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Travel money guide: Costa Rica

Beware of hidden fees for using your card.

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Exchange currency online Compare cash pickup

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 picks for traveling to Costa Rica

American Express® Gold Card logo

Our pick for travel credit card

American Express® Gold Card

★★★★★
Finder rating: 4.6/5
Wise Multi-currency logo

Our pick for multi-currency debit card

Wise Multi-currency

★★★★★
Finder rating: 4.5/5
SoFi Money logo

Our pick for 0% transaction fee debit card

SoFi Money

★★★★★
Finder rating: 4.6/5

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 may 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. 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.

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

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.

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

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

Compare travel credit cards

Name Product Welcome Offer Rewards Annual fee Filter values
The Platinum Card® from American Express
100,000 points after spending $6,000 in your first 6 months, plus 10x points at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the US on up to $25,000 in combined eligible purchases in the same timeframe
10x points at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the US on up to $25,000 combined in the first 6 months, 5x points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel, 5x points on directly-booked flights on up to $500,000 annually, then 1x points after that and on other eligible purchases
$695

New Platinum Exclusive Offer

One of the most valuable premium travel cards, featuring two welcome offers worth up to $7,000 based on Finder's valuation, multiple travel credits and unrivaled lounge access. Terms apply, see rates & fees
American Express® Gold Card
60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 6 months
4x at restaurants including delivery and Uber Eats; 4x at US supermarkets on up to $25,000 annually (then 1x points), 3x points on directly-booked flights and 1x points on other eligible purchases
$250

Rose Gold is Back

Earn up to 4x points on select purchases, a bevy of travel perks, and a welcome offer worth up to $600 based on our valuation with this upper-mid tier travel card. Terms apply, see rates & fees
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®
50,000 miles after spending $2,500 in the first 3 months
2x miles on eligible American Airlines purchases, at gas stations and restaurants and 1x miles on all other purchases
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($99 thereafter)
Earn 50,000 AAdvantage® bonus miles after you spend $2,500 in the first 3 months.
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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

= 628.2425

Refreshing in: 60s | Sat, Oct 16, 08:55PM 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

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.

Cash pickup services in 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
$1 Within an hour USD 3.99 625.101 CRC 622,607 WorldRemit sends money to 110+ countries for bank-to-bank deposits, cash pick-ups or mobile top-ups. Go to site Show details
$10 Within an hour USD 1.99 615.678 CRC 614,452 Special offers like free transfers and better exchange rates available for new customers.
Remitly has quick, affordable transfers around the world, with both express and economy options.
Go to site Show details
$1 3 - 5 days USD 20.00 612.536 CRC 600,286 Western Union sends money online to friends and family in 200+ countries around the world. Go to site Show details

Compare up to 4 providers

Disclaimer: Exchange rates change often. Confirm the total cost with the provider before transferring money.

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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