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Cash and ATMs in Costa Rica: Info you need for ATMs, fees, limits, exchange, cards

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Costa Rica, a verdant paradise in Central America, is renowned for its rich biodiversity, stunning landscapes, and eco-friendly ethos. From the lush rainforests of the Osa Peninsula to the pristine beaches of the Nicoya Peninsula, and from the vibrant wildlife of Monteverde to the serene beauty of Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica offers an eco-adventure for every nature lover. To ensure a seamless experience in this tropical haven, it’s crucial to understand the local currency and cash, ATMs in Costa Rica, and accepted payment options. This guide will equip you with the financial insights needed to immerse yourself in the pura vida lifestyle of Costa Rica with peace of mind.

Cash or card?

Card is accepted at many places in urban areas, cash is preferred in rural areas. Foreigners might use a mix of cash and cards, with an estimated 50-60% of transactions in cash, especially for smaller expenses.

Cash for: Entry fees for some nature reserves, parks, and historical sites, Many tour operators, especially local or small-scale ones, Small purchases, Street shopping, Tips and gratuities in many places, Food from local restaurants, especially in less touristy areas, Street food vendors, Local taxis (though some areas may have app-based services that accept cards), Local trains (in some areas, ticket machines might not accept cards), Local markets and bazaars, Many hostels and budget hotels, Public buses

Card for:

Online bookings for hotels, flights, and tours
Spas in major tourist areas
Tailoring services in major cities
Car rentals
Shopping in malls and branded stores in major cities
Upmarket hotels
Good looking coffee shops in major tourist areas
Entry fees for major tourist attractions and theme parks
Professional pre-paid taxi booking services (such as Uber)
Expensive tour operators
Fancy sit-down restaurants in major tourist areas

So where to get cash in Costa Rica?

ATMs, or
Currency exchange, or
Money Transfer & local pick-up

Find ATMs at:

Costa Rica’s banking network includes a good number of ATMs in cities and some in smaller towns. Don’t expect to find them in remote areas. They’re commonly located at airports, markets, main tourist streets, malls, and banks.

Popular banks with ATMs

The most popular ATMs in Costa Rica are:

Davivienda
Banco de Costa Rica (BCR)
Banco Nacional de Costa Rica (BNCR)
Promerica
Banco Popular
Banco BAC

There are other banks with ATMs that also accept international debit and credit cards.

Global ATM alliance: Global ATM Alliance is a partnership among many banks in the world to allow its customers to withdraw cash from all partner banks abroad without any ATM fee. Many banks in the US, UK, Europe, Australia, and Latin America are part of the Global ATM Alliance, including Bank of America, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, and others. BUT, there is no local bank in Costa Rica part of this network. So don’t rely on this.

Where to find currency exchanges?

For currency exchange in Costa Rica, you can use:

Authorised currency exchange centres: Located in tourist destinations, with Group Global Exchange being a major brand. Centres are found in San Jose and some beaches, but not everywhere.
Banks: Convert your currency to Dong at bank branches, especially for common currencies like US dollars, Euros, Pounds, Japanese Yen, Thai Baht, and Singapore dollars. A commission fee of 0.5% to 2% per transaction is standard.
Hotels and airports: Both offer currency exchange services, but rates may not be favorable. Some larger hotels may have rates similar to banks.
Tips:

Avoid airport exchanges for better rates.
Steer clear of the black market to avoid scams.
Bring new notes for better rates or lower fees.
For US dollars, larger bills generally receive higher rates.

Accepted currencies:
Costa Rica mainly accepts its local currency Costa Rican Colón (CRC or ₡). Don’t be shocked with notes like ₡1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, and 50,000!
US Dollar: USD is also widely accepted across the country.
Euro: Not accepted.
Pound: Not accepted

Know the ATMs in Costa Rica

Foreign debit and credit cards usage:

Certainly, Costa Rica’s ATMs are well-suited for foreign cards.

Types of cards at ATMs

ATMs in Costa Rica will mainly accept Visa, Mastercard, Cirrus, Plus cards. Some may accept Diners and Discover cards. Don’t expect a lot of them to accept Amex, JCB, UnionPay, Maestro, and RuPay cards.

Types of cards to swipe

Visa and Mastercard are the go-to options for card swiping, with Amex and other card types being accepted at a more limited array of shops and services.

Opening hours

Around the clock, ATMs are almost always operational. Those that are independently placed are accessible at all hours, but bank-located ones may close outside of 9 am to 3 pm.

Workings and functionalities of the ATMs

The ATMs are modern and function similarly to those in major economies. Some of these ATMs take your card completely during the transaction—don’t forget to take it back once you’ve withdrawn your cash in Costa Rica.

ATM names

ATMs are known as “ATM” or just with the bank name. Some ATMs also have the word “Cajero” or “Cajero Automatico”.

PIN type

ATMs in Costa Rica primarily accept 4-digit PINs. Longer PINs are generally not accepted.

Also, many merchants used old machines which require a magnetic stripe on the card and not just a chip-and-pin card.

Language options

Costa Rican ATMs come with Spanish and English as standard options. If you need assistance with the language, translating in real-time with Google Translate on your phone is a useful strategy, but verify the translations carefully.

Know the foreign exchanges in Costa Rica

Foreign debit and credit cards usage

Currency exchanges prefer hard cash for exchange. Visa is accepted at many places, mastercard next. Please be mindful of the fees you will pay if you use your card at a currency exchange.

Opening hours

Most currency exchange outlets have a preference for cash payments. Visa tends to be widely accepted, and Mastercard is also an option, just be aware of the fees when using your card.

Languages to interact in

Staff at currency exchanges in Costa Rica can usually interact in 2 languages– Spanish and English

Exchange names

Various terms for currency exchange centers include ‘Currency Exchange’, ‘Forex’, and ‘Cambios’.

ATM withdrawal limit and ATM Fees

Withdrawal limit: ATMs typically restrict the withdrawal per transaction from ₡100,000 to ₡750,000, most common being ₡500,000.

ATM fees: Here’s the good news! In Costa Rica, the range of ATM fees goes from US$0 to US$4.75. Which means there are some ATM brands that charge absolutely no fees!

Ways to avoid high fees

Use fee-free ATMs in the country.
Use the ATM Fee Saver app to find fee-free or low-fee ATMs.
Opt for “Decline Conversion” or “Without Conversion” during ATM transactions.
Consider getting fee-free cards from your home country.
For more in-depth insights and alternative methods, check out our detailed article, Withdrawing cash abroad? 9 best ways to save foreign ATM fees.
Avoid no-fee exchange offices at all costs to get cash in Costa Rica – If they say no fee, which means they account for their fee in the exchange rate. Nothing is ever free in currency exchanges
Avoid using credit and debit cards for direct transactions

Ways to find fee-free ATMs in Costa Rica

Discover fee-free ATMs in Costa Rica along with currency exchange and money transfer options using the ATM Fee Saver app for mobile and web. This app provides information on ATM fees for foreign cardholders and withdrawal limits. It features a calculator for precise withdrawal fee calculations in Costa Rica. Upon choosing an ATM, the app navigates you to it and contains information for 50 countries, Costa Rica included.

Cash in Costa Rica and safety

Carrying cash

Carrying a large amount of cash in Costa Rica is generally not safe. Carry only what you need for the day or a few hours. Tips for cash safety include:

Distribute your cash in different pockets or wallets.
Use a safety belt or fanny pack for some of your cash.
Avoid flaunting large sums of cash.
Be discreet when making payments.
Keep your wallet in your front pocket if possible.
Hold your belongings tightly in crowded areas.

Safety at ATMs & currency exchanges

In Costa Rica, the safety of using ATMs is influenced by their location, the time of day, and the presence of people nearby. Though generally safe, incidents of theft near ATMs have been reported. Stay cautious and follow safety guidelines, such as using ATMs in well-lit, populated areas. For more safety advice, refer to our articles on ATM safety while traveling abroad.

FAQs

Fee-free ATMs and possible to withdraw cash free of cost?

Yes, 3 bank ATMs offer fee-free withdrawals in Costa Rica for foreign card holders.

Foreign cards from US, UK, India, China, Europe accepted?

Absolutely yes! You can usually use cards from the US, UK, Europe, Australia, and other countries at ATMs in Costa Rica

Bitcoin ATMs

Yes, there are about 5 Bitcoin ATMs in Costa Rica.

Foreign banks’s presence in Costa Rica

Bank of America: None
Citbank: None at all
Barclays: Not present
HSBC: None
Standard Chartered: None

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