Practical Information Costa Rica
Travel costs are significantly higher here than in most Central American countries, but cheaper than in the USA or Europe. And if you’re arriving from inexpensive Central American nations, such as Nicaragua, get ready to bust that wallet wide open.
Prices in Costa Rica are frequently listed in US dollars, especially at upmarket hotels and restaurants, where you can expect to pay international prices. Most types of tours are charged in US dollars. In fact, US dollars are widely accepted, but the standard
unit of currency is still the colón.
It’s increasingly easy to find cajeros automáticos (ATMs) in Costa Rica, even in the smallest towns. The Visa Plus network is the standard, but machines on the Cirrus network, which accepts most foreign ATM cards, can be found in larger cities and tourist
towns. In these areas, ATMs also dispense US dollars, which is convenient for payments at top-end hotels and tour agencies. Note that some machines will only accept cards held by their own customers.
Cash & Currency
The Costa Rican currency is the colón (plural colones, ₡), named after Cristóbal Colón (Christopher Columbus). Bills come in 1000, 5000 and 10,000 notes, while coins come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 25, 50 and 100, 500. Note that older coins are larger
and silver, while newer ones are smaller and gold-colored – this is often a source of confusion for travelers fresh off the plane.
Throughout Costa Rica, you can pay for tours, park fees, midrange to expensive meals and large-ticket items with US dollars. However, local meals, bus fares and small items should generally be paid with colones.
Paying for things in US dollars should be free of hassle, and at times is encouraged since the currency is viewed as being more stable than colones.
You can expect a transaction fee on all international credit-card purchases. Holders of credit and debit cards can buy colones and sometimes US dollars in some banks, though you can expect to pay a high transaction fee. Cards are widely accepted at top-end
restaurants and some travel agencies. All car rental agencies accept credit cards
All banks will exchange US dollars, and some will exchange Euros and British pounds; other currencies are more difficult. Most banks have excruciatingly long lines, especially at the state-run institutions (Banco Nacional, Banco de Costa Rica, Banco Popular),
though they don’t charge commissions on cash exchanges. Private Banks (Banex, Banco Interfin, Scotiabank) tend to be faster. Make sure the dollar bills you want to exchange are in good condition or they may be refused.
Travelers will notice a 13.39% sales tax at restaurants and bars. Everybody must pay a US$28 airport tax upon leaving the country. It is payable in US dollars or in colones, and credit cards are accepted.
On guided tours, tip the guide US$1 to US$10 per person per day. Tip the tour driver about half of what you tip the guide. Naturally, tips depend upon quality of service. Taxi drivers are not normally tipped, unless some special service is provided. Top-end
restaurants may add a 10% service charge onto the bill. If not, you might leave a small tip to show your appreciation, but it is not required.
Some banks and exchange bureaus will cash traveler’s checks at a commission of 1% to 3%. US dollar traveler’s checks are preferred. However, keep in mind it can be difficult. It may be difficult or impossible to change checks of other currencies.