Best travel money and currency options for 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 travelling through the country. You can find most ATMs inside banks during normal business hours.

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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 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, for example, don’t charge foreign transaction 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.
  • Paying in local currency saves you a currency conversion fee.
  • Notify your bank you’re travelling to Costa Rica.

Potential credit card fees in Costa Rica

There are 3 potential credit card fees you can incur with your card when travelling 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 £49 if you spend £1.617 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 may add up to an 8% fee to your bill.

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.

Tips:

  • Excellent exchange rates with debit cards for ATM cash withdrawals.
  • Notify your bank you’re travelling to Costa Rica.

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 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 travelling in more rural areas where cards are not an option. 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

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

= 652.0697

Refreshing in: 60s | Tue, Feb 27, 09:41AM 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
Using an ATM 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.

Keep your travel money safe in Costa Rica

Petty crime, such as bag snatching and pickpocketing, is prevalent in Costa 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 can get it back with ease. Also, ATMs within a bank are much less likely to be tampered with.
  • Take 2 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 about hidden fees.

If you need cash, you can either exchange GBP pounds or make an ATM cash withdrawal. Debit cards are typically the best option.

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

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