Costa Rica Travel Tips: Money

After living in Costa Rica for two months, we have found some helpful tools and tips. While I will be sharing about our time in Costa Rica, many of these tips can be used in other countries. (My last Travel Tip post was about Travel Apps.)
CurrencyAs with any other destination, we never exchange money at the airport. The best places to exchange are banks, which are everywhere in San Jose. The major, state-owned banks are Banco Nacional de Costa Rica, Banco de Costa Rica, and Bancrédito. The major, privately owned, banks are Scotiabank, BAC San Jose, and Citibank. ATM’s are available as well, but fees at both the drawing bank and the bank at home will apply.
We have found the most convenient place to exchange money is at the malls. I will choose the bank with the shortest line, which is typically the privately owned banks. My favorite is Scotiabank. Scotiabank uses the line system for waiting, similar to most U.S. banks. State-owned banks use a number system – take a number, sit in the lobby and wait – which takes more time. Another major plus is that Scotiabank, and other privately owned banks, typically have bilingual staff. Here is some information about exchanging money:

  • Costa Rican currency is a colon (plural: colones).
  • The colorful colon bills come in 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000, and 20,000 mil.
  • The rate is currently 532 colones for $1 U.S. Dollar.
  • It has been easiest for us to exchange $300-$500 at a time.
  • Bring your passport, not a photocopy.
  • Be prepared to give a CR phone number and the address of where you are staying. (Note: they will not always ask for this information, but sometimes do.)

Cash vs. Credit CardIf you do not like to carry a large bundle of cash, then using a credit card may be your best option. Most places, even taxis, will accept credit cards. However, you will want to bring some cash with you just in case. 
The downside of using credit cards is that you may receive an international fee for each charge. The travel cards that I use (American Express, American Advantage, and Mileage Plus) do not charge an international fee.
Cost of LivingWe have found living in Costa Rica is about 30% more expensive than the U.S. Food and clothes, especially, are more expensive in CR than the U.S., which is a bummer as our girls only brought a few outfits with them from their orphanage. We wanted to bring clothes for our daughters, but it was hard to learn their sizes before we traveled. So, we have bought a few outfits for them here and will purchase the majority of their clothes back in the U.S.
It may be more cost effective to book a suite and cook meals in the room rather than eating out. Bringing toiletries from the U.S. saves money as well. And don’t forget to add sunscreen and bug spray to your list. 
How to quickly calculate the Costa Rican Colon into U.S. DollarWhen shopping at stores and markets, there is a quick way to calculate colones into dollars. Let’s say you want to buy a shirt for 10,000 colones. You will double the cost (20,000) and knock off a zero which makes it $20.00. So, if you wanted to buy a soccer jersey of your favorite CR team for 45,000 colones, that will equal $90 US. Or, if you wanted to purchase a gift for 12,000 colones it would be $24 US.

What tips do you have for exchanging money or making purchases in Costa Rica or other countries? 

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