ll need a mix of cash and card when you’re traveling through the country. For your card of choice, carry a travel credit card to avoid foreign transaction fees. For cash, you’ll need the Costa Rican colón with you, though you can pay with US dollars in some parts of San José and tourist hotspots. You can find most ATMs inside banks during normal business hours.

Our picks for traveling to Costa Rica

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Travel card, debit card or credit card?

Visa and Mastercard are most widely used in Costa Rica, with American Express cards coming in third. You may find ATMs and places that accept Discover cards, though Discover is overall rarely accepted.

Credit cards without foreign transaction fees are a great option for direct purchases, while debit cards are generally good for ATM cash withdrawals. The Q Costa Rica, a Latin America news portal, reported that some Costa Rican merchants might add an illegal surcharge of up to 8% on credit card purchases. Make sure you ask merchants about fees before using your card.

These are your options for spending money in Costa Rica

Using a credit card

Many establishments, such as restaurants, hotels, bars and shops, in San José and the other large cities take credit cards. But be sure to use a card without foreign transaction fees and ask about hidden fees. Travel credit cards like the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card, for example, don’t charge foreign transaction fees (Terms apply, see rates & fees), and many offer travel insurance, purchase protection or rental car insurance as part of their many benefits.

If you frequently travel to Costa Rica, consider an airline cobranded credit card to save money on flights, in-flight purchases, checked bags or lounge access.

Tips:

  • Limit using credit cards to make ATM cash withdrawals to avoid cash advance fees and APR from the moment you make the transaction.
  • Don’t pay in US dollars. Paying in local currency saves you a currency conversion fee.
  • Notify your bank you’re traveling to Costa Rica.
Pros
  • Credit line access
  • Rewards
  • May come with travel insurance and coverage
  • May come with concierge service
Cons
  • Cash advance fees on ATMs
  • Cash advance APR on ATMs
  • Potential hidden fees of up to 8% by some merchants

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 make a cash withdrawal with your Amex card, look for Banco BAC San Jose ATMs.

As for Discover cards, you can pay wherever you see the Discover or Diners Club International logos. For cash withdrawals, look for Credomatic ATMs.

Merchant acceptanceATM acceptance
Visa
check mark iconHigh
check mark iconHigh
Mastercard
check mark iconHigh
check mark iconHigh
American Express
check mark iconHigh
check mark iconHigh
Discover
exclamation point iconMedium
cross mark iconLow

Potential credit card fees in Costa Rica

There are three potential credit card fees you can incur with your card when traveling in Costa Rica:

  • Foreign transaction fees. You could get saddled with paying a fee of up to 3% of the transaction for each purchase made, depending on your card. To put this into perspective, you’ll pay a fee of up to $60 if you spend $2,000 with your card.
  • Currency conversion fees. When you use an ATM or pay a merchant, you may be offered the option to pay in US dollars instead of the local currency. This is called a dynamic currency conversion (DCC), which usually has a poor exchange rate and higher fees.
  • Hidden fees. Watch out for hidden charges at hostels and hotels when paying with your card. Some of them may add up to an 8% fee to your bill.

Compare travel credit cards

Explore top debit cards with no foreign transaction fees and travel credit cards by using the tabs to narrow down your options. Select Compare for up to four products to see their benefits side by side.

1 - 5 of 9
Name Product Fee Minimum deposit to open Annual Percentage Yield (APY) Offer
SoFi Checking and Savings
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4.60% on balances of $0+
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1.20% on balances of $0+
Get up to $300 cash bonus with qualifying direct deposit. Terms apply. This offer is available until December 31, 2024.
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Chime® Checking Account
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HSBC Premier Checking
Finder Score: 3.5 / 5: ★★★★★
HSBC Premier Checking
$50 per month
(can be waived)
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0.01% on balances of $5+
Acorns Checking
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Acorns Checking
From $3 per month
$0
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1 - 5 of 21
Name Product Welcome Offer Rewards Annual fee Filter values
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
20,000 miles once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel
Up to 5x miles
$0
Earn 20,000 bonus miles once you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening. See rates & fees
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
Up to 5x miles
$95
Earn 75,000 bonus miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months ​from account opening. See rates & fees
Bilt World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card
Bilt World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card
Bilt does not have a welcome offer. However, they have a unique bonus offer of double points on the first of each month – that’s 6x points on dining, 4x points on travel, and 2x points on other purchases (except rent). Use the card 5 times each statement period to earn points.
Up to 3x points
$0
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card
$200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
Up to 1.5% cash back
$0
More than an unlimited 1.5% cash back card: you'll also earn 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel (terms apply). See rates & fees
Capital One VentureOne Rewards for Good Credit
Capital One VentureOne Rewards for Good Credit
N/A
Up to 5x miles
$0
The same rewards and $0 annual fee as the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card, but for those with good credit. See rates & fees
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Using a debit card

Debit cards work best for cash withdrawals. Most debit cards come with foreign transaction fees of up to 3% of each transaction. However, there are debit cards without foreign transaction fees or ATM withdrawal fees, such as the Betterment Checking debit card which reimburses these fees.

Tips:

  • Excellent exchange rates with debit cards for ATM cash withdrawals.
  • Notify your bank you’re traveling to Costa Rica.
Pros
  • No cash advance fee
  • No cash advance APR
  • No overdraft
Cons
  • Weak or no rewards
  • No access to a credit line
  • Potential foreign transaction fees up to 3%.
  • Potential hidden fees of up to 8% by some merchants

Using a prepaid travel card

If you want to take a debit card that’s not linked to your bank account, a prepaid travel card could be an alternative. The travel card comes with more fees. but could be worth it for extra security if your card is lost or stolen.

  • Tip: Due to the high fees, consider making ATM cash withdrawals as a last resort.
Pros
  • Can load multiple currencies
  • No cash advance APR
  • No links to your bank account
Cons
  • Many fees, including currency conversion fees
  • May take time to load
  • No rewards
  • Potential hidden fees of up to 8% by some merchants

Paying with cash in Costa Rica

Cash is the most accepted payment method in Costa Rica. Especially if you’re traveling in more rural areas where cards are not an option. The US dollars are also accepted in the capital but exchanging them for Costa Rican colones is best.

Pros
  • Payment flexibility
  • Convenience
  • No need for ATMs
Cons
  • High risk of theft

Using traveler’s checks

Traveler’s checks aren’t widely accepted in Costa Rica, but you could exchange them in some of the main banks. This can be an option if you don’t want to carry a lot of cash. However, the other money options are generally cheaper and without the hassle.

  • Tip: You may want to consider other money options in Costa Rica.
Pros
  • Security
Cons
  • Not accepted everywhere
  • Fees for purchasing and cashing checks
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Where can I get the best exchange rate for Costa Rican colones?

You’ll find the best exchange rate for Costa Rican colones at your hotel or any bank. You can also easily withdraw colones from ATMs with your debit card and get a strong conversion rate. You’ll find the worst exchange rates at airports, so try to stay away from those.

5 Costa Rican Colon10 Costa Rican Colon20 Costa Rican Colon
50 Costa Rican Colon100 Costa Rican Colon

Live Rate

= 522.8701

Refreshing in: 60s | Thu, Jun 20, 01:45AM GMT

The main banks in Costa Rica are:

  • Banco Nacional de Costa Rica
  • Banco de Costa Rica (BCR)
  • Citibank Costa Rica
  • Banco Promerica – Costa Rica
  • Banco BAC San Jose
  • Banco Bct
  • Banco Improsa
  • Banco Davivienda (Costa Rica)
  • Banco General (Costa Rica)
  • Scotiabank de Costa Rica
Find ATMs in Costa Rica

You’ll find a number of ATMs inside major banks in Costa Rica, available during normal business hours for added security. Most ATMs charge hefty operator fees, but you can avoid these by going with a debit card that waives or reimburses foreign currency exchange and ATM fees, such as the Betterment Checking debit card.

Using money transfers to safely travel with cash

WorldRemit offers the option to send money to your destination before you depart. Once you arrive in Costa Rica, you can get your money from a local branch.

To make the transfer, you need Costa Rican phone number and an address. If you don’t have them, WorldRemit recommends using the address and number of the place where you’ll stay in. This is only in case the local agent needs to contact you.

Otherwise, you can withdraw your money with your passport as identification.

Keep your travel money safe in Costa Rica

Petty crime, such as bag-snatching and pickpocketing, is prevalent in Cost Rica. But tourists should exercise additional precautions for incidents of violent crime, particularly in areas frequented by tourists.

Always be aware of your surroundings, and don’t “advertise” your wealth by wearing flashy jewelry and never physically resist a robbery attempt. Keep your wallet in your pocket, and consider using a money belt to keep your money out of arm’s reach.

Is it safe to use my credit card in Costa Rica?

Yes, it’s generally safe to use your credit card in Costa Rica. Always practice good safety habits to better protect your finances, though. Try to:

  • Use an ATM within a bank. In case the ATM holds your card for some reason, you’ll be able to get it back with ease. Also, ATMs that are within a bank are much less likely to be tampered with.
  • Take two credit cards. If something happens to your primary card, you’ll have a backup in your hotel room safe.
  • Keep your card in sight. Costa Rica isn’t known to have a big card cloning issue — but just in case, always keep an eye on your card.

Bottom line

You can freely use plastic in Costa Rica. Save money by finding a card without foreign transaction fees, and ask merchants for hidden fees.

If you need cash, you can either exchange US dollars or make an ATM cash withdrawal. Debit cards are typically the best option as they don’t incur cash advance APR or cash advance fees.

To find out more about paying for your travel abroad, check out our travel money guide.

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Written by

Kliment Dukovski

Kliment Dukovski was a personal finance writer at Finder, specializing in investments and cryptocurrency. He's written more than 700 articles to help readers compare the best trading platforms, understand complex investment terms and find the best credit cards for their needs. His expert commentary has been featured in such digital publications as Fox Business, MSN Money and MediaFeed. He’s also well-versed in money transfers, home loans and more — breaking down these topics into simple concepts anyone can understand. In another life, Kliment ghostwrote guides and articles on foreign exchange, stock market trading and cryptocurrencies. See full profile

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