Using a credit card in Costa Rica | finder.com

Using a credit card in Costa Rica

Beware of hidden fees of up to 8% when using plastic in this popular tourist destination.

Last updated:

We value our editorial independence, basing our comparison results, content and reviews on objective analysis without bias. But we may receive compensation when you click links on our site. Learn more about how we make money from our partners.

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

Hilton Honors American Express Card

  • Earn 75,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points with the Hilton Honors American Express Card after you use your new card to make $1,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 7x Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged directly with a hotel or resort within the Hilton Honors portfolio of brands.
  • Earn 5x Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations.
  • Earn 3x Hilton Honors Bonus Points for all other eligible purchases on your card. No Foreign Transaction Fees. Enjoy international travel without additional fees on purchases made abroad.
  • Enjoy complimentary Hilton Honors Silver status with your card. Plus, spend $20,000 on eligible purchases on your card in a calendar year and you can earn an upgrade to Hilton Honors Gold status through the end of the next calendar year.
  • No Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
Read less
Read more
See Rates & Fees
Promoted

Compare cards for use in Costa Rica

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.

Name Product Foreign transaction fee Annual fee Purchase APR Filter values
None
$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
None
$0
0% intro for the first 12 months (then 14.24%, 20.24% or 24.24% variable)
Earn 20,000 bonus miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.
None
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
17.74% to 26.74% variable
Earn 30,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months, plus $50 when you make a direct Delta purchase in the same timeframe. Rates & fees
None
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
17.99%, 22.74% or 25.24% variable
Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.
None
$0
17.99% to 24.99% variable
50,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from your account opening.
None
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
18.49% to 25.49% variable
40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
None
$99
17.99% to 24.99% variable
Earn 40,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months, plus 20,000 points after spending $12,000 on purchases in the first 12 months.
None
$95
17.99% to 24.99% variable
Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
None
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($49 thereafter)
15.99% to 25.99% variable
Earn 25,000 enrollment FlexPoints worth $375 in travel after spending $2,000 in the first 4 months. Rates & Fees
None
$250
See Rates & Fees
35,000 bonus Membership Rewards® Points when you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months. Rates & fees

Compare up to 4 providers

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.

Merchant acceptance
ATM acceptance
Visa
check mark iconHigh
check mark iconHigh
Mastercard
check mark iconHigh
check mark iconHigh
American Express
check mark iconHigh
check mark iconHigh
Discover
exclamation point iconMedium
cross mark iconLow

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. 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.

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. 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.

See more guides on using a credit card in other countries.

Frequently asked questions

Was this content helpful to you? No  Yes

Ask an Expert

You are about to post a question on finder.com:

  • Do not enter personal information (eg. surname, phone number, bank details) as your question will be made public
  • finder.com is a financial comparison and information service, not a bank or product provider
  • We cannot provide you with personal advice or recommendations
  • Your answer might already be waiting – check previous questions below to see if yours has already been asked

Finder.com provides guides and information on a range of products and services. Because our content is not financial advice, we suggest talking with a professional before you make any decision.

By submitting your comment or question, you agree to our Privacy and Cookies Policy and Terms of Use.

Questions and responses on finder.com are not provided, paid for or otherwise endorsed by any bank or brand. These banks and brands are not responsible for ensuring that comments are answered or accurate.
Go to site