13 Apr Spending in costa Rica – Currencies
Rest assured american travellers… the dollar (American) is widely accepted throughout Costa Rica!
Unfortunately, the Canadian dollar, euros (in rare cases), and other foreign currencies are not accepted. Although the local currency is the colon, most items in Costa Rica (at least in the most popular tourist destinations) are priced in USD. The majority of travelers pay for hotels, tours/activities, and/or transportation services in USD (if not by credit card).
In preparing for vacations, I recommend travellers exchange some dollars into colones – just to have some of the local currency on hand. Despite being able to pay for nearly everything in USD, tips in colones are often appreciated by the locals (tips in dollars are of course accepted, although colones are sometimes preferred in order to save locals a trip to the bank to exchange the funds into colones). In the past, I have suggested that travellers pay in colones whenever and wherever possible, as many places would give a poor dollar-to-colon exchange rate (such as grocery stores, souvenir shops, etc.). However, now that the dollar is quite low (closer to 500 colones for 1 american dollar), the difference is significantly less.
Resource: click here to read our related blog post Understanding The Practice Of Currency Exchange And Minimizing Loss: USD To Costa Rican Colon
Some travellers opt to bring USD with them to Costa Rica and then exchange their money into colones at one of the many local banks (Banco Nacional, Banco de Costa Rica, Banco de San Jose, and Banco Popular – to name a few), but there is no urgent need to have to do so. For those who prefer not to carry a large amount of cash with them during their vacation, I recommend bringing US travellers cheques. However, unfortunately most places (tour operator offices and hotels, with the exception of a few large all-inclusive resorts) will not cash travellers cheques on-site, requiring travellers to cash such cheques at local banks. If relying on travellers cheques, I also recommend making 100% sure that the signature you use to sign the cheques in front of the bank employee is an exact match to the signature on your passport. On my very first visit to Costa Rica years ago, I signed each cheque in a hurry and my messy John Hancock resulted in a denial of funds by the bank manager. The valueless papers left me stranded in Costa Rica without access to my foreign funds and with barely any cash in hand. Fortunately, the credit card I had brought with me to Costa Rica for emergency purposes came to my rescue, although at the expense of some hefty ATM fees and even worse credit card foreign currency exchange rates.
Know that when an item is paid for in Costa Rica in USD, most often the buyer will receive colones back in change, as many places that accept USD do not handle the currency in the sense that they provide it back to travellers after purchases. For this reason, visitors easily accumulate colones over the duration of their trip (even when the majority of their trip items are paid for with USD). This usually means that most have more colones than they know what to do with at the end of their vacation, which are either spent on last-minute souvenir purchases, left as a hefty tip for hotel staff and/or airport transfer service drivers, or else exchanged back into local currency upon returning home.
QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: When travelling, do you prefer to pay for vacation items in advance via credit card or in cash upon arrival?