Accessing Money in Costa Rica: A Comprehensive Guide

Efficient money management is at the heart of any successful trip to Costa Rica. From budgeting to carrying and spending money in Costa Rica, it is essential to understand the best practices for managing your finances while traveling. This guide will take you through everything you need about getting, carrying, and spending money in Costa Rica.


Creating an Emergency Fund

The first rule of money management while traveling is to create an emergency fund. This fund should be separate from your day-to-day money supply and contain enough cash to cover a few days. Roll the coin up in socks or hide it in an old power bar wrapper. The idea is to put it somewhere that doesn’t scream, “This is the wallet/purse/money belt – steal this first!”


Leaving Money in Your Checking Account

When traveling to Costa Rica, leaving most of your money in your checking account at home is best. This ensures your funds are safe, and you can withdraw enough dollars or colones from an ATM for a few days of expenses. Most ATMs in Costa Rica dispense both dollars and colones, and it’s crucial to withdraw the correct currency for your transactions.


Using Cash for Transactions

When using cash in Costa Rica, pay for things priced in dollars with dollars and those priced in colones with colones. This practice ensures you get the best exchange rates and can save money. Some places may offer cash discounts, so it’s always good to ask.


Currency and Exchange Rates

The official currency in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colón (CRC), available in notes and coins. However, USD is widely accepted, and exchanging USD into CRC at banks, exchange bureaus, or even some hotels is easy.

Monitoring the exchange rates and shopping around for the best rates is essential when exchanging money. Some exchange bureaus may charge high commissions, so it is advisable to compare rates and fees before exchanging money. Click HERE to check the current currency conversion rate.


ATMs and Credit Cards

ATMs are widely available in Costa Rica and accept international debit and credit cards. However, it is crucial to inform your bank before traveling to avoid the possibility of your card being blocked. While ATMs are the best way to get cash, be mindful of the withdrawal fees and daily withdrawal limits.

Credit cards are also widely accepted in Costa Rica, especially in larger cities and tourist areas. Visa and MasterCard are the most commonly accepted cards; some establishments may charge an additional fee for using a credit card.


General Tips for ATM Use

When using an ATM in Costa Rica, you should observe some general tips to avoid any inconvenience:

  • Before you leave home, check with the card issuer to determine exchange commissions and convenience fees and get a list of machines within their Costa Rica system.
  • Bank cards (for savings or checking withdrawals) and debit cards usually cost less to use in ATMs than credit cards.
  • Do not use your credit card in an ATM unless you know exactly how the fee structure works.
  • It’s not a bad idea to have two different ATM cards, which can be a backup if the automatic teller eats one card, lost or stolen.
  • If you don’t have a zero-fee card, find machines within your system (Plus, Cirrus, etc.) to reduce transaction costs.
  • If you pay fees, it’s more cost-effective to withdraw the maximum amount allowed by the ATM.


Carrying Money in Costa Rica Safely

Keeping your money safe is essential when traveling, and carrying only the cash you need for the day is advisable. Keep your money in Costa Rica secure, such as a money belt, hidden pouch, or a locked safe in your accommodation.

Be mindful of pickpockets, especially in crowded tourist areas, and avoid carrying large sums of money or flashy jewelry. If you need a significant amount, consider using a money transfer service such as Western Union or MoneyGram.


Budgeting for Costa Rica

Costa Rica can be an expensive destination, especially in tourist areas. However, with proper planning and budgeting, you can enjoy your trip without breaking the bank.

Accommodation, transportation, and food are the most significant expenses in Costa Rica, so it is advisable to research and book in advance. Some budget-friendly options include hostels, public transportation, and local eateries.



Managing your money efficiently is critical to a successful trip to Costa Rica. From understanding the currency and exchange rates to carrying cash safely, we hope this comprehensive guide has provided you with valuable information to plan and budget for your trip to Costa Rica.

By following the tips and suggestions in this guide, you can have a stress-free and enjoyable trip while ensuring you make the most of your budget. Don’t let money management be a hurdle in your Costa Rican adventure. You can have a fantastic and memorable experience with proper planning and budgeting.

-Written by Glenn Tellier (Founder of CRIE and Grupo Gap).

[email protected]

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best way to get cash in Costa Rica?

The best way to get cash in Costa Rica is to use ATMs (Automated Teller Machines). They are widely available in most cities and tourist areas. Ensure to use ATMs in safe and well-lit rooms, and avoid using them at night.

What is the best way to pay for things in Costa Rica?

Credit or debit cards are the best way to pay for things in Costa Rica. Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted, but American Express and Discover are less common. Some places may also accept payment via digital wallets like Apple Pay or Google Wallet.

Do I need cash to get around Costa Rica?

While having cash to get around Costa Rica is unnecessary, having some on hand is always a good idea. Some small businesses, street vendors, and markets may not accept cards, so having cash can be helpful. Additionally, cash may be the only accepted payment method if you plan on taking public transportation or hiring a taxi.

Is it better to bring cash to Costa Rica?

Bringing a large amount of cash to Costa Rica is unnecessary. It’s better to get a small amount of cash for emergencies and then use ATMs to withdraw more money as needed. Avoid carrying large amounts of cash with you, as this can make you a target for theft.

Is it better to use cash or a card in Costa Rica?

Both cash and card are widely accepted in Costa Rica, so it’s a matter of personal preference. Using a card can be more convenient, but carrying cash can give you more flexibility in places that don’t accept cards. Just inform your bank before you travel to avoid card holds or fraud prevention system issues.

Is it better to pay in dollars or colones?

The official currency in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colón. While some businesses may accept US dollars, it’s generally better to pay in colones to avoid any issues with exchange rates or getting incorrect change. Exchange your dollars at a bank or exchange office for the best exchange rate.

Is $100 USD a lot in Costa Rica?

The cost of living in Costa Rica is relatively low compared to many other countries, but it also depends on where and what you spend your money on. $100 USD can go a long way in some areas, but it may not cover your expenses in more touristy areas or for more expensive activities.

How much is $1 US in Costa Rica?

Exchange rates fluctuate, so checking the current rate before exchanging money is always a good idea. Click HERE to check the current currency conversion rate.


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