The unit of currency in Costa Rica is the colón. In this book, prices are listed in the currency you are most likely to see quoted. Hence, nearly all hotel prices and most tour and transportation prices are listed in dollars, since the hotels, airlines, tour agencies, and transport companies quote their prices in dollars. Many restaurants do, as well. Still, a good many restaurants, as well as taxis and other local goods and services, are advertised and quoted in colones. In those cases, prices listed are in colones (C).
The colón is divided into 100 céntimos. The smallest coins are white 5- and 10-colon coins, followed by gold-hued 25-, 50-, 100-, and 500-colón coins.
Paper notes come in denominations of 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000 and 20,000 colones. You might hear people refer to a "rojo" or "tucán," which are slang terms for the red 1,000- and yellow 5,000-colón bills, respectively. One-hundred-colón denominations are called "tejas," so "cinco tejas" is 500 colones.
Forged bills are not entirely uncommon. When receiving change in colones, it's a good idea to check the larger-denomination bills, which should have protective bands or hidden images that appear when held up to the light.
You can change money at all banks in Costa Rica, though you must produce your passport to do so. Because banks handle money exchanges, Costa Rica has very few exchange houses. One major exception to this is the Global Exchange (www.globalexchange.co.cr; tel. 2431-0670) office at the airport. Be forewarned they exchange at more than 10% below the official exchange rate. Airport taxis accept U.S. dollars, so there isn't necessarily any great need to exchange money the moment you arrive.
Hotels will often exchange money and cash traveler's checks as well, but they might shave a few colones off the exchange rate.
It’s extremely risky to exchange money on the streets. In addition to forged bills and short counts, street money-changers often work in teams that can leave you holding neither colones nor dollars. Also be very careful when leaving a bank. Criminals are often looking for foreigners who have just withdrawn or exchanged cash.
Rates fluctuate, so before departing, consult a currency exchange website such as www.oanda.com/currency/converter to check up-to-the-minute rates.
MasterCard and Visa are the most widely accepted credit cards in Costa Rica, followed by American Express. Most hotels and restaurants accept all of these, especially in touristy areas. Discover and Diners Club are far less commonly accepted.
Beware of hidden credit card fees while traveling. Check with your credit or debit card issuer to see what fees, if any, will be charged for overseas transactions. Fees for credit and debit cards while out of the country—even if those charges were made in U.S. dollars—can amount to 3% or more of the purchase price. Check with your bank before departing to avoid any surprise charges on your statement.
Costa Rica has a modern and widespread network of ATMs. You should find ATMs in all but the most remote tourist destinations and isolated nature lodges. in response to several "express kidnappings" in San José, in which people were taken at gunpoint to an ATM to clean out their bank accounts, some banks stopped ATM service between the hours of 10pm and 5am. Other networks still dispense money 24 hours a day.
It's probably a good idea to change your PIN to a four-digit PIN. While many ATMs in Costa Rica will accept five- and six-digit PINs, some will only accept four-digit PINs.
What Things Cost in Costa Rica (US$)
Taxi from the airport to downtown San José 25.00–40.00
Double room, moderate 120.00
Double room, inexpensive 70.00
Three-course dinner for one without wine, moderate 20.00-30.00
Bottle of beer 1.50–3.00
Cup of coffee 1.00–1.50
1 gallon/1 liter of premium gas 3.78/1.13
Admission to most museums 2.00–5.00
Admission to most national parks 15.00
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.