Using a credit card in Costa Rica | finder.com
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Using a credit card in Costa Rica

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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.

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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.

Compare cards with no foreign transaction fees

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.

Updated October 23rd, 2018
Name Product Currency Conversion Fee Annual Fee APR (Annual Percentage Rate) for Purchases
$550
None (Charge Card)
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
$250
See Rates & Fees
25,000 bonus Membership Rewards® Points when you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months Rates & Fees
None
$0
13.99% variable
A low, variable APR on purchases, balance transfers and cash advances.
None
$95
17.74% to 26.74% variable
Earn 125,000 Hilton Honors™ Bonus Points after you spend $2,000 or more in purchases with your new Card within the first 3 months of Card Membership. Rates & Fees
$0
17.74% to 26.74% variable
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
$0 annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
17.74% to 26.74% variable
30,000 bonus miles after you use your new card to make $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months. Rates & Fees
$0 annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
17.74% to 26.74% variable
Enjoy a $0 annual fee on the first year and earn up to 2 Starpoints® for every dollar of eligible purchases. Rates & Fees
None
$195
16.99% variable
Enjoy unique excursions, privileged access to exclusive events and insider opportunities.
None
$0
14.99%, 18.99% or 24.99% variable
Earn unlimited 1.5% cash rewards on purchases. See Rates and Fees.
None
$495
16.99% variable
Mastercard Black Card members receive an annual $100 air travel credit toward flight-related purchases including airline tickets, baggage fees, upgrades and more.
None
$995
16.99% variable
Earn points every time you spend. Luxury Card enhances your purchasing power by providing you with one (1) point for every one dollar ($1) you spend. Every purchase gets you closer to the rewards you want.
None
$0
16.99% to 24.99% variable
An intro offer rewards cardholders with a $250 value (25,000 online bonus points) after spending $1,000 within the first 90 days of account opening
None
$0 annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
17.74% to 24.74% variable
Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
None
$450
17.74% to 24.74% variable
Earn 50,000 BONUS POINTS after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening* — that's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

Compare up to 4 providers

Are American Express and Discover cards 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

  1. Get a credit card without foreign transaction fees. Travel cards usually come with no foreign transaction fees.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Inform your bank that you’re traveling to Costa Rica. This way, you’ll avoid the bank blocking your card.
  6. 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 from American Express. It has no foreign transaction fees, you’ll save $50 on your first checked bag per round trip and you’ll earn miles that you can redeem for Delta flights.

Bottom line

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.

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.

Frequently asked questions

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Kliment Dukovski

Kliment Dukovski is a writer who specializes in global financial markets and personal finance, with a focus on credit cards. His main goal is to deliver honest and accurate information to help you make the right financial decision. When he's not writing about finance-related subjects, he writes sci-fi stories.

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