Be careful when exchanging money on the black market, as there are many counterfeit bills circulating (both American dollars and Costa Rican Colones). The Central Bank in Costa Rica regularly devalues the Colon, so on a yearly basis you can expect it to lose 20% of its value (ouch! – this is obviously very subject to change so check to see what’s happening!).
There are several ways to exchange your currency into colones. Banks tend to have varying exchange rates and walking around (or looking online) to compare rates is recommendable. A second option is the use of ATM’s, a service which is often cheaper than exchanging your currency inside the bank. ATM’s usually operate in Spanish and English. Exchange-booths and money changers on the street often have better exchange rates, but care has also to be taken regarding falsified bills.
Costa Rican Banks
The financial sector in Costa Rica consists of:
- The Central Bank of Costa Rica
- 3 state-owned commercial banks
- 19 private commercial banks
- 1 workers bank
- 1 state owned mortgage bank
- 4 mutual house building companies
- 15 private finance companies
- 30 investment and retirement funds
The state owned banks are Banco Nacional de Costa Rica, Banco de Costa Rica and BanCredito (Banco Crédito Agrícola de Cartago). Banco Nacional de Costa Rica and Banco de Costa Rica are found all over the country. State owned banks are financially backed by the government. State banks are consider to have slow service.
Private banks in Costa Rica include Banex, Banco San José and Scotiabank. Private banks generally offer better and faster service than state banks, but have fewer offices throughout the country. If you prefer to do your banking with a bank that has English speaking employees, private banks are a better bet.
The current trend in the Costa Rican financial sector is that banks merge or are taken over by foreign banks, there are relatively too many different banks operating in a small market. In Costa Rica it is possible to open a bank account in Colones or in US Dollars. The advantage of a dollar account is that you will not be facing the constant devaluation of the Colon.
Banks generally open from 09:00 till 15:00. Differences exist between different cities, banks and time of the year. Banks are closed on Saturdays and Sundays. Most banks have ATMs available, most of which are open 24 hours/day.
Wire transfers to and from Costa Rica are generally not a problem. Be aware that things might run slower than you are used to in your home country. Internet banking, a service offered by most banks in Costa Rica makes it possible to arrange transfers from your computer. The use of a money transfer agencies is an alternative that can be considered. Money transfer agencies make use of agents all over the world. The main advantage of this method is that no bank account is needed and money transfer takes place very fast, - it takes around 10 minutes - and is very reliable. Unfortunately, commissions tend be very high (7-10%).
Short Term Loans
A wide range of short term loans are available in Costa Rica, ranging from car financing to personal loans. The state owned Banco de Costa Rica offer loans for 5, 7 and 10 years. Loans start at a US Dollar 1,000 minimum. Most banks offer similar loans and some banks tailor more to your needs. Requirements are usually time residency and proof of income (as a minimum).