Costa Rican colón (₡)
US dollar ($)
Budget: Less than US$40
- Dorm bed: US$8–15
- Meal at a soda (inexpensive eatery): US$3–7
- DIY hikes without a guide: free
- Travel via local bus: US$2 or less
- Basic room with private bathroom: US$20–50 per day
- Meal at a restaurant geared toward travelers: US$5–12
- Travel on an efficient 1st-class shuttle van like Interbus: US$50–60
Top End: More than US$100
- Luxurious beachside lodges and boutique hotels: from US$80
- Meal at an international fusion restaurant: from US$20
- Guided wildlife-watching excursion: from US$40
- Short domestic flight: US$50–100
- 4WD rental for local travel: from US$60 per day
- A high standard of living along with a stream of international tourist traffic means that the Latin American tradition of haggling is uncommon in Costa Rica.
- Negotiating prices at outdoor markets is acceptable, as is bargaining when arranging informal tours or hiring long-distance taxis.
US dollars accepted almost everywhere and dispensed from most ATMs; carry colones for small towns, bus fares and rural shops. Credit cards generally accepted.
ATMs are ubiquitous, typically dispensing colones; many dispense US dollars. They are not easily found in rural and remote areas.
- The Costa Rican currency is the colón (plural colones), named after Cristóbal Colón (Christopher Columbus).
- Bills come in 1000-, 2000-, 5000-, 10,000-, 20,000- and 50,000-colón notes, while coins come in denominations of five, 10, 20, 25, 50, 100 and 500 colones.
- Paying for things in US dollars is common, and at times is encouraged, since the currency is viewed as being more stable than the colón.
- In US-dollar transactions the change will usually be given in colones.
- Newer US dollars are preferred throughout Costa Rica; if your note has a rip in it, it may not be accepted.
- When paying in US dollars at a local restaurant, bar or shop the exchange rate can be unfavorable.
All banks will exchange US dollars, and some will exchange euros and British pounds; other currencies are more difficult. Most banks have excruciatingly long lines, especially at the state-run institutions (Banco Nacional, Banco de Costa Rica, Banco Popular), though they don’t charge commissions on cash exchanges. Private banks (Banex, Banco Interfin, Scotiabank) tend to be faster. Make sure the bills you want to exchange are in good condition or they may be refused.
- Cards are widely accepted at midrange and top-end hotels, as well as at top-end restaurants and some travel agencies; they are less likely to be accepted in small towns and in remote areas.
- A transaction fee (around 3% to 5%) on all international credit-card purchases is often added.
- Holders of credit and debit cards can buy colones in some banks, though expect to pay a high transaction fee.
- All car-rental agencies require drivers to have a credit card. It’s possible to hire a car with just a debit card, but only on the condition that you pay for full insurance and leave a deposit for traffic violations.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
Guides Tip US$5 to US$15 per person per day. Tip the tour driver about half of what you tip the guide.
Hotels Tip the bellhop/porter US$1 to US$5 per service and the housekeeper US$1 to US$2 per day in top-end hotels; less in budget places.
Restaurants Your bill will usually include a 10% service charge. If not, you might leave a small tip.
Taxis Tip only if some special service is provided.
With the popularity of ATMs and credit cards, traveler’s checks are increasingly uncommon in Costa Rica and difficult to exchange outside big cities. They can be exchanged at banks, typically only for US dollars or Costa Rican colones.
Dollars Versus Colones
While colones are the official currency of Costa Rica, US dollars are virtually legal tender. Case in point: most ATMs in large towns and cities will dispense both currencies. However, it pays to know where and when you should be paying with each currency.
In Costa Rica you can use US dollars to pay for hotel rooms, midrange to top-end meals, admission fees for sights, tours, domestic flights, international buses, car hire, private shuttle buses and big-ticket purchases. Local meals and drinks, domestic bus fares, taxis and small purchases should be paid for in colones.