Colones or Dollars when Traveling to Costa Rica?

By patrick on

One of the most common questions we hear from people coming to Costa Rica for a birding trip is whether or not they should change money before boarding the plane. While colones are the preferred type of money used in Costa Rica, if you only have American dollars, not to fret, you can use those too.

BUT, to get the most out of your greenbacks, change them into colones as soon as you can. Otherwise, most places will be giving much lower rates than the official number (hovers somewhere around 500 to the dollar).

But where can I exchange colones into dollars?

While you can change them right at the airport, they usually give a pretty bad rate so if you can, change them at a local bank or a bank/payment service place in Wall Mart or a Mas x Menos supermarket. Seriously, the supermarket option is often the best choice because they will give the official exchange rate for a small commission, and even if there is a line, it probably won’t be as long a wait as the one at the bank.

Of course, do not change money on the street. We rarely see street money changers in Costa Rica and there is no need for them so if someone does offer to exchange money, they might be trying to scam you. You don’t need to change money with them so just don’t take the chance.

What about credit cards?

Several places take them and many don’t because the credit card companies charge fees for using them. Bring cash.

Debit cards?

Locals use debit cards all of the time but those come from local banks. Would an international debit card work? I think most would but check with your bank about international fees before using it everywhere you go!


Costa Rica has plenty of ATMs. Most should accept your card and will give colones at an official rate. Use the same common sense you would use when at home and be careful that no one can see you typing in the PIN and if the machine looks tampered with or like it has some skimming device, of course do not use it! That’s not a common occurrence but as with any place in the world, it can happen in Costa Rica too.

Travelers Checks?

What? What are those? Oh yes…..they used to be commonly used but became outdated by global use of credit cards and ATMs. If you do bring them, I suppose that banks would change them but then again, maybe they won’t.

In addition to money, don’t forget to bring other important things like binoculars and the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app.

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