Using a credit card in Costa Rica

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

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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

Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card

  • Earn 1.25x miles on all purchases
  • Earn 20,000 bonus miles once you spend $1,000 within your first 3 months when you open your account
  • Get 0% intro APR on purchases for your first 12 months, a variable APR of 13.49% – 23.49% applies thereafter
  • No annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fee
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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
CardMatch™ from creditcards.com
See terms
See issuer's website
Can't decide on a card? Get personalized credit card offers with CardMatch™.
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
None
$0
0% intro for the first 12 months (then 13.49%, 19.49% or 23.49% variable)
Earn 20,000 bonus miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card
None
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($99 thereafter)
17.24% to 26.24% variable
Earn 60,000 miles after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months, plus 10,000 miles after your first anniversary. Rates & fees
Hilton Honors American Express Card
None
$0
17.24% to 26.24% 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
American Express® Gold Card
None
$250
See Rates & Fees
Earn 4x points at restaurants worldwide. Rates & fees
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
None
$95
17.49% to 24.49% variable
Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
TD Cash Credit Card
None
$0
0% intro for the first 15 billing cycles (then 14.49%, 19.49% or 24.49% variable)
Earn $150 cash back when you spend $500 within 90 days after account opening.

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 Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card. 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

Mastercard and Visa are widely accepted credit cards throughout Costa Rica, with American Express slightly behind. Discover cards aren’t as popular, but you can still find places to pay and ATMs for cash withdrawal.

However, using your card could incur foreign transaction fee unless it’s a travel card. Some merchants may add additional fees to credit card transactions, so make sure you ask about them before you make a payment to avoid unnecessary charges.

Compare your Costa Rica travel money options to find the best payment method for each situation.

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

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