Banks & ATM’s
Even if you plan on spending the entirety of your Costa Rica vacations exploring the depths of the rainforest in one of the country’s 26 national parks and nature reserves, you’ll need to get your hands on some cash from time to time. Fortunately, the commercial banking sector in Costa Rica is a lot better – and more convenient – than it used to be, so follow these tips when you’re out and about to ensure you’re not left without your money:
Using US dollars
Something many visitors to Costa Rica find convenient is the fact that U.S. dollars are accepted virtually everywhere. This means you won’t have to waste a lot of time converting your cash into Costa Rican colones before you can start shopping. It’s worth noting, however, that bills larger than $20 may not be taken by some businesses, so if you’re carrying a lot of $50 and $100 bills, you’ll have to break them at a bank. Also, when paying for goods and services in dollars, you’ll more than likely get your change in colones.
Carry cash – but only enough to get by
Something else you’ll need to bear in mind when venturing to the farthest-flung corners of Costa Rica is that while some places will accept credit cards, the likelihood of this diminishes the further you go out into the countryside. There are several reasons an establishment may not accept credit cards.
For example, merchant service charges for credit card machines can be prohibitively expensive in some parts of the country, while other areas may not have the most reliable electrical supply, making running a card reader more of a hassle than it’s worth. As such, keep enough cash on you to handle everyday expenses like meals, but don’t carry so much that you’ll worry about losing it or becoming a victim of crime.
Most major towns and even some small villages have at least one ATM, so using these machines is a great way to ensure you’ve got access to your money when you need it. However, before you make a withdrawal, check with your card issuer about the charge for using your credit or debit card overseas – some banks may be more forgiving than others. Most banks also suggest notifying them of your travel plans before you leave, so your vacation spending isn’t flagged as suspicious activity that could end up in your card being suspended.
Also, expect to pay a flat fee of between $1 and $3 per transaction, much as you would at a non-chain ATM back home. If you’re having trouble with a particular transaction, be wary of trying repeatedly – the machine might just swallow your card. It may be worth carrying two ATM cards to prepare for this, just to be safe. In addition, virtually all ATMs “close” at around 10 p.m., so don’t count on being able to make a withdrawal in the early hours of the morning!