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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!