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Using a credit card in Costa Rica
Beware of hidden fees of up to 8% when using plastic in this popular tourist destination.
Due to the large number of tourists visiting Costa Rica, card payments are generally safe and widely accepted. Aside from Visa and Mastercard, American Express is also quite popular. And if you prefer to use cash, you can pay with US dollars or local currency. But while you’re there, you may want to avoid withdrawing US dollars from an ATM or paying in US dollars with your card.
Our pick for use in Costa Rica
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When you decide to travel abroad, make sure you get a card without foreign transaction fees. If you already have one — great! If not, consider getting a no-annual-fee card to use when you travel outside of the US.
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.
Can I avoid paying these fees?
Yes. Get a card without foreign transaction fees, decline DCC if offered and make sure you ask for any hidden fees before making your payment.
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.
Should I use my credit card to get cash in Costa Rica?
In the large cities of 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. But know that this often comes with a cash advance fee, which can be up to 5% of the transaction, depending on your card. This means a withdrawal of $500 will cost you $25 in fees.
Another thing to keep in mind is the high APR of cash withdrawals. Since cash advances are taking money off your credit line, you incur the cash advance APR as soon as you make the withdrawal. One way to avoid paying cash advance fees and the high APR is by getting a debit card, which usually comes without such fees. To balance things out, you can use your credit card to make plastic payments and your debit card for cash withdrawals.
Do taxis in Costa Rica accept credit cards?
No, taxis in Costa Rica don’t accept credit cards. But you can request Uber rides if you need to pay with your credit card. Keep in mind that while Uber is cheaper in Costa Rica, it’s also a gray area — not entirely legal, but not illegal either.
Chip-and-PIN credit cards
Chip-and-PIN credit cards aren’t common in Costa Rica, but you can still freely pay with your chip-and-PIN card wherever cards are accepted.
To avoid unpleasant situations when withdrawing money or checking out, make sure your card’s logo matches one of the logos on the ATM or POS terminal.
Is it safe to use my credit card in Costa Rica?
Yes, it’s generally safe to use your credit card in Costa Rica. You can 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.
How to prepare before traveling to Costa Rica
- Get a credit card without foreign transaction fees. Travel cards usually come with no foreign transaction fees.
- Opt for a Mastercard or Visa. They’re more universally accepted, though American Express is also popular in Costa Rica. Only Discover cards are rarely accepted, but you may still find ATMs and merchants that will allow you to pay with it.
- Get a backup card. This is particularly useful if something happens to your primary card. With a backup card, you’ll never be caught without money.
- Get some cash. Costa Rica merchants accept US dollars, but if you want to have local currency, you can use an ATM to make a cash withdrawal.
- Inform your bank that you’re traveling to Costa Rica. This way, you’ll avoid the bank blocking your card.
- Get your bank’s phone number. In case you lose your card or have other issues, you can quickly call your bank and sort it out.
Top travel card to consider for frequent travelers to Costa Rica
If you often travel to Costa Rica, you could use a card like the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express. It has no foreign transaction fees (see rates & fees), you’ll save $60 on your first checked bag per round trip and you’ll earn miles that you can redeem for Delta flights.
When you travel to Costa Rica, you shouldn’t have a problem using your credit card in large cities. But if you go to the countryside, you’ll want to have some cash on hand. You can use an ATM to make a cash withdrawal, which can be much more cost effective with a debit card. If you don’t, try to make direct payments with your card. Learn more in our travel money guide to Costa Rica.
Travel cards usually have no foreign transaction fees, so you’ll save some money there. However, some merchants may add additional fees to credit card transactions. Make sure you ask about them before you make a payment to avoid unnecessary charges.
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