Travel money guide - Costa Rica | finder.com

Travel money guide – Costa Rica

Beware of hidden fees for using your card.

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Costa Rica is a card-friendly country, so you’ll have no problem using your credit card there. You can also pay with US dollars in some places in San José, but paying in local currency will help you avoid conversion fees.

Our pick for use in Costa Rica

Avianca Vuela Visa® Card

  • Enjoy a signup bonus of 40,000 LifeMiles after first card use
  • Earn 3 LifeMiles per $1 spent on Avianca purchases
  • Earn 2 LifeMiles per $1 spent at gas stations and grocery stores
  • Earn 1 LifeMile per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • 15% discount on purchases of miles with Multiply Your Miles
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Promoted

Compare travel cards for Costa Rica

Name Product Welcome offer Rewards Annual fee Filter values
75,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
7x points on Hilton Honors purchases, 5x at US restaurants, US supermarkets and US gas stations, 3x on all other purchases
$0
Earn 75,000 Hilton Honors™ Bonus Points after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the card within your first 3 months of card membership. Rates & fees
60,000 points after spending $5,000 in your first 3 months
5x points on directly-booked flights or on flights and hotels on Amex Travel. 1x points on all other purchases
$550
Get 5x Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel and 5x points on eligible hotels booked on amextravel.com. Rates & fees
35,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months
3x points on directly-booked flights; 4x at restaurants; 4x at US supermarkets on up to $25,000 annually (then 1x points)
$250
35,000 bonus Membership Rewards® Points when you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months. Rates & fees
25,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first 4 months
2x points on gas, groceries or airlines, whichever you spend the most on each month, 2x points on cell phone services and charities and 1x points on all other purchases
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($49 thereafter)
Earn 25,000 enrollment FlexPoints worth $375 in travel after spending $2,000 in the first 4 months. Rates & Fees
30,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months, plus $50 after your first Delta purchase in the same timeframe
2x miles on Delta purchases and 1x miles on all other purchases
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
30,000 bonus miles after you use your new card to make $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months and a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase in the first 3 months. Rates & fees

Compare up to 4 providers

Comparing travel, debit and credit cards

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 may add an illegal surcharge of up to 8% on credit card purchases. Make sure you ask merchants about fees before using your card.

Pros and Cons of travel money options in Costa Rica

Travel money optionProsCons
Debit cards
  • No cash advance fee
  • No cash advance APR
  • No overdraft
  • 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
Prepaid travel money cards
  • Can load multiple currencies
  • No cash advance APR
  • No links to your bank account
  • Many fees, including currency conversion fees
  • May take time to load
  • No rewards
  • Potential hidden fees of up to 8% by some merchants
Credit cards
  • Credit line access
  • Rewards
  • May come with travel insurance and coverage
  • May come with concierge service
  • Cash advance fees on ATMs
  • Cash advance APR on ATMs
  • Potential hidden fees of up to 8% by some merchants
Traveler’s checks
  • Security
  • Not accepted everywhere
  • Fees for purchasing and cashing checks
Cash
  • Payment flexibility
  • Convenience
  • No need for ATMs
  • High risk of theft

How credit cards, debit cards and travel cards work 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. Just be sure to use a card without foreign transaction fees and ask about hidden fees.

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. You can also consider a travel credit card to earn rewards on your purchases and to get travel, luggage and car rental insurance.

Using a credit card in Costa Rica

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, but there are debit cards without foreign transaction fees or ATM withdrawal fees.

What are the best travel debit cards?

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.

What are prepaid travel cards?

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.

Traveler’s checks explained

Paying with cash

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 to Costa Rican colones is best.

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.

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.

What’s the USD to CRC exchange rate?

Compare money transfer services for Costa Rica

The symbol for the Costa Rican colón is ₡ and the currency code is CRC. Find the best exchange rates for transferring money to Costa Rica.

Min. Transfer Amount Transfer Speed Online Transfer Fee Rate Amount Received Description CTA Details
USD 0 3 - 5 days USD 0.00 572.966 CRC 1,145,933 Offering no maximum and no minimum limit transfers with $0 fees. Go to site Show details
USD 1 Within an hour USD 0.00 569.777 CRC 1,139,553 Use promo code 3FREE to send your first 3 transfers with no fee. Send to 110+ countries for bank-to-bank deposit, cash pickup or mobile top-up. Go to site Show details
USD 1 3 - 5 days USD 0.00 567.747 CRC 1,135,494 No fees for bank account transfers and cash pickup at 240,000 locations in 130+ countries. Go to site Show details

Compare up to 4 providers

The exchange rates in the table are not locked in. Confirm your final rate on the provider’s site before completing any transaction.

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.

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

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