Dollars and Cents: Currency in Costa Rica

Costa Rican Currency

One of the biggest questions when traveling: How are we going to pay for everything?

Sometimes it may seem like credit cards are the answer, sometimes local currency is the way to go. Luckily, no matter your preference, Costa Rica provides many options to suit all visitors!

costa rican colón currency

The local currency

The national currency of Costa Rica is the Colón (CRC). With its brightly colored bills celebrating its history and biodiversity, the Colón is considered by some to be one of the most beautiful forms of currency in the world. The bills come in denominations of c1000, c2000, c5000, c10000, c20000, and c50000. Coins come in denominations of c5, c10, c25, c50, c100, and c500.

Other accepted currency

For those traveling from the US, the USD is accepted in most places. In an effort to reduce fraud, however, many businesses will not accept any bills larger than $20, so please be sure to check before attempting to pay with $50s or $100s. Also, it is quite common to be given change back in Colones, especially if that change is less than a dollar. Most airport gift shops, for example, will offer you a roll of mints in order to round your purchase up to the nearest whole dollar, as they do not carry US coins. A good deal of restaurants, tours, and shops will list prices in USD instead of CRC, but will happily accept both forms of payment.

What is the exchange rate?

The exchange rate generally remains somewhere between c400-c600 to $1USD, but a basic rule of thumb is to think 500-1. A rough conversion of CRC to USD is to double the amount of Colones and put a decimal in front of the final three digits (for example, c10000 roughly equals $20USD). By Googling “currency exchange rate CRC to USD,” you will be able to find the up-to-date exchange rate, and calculate an accurate conversion.


Which should you pay with?

Costa Rican Currency

Since both are so commonly accepted, choosing which payment you use comes down primarily to preference. Not all businesses use the updated exchange rate, however, so make sure to check with them in order to get the best deal for your money. A word of caution to anyone planning on renting a car: some toll roads require amounts to be paid in exact change, in Colones, and others will calculate dollar payments according to the 500-1 exchange rate, so it is a good idea to at least have a little mix of both in small denominations.

What’s the best way to exchange money?

Upon your arrival, both international airports will have currency exchanges where you can trade in your money. Another good option is ATM machines. While you will most likely have to pay an international withdrawal fee of around $5, the exchange rates will be the most accurate around, and you can withdraw both Colones and Dollars.

What about credit cards?

Cards are a great option in Costa Rica, and widely accepted throughout the country. Just be sure to double-check with your bank on international transaction fees, and to let their fraud department know you will be traveling abroad!

Commonly Used Phrases in Costa Rica


Costa Rica is a beautiful, unique country unlike any other place in the world. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that it has its own unique sayings that perfectly reflect its happy, laid back nature! Here are a few to know and use during your Costa Rican vacation:


Pura Vida

The motto for the Costa Rican way of life, you will be sure to hear this phrase often during your trip. Literally translated as “pure life,” Pura Vida can be used in a variety of contexts, whether as a way of conveying how you are doing, a means of saying thanks/you’re welcome, a greeting, or as a description for a person, place, or thing. Most often it’s thought of as the Costa Rican equivalent of “cool.”



Often used in much the same way as Pura Vida, Tuanis generally translates to mean “cool” or “awesome.”



The name that Costa Ricans call themselves by.



An informal way of addressing a person, often used among friends, but can be used to refer to another person. Most closely translated as the word “dude.”


Buena Nota

Literally translated as “good note,” this phrase is used to describe a person who is regarded as nice or good.


Por Dicha

Used to express how fortunate one is, such as “I’m doing well, por dicha.”


Qué Chiva

An expression of how cool or awesome something is.


Con Gusto

Respect and happiness are deeply engrained parts of Costa Rican culture, a fact that is evident in this phrase. Used to say “you’re welcome,” be prepared to often hear “con gusto,” which translates to “with pleasure,” in place of “de nada.”


pura vida